Chelsea peered out from the tent and struggled to remain chipper. It had been her idea, after all, to come along with Ben as part of the ongoing negotiation that had been the last couple of months, after two and a half years of things being okay, comfortable. He was cocooned in the sleeping bag, snoring away despite the flurries of hail that had woken her. She looked back and wrestled with the sudden, petty urge to wake him up. His snoring had gained a damp rasp since he had put on weight and despite moving in together, she could at least go into another room when it kept her awake.
She could have gone outside, she told herself but the hail rattled with the intensity and volume that suggested that it would have stung as much as soaked her through to the skin.
So far, camping fucking sucked.
‘Honey.’ she said.
He grunted and rolled onto his side then responded with a fart muffled by the material of the sleeping bag.
‘If it rains like this, won’t the equipment get wet?’
He made a smacking, irritated sound with his lips and sat up. His black hair, thinning enough that Chelsea had started wondering if he was going to just leave it like that, stuck up in stumpy tufts and his beard was matted from where he had drooled in his sleep. He rubbed his eyes with his hands and blinked at her.
‘They’re outdoors, babes, can’t see a little hail ruining them.’
His tone of voice had gone from sleepy to patronising in a second and Chelsea pressed her teeth together, swallowed her irritation down. She had been working in a mental health clinic and one of the patients, Ursula, suffered from trichotillomania.
Compulsive hair pulling, and in her case, swallowing. One of the other nurses, Judd had told Chelsea about some of the side effects from the condition. Bezoars. Indigestible lumps of material that sat in the digestive system. They could be formed from gum, soil even unripe persimmons, Judd had volunteered. Chelsea had nodded and decided not to ask what a persimmon was, unripe or otherwise. Ursula’s mania-offspring were trichobezoars, composed of hair.
Chelsea imagined hers were made from resentment and a burgeoning sense of regret. She added to it more and more, and on this trip thus far, she imagined it beginning to boil with the pressure, until it was fused and compressed into diamond.
‘I’ll make coffee.’ she said.
The cameras and microphones had been set in a circle around the tent, streaming to Ben’s laptop and portable hard drive. He had shown more enthusiasm for the possibility of finding something out here than he had for them driving up to Montreal for Chelsea’s brother’s wedding.
No, Chelsea corrected herself, as she spooned instant coffee into the pan, he wasn’t looking to find something.
It had been an obsession of his, the one affectation that he had not given up in the gradual, incomplete transition to adulthood that Chelsea had been dragging him through. He had left his dreams of rock stardom, cut back his weed consumption to Christmas and when his brother drove down up from Texas and even left the World of Warcraft league that had been his prevailing obsession for most of his teens and twenties.
The missing link. The slow upward climb from ape to homo sapiens took, according to Ben, some interesting detours and one of them was the proposed existence of Sasquatch. Chelsea used to allow him to go away with some of the guys that he spoke to online, but in a burst of misguided enthusiasm, had offered to go along with him.
It would bring them closer together, she had said. He had smiled and nodded, rubbing his hands on his thighs and trying to say that it wasn’t something he thought she would enjoy. His tone had the whine of a child trying to justify a soccer ball kicked through a window, but Chelsea was determined that she was a cool girlfriend and allowing him his interests was fine, but once in a while, she wanted to show that her interest was more than just anecdotal.
Eight hours into it, soaked and with her feet screaming at her to forget the whole thing, she had started to wonder if this might serve as one of those hobbies that would be ‘Ben’s Thing’. She had smoked pot with him, played in a raid with him on the player versus player server and politely rejected his brother’s advances without ever telling him, but this tested her more than she was prepared for. She had not whined, instead she swallowed it all down, adding to the tight ball of resentment which by the permanent ache in her stomach, had grown to the dimensions of a bowling ball.
She liked camping. The amount of time it took to do everything appealed to her, whilst Ben would have been happy to bring a few bags of chips and a six pack, Chelsea had insisted on cooking for them on the single camping stove. What had not been burned was raw, and she had slathered it in hot sauce to disguise the worst of it but Ben had said he was not hungry and kept checking the cameras and microphones. She had scraped it away and kicked dirt over it, grateful that it was dark enough to hide her tears.
Rain was a permanent feature out here, but hail offended her and it kept her confined to the tent. Ben was impatient to check the equipment and once he was fortified by coffee and burnt bacon, he threw on his waterproofs and went outside. He swore, loud enough to carry over the sound of the hail and she grimaced before struggling into her sodden waterproofs.
The hail had grown more forceful, and its military rhythm beat into her skull with enough impetus to make her hunch over as she crept out of the tent. Ben stood with his back to her, holding the ragged remains of a camera, wires trailing from it like tendrils as he uttered a litany of expletives.
He did not speak, instead he shouldered past her, his face tight with concern and irritation as he slipped back inside the tent.
‘Ben, you’ll get the inside all wet.’ she said.
He huffed to acknowledge her and then came out, eyebrows raised as he pointed inside the tent.
‘We missed something last night, Chelsea.’
She folded her arms, sodden and miserable.
‘Well, that’s not my fault. I thought you set it up, so that there was an alert.’
He grimaced and gestured inside.
‘Which would have gone off but someone couldn’t sleep with the laptop screen on, could they?’
He had raised his voice, and she recoiled.
‘You said it was okay.’ she said.
He guffawed and waved her off.
‘Yeah because otherwise you would have been whining about how you couldn’t sleep. Honestly, you’ve been nothing but a bitch this whole trip.’
Her eyes welled up with tears and her upper lip wavered. The ball of frustration started to make its way up and she held her stomach.
‘Oh fuck you, Ben. I’ve been trying to get you to behave like a fucking adult, and when I try to show that I am cool with you being into stuff, you make me feel like shit about it.’
‘This is not about that.’ he said.
Chelsea had not heard him shout like this before. She turned away from him and wept as much from the headache that the beating hail was giving as much as the sheer futility of the overgrown boy she had wasted the last three years on.
‘Oh great, now you’re crying. I’ve wasted time and equipment but you’re the one who’s crying.’
She turned around, ready to vomit up the bezoar when a sound shook the surrounding air.
Chelsea brought her hands to her mouth and Ben stood there, his face white with shock. They heard the heavy percussive thump of something coming through the trees. Chelsea’s anger had gone, traded for a perfect, paralysing fear as she turned towards the direction of the sound.
He stood there and then as the grass moved, indicating the passage of something moving towards them at great and terrible velocity, he pushed her in front of him. She felt his hands shove into the small of her back and a small, ugly observation came to her that it had been the first time he had touched her with any degree of passion in a long time.
She looked up, saw something tall and covered with brown fur, large white teeth, flaring nostrils and golden eyes that regarded her with a compassion that made her look away before it rushed past her towards Ben. She pressed her face to the earth and heard the wet, wrenching sounds and choked sounds that reminded her of Ursula when they caught her shoving hanks of her own hair into her mouth. A coppery scent filled the air, wet pennies and salt, before she felt a hand at her shoulder.
It made a careful, hooting sound and pulled the hood from her head with a gentle tugging motion. She squeezed her eyes shut, and it brushed a finger against her auburn hair. The hand smelt musty and organic, damp moss and bark and she turned her head. She got onto her knees and found that the bezoar had gone.
It rested a palm the size of a dinner plate against her face and with an absurd gratitude, she pressed her cheek against it.