‘The old ones who run at night’

The letter ‘Y’.

I found the drawing of the Yeti in a children’s encyclopedia I was bought for a present one Christmas. The picture took up about a quarter of a page. It was a simple line drawing with no colour and no real detail apart from the shaggy hair and the ape-like face looking out from the page towards me. He (was it a he?) was expressionless; just huge and menacing. The words in the entry told me that he lived in the Himalayas but had cousins all around the world.

Some were called Bigfoot.

They were Everywhere!? That’s what the book said. There could be a Bigfoot living on my tiny island, down by the beach. I was sure of it. He’d be able to eat left over chips and melted ice cream. There were probably a whole load of them living on the island, especially in Summer when all the tourists turned up and food was all over the sand and the pavements. Books don’t lie, especially ones that purport to be about FACTS. Bigfoot was here.

In that children’s encyclopedia, at eight years old, the letter Y was best thumbed past as generously as you could, but sometimes I’d sneak a look just to re-horrify myself the way kids do. ┬áSometimes he’d appear in nightmares, crashing through the woods, or tearing something to pieces, or chasing fast until I couldn’t run any more. I thought about him when I was exploring the island with friends. The stupid grown-ups were too consumed with their parties, and jobs, and with smashing things, that they’d never see him. Bigfoot was too clever for them.

Through my teenage years I caught half-glimpses of him, roaming around the country lanes of Axholme, half-hidden in trees, always at the corner of my vision. He kept the ghosts company in times of stress, when the hallucinations of a blossoming mental illness were flitting in and out of sight. He would stand outside my nighttime bedroom window and listen to me whispering to the things that all the others couldn’t see; the things they would never know I sometimes saw.

He was as real to me as everything else that appeared when my mind got overburdened in my teens.

In my early twenties he didn’t visit me as much. Sometimes I’d search the internet – I saw the plaster casts of his feet, watched wild hillbillies jabbering about how fast he could run, and heard recordings of his screams. And he was safe. No-one had caught him.

When I started to get ill again in my late twenties he came back to me – standing in the pitch black at the end of the garden one night, hand up in greeting, I think he even smiled; it’s hard to tell with that face.

He came home, and decided to stay. Mostly he’s happy to visit me in periphery, calm and watchful, distant, natural. Other times he’s mad, screaming and vengeful and angry at me again, a perpetual threat. He hides well and frightens even better…

Yeti. Bigfoot. Bunyip. Sasquatch. Barmanu.

The American First Nation tribes know the truth, for them he is “The old one who runs at night.”

It’s the greatest metaphor I know.




Bulldog Spirit

I took the seat furthest away from the automatic doors. Anyone would on a cold day. The waiting room was walled by floor to ceiling windows of thick safety glass that looked out onto platforms 2A and 3A. And the rain.

A family of four entered the room and made straight for the two seats next to me. I moved my bag and continued to read my book. The Mum sat opposite; Father two seats away with their toddler daughter on his knee. Their young son sat right next to me and tried really hard to concentrate on some brightly coloured game on his phone. He kept stealing tiny glances at me.

I checked myself. Yeah, I was odd-looking. Odd enough to be stared at anyway. With my large brown Yak Wool coat (made in Nepal, so the label said), old jeans, yellow boots, beard, and a brown woollen hat, I looked like a homeless yeti waiting for its train back to the Himalayas. Or a Salvation Army Hostel. They probably have one on Everest – anywhere where the going is fair to poor is fair game to the Sally Army.

The kid was glancing at my open Bukowski book and mouthing some words. I looked at the pages, Chapter titled “Rape, Rape, Rape.”

I turned the page and hoped the boy hadn’t read any more. What might it have done to him? What had he seen? When the people opposite got up to catch the 15.31 to Penzance he moved quickly across to the other seats and sat with his head down kicking the floor anxiously with his bright shoes. I didn’t have time to explain to his Father or to the security cameras that it was unintentional. The book was a great work of art. What the hell was I doing reading that sort of thing in public in eyesight of the world at large, anyway? I shouldn’t give people any more reasons to whip on me.

I checked the facts (like the King of Dialectical Behavioural Therapy I will never be) and tried to tell myself the piece was not glorifying rape (which, in truth, it doesn’t) but was just a great literary signpost from the King of the Gutter. The thing was worth reading. Really. Just not by a kid. Simple mistake to make in a crowded waiting room.

They left soon afterwards. All four of them striding out onto the rainy platform, full of presents and half-term pseudo-happiness that would wear off before the week was out and Dad realised he preferred to be in the office; where the women didn’t look like his wife and where the kids never interrupted his train of thought about just that.

Six empty seats opposite me now. Then ‘Sssshhhhhhhuhhhhhhuuuuuhhh’ from the doors. A middle-aged man with a battered suitcase walked up the rows and sat down directly across from me. He was bald, clean shaven, in a black sweater and black jeans and work boots. On his bag was an ID badge ‘Michael’, his picture, and his job title: Cleaning Technician.

He got his mobile phone out. Tap tap tap tap tap tap. Pause…sigh….. ‘BEEP’. He opened what I assumed to be a message and mouthed the words as he read them. When he finished, his face dropped and he slowly shook his head. He let his hands fall into his lap. He had a huge underbite which made him look like a bulldog, and by jerking his jaw even further forward in some nervous gesture he’d done a lot throughout his life, he made it even more pronounced. Right now he was grinding those teeth anxiously, making the bottom incisors look like they were chewing his nose. He was sad – I was sure he was bravely holding back tears. Something in that message…. I felt for him. I wanted to ask him if he was ok but the room was filling up again and I didn’t know if it’d make it all worse; turn the situation into something explosive. Shit, he might even run out onto the tracks. I could see the headlines in the Derby Evening Telegraph: “Man dies after huge row in waiting room. Police looking for a suspect in fancy dress with possible mental health problems”. I didn’t need that. Nor did Michael, I suppose. I would just have to sit and watch it play out without interference in the karmic direction of things.

I tried to keep reading, but my mind wouldn’t leave Michael. What was going on? Was his wife leaving him? Was he losing his job? Was I making it worse by staring? Yes….yes I was.

He continued to grind his jaw forward, then, like he’d made something important up in his brain, he stood up, shrugged his shoulders, and headed for the platform. My heart started to pound. Here he was, broken relationship, job gone, and I was letting him kill himself. I had to do something.

I watched him stand too close to the thick yellow line by the edge of the platform as the next train came in. I stood up, ready to run out of the waiting room and stop him. He stepped back from the train. It pulled up quickly and vomited out the passengers. From among them, a blonde woman came straight for Michael, put down her bag, then threw her arms around him. He laughed and held her tightly as she kissed him on those teeth. I was saved.