When the book of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Let The Right One In was published (and some time later when the films were made), more than a few people on various forums and newspaper comment sections criticised Oskar’s behaviour, saying that it “wasn’t normal” for such a young person to fantasise about stabbing and/or killing his tormentors, whilst other even went so far as to say that being continually picked on like that only “helped develop strength and character”. It’s possible the people making those suggestions were either amongst the extremely fortunate few never to have suffered such things; or they were themselves the bullies and so sought to justify their actions, as if they could ever be capable of feeling something approaching remorse. Perhaps Hollywood could make a film about that, as they seem to delight in other amusing fantasies such as those about murderers (government-sponsored or otherwise) who suddenly acquire a conscience, or refuse to kill a child. Anyway, this throwaway short story is just for them.
When we were told the class was going on a post-exam visit to North Wales for a couple of days, and that those who did not wish to go could just remain at school as free time, I wondered if it would be to somewhere I already knew from holidays with my parents, or perhaps a new place which I didn’t know and so could discover and hopefully enjoy as I had the others. The destination was soon confirmed as Betws-y-Coed, which was a pleasant surprise in that whilst I had been there before, it was such a beautiful part of the country that I didn’t mind returning, and I had a much better camera to take with me this time.
The couch journey up was as uneventful as I would have wanted it to be, and I spent most of the time just looking through the window at the passing countryside whilst listening to music on my player, then we arrived and booked in to the hotel, assembling in the front garden for the usual pep-talk, all of which was either so obvious as to not need voicing except to people who would never take any notice, or ingrained since my later years in primary school when we were taken on similar outings, learning map-reading and the basics of orienteering.
Even had I not vague memories of where everything was, the paths were marked clearly enough, so with all afternoon in which to wander and enjoy ourselves before an ‘approved’ tour tomorrow, I set out along the river, turning inland just below Swallow Falls so as to avoid the obvious tourist spots and designated ‘photo opportunities’ arranged for people with no imagination, then working my way uphill, finally returning to the river where there were some rather steep rocks overhanging the waters.
An hour or so passed in the relative solitude, with no interruptions apart from the occasional cry of a bird calling above the background susurration of the river, and at times I was almost drowsing. Even without glancing at my watch it was obvious from the changing angle of the shadows that it was time for me to begin returning, but rather than literally retrace my steps I continued along the cliff-tops, knowing where I would emerge further downstream.
A few minutes later, I stopped as I thought I heard voices nearby, which was curious as I hadn’t been aware of anyone else for ages. The last thing I wanted was to meet anyone who might be in the same area, so with a change of plan I turned to go in the opposite direction, just as the sound resolved into a single voice rather than a conversation. It was only audible because I happened to have strayed a long way from the path, and my confusion was due to the background noise of running water, but it was easy enough to know how to get back even if I hadn’t been taught at primary school how to use my watch as a compass; and I only had to go downstream, after all.
The voice was now clearly discernible as a call for help, only audible within a very specific area and fighting to make itself, so I moved towards it and then almost wished I hadn’t as I balanced myself on the sloping rock and peered down, for about a metre below the edge of the cliff and hanging on as if she’d been there for quite some time, was Patricia Woodruffe, queen bee and general bitch. Had the overhang been greater, she could probably just have dropped into the river and not come to much harm if she fell in some deeper water, for she was a good swimmer, but directly below was a cluster of glistening, water-rounded rocks that would probably break both her legs, or worse.
“Is someone there?” her voice was hardly louder even this close, and it seemed hoarse, as if she’d been shouting for some time.
What was she doing there anyway, without her mobile audience? I doubt anyone else would even have heard her, and it was only coincidence that I had taken that route back, otherwise she would probably never have been found.
“Oh, it’s you,” she said, her head twisted to one side and trying to peer up at the same time.
“Yes,” I replied, “it’s me.”
“Well don’t just stand there gawping like an idiot, go and get one of the teachers.”
“I have no idea where any of them are,” there was no need to lie even if I’d wanted to, and it wasn’t something I usually did anyway: the truth was always simpler, and didn’t mean having to keep track of what had been told to whom and under which circumstances.
“In that case, you’ll have to help me, won’t you? Find a thick branch and see if you can get it down to me. If you put some effort into it, you should be able to lift me.”
“Or you might just pull me over as well,” I pointed out.
“I don’t know how much longer I can hold on. Well,” she was getting angry at my lack of response, “are you going to help me or not?”
“Whether I’ll help you; or not, as the case may be.”
“You mean you have to think about it?” she sounded more than a little annoyed, as if she was worried.
“Wondering about that, too. If you’re worth the effort of thinking about, I mean. It’s not something I usually do.”
“…” for the first time in all those years, she was speechless.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. “No pithy retort, no sarcastic comment? How about your favourite song to cheer you up? ‘Amber Allen, won’t get very far, Amber Allen, sounds like a porn star.’ You said it a few times on the coach up here, but I haven’t heard it since. The thing is, it doesn’t annoy me, in fact it never did, but you still say it day after day after day after day, as if it was a mantra whose omission meant the end of your world, like those sad creatures who check their phones every minute waiting for a text to validate their lives.”
“What…?” her voice changed from angry to puzzled and back again. “I don’t know what your beef is, and I don’t care. Just get me up from here before I fall.”
“Why?” I was genuinely curious, and I tried not to smile at all the questions that were flying back and forth between us, as if we were having a proper conversation about something meaningful, for though that could never be the case, the last thing I wanted was for my reaction to be misinterpreted as enjoyment. “I have no real desire to get beaten up again, or you could put me through that puerile ceremony you greeted me with on my first day.”
“It was just some fun,” she seemed to believe it, too, which was hardly a surprise. “All new girls get initiated, you know that, and it was your own fault you didn’t join in later. It only happened once, anyway.”
“Most got their heads dunked in the loos, but that wasn’t good enough for you and so you got your coterie of sycophants to hold me under and almost drown me, then as I lay gasping on the floor you squatted over me and pissed over my face. It must have given you something to laugh about for at least the next ten minutes, given your short attention span.”
“That was years ago! Do you mean to tell me you’ve held a grudge all this time?”
“‘Grudge’?” I sighed, and tried not to shake my head. “Do you honestly think you’re worth that amount of attention? Really? How self-centred can you get? Next thing I know you’ll be telling me I hate you, that I’ve had nothing better to do with my time and effort except think about you my every waking moment, and dream about you at night. I’m far from sorry to disappoint, but you’re the last thing on my mind, and I couldn’t care less about you. Whether you live or die means nothing to me, as you said yourself.”
“What?” panic twisted the word into a bird-like squawk.
“If I’d never been born or died when you spoke to me then and on virtually every subsequent occasion, no one would ever miss me or mourn me, so it was as if I’d never existed, which I might as well not have. Or something like that. As with everything you say it wasn’t worth remembering the actual words, but that was the gist.”
“Even if I did say that, you’re here now, so do something!” her breathing was becoming noticeably hoarser.
“Can, yes, but currently not, and still undecided. Whatever you do will be as if I wasn’t here, so I don’t actually have to do anything, do I?
“You better hope I don’t get up, or you really will wish I hadn’t. If you can’t be bothered to help me, at least go and get someone else, or is that too much to ask?”
“I find it strange that you’re trying to make use of the so-called weakness in me which you’ve always taunted me about. So, that would be a ‘no’, then.”
I sighed again, “I suppose with all your experience of telling other people what to do and how to think and what’s in fashion and who to bully, you’ve never done anything other than listen the sound of your own voice. Well, I’m not going to repeat everything, other than to say ‘no’ again.”
“But if I fall I might die!”
“I realised that as soon as I saw you.”
Real fear tainted her voice, “Didn’t you hear me? I said I might die!”
“Heard you perfectly the first time.”
“Aren’t you going to do something?”
“Well, I’m currently thinking of a down-side to the situation.”
“Bitch, cunt, whore, pervert, slut. Yes, unimaginative, repetitive, boring. I’ve heard them all before, numerous times, in different tones and even languages, which I admit was a bit of a surprise as it meant you’d learned something instead of demanding I give you the answers for tests you never bothered revising for, and you were too ignorant to know most of what I gave you was wrong, but then I suppose even a C would be good for you.”
“So now this is your chance for pay-back, is that it?”
“Still trying to turn this around and make it about my feelings for you, aren’t you? Haven’t you got it yet? I don’t have any feelings towards you at all, so I simply don’t care. Live, die, win the pools, fall down a cliff: it doesn’t matter to me at all what you do.”
“If I die, then it will be your fault and you’ll have to live with it for the rest of your life.”
“So now we’re past the threats and appeals, and have come to the next stage: trying to blame someone other than yourself. It’s so predictable it’s almost sad. It seems I really will have to repeat myself: I… do… not… care, so why would I feel guilt or remorse? And lest you think otherwise, no, I’m not enjoying this, so I won’t stay and watch.” I stepped back a pace, knowing my footing was safe because I had of course surveyed the ground before going near the edge, and nothing had happened in the minutes since to change the setting.
Did I hear a scream in the background as I walked away, or was that just my imagination, and if the latter did that mean it was what I wanted to happen, or only what I expected to? Either way, it didn’t concern me, in more than one sense of the word.
I returned to the hotel and placed the camera on my bed, reviewing all the pictures I’d taken and deleting the obviously bad ones, marking the remainder as ready for transferring to my main computer when I returned home, then I went and had a long relaxing bath and a short doze.
About an hour before dinner, which was just before dusk at that time of year, one of Patricia’s friends finally realised she wasn’t there to tell her what to think and how to behave, so after a few minutes of indecision where I could see the cogs slowly turning (if Patricia was just somewhere else and safe, the friend would be made fun of for weeks if not months, and if she was in trouble, the friend should have asked for help sooner, so either way she lost), the friend did indeed seek out one of the teachers and inform her of the absence, the results of which was that the friend and some others were sent out to retrace the route they thought Patricia had taken, as they knew her the best, whilst the teachers went the other way up the trail. I wasn’t even approached to help with the search, of course, for it was well known how much Patricia picked on me more than the others, and so I was the last one to know what might have happened.
It was precisely as if I had never existed.
So, did Patricia fall and die, fall and survive with various injuries or not, or was she found in time by someone else who happened to be passing by?
Don’t ask me, I don’t know why she hasn’t returned, and though I went for a long walk I never met her, for which I’m grateful as it would have spoiled an otherwise beautiful time, and what I hope will be some very nice photographs once I’ve balanced the levels, and removed any obvious faults in the imagery.
Confused? Don’t be. The title does contain the word ‘fantasy’, after all, and even within the realms of literary conceit such a conversation could never have taken place in those circumstances, for she’s barely capable of stringing together a fully-formed sentence at the best of times. How would I have reacted if that situation were real? I honestly don’t know. The simplest solution would be to just walk away, of course, and for the reasons mentioned, but I would probably have felt guilty afterwards; had I stayed and helped, she would then have targeted me even more for showing her how weak she was, which was hardly in my own interests, and whilst I would be aware of her absence it’s not as if I would actually miss her.