by Clark Nida, serialised here by permission of the author.
“It’s going to be pretty hot,” said Gerald. “We’ll have to find some trees to pitch our bivvy under.”
Alan scratched his temple in puzzlement. “If, as you say, there was woodland covering the Downs once upon a time, then how did the cavemen come to cut the Long Man in the turf? He wouldn’t have been visible beneath the trees.”
Gerald laughed. “I didn’t say that trees covered every inch of ground. But anyway you have to bear in mind that the Long Man isn’t natural – it’s a man-made artefact. It always was – and it still is, down to the present day. The cavemen – as you call them – were quite capable of cutting back the trees, as well as cutting the turf to reveal the chalk. People have kept it up ever since as a tradition, even though everyone’s forgotten what it stood for. If it weren’t re-cut every few years it would disappear.”
They got out at Polegate, walked the two miles west to Wilmington and soon pitched their tent, having found a farmer (with a tree or two on his land) who was happy to let them camp.
It was a very small bivouac. But they hadn’t wanted to lug around anything bigger. Alan began to have misgivings about it as he hammered in the tent-pegs for the guy-ropes. His mind went back to scout-camp. “You’re not ‘funny’, are you?” he said.
“You’re funny! You make me laugh.”
Alan looked down in embarrassment. Gerald continued “I’m your minder. You’re not supposed to need protection from me.”
“Just chary of that sort of thing.”
“Go on! – I could make you do anything you want!”
Alan glanced up, an angry flush spreading across his face.
“Think about it,” said Gerald. “…Anything you want, I said.”
Alan laughed now, getting the point. Robust reassurance was the best sort Gerald could have given him.
“I like a bit of fun now and again, like anyone else,” added Gerald. “But I have my principles…”
He would have left it at that, but Alan mutely urged him to go on. “Stricter than most people’s. Stricter than most men I know – especially when it comes to seducing pretty women. Maybe stricter than yours. I won’t have it off with anyone – male or female – who might be feeling they’re in no position to refuse me.” He finished hammering-in the tent-peg. “That, in my book, is the worst crime of all.”
He looked up straight at Alan. “Would you call that ‘funny’?”
Alan hesitated. His prejudices were being played-with. “Unusual,” he admitted. “Not ‘funny’ though. Not ‘funny-peculiar’.”
A brown bag of local tomatoes and two slices of Grosvenor pie bought in the village sorted them out for lunch, after which they lay down and sunbathed next to their tent. Dispassionately, like nurses tending their patients, they applied sun-creme to each other. In the midday heat they soon moved under the awning. Alan saw what a fine physique Gerald had, with hard squared-off abs and pecs to grace his impressive frame. The Long Man must have commemorated just such a one.
“Go on,” Gerald dared him. “Take your shorts off and sunbathe properly.”
“That’s Gross Indecency…!”
“Don’t be an old woman. It’s private land.”
Alan conceded the point – in theory. However, since his friend was showing no sign of taking off his cricketing whites, he left his shorts on. But Gerald was of a mind to tease him.
“Are you worried I might make you pregnant?”
“Don’t be silly.”
“I bet I could make you pregnant.”
Determined not to appear like a shocked schoolgirl, Alan said “How much?”
“Anything you like… two week’s salary – a fiver. In the next two weeks, I could get you pregnant. With twins.”
“It’s like taking sweets from a baby…”
Gerald held out his hand. “Are you on?”
“You’ll have to give me a proper go, mind. None of your ‘won’t do this – won’t do that’…”
Alan laughed from the belly, smacking his hand away. “Fuck off!”
It struck him then that not so very long ago he wouldn’t have had the maturity to laugh it off like that. And Pye knew it. He knew it then… and he knew it now.
Later that afternoon, when it was cooler, they climbed Windover Hill, the hill of the Long Man, wading through waving knee-high grass. They set out to climb up between the legs and paused for a rest at the Man’s crotch.
“Well I never!” said Alan. “The Long Man isn’t cut in the turf at all! It’s whitewashed concrete-blocks! But I suppose it’s the best way the council’s found to preserve the outline.”
“It’s a tourist attraction,” said Gerald, as if that explained everything.
But Alan was in a picky mood. “How do we know they’ve put the blocks exactly over the ancient chalk markings?”
“They haven’t,” said Gerald. “For a start, they’ve bricked-out the cock.”
“The Long Man’s never had a cock!” scoffed Alan. “I remember that from being a child…”
“There you go again! You think the artificial is natural because it’s been there as long as you can remember.”
But Alan poured scorn on that idea. “I can’t believe the Long Man’s ever had a cock! Not even the cavemen would be that crude!”
“There’s another Long Man near Weymouth. The Rude Man of Cerne Abbas. He’s got a great big cock, standing right up.”
Alan puffed through his lips. “Why haven’t they bricked-out that?”
“They tried to, once. But the locals made them restore it. It boils down to what you let your council do, in your name. Or your government. Now I’ve got an idea…”
He pulled out his camera, an old Ilford bellows foldaway, and lined Alan up in the tiny viewfinder. “Go over there and stand right in the crotch. You can be the Long Man’s Little Man.”
Grinning broadly, Alan did as he was told.
“Do it properly,” said Gerald. “Take your clothes off.”
“I’m damned if I’ll do that…!” protested Alan.
“Why not? There’s no one around for miles.”
“What if someone’s looking at us from the village? Through binoculars?”
“What – some old lady standing on a chair? All she’ll see is the Long Man go a bit natural all of a sudden. It’s not as if you make a very big cock, viewed from far away. Not a very stiff one either – if you slouch your shoulders like that.”
“I’m buggered if I’m going to let you have a picture of me in the nude!”
Gerald pushed him off the painted bricks and handed him the camera. “Well then you take a picture of me.” He stripped off his tee-shirt.
“You’re not going to take your clothes off? It will spoil the film! The chemist will never develop it!”
“I don’t use a chemist. I develop my own.”
“You dirty old man.”
“It’s cheaper – if you take enough pictures. And you don’t have to worry all the time about whether the people you’re taking are showing too much skin.”
“I’ll take you with your trousers on,” muttered Alan, levelling him up in the viewfinder. But no – Gerald insisted on dropping his old grass-stained cricketing whites and kicking them aside. It was a squitty little angled-mirror viewfinder, about the size of a small sugar cube, and Alan didn’t get a proper glimpse of Gerald’s body until he looked up. Then he stood hunched and open-mouthed.
He thought for a moment it was the god Pan without horns. Or a satyr, with rough shaggy haunches. Then realisation hit him. Gerald was scarred from his hips to his ankles. Deeply scarred. It was the sort of scar tissue that Alan had seen not so long ago – on a burnt child. And there was another thing…
Like the Long Man, Gerald had no penis!
“Jesus! – how did that happen?”
Gerald glanced down momentary. “Wounded in action – honourable discharge. Pulled from a burning Land Rover – but I got caught up as I came out through the window.”
…to be continued.