Snare started life as a memory of a walk in the Cotswolds. I was trying to kick start my creative process (assuming I have one) by consciously trying to think of something different to work on. I had hit something of a block with all my ongoing work and I wanted something ‘light’ that I had no expectations of doing anything with except finishing. I had several (far too many) starts and part finished and middles and even a few endings but not all in the same story. So Snare began as something of a mental exercise, taking the feeling of that memory, walking down a small Cotswold village alleyway between yellow walls and seeing where it ended up. It worked in the sense that it captured, for me, the memory but then it produced the same problems of a multiplicity of potential branching threads of plot, genre, character development. I was in danger of letting it be another beginning, several middles and possibly several or no endings. I decided to be ruthless and eschewed overt genre turns – horror, grizzly rural murders, psychological angst and let it be where it led. It would probably benefit from much more editing and a ‘spread sheet’ approach to story arc. However I like it, it did what I wanted and allowed me to write, but to direct the writing, accept what came, control it and make choices and above all FINISH it to a stage I was content to send it out into the world. Here it is in its entirety.
Ed thought he recognised the figure almost as soon as it turned into the narrow alley behind the almshouse cottages. His immediate reaction was to jump off the wall he was perched on and escape down the path at the side of old Mrs Joiner’s place. He could get back to the road that way without having to speak to Edgworth. It wasn’t that he disliked Tom Edgworth. He didn’t. They’d been friends of sorts at school, not that long ago, but Tom was an odd one Ed thought. Not aggressive as such, not mean really and not even particularly unruly at school. Some of the teachers had had it in for him. Bit odd of them really when you thought about it. They were ‘green’ and ‘animal lovers’ but didn’t seem to like Tom’s country ways at all. Ed remembered a ‘show and tell’, some daft American idea, where Tom had brought his ferret. Didn’t like that animal did they? Ed smiled. Not really that bad a bloke Tom. They’d spent one summer fishing for trout and selling them on. Trouble was they’d gone fishing with gunpowder packed in tins. ‘Bang!’ and all the silvery bodies floated up to the surface of old Turbemere’s lake and you scooped a nice bit of earnings. Tom said his granddad had showed him that trick. Better than sitting there all day with a line and getting nicked for poaching and no licence. One bang, five minutes frantic netting and off before Turbemere’s water bailiff could get a look at you, never mind catch you.
Ed looked up the alley again. Definitely Tom. You could tell by the strut in his step that he’d seen and recognised Ed too. Couldn’t walk off now without offending him.
Problem had been the police were a bit hotter on explosions than in grandad’s day. Lot of bother, but no charges in the end. Couldn’t prove it, and Tom and Ed had just denied it all. Tom reckoned they just visited all the kids in the village. Ed hadn’t liked it. His mum and dad had been furious having police round the house. ‘I told you them Edgworths were no good didn’t I boy?’ his dad had yelled at him. Ed had nodded. ‘And that Tom is worse than any of ’em.’ Ed had nodded again. ‘Stay away from them boy. Won’t go wrong if you stay away from them. Weird buggers they are.’
‘Why weird Dad?’ Ed had felt emboldened to ask now Dad’s ire was turned elsewhere. His father had glanced at his mother who gave one small shake of her head. ‘Never mind boy. You find some other friends that’s all.’ So he pretty much had. Couldn’t avoid Tom completely in a village mind. But there had been no more fishing trips. And now they’d left school and both found that there was no work in a village anymore, with good exams or no exams. Time lay heavy on Ed’s hands. He’d more or less decided to go to Uni next year after all. Tom didn’t have that option.
Tom bounced down the alley between the back of the cottages and the tall yellow limestone wall of the old Sterven estate, long ago split up into its constituent farms and the hall sold off. Tom drew level with where Ed was sitting.
‘You going somewhere Tom?’ Ed asked.
‘No, rooted to the spot me.’
‘Well don’t be a prat then Ed Bayfield. Course I’m going somewhere. Why would I be walking down here otherwise?’
‘Going for a walk?’
‘I’d be going somewhere then, wouldn’t I?’
‘Nah, you’d be walking, but not to anywhere. ‘Cept back where you started of course.’
‘Well I’m not. I’m going somewhere.’
‘Where you going?’
‘What’s it to you? You me mum are you?’
‘She doesn’t care where you are.’
Ed jumped down from the wall he’d been sitting on and fell in step beside Tom Edgworth.
‘Where we off?’
‘Oh it’s “we” now is it?’
‘Don’t mind a bit of company do you? I’m bored out of my skull.’
Tom looked his companion up and down.
‘No, that’s okay Ed. You can make yourself useful though, carry that.’ And with that he slung the old fashioned haversack he’d been carrying at Ed.
‘What’s in it?
‘Why you carrying it then?’
‘I’m not. You are.’
‘Very funny. You know what I mean. Why am I carrying it?’
‘Cause you’re a prat and you’re bored.’
‘Ta very much.’
Tom turned left at the end of the walled pathway and vaulted the gate that blocked the way. Ed climbed after him.
‘This is Chucker’s land. He’ll go spare if he catches us.’
‘Well he isn’t going to is he? It’s Tuesday, he’s up the market in town.’
‘I thought they’d shut that?’
‘Nah, they closed the old one, the one that sold useful stuff. It’s what they call a farmers market now. Chucker takes stuff up there.’
‘What, lambs and stuff?’
‘Can’t kill his own these days, gotta go to an abattoir.’
‘What’s he sell then?’
‘Few veg his missus grows, few birds he shoots, potatoes, and a load of crap he buys in and slaps Sterven Farm labels on.’
‘Ah well, gives us a chance for a little enterprise, doesn’t it?’
Ed hefted the canvas sack and looked at Tom.
‘Enterprise? What? Like the fish?’
‘You can chuck us the bag and go back if you like.’
‘I didn’t say that.’
‘Good. Let’s get down in the lane.’
They dropped down to the side of the field out of sight of prying eyes in the almshouses, into the shade of high old hedgerows. A shallow depression lay between the hedges forming a dark, green lane that ran up the hill by the side of Chucker’s 30 acre and on into Dumbar’s wood. Tom kept up a good pace in the warm Spring air and Ed was sweating by the time they got to the top of the rise.
‘Right, we can slow down now.’ Tom said, his voice quiet.
‘What we doing Tom?’ Ed asked in a whisper.
Tom stopped and crouched by the side of the lane.
‘Right, we’re going to go down the other side of the hill in the wood. There’s a few runs I put snares on last night. Need to check ’em.’
‘Snares? Shit we’re going to be in big trouble if we get caught. That what the bag’s for?’
‘What do you think?’
‘Tommy, what do you want rabbits for?’
‘Dad likes them, nice with a mustard sauce’ He laughed. ‘And old Carslake the butcher takes them for a few quid each.’
Ed considered this news.
‘People still buy rabbit then?’
‘Lots of farmed rabbit about.’ Tom nodded to the woods, ‘But these beauties? Wild, natural, sustainable, organic, all that old bollocks. Sell for a premium to the right type.’
‘Weekend Barbour brigade. Hippies who aren’t Vegan yet. Knit your own yoghurt types.’
‘Must be mad.’
‘Keeps me in fags. Now are you coming or not?’
Ed looked back down the hill and then at the gap in the bushes leading to the wood, then at Tom. They’d had good fun with the fishing and the money had come in handy. He wondered if Tom might cut him in on some now. He was always skint these days. Be in big debt if he went to Uni.
‘All right, go on then.’
‘Good lad, let’s get on.’
The two of them rose and crossed the lane, disappearing into the deeper shadows beneath the canopy.
‘Bit creepy Dumbar’s, never liked it.’ Ed confided.
‘Dunno, feels funny. Lots of kids at school said so an’ all. Loads of bad stories about it.’
‘That’s why I like it.’ Tom said.’ All them daft stories keeps folk away. Lots of things in here you don’t get other places with people crashing about scaring ’em off.’ He stopped, and as if to prove his point a fallow deer buck walked across the path ahead of them. It stopped, half in, half out of the shadows for a moment, sniffed the air and walked on, unconcerned, to disappear in the undergrowth.
‘He’s kept his antlers late.’ Tom said ‘April? Should be shed by now.’
‘Big beggar wasn’t he? Ed said.
‘He was. Maybe he’s come to have you?’ Tom said, making a scary face and raising his hands in claw like manner.
‘Sod off Tommy. Let’s find these rabbits.’
Tom let his hands fall to his sides. He nodded down the track to where the buck had crossed the path. ‘Follow the big lad then’
They moved off down the trail to where the sun dappled the bushes and the path, and turned off to the left into the shadows of the undergrowth. There was a crash of something moving hard through the bushes and Tom pointed as the white patch and black horseshoe shape of the buck’s rump disappeared into the woods’ gloomy interior.
‘Should be lying up, daft animal.’
‘Forget him Tom, let’s find these rabbits.’ Ed said
‘Bit odd though isn’t it?’
‘Bloody big buck wandering about bold as brass in the day, still got his antlers this time of year. Weird.’
‘You’re not scaring me Tom. It’s just a deer.’
Tom was about to say something else but stopped and moved off.
‘Come on then.’
They descended into the deepening gloom of the trees. There was no more noise from the buck, and no birdsong broke the silence. Tom and Ed moved through the undergrowth as softly as shadows. Tom had said no-one came here, but they both knew game birds lay up in these woods. There was no game shooting this time of year and the rearing pens were on the other side of the valley, but Chucker’s gamekeeper could be planning out drives and seeing what was what anywhere on the land. Both listened for the sound of movement and their eyes swept the depths of the wood for a sign of the keeper. They carried on in this fashion, cautiously following the path across and down the hillside for a few minutes. Careful, silent progress. Then Tom held up his hand and pointed at a small ‘V’ carved into an Ash trunk.
‘Down this way.’ He whispered and slid off the track to the left.
Ed could see the animal run emerge onto the path as he followed Tom.
‘Why didn’t you trap it at the end?’
Tom stopped and looked at Ed. ‘And have Chucker or one of his boys see it? Don’t be daft Ed. I thought you was a country boy.’
Ed nodded. Tom always made him feel like this. Never quite as smart, quite as sharp, quite as at ease with the wilder end of life as Tom. Tom hadn’t been phased at all by the police calling about the fish. Never bothered about the teachers on his back. Never directly rude but always challenging. Always one better behind the back of anyone in authority. Hadn’t got him a job though. Hadn’t got him out of the village. Hadn’t got him the exams to go to Uni. He was smart in other ways; ways teachers and coppers didn’t approve of. Ed wasn’t sure he did any more. There was something attractive about Tom’s wildness but it scared Ed at the same time. Tom was like the buck, part of the same natural system, but unusual, larger than life, belonging to a disappearing world. Whereas Ed wanted to get out of Dumbar’s wood and away from the buck whose antlers should be long gone.
‘Come on dopey, first one’s only a few yards.’ Tom said, moving off through the bushes.
Ed had done all right at school once he’ stopped hanging around with Tom and actually done some work. His teachers hadn’t suggested college because they’d had him marked down the same path as Tom, but now he’d got his results, good results, he was thinking about going this year. He’d put an application in and had one offer and needed to talk to someone about a couple of others he was waiting for. The idea was to make some cash this year but so far there’d been nothing. And here he was again with Tom.
He nearly bumped into him as Tom stopped.
‘Here we go.’ He stooped and pulled aside a branch. The snare had looped neatly round the rabbit’s neck and the animal was as dead as it was going to be. Tom unpegged the wire and pulled it out from the rabbit’s flesh. He coiled the wire and peg and pocketed them, giving the animal to Ed who stuffed it in the haversack.
‘Next one’s about five yards over.’ Tom whispered.
They turned their back on the run and stepped under and round the undergrowth to where Tom had laid the next snare. There was no rabbit. The loop of wire was still set open and there was no sign of disturbance. Tom shrugged. ‘Bugger. I thought that we’d maybe get them all sprung today.’ He stood up. Never mind, leave it, we can come up tomorrow and check that one.’
‘”We.” Already apparently in Tom’s mind they were working together again. Ed wasn’t so sure. He had a route out if he was sensible. College. A job in a town or city. Money, independence. Not being a country boy on the edge of existence. Not being a sidekick to a chancer like Tom. Wondering again why Tom’s family was weird and what would happen when the luck ran out.
They checked another three snares on this side of the path, one empty, one with another clean kill and one with the animal still kicking a little as the noose hadn’t broken the neck or throttled it in the time since it had run into the trap. Tom slipped a short lead cosh from his pocket and smacked the animal sharply on the back of the neck which stopped the wriggling.
‘He’ll be a tough old bugger to eat. Give that one to my Dad I reckon.’ Tom laughed.
‘Why tough or why give it my Dad?’
‘Both I suppose.’
‘They don’t die quick, they get real knotty. All that struggling. Quick kill before they realise what’s happening, they’re all relaxed see. Nice eating. Dad don’t mind, but Carslake’s customers is choosy. I start giving him tough old buggers like this he’ll drop the price or stop taking ’em altogether.’ Tom grinned. ‘Customer care boy.’
Ed took the animal and looked at it. ‘You’ll know which is which?’
‘Yeah. Look.’ Tom flipped its neck over. ‘See. Big bit of fur rubbed off this side where it was struggling.’ He lifted the head. ‘And that mark where I whacked him.’
Ed put it in the sack with the others.
‘How many more Tom?’
‘Another five. Round the other side of the warren.’ He pointed to a patch of thick briars just down the hill. ‘That’s it. Hundreds of the little beggars in there. Not far to the fields in the bottom of the valley. I’d get more trapping that side but you don’t know who’s watching from the wood on the other hill.’
Ed nodded and they moved off around the thicket and uphill back towards the track.
They finished emptying the snares. Four of the five had been good clean kills and one untouched. Tom was setting another snare on a new run when they heard a crashing through the undergrowth somewhere down by the briar thicket.
The two of them looked up and then at each other.
‘What’s that Tom?’
‘It’ll be that bloody buck. It’s getting late and he’ll be off to browse in Chucker’s fields.’
‘Yeah, come on. Set one where you are. You’re more or less standing on a run there.’
Ed caught the wire and peg that Tom threw at him. He crouched down and looked for the tunnel through the undergrowth. He’d tight pegged the wire round a good strong trunk of a bush and was just setting it open at the right height for a rabbit head when the crashing sound cam louder and presumably nearer. Ed half crawled to where Tom was finishing his last snare.
‘Come on Tom. Let’s go.’
‘What’s the matter? Afraid of the spooky deer?’
‘I don’t know Tom, but it’s getting late and I don’t want…’
There was a whistle and both lads dropped down to the ground. They looked at each other. ‘That’s not a fucking buck Tom.’
The other noises got louder and they heard panting. A dog was quartering the wood.
They backed under a blackthorn bush, Ed biting his lip as the thorns scratched his legs.
The dog’s panting got louder and the whistling more strident. Then a man’s voice cut the air.
‘Max! Max, come! Come!’
The dog went away.
‘What is it? A walker?’ Ed whispered.
‘Keeper with a new dog?’
‘It’s bound to find us.’
Tom raised his head a little looking downhill to where the noises were coming from.
‘Move uphill Ed, slow and low like. He can’t have seen us.’
‘What about the dog?
‘Don’t sound too bright if he’s making that noise to get him to come back does he? Come on boy, move!’
The two started to half crawl, half stumble up the hill keeping as low and as quiet as they could while they made their way back towards the path.
They almost stumbled onto it through a stand of hazel that someone had coppiced years ago, now left to straggle. Tom stopped, and froze, still, barely, in the cover of the trees.
‘Bugger’s come up the lane and onto the side path. Standing up there now.’
‘Who is it?’ Ed asked.
‘Dunno. No shotgun, not Chucker or his keeper.’
‘What’s he doing?’
‘Just standing there.’
‘Waiting for the dog?’
Tom was like stone, unmoving, eyes fixed and his voice was the sound of a leaf falling. Ed could tell it as there but he wasn’t sure how he could hear it. It was almost as if he could feel Tom’s thoughts in his head rather than through his ears.
Ed wanted to know what was going on but he was stuck behind his friend, his view of what was happening blocked by the edge of the copse. To get a glimpse of what a going on he needed to move around Tom but that would mean making a noise and moving the trees and if Tom’s stillness was anything to go by that was probably not a good idea right now.
Tom slowly lay down, his body behind the hazel, his head just poking round the undergrowth. ‘He’s looking downhill. Not moving though’.
‘Can we get across the path?’
Tom shook his head slowly. ‘He’s not got his back to us. He’ll see the movement. Specially if he’s looking for the dog.’
As if to emphasise that the man most certainly was looking for his dog, there was a burst of whistling and shouts of ‘Max! Max!’ from the direction of the path. There was a crashing sound again in the brush behind them in response to the shouts and a flash of brown and white crossed the track going uphill.
‘He saw the dog. I think.’ Tom said.
The circled back round uphill of them and came across the path. It was a Springer, all smile and tail touching its nose as it greeted them with a bark.
‘Fuck off.’ Tom hissed and his hand curled round the handle of the knife he carried tucked away under his hoody.
Ed looked at the dog, excited now by its new friends. It was unlikely Tom would get near enough to kill the dog but if he did or if the owner saw him with the knife that would be the end of Uni, the end of his escape from the village. He dug inside the rucksack, pulled out the rabbit that Tom had dispatched and waved it like a toy at the dog who, smelling the blood and meat, set for it. Ed held the carcass out to the animal and as the dog seized it, he grabbed the dog’s collar. He left the bag at Tom’s side. ‘Stay there.’ He said and walked out onto the path.
The man had been about the start shouting again by the look of it and was a couple of paces down the side path when Ed appeared. Ed put his gruffest voice on, but gave it the posh edge he used when he was talking to the adviser about his options for college places. He hoped it would sound like Chucker’s keeper.
‘Is this your dog?’
‘Oh, er yes.’
‘Well keep him under control will you? Look what he’s been doing.’ Ed gestured towards the dog’s new toy being shaken like a rat as he trotted contentedly at Ed’s side.
‘Oh, God! Leave it Max!’ Put it down!’
The man looked shocked.
‘I’m so sorry. He got away from me. He’s only young and…’
Ed was up to the man now.
‘You got a lead for him?’
‘Well put it on then.’
The man fumbled for the lead and snicked it onto the collar. Ed let go of the collar and stood up.
‘You should keep him on the lead in the country. There’s lambs about this time of the year and birds rearing in the woods. If I’d had my shotgun…’
‘Oh God! I didn’t think. I am so sorry.’ He looked down at the dog who was trying to eat the rabbit. ‘Max, put it down, please.’
Ed looked at the dog and firmly took the rabbit and said ‘Leave!’
Max was a bit startled at the gift being taken back but he let go and waited.
‘Thank you.’ Said the man. ‘I couldn’t get him to come back. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t caught him.’
‘Get some training, then he’ll come back to you.’ Ed smiled. ‘Might even bring you some more to share.’
‘Oh, I am so sorry. He’s not in trouble is he? Are we?’
Ed looked thoughtful for a moment.
‘Well, it’s only a rabbit and no birds damaged so not this time. No. But if he gets loose again where there’s lambs or birds…’
‘Yes, yes of course. It won’t happen again.’
‘Right then. Where are you headed?’
The man patted Max.
‘We’re headed for Colehampton.’
‘Colehampton! You’re way off.’
‘I thought so but Max saw a deer and dashed off and I had to get him. Got pretty lost to be honest. Could you put us back on the right path?’
‘I reckon.’ Ed gave Max a pat as well. ‘A deer you say?’
‘Yes. Big one, seemed to keep stopping to get Max to follow him.’
‘Yes. Is he famous or something?’
‘Just a bit odd, antlers this time of year.’
The man was looking at Ed, waiting for more. Ed decided there’d been enough chat.
‘Well, you’re on private land here but if you head down to the bottom of the wood and turn left along the 10 acre there, you’ll come to a lane. Turn right up the valley and there’s a footpath about half a mile on the left will take you into the back of Colehampton, by the church.’
‘Thanks. We’d better get going then. Cheerio.’
‘And keep Max on his lead.’
Ed watched the man and Max, reluctant to leave his furry plaything behind, walk down the slope to the ten acre. He wondered about the deer Max had been lured into the wood by. He waited until Max had disappeared and then walked back to Tom.
‘Has he gone?’
‘Off to Colehampton with his dog, aye.’
‘He got lost.’
‘That was bloody brilliant Ed. I thought you was a keeper myself for a minute. How did you know he was just a walker?’
‘Dog wasn’t trained was he? Just a pet like, running all over like that, all that noise, him and the bloke. Not a countryman’s dog.’
‘Like the way you gave the dog the tough old boy been squirming all night. Good thinking that. You’ve got big future here you have boy.’
Ed didn’t answer but picked up the bag and walked off up the hill.
They crested the rise and walked down into the Green lane. They kept well into the hedges along the 30 acre, Tom garrulous with the excitement of their encounter. They reached the almshouses without problem and as they went over the gate they turned and looked up into the darkening shadows of the woods. A figure emerged from the edge of the trees, darker than the shadows, and paused. It was hard to see details with the setting sun over the wooded hill casting fingers of darkness down the field, but Ed was sure he could see points of light on antlers. He pointed the figure out to Tom who grunted. Then the figure tipped back its head and a belling roar echoed in the evening air.
‘It shouldn’t have antlers now.” Ed said.
Tom looked at his friend.
‘See you tomorrow?’
Ed kept on looking at the hill. The patch or darkness returned to the wood.
‘Don’t think so Tom. I’ve got to talk to some people about next year.’