Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Argleton Fields

by Suw on July 6, 2010

This is the first-ish draft of the first scene of my upcoming novelette, Argleton. I think it’s fair to say that everything is subject to change between here and the final draft, but I hope that this gives you a taste for what the rest will be like. If you fancy the look of it, please do pop over to my Kickstarter project and support me!

“Do you know where we’re going?” asked Charlie, peering over the neatly trimmed hawthorne hedge into the field beyond. Huge white ‘sight screens’ on rollers stood to one side. Beyond them was a small cricket pavilion, its weatherboards and railings painted fresh white, its beams and pillars in crisp black. The roof sagged a little, but every decorative ridge tile was in place. Figures painted in the small gable above the main door proclaimed its build date of 1887.

“Of course!” said Matt, brandishing his phone.

Thwack! came the unmistakable sound of cricket. The pitch was in play, men in cricket whites standing around in various states of relaxation. The bowler approached the wicket in a loping run, rolled his arm over and let go of the ball. Despite looking slightly harried, the batsman hit a four and a gentle cheer drifted through the air along with the scent of newly mown grass.

“Ah, there’s nothing like cricket to prove that summer finally has come,” Matt said as they passed through the gap in the hedge and started to skirt the pitch. “You know anything about it?”

“A bit,” said Charlie.

“Never really figured it out, myself” said Matt. “Other than that the team with the score most like a telephone number wins.”

“Well, that does rather depend,” said Charlie, glancing at the outfield where a portly gentleman stumbled backwards, trying to make a catch. “If they don’t finish play, say because of bad light or rain, then the second team doesn’t get a fair chance to even up so the result has to be calculated.”

“And why does the ref where a lab coat?”

“Umpire. The guy in the white coat is an umpire.”

“OK, so why does the umpire wear a lab coat? He’s not going to break off play for a sudden dissection half way through, is he?”

Their path lead them northwards towards the pavilion. A small group of spectators lounged in folding chairs or on picnic blankets enjoying their postprandial lull. Another lazy cheer went up. Matt left the path and headed over to the nearest onlooker, a pensioner with a cooler full of Pimms.

“Matt!” Charlie hissed, hanging back and blushing in sympathetic embarrassment, although Matt himself felt none.

“Who’s winning?” asked Matt, standing by the man’s side as if they were old mates.

“Aughton, my boy, Aughton.”

“Good to see the home side doing well,” said Matt, remembering the sign they had passed as they closed in on their goal. “Who are you playing?”

“Haydock. Although injury has them at a disadvantage, our lads are doing a fine job today.”

Another thwack, another cheer. From the distance came the drone of a small plane carving great aerobatic slices out of the sky. Matt could feel the sunshine on his exposed skin, a welcome change after all the recent rain.

“Well, good luck! I’m sure you’ll prevail.”

“Why, thank you! That’s very kind.”

Matt rejoined Charlie on the path and they continued northwards. The match continued behind them, with cheers and boos in seemingly equal proportion drifting on the haze. As they neared the top of the field, the wild grass through which the path travelled opened out, small trees dotted throughout like a tiny orchard.

“We have to either get into this next field on the left,” Matt said, staring at the map on his phone, “or to the north and then go left.”

“You mean west?”

“West. Left. Same thing.”

“What about that gap in the hedge up there?” Charlie pointed towards a fingerpost that in turn pointed towards a distinctly empty space.

“That might do it!”

At fingerpost they saw a narrow bridge just two board wide with high handrails on either side leading through the hedgerow, over a narrow stream that had been hidden from view. They hopped over the stile and in a few strides were over both the bridge and the stile on the other side, and wondering through the well cropped grass.

“Now that is one impressive cow,” said Matt, pausing in awe at a mountain of black and white, grazing in the middle of the field. He sniffed. “And impressively aromatic with it, I might add!”

“Erm,” said Charlie. “I’m not sure that’s…”

“Cows are docile, right? Just great big lumbering stomachs on legs.”

“Well, mostly, but that’s not a cow, Matt.”

“Of course it’s a cow! It’s not a little fluffy sheep, is it now?”

“No, I mean, it’s not a cow. It’s a bull.”

“It can’t be a bull. It doesn’t have any horns! I’m sure it doesn’t mean us any harm.” Matt started off towards the beast, which looked up at the sound of his approach.

“Doesn’t mean us any harm?” said Charlie, hesitating. “Look at the size of it. It’s a good foot taller than us!”

“Nah, it’s just a big old softie.”

“I really don’t think that this is a good idea, Matt. You don’t just barrel on up to a Friesian bull and get in its personal space.”

“Bulls don’t have ‘personal space’, Charlie.”

“I think you’ll find this one does.” Charlie scanned the hedge, looking for a way into the next field over, where they wanted to be. Slowly she started to edge along the field border, picking her way carefully through the wild grasses, keeping one eye on the bull, the other searching for cowpats.

The bœuf en hoof approached.

“Matt, let’s just leave it.”

“It’s just curious. I mean, at the end of the day, it’s a herbivore. It doesn’t eat human.”

The bull stopped. Its tail swished aimlessly as it stared at the pair. Matt couldn’t help staring back, although he also couldn’t help wondering if that wasn’t a very bad idea. Staring can be, after all, a sign of aggression, he thought. The stare did not appear to be born of friendly curiosity that Matt specialised in.

“I think we ought to run,” Charlie said.

“I think you’re right,” Matt finally admitted.

“On the count of three, head for that gate, right? OK. Three?”


The pair lurched forward from their standing start and dashed towards the gate. The bull watched for a second, then broke into a headlong run. They ran faster and adjusted course, trying to give the bull a wider birth.

Dear lord, this bull runs fast, Matt wanted to say, but his laboured breathing left no room for witticisms. His focus shifted to his escape route. There was a chance that they were going to make it, he thought, putting on an extra spurt. The thundering bull behind him, he vaulted over the bars of the gate, surprising himself in the process. He hit the ground awkwardly on the other side, stumbling forward. Momentum rolled him over, but not entirely out of the way of an equally clumsy landing by Charlie. She tumbled headlong towards Matt, landing mainly on his chest. A red flush raced up her neck and she rolled herself over on to her back.

The two lay panting, staring back at the Friesian monster that had pulled up short just in front of the gate. It snorted, breathing hard, although not as hard as the puny humans that lay sprawled before it. One last grunt and it turned, lumbering away, now disinterested in the creatures that it had successfully chased off its land.

“Oh crikey,” Matt gasped. “That was close.”

“You really are an idiot sometimes!” Charlie gasped, catching her breath and watching the mountain of meat disappearing behind the hedge. Matt sat up and fished in his pocket for his phone. He groaned. “What’s up?”

“My phone. I must have dropped it when we ran.”

“Oh no! You’re not saying we have to go back in there, are you?”

Matt looked at her and grimaced. They hauled themselves to their feet and crept slowly towards the gate, bending low so as not to draw the attention of the Friesian.

“You climb over, I’ll keep look,” whispered Charlie. Matt shot her a dark look, but given that it was his phone that was lost, didn’t comment further. Instead he slowly climbed over the gate, keeping his body close to the top bar and trying to be quiet. Charlie peered into the field from behind the hedge, searching for any sign that the bull was on the return.

Matt, crouching, scanned the grass in front of him, searching for the telltale glint of shiny black. Slowly he progressed back the way they had run, head down, trusting Charlie to be his lookout. With a rush of relief he spotted the phone, end up in the grass. He grabbed it and dashed back to the gate, gracelessly scrambling over in case trouble was coming up behind him.

“You got it?” asked Charlie.

“Thankfully,” said Matt. He stood up, happy to be on the safe side of the hedge again. “Right, let’s find this damn place!” He surveyed the view.

“We’ve found the damn place, and it’s a field,” Charlie said, hints of post-adrenaline grumpiness shading her tone.

There was no denying it. Lush grass tickled their ankles, long and verdant. Ahead they saw one of Lancashire’s finest pastures, enclosed by hedges on all sides and, this time, delightfully empty of livestock.

“It’s not just a field, Charlie,” Matt smiled, his equanimity restored. “It’s the field.”

“It is just a field. There’s nothing here.”

“No! This is Argleton! The town that defies explanation!” Matt moved off northwards. “Besides, we’re not quite there yet!”

Charlie trailed behind, muttering. Matt led the way, holding his phone out in front of him, casting it slowly back and forth before getting a fix and moving forward again, this time more slowly.

“You’re being ridiculous.”

“No, I’m being precise. Argleton is located at precisely… 53.54404, -2.912807. I have the latitude and longitude plugged into my map. We will be standing exactly on the pin in three…” He took a step. “Two….” He took another. “One!” He beamed, phone held proudly ahead for a moment before staring down at his feet.

“It’s not a Roman town, you know. You’re not going to find a series of small walls,” said Charlie. “In fact, you knew what it was going to look like because we saw it it on the TV news last night. Grass. Maybe a cow pat if we’re lucky. Turns out we weren’t, although I’m happier that way.”

Matt aimed his phone at the ground and took a photo of his feet.

“You’re right,” he said. “It’s not a Roman town, it’s a phantom town. A town that is listed on GeeMaps but which doesn’t actually exist. GeeMaps have no idea how it got there. The company that originally supplied the data doesn’t know. They even said as much: ‘I really can’t explain why these anomalies get into our database,’ they said. Right now, you and I are standing slap bang on an anomaly.”

“Yes, I saw the news too,” Charlie said. She looked around. There was really nothing much to see. On the far northern side they could see the roof of the village hall peeping up above the hedge. The hall belonged to Aughton, the nearby non-fantastical town. She could hear the grumble of the A59 to the northwest and, very faintly indeed, the cricket match that continued on the village pitch.

“You know, there are even businesses listed as being here in Argleton,” Matt continued. “And that’s the weird thing. This isn’t just a single anomaly. It permeates GeeMaps. Must drive locals mad, having their shops and offices located in a field in a town that doesn’t…,” he paused, staring at his phone. “Good grief! There’s wifi!”

“What?” Charlie came up behind him and peered over his shoulder at the phone screen. “Maybe it’s from the village hall.” They both peered into the distance at the grey roof.

“They wouldn’t have a wifi signal this strong,” Matt disagreed. “Ha! The wags! The SSID is ‘notrealG’!” He laughed. The letters of ‘Argleton’ could be rearranged to say ‘not real G’, where G was widely interpreted to refer to the G of GeeMaps.

“Can you connect?”

“It’s asking for a password. I wonder…”

Matt started to key in the alternative anagrams for Argleton that had been listed in one of the news stories he’d read.

“Not large. No. Great Lon. No. Give me a hand here, Charlie. I’m rubbish at anagrams.”

“I’ll say. ‘Great lon’ doesn’t even mean anything.” Charlie drew out her own phone and connected to the web, searching for an anagram site. She soon started reading out options. “Great on L.”

“And that means something? Anyway, no.”

“Let no arg.”


“Not le arg.”

“Are you turning into a pirate, or what? Still, no.”

“We’re running out now. How about, Get on l’ar?”

“Bingo!” The pair of them burst out laughing again as Matt’s phone connected to the hotspot.

“This is cool,” said Matt. “No one on Trill is going to believe that we are actually at Argleton, uploading a picture of the very spot via wifi called ‘Not real G’ with a password of ‘Get on l’AR’. What do you think that means, anyway?”

He was writing his message and uploading the image as he spoke.

“God knows,” replied Charlie. She shifted closer to Matt, pretending to peer at his screen. They waited. The ‘send’ progress bar made no move. Charlie wondered how long she could stand this close to him before it would be noticed, and sharply stepped away. “Er,” she said nervously, “look! A red kite! They’re really rare!” She pointed upwards into the blue sky.


“Over there,” she said, pointing. She felt awkward and hoped no one had noticed.

Matt peered into the sky, slow mobile web connection momentarily forgotten. A small dialogue box bounced into view on his phone screen:

> Download Argleton App?

“I can’t see it.”

“It’s kinda flown in front of the sun now. Oh, no, there it is!” She said, nudging him in the ribs and pointing again. Matt re-adjusting his grip on his phone. His thumb brushed the touch sensitive screen. It flashed up a new message:

> Downloading.

“Oh yeah! I see it!”

> Download complete.

> Gathering user data.

> User data collected.

> Hibernating.

“Wow! We are really lucky to see a red kite round here. Anyway, your upload done yet?” Matt glanced at his phone, wondering if it had crashed. Just as he was about to restart it, it gave a sudden spurt.

“Yup! There we go!” He said.

“Excellent! Now, the question is, how do we get back to the car without crossing paths with our new friend, Mr Bull?”

“No,” said Matt. “The question is, is there another Argleton?”

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