The day was what the Stranglers would call ‘sicky yellow’. Not a radiant and healthy yellow, the sort best flushed away. The tube train was rattling its way through suburbs to the greenery on the fringe of east London. The trees of Epping Forest dug deep into ancient earth, the ground covered in leaves turning to mulch, the sun was dying lower and lower through their branches. As Joe watched through the window he saw a hawk stoop and rise from the grass with a leveret in its claws.
Joe tensed, he knew that every full moon he too became a predator, a beast. He wasn’t sure how or why, but he had no dispute about the what. When the moon was due to brim he tried to get distance between himself and people, especially the people he loved. In the old werewolf films, the cursed would lock themselves away when the moon reached its climax. The thing is there ain’t too many attics nor basements in east London you could chain yourself to of a night. Not unless you had the money and were into that sort of thing.
Joe got off the tube at North Weald, one of those weird tube stations that is countryside rather than London, and started to walk as the sky dusked. The forest still had some wilderness. The deer at Clissold Park had no chance, but so much death is so small an area just brought attention, there’s only so much east London considers ‘normal’. The forest had deer, badgers, rabbits. Joe hoped their blood could sate the savagery within him. As the horns of the deer rise to glory, so the beetle and worm creep to earth.
Colic had been to interview the band Crass for his zine, Permanent Smile. It was becoming obligatory over the last year for every punk fanzine to have a Crass interview, and the band had a lot to say. They made a distinct musical noise; tinny bass, heavily fuzzed guitar, and a yelled polemic. The lad didn’t want his zine to be the only one without.
As with many a middle-class drop out, the band spat on the world they lived in, said people should think for themselves and then spent a lot of time telling them how they should. These beatnik pacifists posing as punkniks knew enough about fashion to use a cockney voiced young oik to belt out the words. Those with the luxury of dropping out so often spend their time telling those that society never let in all about it.
They promoted anarchy. Joe’s family had been Bundists and Anarchists in the East End at the start of the 1900s, and earlier back to eastern Europe against the Tsar. The hands-on anarchism of the print and sweatshop workers was one where people collectively fought against bosses rather than just dropped out. Having seen some of the punks and being told that anarchy was in fashion, Joe’s granddad quipped that even during the Spanish Civil War the CNT had found soap and water. Joe’s great-grandparents had read Rudolph Rocker’s anarchist newspaper Arbeter Fraint, Workers Friend, and gone to meetings at the Sugar Loaf pub on Hanbury Street, where the anarchists and reds met, debated, and organised.
In 1885, the Anarchist Lucy Parsons had said: “Let us devastate the avenues where the wealthy live”, in the 1920s she was described as ‘More dangerous than a thousand rioters’ by the Chicago Police Department. No guitars, no punk rock, no logo... just a small, black woman, way more direct than Crass were, speaking up and amplifying the rage of the downtrodden.
Colic wasn’t exactly raging, he’d interviewed Crass at their nearby commune, Dial House, and was now drunkenly asleep. He’d brought a few bottles of cider but it turned out the band preferred cups of tea, served in good china too. Not what he’d expected but they’d been pleasant and answered all of his questions. He’d recorded the interview on a cassette and scribbled down a few notes as well. All of these were stuffed into his army surplus shoulder bag. There had been a couple of bottles of Merrydown in there but he’d started to drink these walking back from Dial House to the bus stop. It was evening and he wasn’t sure if buses came this way, he could walk to the tube but the drink was making itself felt. At first he’d swaggered along the side of the road bellowing Crass’ song ‘Do They Owe Us A Living’. For many a punk Crass’ drop out anarchism was a lazy justification to drink cider, shout ‘smash the system’, and laziness. For Joe’s grandparents the idea of no police and no bosses had made them more disciplined, not less.
North Weald tube was a commuter station and, helpfully, only open for peak hours. Colic would have to get a bus over to Epping, a bit of a journey, and then the tube to town. He still had his cider so he wouldn’t be alone. As the second bottle started to spread its glow Colic felt drowsy. He lay on the grassy verge by the bus stop, just for a moment, but soon drifted off into drunken slumber. His bag made a pillow and he was laid out like a stone medieval knight on a tomb, albeit a scruffy one.
It was the sharp snap of a branch that woke him, then the brushing of something through the twigs and leaves. He opened an eye, rolled it to his left and to his right but saw nothing. He closed his eye and tried to drift off again, but then the crack of another twig jerked him fully to consciousness. It was coming from behind him, away from the road, and over his left shoulder. He stood up to see what it was, dusk had fallen but he could still see as far as the bushes beyond the verge. The brambles and hazel were definitely moving, badger maybe? No, the movement was too high up. Then, suddenly, a pair of bright yellow eyes pierced the twilight. As his locked with them all movement ceased, the evening fell silent. The brush of bushes had ceased and birdsong died.
After a moment that seemed a prog rock album, a figure stepped forward. The branches caught on the body, brambles snagged. Slowed slightly but relentless whoever, or whatever, it was pressed relentlessly forward.
Colic was slightly unsteady on his feet, he was still woozy from the nap and two bottles of strong cider but his head was clearing quickly and the rosy glow of his drunk was fading as the cold clarity of the threat now facing him was now asserted. He could feel his bowels loosen, fear or drink he wasn’t sure.
Slightly hunched but keeping the bright yellow eyes boring into his, Colic could see it was someone in Dr Marten boots, jeans, a black and white ‘Down in the Tube Station at Midnight’ t shirt, and an open black ‘arrington. This someone was more a something, a distant echo. The face was furred and the eyes shone fiercely from the snarling visage. The hands were curled and clawed, as the figure started to move, slowly at first, towards him the hands flexed in and out from the ball of a fist to spread fingers and pointed claws. Colic wondered if the Crass sigil he’d painstakingly Airfix painted onto his black combat jacket had invoked some demon?
As the figure advanced, it was obviously becoming clearer and clearer it meant him no good, Colic stood transfixed, his face so taut with fear three of his half dozen spots burst. Though not a cold night he could see the breath of the creature as it exhaled from its twisted nose. It was close now and Colic could even smell it. Above the stink of his clothes, below the tang of his cider there was musk. Breathing it in deeper he realised it was more of a must, like that of porn found in a carrier bag under a hedge.
Just then Colic’s funk burst, the beast was too close for him to run: it would be on him as soon as he turned. He reached down and picked up the cider bottle he’d been drinking from. He grasped the neck in his hand, a hand sweaty with cold fear. He swung once, twice, but the beast paused, leant slightly back, and the bottle arced harmlessly. Colic kept swinging, shouting “Fuck off! Fuck off!” repeatedly. The bottle landed on the beasts arm, but the limb was covered in coarse hair, the skin was as leather and the bottle bounced back without shattering. The force of the recoil swung Colic’s arm out and back. At the full extent, with the bottle in hand extending his arm and opening him up, the creature lunged. Claws raked Colic’s face, shreds of pimpled skin fell to the ground, cuts of flesh plopped to the floor and pus rose through the gore. Blood poured thick, time ran thin.
Joe was on the first tube back from Epping to London. He’d woken in the forest, next to a muddy puddle. His clothes were a mess, knowing it to be a full moon he’d worn old gear. He washed his face as best he could in the accusing reflection of the puddle, and got some of the drek from his jacket and jeans. At least on a train coming back from Essex covered in filth such people as were about would just take you for a Crass fan. They might have a feeding of the 5,000... but the wolf has to eat too.