"Thoreau was a coward. Make no mistake. The woods offered him a rustic escape from the bustle of modern life. But his cabin was warm and Walden Pond well-stocked with fish and a carriage was always waiting to return him to his extravagant house in the city. And so it was that I chose England. A land of Druids, and magic, and ancient pagan rituals. A country built on stone monuments, and crumbling cathedrals. A place of shifting borders and endless conflict and pockets of countryside so remote, so unobtainable, that they remained untouched to this day. I speak, of course, of the moors—a dessert of moss and rock populated by wild animals and even wilder people. The moors represent life at its basest and at its most cruel. I went there, not looking for a quiet respite, but to be tested. To see if the beast within myself, which is in all of us, could survive once life had been stripped down and reduced to its barest state. I wanted to know just what I was capable of and how far I'd go to survive."
England was neither wild nor magical. It was, in fact, just wet and dreary. Todd was pretty sure that the word 'dreary' had been coined centuries ago by an early tourist specifically to describe the English climate to his friends back home. He had reached that opinion even before the plane touched down at Heathrow. After flying over miles of endless sea, a thick bank of clouds rolled in obscuring the ground below so when the plane finally did land, it gave him the impression of touching down on some mysterious city in the clouds. A wet and gray city in the clouds.
He would've gladly shared this opinion with Katrina, but she swallowed two mysterious white pills right after they boarded and had been sleeping in a ball against the window ever since. Todd thought she looked smaller when she slept. Like a child. In life, he felt dwarfed by her, in constant awe, but now, with her hand pressed against her face and her chin touching her chest, she looked tiny and vulnerable and he thought about reaching out and putting her in his pocket. For safekeeping.
When the plane landed, he leaned over and whispered, "Hey," then gently touched her shoulder.
She stirred, swatted absently where Todd's hand was, then settled back to sleep. A crush of passengers filed past them, mumbling curses in various languages all related to the woes of air travel.
"Katrina," Todd said a little louder and he smiled expectantly. Claude once told him that if you're the first face a woman sees when she wakes up, she'll fall instantly in love with you. Which, Todd figured, was only effective in two circumstances: if you'd already gotten the into bed or on public transportation. It was a dumb theory, but given his track record, this was certainly his best shot.
She opened her eyes. Her lovely green eyes. That is to say, one was a lovely shade green and the other was gray. Like the bricks of a government building. Or the floor of a cafeteria.
"What?" she asked and smacked her mouth together.
Alan pointed to her right eye.
"Oh, my contact," she said and dug her finger unceremoniously into her eyeball to adjust it. "Better?"
"Yeah," he muttered, but he was staring at the ground, trying his hardest to forget what he had just seen.
"Are we here?"
Todd nodded his head.
"Lovely! What are you waiting for?"
Todd looked back at her. Two sets of impossibly green eyes looked back at him. And beneath that murky gray. His heart sank. He wondered if her wraps of velvet concealed anything else. A blemish? A stray hair? God forbid, a mole? The thought was too horrible to conceive so he did what he always did when faced with something tragic—reconciled it as quickly as he could so he could forget it forever. Contacts are just like sunglasses, he told himself. Or lipstick. It doesn't change anything about the person underneath. Or… so your parents are dead. You were going to be moving out in four years when you went to college anyway and how much time did you really spend with them to begin with? And your uncle looks just like your dad. Right? Right?
"Sorry," he said. "Let's go." And he wrestled his and Katrina's bags out of the overhead compartment, down the tarmac, through an intensely and almost anatomical customs inspection, and into the first squat, black cab he could find.
"Victoria Station," he told the cab driver.
The plan was to take the tube there, but when Todd saw the opening of the subway station plummeting into the underground and the rush of people pouring down the steps into the sickly lit opening, he couldn't bring himself to do it. He wasn't claustrophobic, per se. He just needed to know that if the circumstances dictated, he could see the sky anytime he needed.
He also couldn't believe just how crowded England was. He expected something more pastoral. Flocks of sheep jockeying for space near the luggage carousel. Bales of hay instead of Starbucks. Though he'd never admit it to himself, he had actually bought into some of Peter's descriptions of England. And worse still, he was disappointed when the truth failed to meet reality.
Outside, Todd felt he could breathe a little better, despite the pervading gloominess that the United Kingdom seemed to wear like a wool sweater. The color of the street matched the sky—all around gray ate gray. The ground was wet and stained, and sick, anemic looking trees hung limply in the foreground.
"Guess we just missed the rain," Todd said, staring out the window of their squat black cab as tiny, indistinct houses with flat roofs and elaborate gardens replaced the dismal emptiness that was Heathrow.
"Haven't had rain for a fortnight, guvner. It always looks like this," the cab driver said who, according to the license hanging prominently off the rear view mirror, was named Sanju O'Keefe. He then proceeded to prattle on about the merits of English soccer versus American football, Michael Jackson, and a local politician suspected of impropriety with a Welsh girl, something the cab driver regarded as a crime just below bestiality. He continued to talk long after Todd gave up the pretense of listening by interjecting the occasional 'I sees' or 'You've got that right.'
Katrina was staring out the window. Her expression could only be described as forlorn, and preferably by a guy wearing a shirt with puffy sleeves and using a feather for a pen.
"You okay?" he asked, and suspected that maybe she shared some of his earlier disappointment. He'd already lost count of how many McDonald's they'd passed. And there hadn't even been a single sheep. Just gloomy strip malls and rows of identical brick tenant houses and highway. It was like someone had taken the worst of America and dumped it into England's backyard. This was hardly a place that seemed capable of producing something as esoteric as a werewolf, let alone enough romance for a drunken screw.
"Fine, it's just…" Katrina's voice trailed off and she touched her fingers to the glass. She looked exactly like an angel, if that angel had been crammed into the back of an English taxi and been told that the next stop wasn't heaven, as originally planned, but the dentist's office for a rather painful and unnecessary root canal.
"Yes?" Todd asked breathlessly, vowing silently to fix no matter what it was that troubled her. He felt her pain as if it were his own, like she were an extension of himself. No matter that it was felt just one way. Eventually, that would change.
"I think I left my red wrap skirt at home."
"You know, the one that ties up in a cinch and is cut up the side?" She gestured to her upper thigh to mark just how much the dress revealed.
Todd did know that dress. It was one of his favorites. But he couldn't get over how little the drab scenery seemed to have impacted her. Maybe she was just trying to remain optimistic. Or maybe she was just holding out until they got to Chatterton. Either way, if she didn't let a little disappointment in now, she would be setting herself up for a major disappointment later. And that might be a huge mood killer.
"I know Peter loves the color red, so I thought I'd wear that—"
"You picked out a dress to wear for him?" Todd was flabbergasted. The one time he'd made the mistake of complimenting a piece of Katrina's wardrobe (it was a half-shirt that exposed a green dragon naval piercing), that piece of clothing promptly disappeared and was never seen again.
"Dress, makeup—he seems to like the goth look so I was going to do my eyes in kohl, even some lacy underwear."
"Underwear," Todd swallowed. Normally hearing Katrina talk about her panties would be something he'd treasure and reference often when he was lying in bed at night, but this time he felt it in his gut (about 8 inches higher than usual). She was picking them out for another guy, real or not, dead or alive, it didn't matter. A guy she had never met and who she was fully prepared to show her underwear to, and all the goodies contained therein. And for the first time since they'd begun planning this trip, Todd began to have doubts that they'd ever end up together.
"Doesn't the book talk about Heathrow?" Todd said sharply.
"Sure. That's where he first touched down. We even flew the same airline as Peter."
Todd, whose memory usually only lasted about the length of an average commercial, had to dig really hard to recall this line, "Heathrow. A gruesome monstrosity in glass, sentry on the border, doomed to forever look out at empty plains and blank faces." He liked the bit about 'gruesome monstrosity in glass'. It made him think about the time Claude tried to moon the cheerleading team, but forgot to roll down the car window.
"So?" Katrina asked.
The cab drove through a seemingly pointless roundabout and passed another strip mall. A sign indicated that passer-byes shouldn't fret, a McDonald's was coming soon and they should please be patient.
"So this isn't exactly empty plains. Except for the guy driving on the wrong side of the street and screaming about lorries, we could be home right now."
As if on queue, the cab driver added something about 'Billie Jean' and moonwalking, and then turned on the radio, apparently finally out of conversation.
"I'm sure the country has changed since Peter first arrived here."
"It wasn't even three years ago!"
"Have faith, Todd," Katrina said and patted his knee condescendingly. But Todd didn't care, she had touched his knee.
"Have faith," he muttered to himself. And don't forget why you're here. "Good advice," he said and wondered if he should phone ahead to the bed and breakfast and see if it wasn't too late to book the 'rose petal and champagne' welcome package.