The van doors clanged open and Caz bolted out into the field. After spending the past few hours festering in a putrid stew of farts, browning apple cores, dog breath and petrol stench, the rush of fresh air felt good. Fearing recapture, Caz increased her speed and flew off down the hill, with Sid barking at her heels and Rosie following close behind.
Reaching the stream at the bottom of the slope, Caz threw herself down on the rough grass, not caring that it prickled her sunburnt skin. Rosie lay down beside her, arms flung wide to embrace the towering clouds that were sailing sedately through the blue sky.
‘Get off, mutt,’ said Caz, fingers brushing bristly hair as she fended off the panting animal.
Rosie continued to lie on her back, holding a feathery stalk of grass up close to her eyes and watching entranced as the sunlight splintered into tiny rainbows.
‘Mum’s shouting something,’ said Caz, squinting back up the field.
Her younger sister chose to ignore her and continued to lie back spellbound as she examined the fragments of light. Almost white blonde with clear blue dreamy eyes, eight-year-old Rosie sailed through life on a glittering sea of fantasy, the real world slipping by barely noticed. Caz, on the other hand, five years older and just into her teens, saw life all too clearly. She was constantly on the alert, glancing about for signs of danger, wincing slightly, preparing herself for a fatal blow. Imagined slights half heard in the harmless twitter of other children could cut her to the quick. The summer sun that had tanned Rosie’s limbs a golden honey brown had fried Caz’s pale skin and indelibly stained her face with a splattering of tangerine freckles. Ever vigilant, she held a hand up to shield her eyes from the sun and observed Chris making his way down the slope towards them.
A stick figure stumbling across the field in too big boots and ripped denim. He looked ridiculous, pausing every few steps to sip on his brew and gaze out across the landscape. Hand on hip his beanstalk frame swayed, ready to go over with the next puff of wind. He drew close and cupped his hands to his mouth, ‘Oi oi laides, a word, if you will before we let you off the leash.’
Rosie looked up and trotted over obediently. Chris squatted down and tried to gather them into a scrum. Caz ducked out of his embrace, but Rosie cuddled close, nuzzling her soft blonde head against Chris’ matted curls. He smelled appealingly to her of leather, sweat, tobacco and brew.
‘Before you scamps go completely feral on us, your mum wanted to remind her precious darlings that you ought to be back at the van by sundown.’
‘What happens at sundown?’ Rosie said, sticking her fingers into the blim burns in his ratty old t-shirt.
Chris shifted on his haunches, took a drag of his fag and narrowed his eyes, scanning the horizon like a cowboy.
‘The bog beast wot roams these parts goes abroad. He especially likes to chew on the flesh of little girls, leaving only a pitiful pile o’ bones for yer poor mum to find in the morning.’
His hands snaked out and clutched at her sides sending Rosie into fits of giggles. Caz stood slightly apart and frowned, watching Rosie collapse on the floor in ecstasies of hysterics.
‘You don’t need to scare her, I’ll make sure we get back,’ Caz interjected.
Chris glanced up and raised an eyebrow at her then stuck out his tongue. Caz looked away.
‘And take that bloody dog wiv’ you, your mum n’ I are gonna have a snooze. It’s bin a long drive,’ he added.
‘But mum didn’t drive.’ Rosie gripped Chris’ hand.
‘Ah, but she’s conserving her strength for the party tomorrow. Now be orf with you, you ‘orrible pair and don’t get into no bother with no farmers.’
He stood up and started shambling back up the hill, ragged smoke streaming out behind him.
Silvery dandelion spores drifted by on warm air currents. Steeped in the golden glow of early evening sunlight, the countryside cast a spell on them so that they stopped talking. Even the dog stopped barking. When they reached the top of the hill, the ground rolled down again to the dark border of a wood that rose up and swallowed the scenery beyond almost whole, excepting a little hollow in the center where stone turrets held fast in a heaving sea of oak leaves.
Both girls felt the pull of ancient stone walls and, without discussing it, began walking towards the wood. As they got nearer to the trees, they became aware of a faint hum emanating from a barbed wire fence. A mess of feathers and clean bone dangled from a rusted spike. As if it were welcoming them, the dead bird’s skull was cracked open with a broken grin.
‘It’s electric. We better go back,’ said Caz.
But Rosie, who had already dragged a big stick over, tuned out her sister’s warnings. She levered up the barbed wire at the bottom of the fence.
‘We can go through on our tummies.’
‘We’ll have to tie Sid up.’
They turned to look at the dog. It was wagging its tail excitedly, innocent of the fact that they were both planning to leave it behind.
‘You do it Rosie, he likes you.’
‘He likes you too.’
Caz knew this was true but avoided touching Chris’ mutt if she could help it. When it wasn’t licking her face, it was sticking its head up her skirt and nuzzling her crotch. Rosie, who had the same unquestioning affection for this beast as she did for Chris, didn’t argue and instead took the leash from Caz’s hand and led him to a small tree that stood a little way apart from the fence.
Rosie crawled under first while Caz levered up the wire, then, taking the stick from her sister, lifted the fence on the other side. Straightening up after crawling along on her belly, Caz came up against a barrier of dense foliage. Thistles and twigs scraped at their skin and Sid’s panicked barking tore into the slumbering forest, flustering the birds in the branches above them. After a minute or so they emerged onto a narrow dirt path, dresses stained with green sap and skin covered in scratches. Catching their breath, they listened as the rhythm of Sid’s barking slowed to an intermittent aggrieved woofing.
‘We should go left,’ said Rosie, who had an uncanny knack for knowing the right way. This was the one area in which Caz deferred to her younger sister’s judgment. They walked through the woods in single file, Caz taking up the lead, with Rosie hanging close behind, gripping a piece of cloth from the back of her sister’s skirt, as if she were afraid that some malevolent force might rip them apart.
The green canopy above rippled with dancing light, and the gentle coo of wood pigeons muffled the noise of Sid’s barking, so they weren’t even aware when he finally fell silent.
Rosie tugged on Caz’s skirt.
‘I got stung.’ She pointed to a blotchy rash of round white spots that was developing on her ankle. ‘Mum says doc leaves are good for stinging nettles,’ she added.
They started walking again.
‘I don’t know what a doc leaf looks like, divvie,’ Caz said over her shoulder.
‘Grandma says toothpaste is good, we could go back to the van and get some. Or we could take a look in there and see if we can find any.’
The trees cleared to reveal a round red brick house that rose up just above the treetops.
One side of the house was bound in ivy, its windows blinded by sticky emerald green leaves. If someone didn’t chop away the groping tendrils, in a couple of years the rest of the building would be swallowed whole by the plant.
’It’s probably crawling with rats,’ said Caz.
Rosie, who was teetering on top of a giant rusting lawn roller in order to peer through a ground floor window, chose to ignore her. Crunching gravel and broken glass underfoot, Caz walked around the front of the house and down the path. No one could have driven along there recently without getting their tires ripped up. Overhead, the huge trees loomed, making clacking noises as they heaved in the gentle summer breeze, like ship’s sails straining to weigh anchor. The air was heavy and humid and sweat seeped into her armpits.
She turned back to find Rosie and caught the yellow eye of a tabby cat that was sitting near a pile of abandoned junk. Bloody flesh hung from the cat’s mouth, the squashed guts of some nameless animal held down with one paw. Frozen for a moment, it stared at Caz, but soon lost interest and went back to chewing stringy red gristle.
Her sister had gone. She walked up to the front door. Way above her the top floor windows gleamed gold in the early evening sun, but those lower down were clouded with dust, indifferent to her rising panic. She knew she ought to look through the letter box or cup her hand against a pane of glass, but something held her back. She noticed a large spiderweb spun above the door; it had been some time since anyone had been inside. The door swung inwards and she shouted involuntarily.
Rosie walked out and began to laugh when she saw her sister’s surprised face.
‘What the fuck,’ Caz shouted.
Rosie carried on laughing, supporting herself on the doorframe. Eventually she was laughing so hard that she had to sit down. It was infectious, and before long Caz had forgotten her anger and was laughing too.
‘How did you get in?’ she finally managed to say.
‘One of the windows was broken. I put my hand through and opened the thingie. Chris says they can’t do you if you don’t force any locks, it’s legal,’ Rosie parroted. ‘That’s how he got our place in Kentish Town.’
The urge to tell her sister off was curbed by her own curiosity, so Caz decided to hold off on delivering a lecture about the dangers of going into empty houses alone.
Inside, the house was hairy with dust, but neat. Someone had carefully squared the place away before leaving. A squat green velvet sofa and matching armchair gave the room a comfortable homely look. This lounge took up most of the space on the ground floor with a tiny crescent-shaped kitchen sliced out back. In the kitchen, Caz found an unplugged fridge, emptied and cleaned, and cupboards stocked with plates, bowls and cups. It seemed as if someone had left the place ready for guests. She opened what looked like a larder door to reveal a narrow flight of stairs leading up to the first floor.
She went up front, with Rosie hanging so close behind that she could hear her sister’s shallow breathing. The wooden stairs creaked beneath their weight, making them giggle nervously.
On the first floor they came out on an open-plan room that was almost entirely empty, save for a large wardrobe made from dark wood. Abandoned near the stairs, it looked as if the people who’d lived here had tried to shift it but given up, and had been too tired to push it back into place. It was a mystery how they’d got the thing up there in the first place. On this floor the house was engulfed in shadow and this piece of furniture loomed glumly in the half dark. The ceiling hung so low that Caz had to duck to avoid headbutting the light fitting. Rosie went to examine the wardrobe, the mirror on the door reflecting an ever so slightly warped image back. She opened the door.
‘It’s me,’ Rosie exclaimed, pulling out a rag doll with yellow woolen plaits and stitched blue eyes. Caz peered inside the empty wardrobe, it smelled of mothballs.
‘I’d put that back where you found it.’
Rosie didn’t reply but pouted, holding the doll close.
‘Let’s check the rest of the house first, just to make sure we’re alone.’
The final flight of stairs stood at the other end of the room. Caz paused at the bottom and looked back, waiting for Rosie to join her. Reluctantly Rosie ditched the doll and followed her up the stairs. They both felt their skin prickling slightly in the shade and, as Caz took hold of the cold metal handle, she shivered. When she threw the door open they were engulfed in a welcome wave of bright light. The windows were shut and the air in the room was thick with a foreign scent that had curdled in the heat. They both made for the window, holding their breath. Caz worked the stiff latch and pushed against the swollen fitting until it gave and the window swung out.
Gasping for air they took in the view: a sea of treetops rippled out in front of them, lapping at the shores of the stately home that sat on a hill beyond.
‘I own a castle,’ said Rosie flinging her arms out wide.
‘I own a stately home,’ shouted Caz, also embracing the prospect with outstretched arms. ‘It’s not a castle stupid. I get dibs.’
It was a game that Tink had started. Whenever they went somewhere new she would fling her arms out wide and shout, ‘I own the mountains. I own the trees. I own the sky!’ After mimicking her for a while, the game had devolved into calling dibs. On the way down in the van they’d called dibs on Porsches, Harley Davidsons, Lamborghinis and BMWs. The rule was that they had to throw their arms out wide, shout ‘I own…’ and call that thing by its proper name. In the last couple of weeks on the road, helped by Chris, they’d acquired an impressive knowledge of car makes and models. If there was no arbitrator, this all led to a huge amount of squabbling. This irritated Tink, who, by trying to challenge the idea of private ownership, had inadvertently given her kids an appetite for material possessions.
‘Of course you can come and live with me in my stately home. I’ll let you have a lady’s maid from my staff,’ said Caz.
‘She could do my hair in a French plait every morning.’
‘And we could have all our friends over to stay from London. I could invite Ellie and you could ask Patrick.’
‘I think I’d invite Samantha instead, Patrick is always breaking things.’
‘You’re right, we don’t want him breaking the china,’ Caz concurred.
Caz imagined servants ranged down the stairs in front of the classic portico, standing to attention as they greeted them on their arrival. The sun hung just off to the right of the house, huge and orange in the evening sky.
A loud bang downstairs made Caz yell out in shock. They turned and fled down the stairs, running all the way down to the living room to find that the front door had banged shut behind them. They tried the door to make sure they weren’t locked in. There was nobody outside and the cat had disappeared. Just as her heart was beginning to slow, a dark shape skittered across the floor into the kitchen. Caz screamed and dragged Rosie from the house. In the distance Sid began to bark in alarm. As if something had crawled onto her skin and she couldn’t shake it off, Caz did a little jig around the garden.
Rosie stood watching her sister.
‘I saw something, something big run into the kitchen. I think it was a rat. Can we just get out of here?’ Caz said breathlessly.
‘It was a cat, Caz,’ Rosie said. ‘I saw it outside. It must have come in after us.’
‘I’m not going back in there.’
Rosie took her sister’s hand and they walked together back through the trees, Caz jumping every time they heard a bird rustling in the bushes. She had a thing about rats.
‘I forgot the doll,’ said Rosie.
‘Listen to Sid, he’s going off his nut, we’ve got to go and calm him down.’
‘And then go back for the doll?’
‘It’s getting late. Mum will wonder where we are.’
‘I want that doll.’ Rosie had come to a halt and stood there, quietly defiant.
‘We’ll go back tomorrow. We can take Sid and he’ll scare the rats away.’
‘Cross my heart, etc.,’ Caz said, though she’d rather have stuck a needle in her own eye than go back into that house. Still, they’d be busy with the party tomorrow, so she supposed that with any luck Rosie would forget all about it.
Chris smacked the package down and the trestle table wobbled under the weight of dead flesh. Whatever it was, was smeared in blood and wrapped in plastic.
‘What the hell is that?’ demanded Caz.
‘It’s the head of the bog beast wot I just slayed down in the woods,’ Chris replied.
Rosie screamed and hid behind Caz, grabbing at her clothes till Caz shook her off in frustration.
‘It isn’t a beast,’ whispered Rosie at a volume barely audible to the others.
‘Just you come and take off this ‘ere plastic and see for yourself,’ Chris challenged in his mock yokel accent.
He lit up a cigarette and stood back satisfied. Caz thought that he didn’t make a very convincing beast killer; if you stuck him on a stick in the middle of a field he wouldn’t even be very good at scaring the crows away.
‘Stop teasing the kids.’
Tink floated out towards them on a cloud of purple perfume, the hem of her Indian skirt grazing the ground. She ripped off the plastic and jumped back screaming.
The worst thing about it was that it was smiling at them. Despite not having a body, the 50lb pig’s head was grinning, just like the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland. Its eyes were closed, so clearly the joke was a private one. Sid started barking in alarm.
‘What the fuck do you propose to do with that then?’ shouted Tink.
‘Make a stew, it’s cheap grub. I learnt ‘ow to do it from Raffy, you know the Brazilian guy in the squat, it’s what they eat in the barrio in Rio de Janeiro. We just need an ‘ammer so we can smash its ‘ead in.’
Rosie yelped and clapped her hands over her ears singing. ‘La la la la....’
‘Have you completely lost it? Half the crowd’s veggie,’ pointed out Tink. ‘Besides I don’t want you wasting the gas on cooking up some nasty stew.’
‘Well, we could put the head on a stick and have him as a mascot,’ suggested Chris, beginning to droop, stick limbs collapsing in.
Tink began to laugh.
‘Where did you get that horrible thing anyway?’
‘Farmer gave it me as a present,’ said Chris. ‘Thought it rude to decline,’ he added, looking to Tink for approval.
‘Well, I hope it’s the only pig we see this evening,’ said Tink.
‘Amen to that.’ Chris looked around, paranoid that if they spoke of the devil, he’d be sure to come sniffing around. So far the only faces turning up had been familiar ones from the party circuit. He clapped his hands to dispel the bad vibes. ‘So, can I rely on the world’s cutest roadies to help me set things up then?’
When Caz pointed out they were also the world’s most underpaid roadies he simply tousled her hair and suggested she join a union. After dumping several plastic carrier bags full of wires at the bottom of the field, she slunk off back to the trailer and, checking no one was about, opened up her book.
She’d borrowed it off her friend from school. Angela’s parents were Catholic so the picture on the front of a man’s hand cupping a lady’s jodhpur-clad bottom had been hidden with a homemade cover of pretty pink floral wallpaper. Not wanting to get teased by the others, Caz had left the cover on. It was the second time she’d read it. She’d just got to the bit where the red-headed heroine Helen goes to her first horse race, when there was a gentle knock at the door.
‘Love, can I have a quick word?’
She put the book under the covers of her bed.
‘What is it?’ she shouted.
Tink opened the door and peeked in.
‘Can I come in?’
Her mother’s timidity drove her mad.
‘It’s your trailer isn’t it?’
Like the trailer was some kind of sanctum, Tink pushed the door open and sat down, slowly removing her wellies and placing them outside before entering in stockinged feet. The glass bangles round her wrists and bells on her ankles jingled as she padded across the floor. Lucky thing Caz had insisted they didn’t put one of Tink’s Indian statues in there, otherwise she’d be start kowtowing to it like a madwoman.
‘Rosie not with you?’ she asked, sitting beside her eldest daughter on the bed.
‘She’s helping Chris.’
‘It’s lovely here, right, like being a princess in the Arabian nights with all these nice fabrics. Aren’t you glad you’re not spending the summer in the smelly old London?’
Caz communicated the depths of her apathy and disdain with a shrug and a grunt.
Giving up on selling the experience to her daughter, she changed tack and her voice became wheedling.
‘So I don’t want to lay anything massive on you or anything, but you’re in charge tonight, right? Chris and I are gonna be really busy, so I’m relying on you to keep Rosie in line, okay?’
Wrong, thought Caz. It irritated her off that she always got the blame if anything happened, but she gave her grudging assent anyway with the tiniest of nods.
‘You’re so sorted, it’s great to know I can rely on you.’ Tink grappled Caz in an awkward hug. Caz could feel the birdlike frailty of her body beneath the floaty fabrics she wore. She wished she had a mum who was stricter, more substantial, one that enforced boundaries beyond which it was unsafe to stray.
Gazing out of the trailer window at the darkening sky, she caught sight of Chris stomping on an old wooden pallet for firewood.
‘Let’s go out and give him a hand eh?’ Tink said following Caz’s gaze. ‘It’ll be nice to get round the fire and catch up with everyone.’
Rosie had drifted off into a trance, staring at the flames licking the side of the cot. A twisted bundle of cloth inside gave the impression that they were attending some kind of sacrifice. The group sat gathered around the fire either cross legged on the ground, or balanced on plastic beer crates. A busted sofa had even materialized by the fireside, though nobody, except Baz, who didn’t seem to care about the mushrooms growing beside him, would occupy it.
Baz came from Glasgow and had a slurred and guttural accent that made them laugh, but also scared them a bit. Already halfway through his third can of Strongbow, his speech was so blurred with booze that Caz had only a vague impression of what he was talking about. It was like looking out of the window on a stormy day, the view warped by raindrops on the windowpane.
‘Baz, you going to fry up some of those mushrooms you’re growing tomorrow morning,’ quipped Chris.
Baz’s head wobbled for a second and slowly swung round to contemplate the growths coming out of the sofa’s busted seams.
‘I goh me own eca-sistem gain on, right?’ He laughed to reveal a terrifying set of gnashers. Worn down with decay, they were almost pointed, like fangs.
Tink said that Baz was a sweetheart, but the girls still shrank from him. Even when he offered them polo mints, holding them out in his dirty cracked hand, big brown eyes glistening like a dog waiting to be patted on the head, they usually backed away, saying, thanks but mum doesn’t let us eat sweets, leaving Baz looking sad and mystified. Tink had told them that his kids were in care, their mother had been a junkie and the social had taken them away when they’d tracked Baz down on site.
‘Where d’you find it?’ asked Tink, pointing to the cot.
There were a bunch o’ this kiddie stuff jist left by the road. Looked like it’d bin there fer ages n’ all.’
‘I could have done with some of that stuff,’ said Tink. ‘Wish you’d told me before you burnt it.’
‘Ach, it’d bin there fer ages, some puir fuck pro’bly wanted rid o’ it. ‘Sides, this stuff has bad vibes, best burned.’ Baz’s eyes brimmed with tears.
‘It’s top quality gear though, must have set them back a bob or two,’ Chris pointed out.
Baz waved his hand dismissively, he wanted rid of the subject. He took a long pull on his bottle.
‘Bet it belonged to the people in the castle,’ piped up Rosie.
‘Castle?’ Tink turned and looked at her daughter.
‘There’s a castle over there, we saw it today,’ she began, then trailed off after catching a warning look from Caz.
The speakers crackled on, briefly filling the field with dead noise before the bass kicked in. It rattled the thin walls of their trailer, making the girls snuggle deeper inside their sleeping bags. It was only 8:30, but Caz and Rosie were already laid out on the narrow mattresses that lined each side of the trailer, staring up at the printed Indian fabrics that floated above their heads.
At first they’d stayed up for the parties. But they didn’t like the way complete strangers grinned at them, their teeth glowing fluorescent against the dark. Rosie had been close to tears once when someone they didn’t know had picked her up and swung her round. Then there’d been the guy with the bright red skin and only one tooth who had stuck his face close up to theirs and started howling incomprehensibly.
The other kids ran around wild in a big gang so the adults couldn’t interfere with them, but Caz steered clear of them, ever since Peanut, the skinhead kid with the glass eye, had asked her out on a date a few weeks ago. They’d all stood behind him to watch when he had and the joke had seemed to be on her.
Illuminated by the fairy lights that hung from the ceiling, the grubby interior of the van was almost cosy. Familiar domestic objects that appeared cheap and battered in the cold light of day took on a comforting glow, reassuring Caz that they were safe inside the flimsy metal walls of the trailer.
Rosie sat up in bed and reached under her pillow for her red plastic handbag. It was an evening ritual with her to go through its contents: the strawberry sticker that smelled of real strawberries, a tiny metal dolphin, a dried flower preserved in a piece of clear plastic, a large jet-black marble, a tiny purse that contained a lock of her best friend’s hair and a Moroccan coin. The order of service was to lay each of these treasures out on the duvet before bedtime, muttering secret incantations to her Cindy doll all the while. When she came to the black marble, she’d place it in her palm and stare into it intently. That evening was no different.
‘What do you see in your crystal ball tonight Madame Rosamund?’ asked Caz.
Rosie ignored her as usual and, after a minute of intent observation, began packing her amulets away again. Caz often found herself feeling unnerved when her sister got like this.
‘We never went back for the doll,’ whispered Rosie.
‘We can always go tomorrow morning, before the adults get up. Best time really.’
Rosie didn’t answer but instead whispered something to Cindy.
Caz woke up to the sound of angry shouts. It had just begun to get light outside and the sky was sickly and wan, streaked with dirty grey cloud. The music had stopped. She sat up and looked over at Rosie’s empty bed. Pulling on her mum’s parka over her pajamas, she slipped on a pair of wellies and headed outside.
A woman was squatting down for a piss beside the trailer.
‘Alright,’ called the peeing lady, falling backwards into the mud as she struggled to pull up her pants. ‘Oops,’ she said, cackling with glee at the situation. Caz locked the van, pocketed the key to the padlock and turned her back on this post party casualty, striding off down the hill. Dazed revelers stumbled up the slope towards her, but she avoided eye contact with these grey faced gurning ghouls.
As she scanned the crowd at the bottom of the hill for her mum, she caught sight of the police vans. Chris’ decks and sound system had gone and a slagging match was going on between the white-faced impassive police and an outraged knot of travelers. On the fringes, Caz found her tear-stained mum clinging to her friend Mags’ arm.
‘Mum,’ Caz called.
Tink glanced about her till she caught sight of her daughter.
‘Caz love. They’ve gone and taken Chris’ van,’ she wailed.
‘Fucking pigs,’ Mags shouted loud enough for the police to hear.
‘Where’s Chris then?’ asked Caz.
‘He’s been arrested and his van’s been confiscated along with all his gear,’ said Tink.
Caz sighed and took her mum’s hand. ‘Shall I make a cup of tea?’
‘Thanks love,’ her mum sniveled, wiping her eyes with her tattered sleeve.
They walked up the hill together in silence after saying goodbye to Mags.
Caz opened up the trailer and got the fold up chairs out from inside, so that Tink could have a sit down. Popping back inside, she brought out the camping gas, filled a kettle with bottled water and got it going.
Her mum nodded and Caz ducked back inside the van for mugs and teabags, finally remembering when she looked at Rosie’s empty bed that her sister was still missing. She’d forgotten to look for her.
‘Mum, did Rosie go with Chris?’
‘What love? Rosie, no. Wasn’t she with you?’
‘Hold on, she must still be down at the party.’
Before her mum had time to answer, Caz tore off down the hill, heart pounding in her chest. There was hardly anyone left now. The local revelers had mostly gone or were passed out in misshapen lumps on the edges of the field and the travelers had either returned to their vans or been taken to town by the police.
She looked around desperately, scared to ask strangers about her sister, but equally terrified to go back empty handed. The pig’s head was jammed down onto a stick, slightly askew. It grinned at the devastated scene, eyes alive with swarming flies.