He took a flask of tea out of his backpack, poured some into the cap, added a nip of the local single malt, and sat back against the standing stone. It was good to get away from it all. No roads below, not even jet trails scarred the sky. He rummaged in his pack for an energy bar, peeled off the foil and bit into the crumbly cake.
Out the corner of his eye he thought he saw something red bobbing up and down. It was far too big to be a capercaillie. This was more like a balloon. Maybe it was from a competition and had run out of air, getting stuck in a bush. It could be another walker. But that wasn’t possible, no one was allowed here.
The red shape got closer. Not the red of a pillar box, more like the lustrous radioactive red of a mushroom cap. It was another walker after all, wearing a jacket. The figure waved. Paul waved back and immediately regretted it.
“Hello.” The walker stopped nearby. Leaned on his stick and breathed deeply before exhaling with the sound of satisfaction. “Marvellous.” He smiled. “May I join you?”
“You already have.” Paul smiled too. “You know this is private land?”
“Really?” The walker sat down beside Paul. “I didn’t see any signs.”
“Unless you flew in, they’re all around the estate.” Paul downed his tea and started to put the flask away.
“Do you have any left? I’m parched. I didn’t bring anything with me. Sorry to be a pain.”
The walker’s only concession to the environment was the jacket. He wasn’t even wearing boots, just shoes more suited to the office than a hillside. Another one of those eejits who expected to get rescued by using his mobile phone. He’d be out of luck, no signal up here. Just the way Paul wanted it. The locals in the nearby town were a bit miffed, but he let them use his high speed fibre-optic broadband.
Paul unscrewed the cap and poured out some more black tea. “And a wee bit of the good stuff, if you will.” Paul clenched his jaw. Instead of telling this guy to take a running jump, he dropped a generous measure into the tea and passed it to the walker.
The walker cupped his hands round the tea and breathed in the steam. “Marvellous.”
“Who the hell are you? What are you doing here?”
“You could say I’m your biggest fan.”
Paul held out his hand, flat, and after no response from the walker made a beckoning motion. “Come on then. I’ll sign whatever you have. Just go away and leave me in peace. I hope you’ve brought your own pen.”
The walker sipped from the tea and sighed. “I haven’t got anything to be signed. I just wanted to meet you. Britain’s answer to Stephen King.”
“I always thought that was James Herbert. I prefer the 21st Century’s H. P. Lovecraft.” Paul barely kept up with the hawk as it dove down on its prey which struggled in its talons as the hawk rose up again.
The walker smiled. “Well, quite. Makes a change from all the zombie authors writing about sparkling vampires shagging faeries. Good to see a return to that nihilist realism from the live-forever fantasy.”
“It isn’t that bleak is it? Atheist perhaps, if you don’t consider some of the extra-terrestrial beings as gods. But they give some meaning to existence, even if it is only to die for their fleeting benefit. Life itself is a purpose.”
“God is dead, nonetheless. But you seem to have single handed denied God and brought so many back to belief.” The walker took a deeper drink, the tea had cooled. “What prompted you to do the TV special of ‘The King in Yellow’?”
“That was a terrible, terrible idea. I don’t know what possessed me. They kept asking me for rights, for film, for merchandising. Can you imagine a playset of Forgotten K’Rata risen from the desert sands? A Nathugua doll? How would they do the non-Euclidean tentacles?” Paul turned towards the walker, but his eyes were seeing something else. “I thought what is the worst thing I could give them, something they’d never do in a million years? I saw my copy of the play in its case, and I knew that was it. They lapped it up.” Paul took a long swig from his hip flask. “I mean I warned them. I told them it wasn’t me that wrote it, originally. I just reconstructed the play. Found original medieval sources Chambers didn’t have access to. It was banned for a reason. They went ahead anyway. It was all Victorian hysteria, they said. You must have seen the Yellow Sign. It was everywhere, the Radio Times, posters on the underground, even on badges.”
“One in ten, I heard.”
“Yeah. Something like that. The producers should have stopped it during rehearsals when the cameraman attacked Liz Forrester with a knife. It just added to the pre-broadcast hype. They agreed to put a warning announcement before the show. But I still feel like it was all my fault.”
“I don’t think we can put all the blame for the queues at A&E, the stress on the mental hospitals and the overflowing morgues entirely at your feet. Those people chose to watch it of their own free will.”
Paul looked up at the walker. He was serious, he didn’t blame Paul. He offered the walker the hipflask.
The walker lifted his hand. “No thanks. I better be going. Like I said, big fan. Just wanted to meet you.” The walker got up and headed back the way he came.
Paul watched until the red of the jacket disappeared from view.