By Matt Tuckey
“I have never been in a natural place and felt that it was a waste of time. I never have. And it’s a relief. If I’m walking around a desert or whatever, every second is worthwhile.”
It’s a desert of sorts — vast, sceneless, uninteresting. Only this desert is in northern England, it’s freezing, piss-wet through and mushy underfoot. There’s also the worrying correlation that people have died out here.
I came here to clear my head, to get away from pesterers and aggressors, but the Saddleworth Moors aren’t having that effect on me. Nobody will confront me over anything here, I think, but the fact that there’s nobody here at all and I don’t recognize where I am. Well, that could be my downfall.
I notice the animal’s head as it ascends the mound in the land. At first I think it’s a sheep- common out here- the white fur, the ears. Its jaw rolls as it chews cud. As it steps up on the mound of grass, I realize the neck is way too long.
A goat, maybe? If so, why all the fur? Goats aren’t this big. We see eye-to-eye, literally.
“Alright,” it says, passively. From it’s accent, I’d say it’s lived here a while.
A memory slaps me like a leather glove. I was about twelve years old, avidly reading an animal encyclopedia. A llama?
I nod tentatively. “Um, is it not too cold for you out here?”
The llama drops his chin for a second. “I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, mate, but I’m covered in quite thick fur. They make rugs and blankets out of this stuff, you know.”
He shakes his head, as if trying to cast off flies. I can tell he’s just trying to impress me with his bushy, pristine-white coat.
“I think we’re both pretty lost,” I say, trying to distract him from his camelid narcissism.
“Maybe. I went AWOL from the llama-trekking event a few weeks ago. I live here now. I’m totally happy where I am. No need to move. Nobody’s going to come and find me here. You, on the other hand — ” he pulls a Palm Pre mobile web browser from his impressive fur — “you’re in trouble.”
He turns the screen to face me. It’s a piece of writing I put on a website. It’s about a very dangerous woman in Oldham. She is now even more dangerous, at least to me, since she discovered what I wrote.
Crap, I think, and I mumble: “Tell me about it.”
The llama sighs. Then, as if someone has slapped him on the arse, he bursts into anger.
“The world’s a small place, Matt. If you go around writing whatever you want about people, they’re going to come and find you. And they’ll bring backup.”
“I’ve got to write, pal. I don’t know what else I could do.”
“You are the world’s most eloquent idiot. You’ve told us that you’ve done some pretty stupid things.”
I look at the lumpy earth between my feet.
“Family members. Aging, nice old ladies. More and more of them are getting online. Can you imagine the family dinner? ‘So, how was your weekend away, Matt?’ Is your mum going to cut in—’Actually, I don’t think Aunt Ethel wants to know about those two nineteen-year-old Scouse girls and the blow-up dolphin.'”
The llama is a surprisingly good actor. It sounds like he’s met my mum.
The llama presses on. “Ranting online about someone just because of a difference of opinion will get you nowhere. Move on. If you’re an adult,” he glances unnervingly at the Palm Pre, “which from your blog seems what you are trying to convince yourself of, why won’t you rise above?”
I sit on a rock, slumping. Guilt has swallowed me up, engulfed me like a doomed planet sucked into a black hole. A glimmer of validation crosses my mind, and I desperately fish it out.
“I guess I’ll just let all my thoughts and experiences spiral out of my head into the ether, never to be remembered again. Is that what you’d prefer? I’ve been published ten times, you know.”
“Oh!” the llama shouts in mock surprise. “You’ve—” he kneels on his front two legs and lowers his face to the ground. “You’ve been published! I’m just an unworthy llama from the developing Andean Highlands! What could I possibly know? I’ve followed the links on your blog, Matt. Unpaid fiction markets and letters pages in local newspapers. Knopf and Penguin will be tearing each others’ hair out over you.”
I’ve never punched a zoo animal before. I’m hoping that I don’t change that, but this llama has hit a delicate nerve. I turn away and look at the horizon.
“Why do you actually care, pal? And how the hell did you find my blog, out of millions of others?”
“Now you’re using your head. I found a link to it on one of those online fiction magazine type-things. I like reading, but I really haven’t got time for novels.”
I look around at the open moorland.
“Okay, okay,” he says. “I just haven’t got the patience for them. I just want something short that I can dip into without losing the enthusiasm to follow a plot. There’s bits of your writing that I really like. It’s just an absurd coincidence that the two of us would be in the same place at the same time.”
“Well, everywhere I go people have read my stuff, and—”
“Yeah, you keep telling yourself that.”
I scan the rocky hilltops, fists clenched.
“Okay,” says the llama. “I’m going to throw something out there. Change everyone’s names. Everyone’s. Including your own. Have an alter ego. You can be the next Raoul Duke.”
I look back at the llama. He turns to go. There’s some incongruous element to him, however, that I couldn’t possibly grasp until that moment.
“Wait,” I say. “Why would a Llama use a Palm Pre?”
“iPhone screens crack too easily. I don’t recommend them. But the Pre is a very practical and cost-effective solution to mobile Web needs. Not to mention it has a full QWERTY keyboard.”
He walks off behind a hill, humming to himself.
When I look behind me there’s a gravel track that I hadn’t noticed before, leading into a distant valley.
Matt Tuckey is a writer from Manchester, England; read more of his fiction and nonfiction on his blog.