Saturday, 2 June 2018
One day, William Locke decided he wanted to kill someone. There wasn’t a particular person he had in mind and he didn’t have a motive for it such as revenge or sexual fantasy. He couldn’t even claim to have experienced a surging lust for blood. The idea simply drifted into his head one morning in his tiny bathroom while he was shaving.
He didn’t debate the issue in his head, or give any thought to how he would carry out the act. He simply accepted the idea as he stroked his razor across his left cheek and decided to leave the details to later. He then carried on with the rest of his day working in the canteen at a large engineering firm. That evening, he caught the bus home, prepared a microwave dinner of lasagne and broccoli and ate it sat on the sofa watching a documentary about meerkats. Afterwards he tucked a twelve-inch kitchen knife up the sleeve of his coat, went out, surprised a middle-aged woman opening the door to her car and pushed the knife into her neck. He watched her choke and fade and then left her where she fell to return home. He washed the knife, his dinner plate, cutlery and a saucepan, watched the middle third of a sci-fi movie on television and then went to bed falling asleep, as ever, in less than a minute of his head touching the pillow.
It never really occurred to William that there was a danger of getting caught. The police investigation didn’t come near him and although he usually ignored the conversation between his colleagues, he listened in when they spoke about the murder not because he wanted to monitor the local gossip about the case, but because he found that it entertained him while he peeled the potatoes. Every once in a while he remembered the deed, usually when it was his turn to separate the cold lamb cuts onto a tray or when he used a knife to stab open a bag of frozen chips and he watched the cold white fingers spill into the wire-framed cooking basket. For some reason, this sight in particular often made him wonder about dismemberment.
One Friday evening, Beverly, the old lady from downstairs, knocked on William’s door to ask him if he would have a quick look at her washing machine. It had stopped working properly, she told him. It would begin its cycle by filling up with water, but the drum wouldn't turn and thereafter it just hummed and clicked. William-dear – she always called him because he was always so helpful – uncovered the insides to see if it was clogged. When he inadvertently leant on the side of the drum, it suddenly turned and sliced off the skin on the knuckles of his left-hand. Beverly was mortified. Trembling and tearful, she managed to remain composed enough to insist that she drive William – now Oh-William-dear – to A&E for stitches by which time his whole sleeve was soaked in blood.
The following morning, irritated by the bandage around his hand and the soreness of his fingers, William felt another urge to kill so he caught a number twenty-seven bus that took him close to the nearby woodland. He had with him a carrier bag. It was one of those larger, thicker plastic bags; more expensive and slightly thicker than the thin, wispy ones. He’d bought it when he’d shopped one time at a large supermarket and forgotten to take his own bag with him. He had judged it to be more suitable than one of those thick bag-for-life ones that felt like sacks and didn’t fold up flat enough to fit in your pocket.
Inside the bag there was his kitchen knife and a meat cleaver he’d stolen from work a couple of years ago but never used. It also contained a hack saw bought from a DIY shop that caught his eye while he was waiting for the bus. All three items were wrapped in the chamois leather he used to clean his windows. As far as he was concerned, the window cleaner didn’t come frequently enough and he could never understand how people were happy to live looking out through dirty windows. He was careful not to shake the bag because it also contained a sausage roll and a can of cola that he’d bought from his local newsagents and he didn't want the cola to fizz up when he opened it.
It was late Spring. The Sun had already burnt the clouds away but the long grass around the woodland was still wet where it lay in the shade. The changing seasons meant nothing to William. He hardly ever wore a coat unless it was raining or cold enough to snow – and barely even then – so he didn’t notice the chill in the air as he entered the darkened wood. The silence was good, he decided, and he cracked a branch by stamping on it with his foot so that he could hear the loud crack echo around him. He put his bag down and used both hands to throw a heavy rock into the air but the thud it made when it landed was cushioned by leaves and left him disappointed.
He trudged around for a good two hours without spotting a single ambler, dog-walker or camper. In fact, he had got so used to focusing on picking his way through the foliage, whacking large sticks against tree trunks and throwing stones, that he barely remembered his purpose there.
His wounded fingers were throbbing when he stopped to eat his sausage roll and drink his slightly warmed cola which, thanks to his careful handling, opened with the shortest of fizz. He was sitting on a fallen tree, looking out at fields that stretched to the horizon when he noticed a figure, possibly a short-haired female, wearing a yellow jacket and walking a black-and-white collie less than half a mile away. He watched her as he took a mouthful of cola, allowing it to bubble around his cheeks as the sweetness picked at the nerves in his back teeth before he swallowed.
He looked ahead of the woman in the direction she was walking: She was headed towards a patch of trees that would provide adequate cover for whatever he wanted to do. He would have plenty of time to head her off. He took another gulp of drink which emptied the can and then he squashed both ends together into a disk before flinging it in a curve across the field as if it were a Frisbee. He was impressed with the distance it covered.
A double squawking to his left caught his attention and he was treated to the sight of two blackbirds jumping and flapping and pecking at each other. But the fight only threatened to become vicious and one of the birds swept away up into the sky. William looked back at the yellow figure who had made surprising progress. Suspecting that he may have missed the opportunity to head her off, he swore and then turned back into the woods.
He walked for more than ten minutes, twice releasing large echoing belches as the fizzy drink repeated on him. The fingers on his left hand were throbbing so much that he punched a tree with it savouring sharp pain over the incessant dull soreness. He then watched a red ink blot of blood appear and grow on the white bandage. He was feeling irritable and he decided to go down to the lake to piss.
It was there that he saw a tent pitched next to a parked car.
William knew that it was set up for a family. He didn’t give any thought to how he may have deduced this. If he had done, he may have considered as clues the estate car with a sunshade stuck to the back passenger window, the rather large size of the tent, a football partially hidden amongst the grass and four folded-up chairs. From the cover of the trees he surveyed the area but saw no-one. Still feeling the pressure in his lower abdomen, he urinated against a tree while keeping an eye out for movement. Then he walked unselfconsciously towards the tent stopping briefly only a few feet away when he remembered to retrieve the knife from his carrier bag, which he then let drop to the floor. He quickened his stride, reached the tent and in one smooth, arching motion unzipped the frame of the entrance.
But the tent was empty. That is to say that there was nobody inside; the tent actually contained homely possessions such as clothes, comics, two drawing pads, a hand-held games machine, a floppy donkey cuddly toy, an adult-sized, slightly battered, acoustic guitar and a couple of novels. William noticed none of these things. He was only aware of the four sleeping bags laid out side-by-side: two larger adult-sized and two smaller child-sized.
William went back outside and scanned the area. The lake was still. Even the leaves on the rich, green trees waited patiently. He liked the stillness. He retrieved his carrier bag and then returned to the tent, zipping up the entrance before laying himself out on one of the adult sleeping bags. With his knife in his hand, he then closed his eyes and dropped off to sleep.
He must have slept lightly because it was only the lightest of sounds that woke him – something lightweight knocked over and then a stone striking a larger rock. He couldn’t have slept too deeply either because he immediately had his wits about him. He rose to his feet still holding his knife and waited. The fingers on his left hand were extremely sore now and prickled when he tried to bend them. The bandage, he noticed, had a dark red blot that covered the wounded area. The thought of having to go back to the hospital made him feel angry. Waiting in the stuffy tent was also irritating him so he stomped across the comics and drawing pads to the entrance of the tent and unzipped the flap.
Even as he stepped out into the bright, cooler air he was aware of an enormous unnatural presence to his right. He turned his whole body to face a bear as it rose up on its hind legs barely six feet tall but with a bulk that, along with the bear’s terrifying roar was almost completely overwhelming. In truth, William’s actions were utterly uncluttered by a brain trying to process what was happening – he simply acted. He stuck the knife deep into the bear’s chest so that, for a moment, his hand was nestled in the soft brown fur. And then he slid it out again. The bear emitted a sort of drawn-in groan and swiped at William with an enormous clawed paw that tore away his jaw.
William made ridiculous choking noises and was aware of his tongue dangling from his mouth. What happened next was mercifully quick. The bear placed both front paws on William’s shoulders as its head turned sideways and it closed its mouth around William’s head. As William fell back under the seventy stones weight of the bear, its teeth clenched around his skull and he pushed the knife into the bear’s abdomen.
The story of what happened by the lake that day went through an interesting metamorphosis. It began with the idea that William Locke – a quiet, good-natured man ever-helpful to his neighbours – had tackled the bear when he saw that it had stumbled onto the path of a young family of four out camping. HashtagOrdinaryHero.
It was a tale of sacrifice that made ordinary folk think momentarily about the important things in their lives and allowed the quick-moving Prime Minister a chance to encapsulate the feelings of a nation. For a few hours, some people vilified the bear. That was until the half-starved condition of its body was reported; the reason why it had been so aggressive. Vengeful eyes fell upon the bear’s neglectful owners: a travelling circus troupe from which it had escaped.
Just as a wave of vitriol was threatening to engulf not only circuses but zoos, it then transpired that the carrier bag found at the scene containing a new hacksaw and a meat cleaver was not owned by the family. Nor had they owned the kitchen knife used to kill the bear. When one clever journalist linked the same type of knife to a murder that had taken place near William Locke’s house only a few weeks earlier, it didn’t take long for the police to make an official claim to the truth: The victim of the bear attack had not only committed the previous murder, but he was intending to slaughter the family too. The bear had saved the family.
Like a betrayed lover the public were outraged, the media amplified those voices and William was rendered immortal in the story of Billy Locke and the Bear.