on the motorway that first night on the road; the boys sprawled every-which-way in the back of the removal van cab, covered with cock-eyed sleeping bags, hand knitted hats half over their faces; fast asleep and twitching. I had crept in beside them but could not sleep, so full of thoughts and anticipation for what I was going to find ahead of me, that I decided to take a walk around the perimeter of the small service station we had parked up in. There was a sliver of a moon slung low over the horizon and a strange orange haze to the night air, twitchings in the tree tops above my head and a faint smell of diesel coming from other parked trucks.
I walked along the boundary, until I came to a place where the fence had been broken and I decided to squeeze through. I struggled to pass, trying not to snag my coat on the rough edges of the wire and when I did got through, I found myself in a large field filled with stubble and deep furrows. Away from the motorway, it was very quiet. At the furthest edge of the field I caught glimpse of some sparks of light; like a match being struck repeatedly.
In a few tentative steps I was there, standing next to a small man bent intently over a pile of twigs, trying to coax some life into them. His clothes were rough and he looked as if he had been sleeping outside for a while.
“Hello,” I ventured … no reply.
“Would you like some help?” Again, nothing. I crouched down and pushed some kindling closer to him and he momentarily looked up sideways at me. I saw his eyes; bright green and startled but wise. I had no fear.
“It’s okay, I understand if you don’t want to speak,” I said and I think that reassured him a little because he passed me the matches and sat back looking at me again rubbing his nose with his finger.
“Oh, well, no wonder you are struggling.” He smiled but offered no words. I picked out a few damp matches and started to rub them between my palms.
“We will soon get this going,” I added.
Don’t ask me why this happened. I had no idea what was going on. I came across a man in a field next to a motorway service station and I helped him start a fire. At the time it seemed like a very normal thing to do. Even though there was a café next to the petrol station and I was sure he would have been better off sitting quietly in the corner next to the cash machine than out in a field trying to light a fire, I thought nothing of helping him.
Don’t ask me how I started it. For some reason the matches exploded into life right there and then between my palms. I’m surprised that I did not burn myself, as sudden as it was. I dropped the spark into some dry material that I assumed the man had collected a little while earlier and to my surprise, smoke started to inch its way out from the little pile of shavings.
It looked like I had been starting fires like that all my life but in truth, I had never done it before.
We both knelt shoulder to shoulder, feeding larger and larger pieces of kindling into the fire, intent on coaxing out the flames, eventually working our way up to one of the small branches. Soon it was crackling away nicely. The man sat back on his heels and smiled wide and satisfied, like his life had suddenly been made complete. He added no words whatsoever to our little endeavour.
After a few minutes, seeing that the fire was taking pretty well, I decided that I would return to the van, so I nodded a quick goodbye and crept back across the field. Just as I was about to pass through the hole in the fence, I heard a shout. It was the tramp, he was waving to me to return and when I crept back over to where he was standing, he was holding out his hand. I took his offering; a gold coin. In the light of the fire I could just make out a labyrinth etched into one side. I put it in my pocket and slowly walked away. Again at the fence, I glanced backwards. The man had vanished and so had the fire.
It was only later that I realised, when I saw the same man again in another completely different situation that this had been my first ever encounter with Lorca, the Ringmaster.