When I was a kid, I found a TRS-80 Model 100, a motorcycle and a giant pig in a forest clearing.My father and I used to roam the south downs, hills that sloped down to a chain of senescent resort towns on the English Channel. We’d head out at the weekend for a hike around a bronze age hill-fort here or a berried copse there. These were brief idylls of childhood: birdsong and breezy trees, a maze of ancient flint walls and bridle-paths.
Over the years we visited many places, but none so odd as a patch of woodland northwest of Worthing, the town where I grew up.
Details of the trip now escape me. The forest was denser and quieter than most of Sussex’s well-groomed wildernesses. Its old trees seemed to absorb sound, heightening the senses, making you pay attention. Perhaps that false sense of stillness is an echo of instict, a deep memory that wakes up in any primal environment.
Heading from one end to the other, we traipse into a clearing. Right there in the middle stood a huge pig. It minded its own business, neither fearing us or angry at our presence.
My dad laughed and, as was his wont, crafted a corny story about how it came to be there. A few yards away, however, we also found a motorcycle, laid down in the bushes.
Bear in mind that we were at least a hundred feet from a path of tree roots and muddy holes, and a good half- mile from anything one could travel on motorcycle.
And then, a few feet from that, an odd reflection. I approached. It was a TRS-80 Model 100 portable computer, half-hidden by ground ivy and the shifting patterns of shadow and sunlight cast by the alders.
Perhaps memory plays tricks. The display glowed green in the dark, but I’m pretty sure those things didn’t glow the way that calculators and alarm clocks do. It could have been any of dozens of clones, or some kind of fancy electronic typewriter. But it was something that looked much like this:
Nothing ran on it. Just some menu options on screen, as if it had just been powered up.
There was no shiver up the spine, or creeping of the flesh, just a quiet murmur of something nasty, as if the sky dimmed imperceptibly at the precise moment we saw it, and it knew we had found it. This was long before the age of disposable technology; in the 1980s, one did not simply run into portable computers in the middle of the woods.
In the fraction of a second it took for my father to declare, “it must be battery-powered!”, a soundless crackle danced around the space, a feeling I know my he and I shared.
Being a grown-up and all, my dad’s more sensible instincts kicked in, and the next thing I remember is us at the side of the nearest road, with him calling the police at a payphone to inform them of the odd find. Of course, many other items were discovered thereafter. The bike, the computer, a bagful of more mundane loot: all stolen from a nearby farm and abandoned by over-encumbered thieves.
Maybe realizing something is mundane is what makes it so, and maybe things would have been different if I had been by myself. Alone with me in that silent place, free to conjure a human mode of communication in fungus and shadow, a vague and imperiled presence induces current just so to deliver its summons.
I certainly wouldn’t have been the first kid to simply vanish in the woods near Worthing.
As for the pig, how it got there is anyone’s guess.
November 25, 2008