This one took a while because I wasn’t happy with it. Sometimes a piece of work can take a lot of editing, and even then you still can’t be sure you are happy with it. Actually, on second thought, isn’t all writing like that, a constant work in progress?
The Festival. Day two. The fire in the field. JR Manawa.
Breakfast was followed with beer, which was in turn followed with snacks of muesli bars, crisps and more beer. They eagerly debated the line up on the main stage for that day while they waited in the queue for the port-a-loos, and then walked to the festival village, laughing at the people getting ‘married’ in the makeshift church, at the girls screaming on the roller-coasters, and the boys running around already tipsy, waving band flags or inflatable dolls.
“Free hugs, my love,” one boy announced, running up to Kelly with his arms wide open.
“Thanks sweetheart, but I’ve got my free hugs right here,” she laughed and jerked her thumb toward Nick. The boy turned and wrapped his arms around Charis instead.
They shopped their way through the village fairly quickly, Nick looking on with pained boredom as Kelly and Charis rummaged their way through the store selling band patches, and the second hand store with the bin full of ridiculous hats. They tried on a few just for a laugh. Charis made a bold decision to purchase a purple and black Native American style headdress, complete with feathers and beads.
“You look ridiculous,” Nick told her, laughing as she rejoined him and Kelly outside the store.
“It matches her skirt,” Kelly argued as they walked toward the gates leading to the main stage area. Charis was wearing a midi-length dark purple skirt overlaid with a black screen print of a graveyard, so it did indeed match the colours of the headdress. She wasn’t quite sure how the themes matched alongside her knee high platform boots and black fishnet top, but she didn’t feel too bothered by it. ‘Normal’ quite happily ceased to exist at festivals.
On the walk toward the main stage they crossed paths with Benjamin and Amy, the couple who had shared a meal at their camp site the night before. They were heading down to watch friends of theirs open the evening on the second stage.
“Shouldn’t you be wearing an ‘I’m with the band’ t shirt or something then?” Nick asked.
Amy laughed, “Well they’re not exactly a headliner, but Ben grew up with them in New Zealand, and I have to admit they are pretty good,”
“I wondered where your accent was from!” Kelly said, snapping her fingers now she knew, “how long have you been in the UK?” she asked, making idle conversation as they shuffled through the security checks.
“Planning to stay?”
He put his arm around Amy’s shoulder, “Thinking about it,” he said with a grin. Amy punched him.
They went with Amy and Benjamin to watch the band from New Zealand, Rival State. They had an impressive opening, with traditional warriors in full costume performing a haka.
“Just like the All Blacks,” Nick noted, feeling knowledgeable because he wasn’t much of a sports fan and rugby had never really been his thing, but everyone knew the All Blacks, right? Benjamin nodded and grinned. The band delivered a great set with strong vocals that were driven home by the heavy thrum of the guitars and the exuberant rhythm of a drummer who had surely had one too many cans of Red Bull. Charis considered that most drummers seemed to live at a whole other level of energy compared to that of regular human beings.
From Rival State, they went to watch Fearless Vampire Killers, as Kelly argued that ‘Everyone loves a bit of emo every now and then’, and she was right. Their set was thoroughly enjoyable, even if their fringes were way too perfect to be natural. From there they went to the main stage to watch Lacuna Coil, the Italian rock band whom Charis had loved since she was in high school, and it wasn’t a hard decision to stay near the front after that to make sure they saw Five Finger Death Punch too.
“I’m hungry,” Nick announced suddenly when the set finished, and they began pushing their way through the crowd toward the food stalls.
Charis kept her eyes on the ground so not to lose her way, looking down at the hordes of dusty feet and legs passing her by. The grass of the main stage field was almost completely turned to dust and dirt after less than a day under the sheer footfall and the raging heat of the sun. The world around her smelt of sweat, crushed grass and cinnamon sugar, the smell of the cinnamon was heady enough that she had very suddenly decided she might like doughnuts instead of dinner as their path through the masses brought them closer to the doughnut stand.
“I can’t believe they found a body,”
Charis stopped in her path. Her head snapped back around to a group of young punks standing just across from her in the thick of the crowd.
“That’s just rumours, I’m sure there would have been some kind of announcement if it were true,”
“Really? In the middle of a festival of this size? I don’t think so,”
“I just can’t believe someone burned to death in a tent,”
“It’s not! My friend Jack, his tent was only twenty yards away, he’s lucky it didn’t catch fire. I heard other people camping closer weren’t so lucky,”
“Your friend Jack?”
“Jack? You don’t know a Jack,”
“Well if you hadn’t been so tired and gone to bed so early last night maybe he would be your friend Jack too! I met him last night, well, early this morning,”
“You meet your new friend Jack last night while I was asleep?”
“Oh come on Pete, please don’t be like that,”
“Don’t be like what? Be like a concerned boyfriend when his girl is up running around all night making friends by the name of ‘Jack’?”
“Please you two, we hear about it every other day, can you at least give us a break for this weekend?”
Charis was frozen to her spot, despite the thousands of people pushing to get by her as the bands changed on stage. Her skin had turned hot and cold all over. Missing clothing, blood on her neck, and now rumours of burned tents and bodies. Her night had not been as much of a nightmare as she thought. In fact it clearly hadn’t been a nightmare at all. Her dream had started with tents burning in the night, and now it appeared this had been close to the truth. Tents had burned, and a body had been found. She knew in her heart the boy with the mohawk had been murdered, and she had been a witness. It was a sickening feeling. Shivering and hugged her elbows, she looked up at the darkening sky. The sun had gone down, and though it wasn’t yet particularly cold or dark, Charis was freezing and wishing she’d worn more than a fishnet top. She quickly realised she had also lost Kelly and Nick. Letting out a long, slow breath, she turned in a full three-sixty degrees, peeking over shoulders and trying to catch a glimpse of her friends.
For the millionth time, someone bumped into her. “Hey, are you all right?” the boy stepped back and looked down at her in surprise when she didn’t budge. Charis blinked and glared up at him, her head was still swimming with pieces of information and a growing fear for her own safety. The last thing she wanted was some stranger asking her if she was ok. It didn’t help that most of the boys she had met so far here had been stupid or drunk, or both. Momentarily she considered that this boy seemed neither. He was tall and slender with skin that was so clear and white that it made him look far too pretty. His collar bones stood out against the open neck of the black Marilyn Manson vest he was wearing, and his pale hair hung in tangled tresses to his shoulders like he had just come from the mosh pit. Strands of damp hair clung to his face and along his sharp jaw line as it cut to a mischievous pixie-like point at his chin, beneath thin lips, an attractive nose, and piercingly clear eyes of iron grey, flecked with silver.
She was instantly embarrassed that she had taken all this information in with one sweeping look over him, especially because he seemed to be keenly aware of it. But there were more important things to be thinking about. “Yeah, I’m fine,” she replied, abruptly but not unkindly as she turned and walked away.
“Are you sure?” The boy stepped into stride beside her.
She glanced up at him, and he grinned down at her. She cursed that his smile was so disarming.
“I am sure,” she said, her expression amused but unimpressed.
“I mean, you were like a brick. I don’t think I’ve ever crashed into anyone so, unmoveable in a crowd before,”
“There is a first time for everything,” Charis told him sourly, and tried not to give him any more attention as she searched the crowd for Kelly and Nick. The world was swirling about her too fast. With sunset, the clear and hot day had dissipated into thick clouds overhead that made the world humid and sticky, and Charis was not at all convinced that it wasn’t going to start raining.
“Are you offended because I called you a brick?” he asked suddenly.
Charis halted in her stride and looked up at him with a sigh, trying to focus long enough to come up with a clever escape plan. Over his shoulder she suddenly spotted Kelly and Nick walking away from the queue at the donut and burrito stand with armfuls of food.
“Maybe I’m offended on behalf of your girlfriend when she finds out you’ve been following me around,” she shot back at him, feeling a little better now she had found Kelly and Nick. She waved at them to get their attention.
“Wow, straight to the girlfriend assumption. I thought boys usually pulled that trick,” he shot out a killer smile and raked his fingers through his hair, before putting his hands back in his pockets.
“What?” Charis’ eyes snapped back onto him in surprise, and then she clicked to what he meant, “Oh! No, no. Not at all. You think I want to check that you don’t already have a girlfriend?” she asked, mortified.
She shook her head quickly, “No.”
“I don’t,” he said, with casual grace.
“Have a girlfriend.”
Charis sighed, “I don’t care,” she told him, slowly and clearly. She wasn’t in the mood.
“Charis!” It was Kelly, side-stepping through the crowd to Charis’ side and then dumping a tray of warm donuts into her hands. Then she turned and looked at the boy. “Hi! I’m Kelly,” she said, and then turned slightly back toward Charis and raised her eyebrows.
Charis rolled her eyes.
“August!” A shout stood out from the crowd above all the other noises and shouting, and a tall, dark skinned boy with thin dreadlocks stalked toward them, stopping to rest a hand on the shoulder of the boy who had been following her, August. Charis noticed immediately that his skin was also unnecessarily smooth, and his eyes were a pale, cold green. They were both so attractive and surprisingly similar that Charis wondered briefly if the two of them could have been related in any way.
“August,” Kelly repeated, “that is a cool name.”
Nick didn’t seem to notice that she was gushing slightly – he was too buried in his lamb burrito.
“It’s what my mother gave me,” August shrugged and laughed, and Charis did notice that it was a ridiculously musical laugh.
“I thought we were going to get in the pit for Judas Priest?” the dark skinned boy said to August.
“Peter,” August sighed, “I said I was coming.”
Charis thought she imagined it, but there was a strange, sharp edge to his tone with his friend.
Peter’s eyes darting from August, to Charis and back again.
“Are you two related?” Kelly asked suddenly, and both of their heads snapped toward her in unison.
August laughed suddenly and slapped Peter on the shoulder, “My brother from another mother,”
Peter laughed too, but his sharp eyes were sweeping between Kelly and Charis with intense interest.
Nick had suddenly finished his burrito and taken notice. He put an arm over Kelly’s shoulder. “Speaking of Judas Priest,” he said, casually pointing toward the stage. The set had begun and a motorbike had roared into life and rolled onto stage amid smoke and a backfire of flames. The crowd went wild.
Charis leaped at his suggestion, “Well, August, Peter, lovely to meet you,” she smiled sweetly, and turned away to march back into the crowd, telling herself without a shadow of doubt that August had trouble written all over him, even if it was written very attractively. Besides, there were so many other things on her mind that seemed far more worrisome than a handsome boy at that very moment.
August took his defeat gracefully, “See you around Charis,” he said to her retreating back as Peter pulled him in the opposite direction into the thick of the crowd.