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The trip last summer had been a mistake to begin with. For many reasons it could not have been otherwise—chief among them being, as I now see, the fact that at my age it’s a mistake to do almost anything. In youth we ruin ourselves by prematurely foreclosing possibilities; in old age, by acting on them—a law whose implications come home especially strongly at a phase of life as advanced toward dissolution as mine.

Phase of death is perhaps the more fitting term for it. It had taken me nearly 18 years to realize that all during that time I had been dead, or at least as near to it as a body can be that still moves around and respires on occasion. Accordingly my weekly walks were the most lifelike habit I still indulged; and even these had come to follow a morbid impulse of late, having, as their terminus, the bottommost stair of Grant’s Tomb. But this was when I lived, or rather rested, in Manhattan. The trouble began when I moved to Brooklyn: a change of circumstance during which I managed to forget, in some measure, my new post-mortem status. Granted, when my brother relocated me—an act too kind in him, now that I think of it, to be anything but a sort of funerary obsequy itself—it was to Dumbo, a neighborhood, for all its trendiness, more sepulchral than any other in the city. But such as it is, it is an area in which dead men like myself can only be content to lie still; since, as with most parts of Brooklyn, to walk in any direction from it is to be at once confronted by reminders that one walks among the living. For the first time since my effectual decease, I found myself surrounded on my walks by trees, pets, couples, strollers—the whole nauseating spectacle. One is rarely forced, in inhuman Manhattan, to endure such scenes for long, if indeed one ever encounters them there; but in Brooklyn they are proudly ubiquitous, an almost constant interruption of one’s quiet and reflection. And they make worse obstacles. As though to provide me with another reminder of my as-yet un-relinquished existence, my move had coincided with a new degeneration of the nerves in my right leg, resulting in a peculiar limp: the foot, no longer lifted by the enervated muscles along the calf, now had to be raised by the whole leg—“vaulted,” as they call it—to prevent its dragging along the ground and catching on whatever irregularity it happened to meet with there. Brooklyn sidewalks being notoriously irregular,—another sign of the borough’s troublesome vitality—it now required all of my concentration to avoid catastrophe, leaving me particularly vulnerable to stretched leashes, projecting prams, and other engines of chaos. One is never more persistently put in mind of the tedious continuance of life, than by its special pains and debilities, so here was another disturbance of my equilibrium. And it didn’t help matters that among these memento vivere were an unwonted profusion of girls, seemingly generated spontaneously from the private schools and bourgeois neighborhoods around Dumbo; of whom, indifferent as death should make one to such things, it was impossible for me to remain totally unconscious. Of course the same could not be said for the girls themselves; who, having been alive no longer than I had been dead, could scarcely have manifested less concern for the havoc they caused. But the real damage they did was to put me again in mind of M—, with whom the subsequent renewal of contact, with its age-old follies and torments, its unaccountable hopes and failures, was exactly the sort of mania I had died to avoid. Only in its inevitable aftermath could I have followed through on as misguided an impulse as this particular trip—which, in a life so marked by missteps, is saying a great deal.

It had been, in fact, a casual remark of M—’s (or rather, as I later understood, a strategic remark made casually) that had first put me on the track of it. She had asked me, at the very café where we had parted forever some months previously, whether I had looked into anything to help with my limp; a question I might have assumed was meant in the duplicitous spirit I have since realized it to have been, but which, at the time, I characteristically mistook for solicitude. Those who lack the self-knowledge in life to avoid its pitfalls, do not acquire it by dying, but only seem wiser for their inactivity; and this question of M—’s, in luring me to misinterpret it in my usual fashion, proved the final blow to my hard-won ataraxia. By the time I came around to her perfidy, the gears of life, so long mercifully retarded in me, had already been set once more in motion.

A little research quickly convinced me that the only adequate solution to my problem was a custom-made orthotic brace. This is essentially a structure of high-impact plastic or some other rigid material, which straps onto the lower leg to keep the foot from dragging when the leg is raised, thereby eliminating the need for the aforementioned vault. At its most basic, this is achieved by a one-piece model, which simply keeps the foot stable at a 90-degree angle. However, there is also a much more expensive sort, involving specially designed pivots and countermeasures; and this, on reflection, I soon realized was the one for me.

Most American-made models of this sort are not very sleek in appearance, being designed more or less strictly for function. So when I discovered, while comparing models online, a little company on the Sussex coast that made them in keeping with a somewhat more elegant aesthetic, naturally I didn’t begrudge the higher price tag. The trouble was that, the orthotic being custom-built to specifications by a local manufacturer, I would have to travel to England to have mine made for me. But this was of course no object. It was the height of summer, the time of year when the city is at its most unbearable, and England at its most supernally beautiful. West Sussex, famous for its ancient burial mounds, was a place I had always wanted to visit; and which, it now occurred to me, would provide me with a good walking test of my new orthotic in addition to a welcome return to deathly environs. Best of all, M—’s implicit accusation—for even then I’d had some intimation of it—would be answered. I booked my ticket as soon as summer classes ended.

The plan was to be fitted for my brace upon arrival at Shoreham-on-Sea, then tour a few of England’s famous burial sites by bus for a few days without it. Once I’d picked it up I would continue, for the remainder of the week, on a walking tour of some of the more locally situated barrows, then bring it back to Shoreham for final adjustments on the way home. A deceptively unambitious plan—and indeed, the first portion of it was as pleasantly uneventful as I could have hoped.

Most of the barrows in England are pretty uniform to an untrained eye, or even a semi-trained one, being essentially crude tunnels under rolling heaps of grass, with here and there a monolithic slab of rock protruding. The interest, in most cases, lies in the beauty of the surrounding countryside, and the various myths attached to each barrow. These legends, though old themselves, are often the invention of later generations, who seemed to know as little as we do, or even less, about the formation of the tumuli. As a result, they can be very amusing, even baffling, in their way. Certainly one strains to imagine whom such explanations might have satisfied. Consider that of the “Devil’s Jumps” in Treyford: five small ringed hills or “bell” barrows, where the Prince of the Powers of the Air is said to have derived so much amusement by jumping from one to the other, that he did it to the point of angering the god Thor (reposing, for reasons unknown, on Treyford Hill nearby), who then frightened him away by throwing a large boulder at him. Or take, again, a popular story behind the famous Silbury Hill, which holds that the enormous mound was originally a load of soil which the same Devil had been carrying to drop on the citizens of Marlborough, and had been forced by the priests of neighboring Avebury to drop prematurely. Naturally, what the Dark One might have had against the Marlborians in particular, and why he should have chosen so inelegant a mode of assault, is never discussed. But this is a pretty common feature to such accounts, in which the arbitrariness and ineffectualness of evil seem to be its most pressing traits.

My limp, even during this first leg of the tour, went all but unnoticed. The grassy fields and smooth pathways of Sussex are a much more forgiving surface than the pavements of Brooklyn, so walking wasn’t nearly as distracting an operation as usual. More preoccupying was the prospect of again meeting with Daria, the young orthotic technician who had fitted me in Shoreham. She was tall and skinny, absolutely flat on all sides, with protruding teeth, a beak-like nose, and large, slightly bulging eyes—in short, a beauty of the first water. We had hit it off immediately—at least, as far as I could understand; the Sussex dialect, all but impenetrable to a Bronx ear, making most of what she said a matter of some doubt. Admittedly, this made a welcome change from my usual condition of clinical certainty regarding the meaning (to put it kindly) in a girl’s chatter; but the remarkable thing was that it hadn’t seemed to matter to her, either. I have never been a great hand at deciphering female signals, but Daria’s were clear enough even for my sensibilities; and I admit that, weary as I am of my own fantasies by now, my tombside meditations over those first few days were periodically broken in upon by thoughts of a decidedly less funebrious tone.

But the barrows themselves were undeniably, even invitingly, beautiful. More than once I found myself gazing with real longing at the perfect emerald greenness of the grass over top of one, or at the smooth recesses, so long undisturbed, set into the rock within. How pleasant it would be to lie down forever in such a bower, and with such a canopy overhead! Small wonder that wandering spirits, displaced pagan deities, and Satan himself should be supposed to frequent such idyllic scenes, capable as they were of bringing respite to a tortured consciousness. And it was somehow fitting that it should again be those two ancient sources of all conscious torment, bodily debility and the Girl, which would conspire to summon me back from it all.

The orthotic, as it turned out, worked fantastically. From the moment it was strapped on by Daria’s bone-slender fingers, the difference was undeniable. The mechanism by which it kept the foot raised was as neatly put together as anything I’d seen. The braces that attached it to the foot and calf were particularly well wrought. In standard models, these are comprised of hard plastic sheaths with some generic admixture of canvas and elastic thrown in for support. In mine, however, they were entirely metal, giving the whole apparatus even more of the appearance of a well-fitted piece of armor. The metal, from what I could catch of Daria’s explanation, was a trademarked alloy of steel and some local ore, which was apparently responsible for its incredible lightness and flexibility. More than this I couldn’t have made out if I’d tried. At the time it was all I could do to keep from going dizzy, staring into those bulging blue eyes. And I couldn’t have credited it myself, but I could swear there was a mutual flirtation. I was put in mind of the (alleged) existence of amputation fetishes; why couldn’t there be such a thing for orthotics? The doctor’s coat certainly didn’t hurt; nor did the fact that she bore a striking resemblance to M—, at least in the eyes. In other departments it was a toss-up: I’d long deplored M—’s loss of thighs this skinny, for instance, but from what I could tell, her acromion processes were still the superior of the two.

I suppose the strongest testament to the effect of the new orthotic was that I was immediately impatient to get out walking in it, even in spite of such allurements. Impatient is really not a strong enough word for it. My desire for walking seemed almost tantamount to a compulsion. Happily, there were a number of famous barrows within a relatively short distance of Shoreham, which I had left until now for convenient access. All were within the South Downs, an area well known for its archaeological sites, and therefore easily traversable by public transportation. This would be my backup plan, I decided; for the closest major sites were within a good day’s walk of one another, provided my ability measured up to my enthusiasm.

And measure up it did. The first day was an astonishing success. It’s true that it comprised only about seven miles’ walk in all, a distance I was used to covering twice over on my weekly walks in the city. But the terrain was hilly, and it had seemed a challenging enough first-day’s journey to christen my new brace. I will say that, a few days before, on my first glimpse at the uneven chalk cliffs for which the Downs are famous, a seed of doubt had been planted as to this last point. After all, most of the people for whom the thing was designed were not likely to put it to such a rigorous test; and its all-metal construction, though an appealing novelty at first, could easily have proven a nuisance. But my apprehensions were unfounded. I covered the seven miles in no time and with almost no noticeable effort, arriving with plenty of daylight left to visit the local attraction for which I had come.

This was the famous Chanctonbury Ring, a copse of beech-trees originally planted in 1760 to mark the site of a Bronze-Age hill fort and burial-ground. The site is supposed to have first been created by—naturally—the Devil, who nowadays may be summoned by circumnavigating the beech-copse “seven times widdershins.” An interesting proposition, I thought; although it’s generally accepted that once he arrives, the Arch-Tempter does little more than haggle for the soul of his summoner, for which he offers the unusually meager reward of a bowl of soup. Having never been partial to the stuff myself, I was untempted; though what sort of resistless concoction this particular soup for the soul must have been to win over the average Sussex man, I admit I wondered. And here was another strange thing: as eager as I’d been to get to Chanctonbury, I now felt an even more pressing need to move on; and not for the reasons usually raised at such points of occult “interest.” It was simply as though there was somewhere else I needed very badly to be, some pressing anxiety that hurried me on. Once or twice I actually found myself trying to remember if there were in fact some forgotten obligation—so importunate was this new feeling. Had I been younger, I might well have continued on that night to my next destination, just to allay it; but that, I was fortunately able to remind myself, would commit me to a walk of almost fifteen miles more. This comporting very little either with the tour I’d drawn up for myself, or with sanity as such, I settled for a long exploration of the countryside around Chanctonbury. This seemed to satisfy my restlessness somewhat, and by the time I arrived at my hotel in Steyning, a mile or two east of there, I was too exhausted to think of anything but my bed.

A good night’s sleep, one quickly learns, is one of life’s ever-diminishing commodities. Even death, as I have so far experienced it, never restores the uninterrupted slumbers of youth; it only reconciles us to their departure. It has long been my habit to wake around 5 a.m. and lie awake for at least an hour or so, dwelling on one irrevocable mistake or another, before (sometimes) snatching another hour’s sleep. Needless to say, to sleep late is, for me, not merely an unheard-of luxury, but actually unheard of: I hadn’t done it in decades.

So I must have been exhausted indeed to sleep in, as I did at Steyning, nearly the whole morning. I had certainly dropped off quickly enough, as it seemed: I was still in my clothes from the day before, and the bed was hardly disturbed. I hadn’t even bothered to remove the brace from my ankle. I supposed it must have been glorious. At any rate I hoped it had been, to make up for the anxiety I felt immediately on waking—the effect, no doubt, of the same late sleep. I couldn’t help reproaching myself. Today was to be a much longer walk, after all, and now, as it felt to me, I had precious little time to lose. I was even impatient with the hotel-keeper, who had been terrifically polite to me so far; though in all fairness, he was not particularly so today. I could understand him somewhat better than I could Daria, but not much; and without the same inducements, I soon gave up trying. There was only so many times one could say that one had indeed slept through the night, and that the “stamping about,” which seemed to have caused such distress, had to have come from another room! I was hard-pressed enough to account for my own sleeping in, without having to explain away someone else’s restlessness as well; besides which, I was in a hurry.

Yet for all that, the extra sleep seemed to have done me good. Today found me no less vigorous than the day before; if anything, I had more energy. The upshot was that I more than made up for my late start, and by early afternoon, I’d checked into “the Crossed Arms” on the outskirts of Chichester. There were good barrow-grounds to be seen in this vicinity, most notably the aforementioned Devil’s Jumps and their close neighbor, the alliteratively named Devil’s Humps. The former, being in a much better state of preservation, are of undeniably greater fame and archaeological interest, so they were my first stop. I’m sure under normal circumstances “the Jumps” would have been my only stop that night, as the other barrows were farther ahead and the day was already pretty far along. Strangely, however, I was unable to, as the young say, “get into them.” To put it plainly, I felt distracted and restless the entire time I was there. It was, I realized as I left, an even stronger recurrence of the same feeling I’d had since leaving Shoreham. And again, it was no reflection on where I was, for I’m sure I paid too little attention to the place to have had any real antipathy to it. The difference between aversion and attraction, as motivating factors, can be a subtle one for me, but in this case it was very clear: I simply couldn’t wait to move on to the other monument.

Now, this was an unusual enough feeling for me to have in relation to any monument, to say nothing of one as prosaic as the Devil’s Humps turned out to be: a series of undulating “bell” and “pond” barrows, here and there encircled by a grassy ditch, with a few thick groves of yew beyond. I have since learned that these barrows are in fact more highly regarded than I’d thought; but at the time, having only my unaccountable eagerness to contrast them to, I was admittedly a bit underwhelmed. Equally unremarkable, though somewhat better fodder for a ghost story, was the local lore behind the place. According to this, the barrows concealed the remains of a defeated Viking war-party, whose unhappy specters, stranded so far from home, haunted the yew forest and even animated the yews themselves by night. Not a bad myth, as they go, but a bit formulaic. And where was the Devil, so omnipresent a figure in other barrow legends? His absence from this one seemed the most remarkable thing about the place, and couldn’t pass unlamented.

But if I seem to dwell on the ways the Devil’s Humps proved a disappointment, it is only to serve as a better background for the unprecedented satisfaction I felt in being there. In truth, it was almost uncanny. As I strolled along the barrows and through the fringes of the yews, I could feel the restlessness of the past few days vanish. Soon I felt completely, even oddly, at ease. Being dead, I was long accustomed to the allure of tombs; but “pond” barrows, being flat circles or mesas rather than heaped-up mounds, usually mark ceremonial rather than burial sites. Why should these seem so inviting to me? Granted, this was not so obscure a question, given my level of activity over the last couple of days: I was simply physically tired out. The sunlight was only just beginning to dim through the yew-branches, and already I could feel the day’s walk catching up to me. My legs felt like the energy was draining out of them, right into the ground where I stood. The right leg already felt especially leaden, as though the brace had caught on something. Had it caught on something? No. But I was clearly exhausted, and it would hardly do for me to be caught like this out in the open. Though I hadn’t otherwise noticed it, by the look of some of the trees the wind was picking up. It was high time I got back to my hotel.

The walk back was much slower. My newfound energy had gone as soon as it had come, and in its absence my mind had begun to play tricks on me. A few times I’d imagined I heard footsteps behind me on the road; once even, in passing by a clump of trees, I could have sworn I saw someone keeping stride with me through the trees. Yet each time, stopping to look, I saw no one.  This was an irritating exercise, and I soon learned not to repeat it; but not before having wasted a fair amount of time, and jangling my nerves pretty badly. By the time I’d returned to “The Crossed Arms” everything seemed strange and hostile; even the yew-tree outside the hotel door looked somehow more conspicuously placed than I recalled it having been before.

  Once I’d taken care to lock myself into my room, I went to the window for a look. No use—it was almost entirely obscured by thick black foliage. That yew really had been badly placed! So much for the view in a cheap hotel room. Still, I was glad to be in it—by the look of the branches I could see, a pretty strong wind had set in just as I’d arrived. There are not many things more relaxing than a storm outside a snug room. The rhythmic nodding of the yew-branches was especially lulling, and I was hardly aware I had been watching them before my eyelids began to droop.

The next day, I woke to find I’d slept in again. It was unbelievable: I thought my clock must have stopped. Once was strange enough; twice was getting suspicious. Fortunately, I didn’t have another town to walk to from here; all the exercise seemed to be getting to me. At any rate, I had knocked out quickly again, as the brace was still on my ankle from the day before. And, as it appeared, I had also neglected to lock the window. The latter was slightly ajar, with a bit of yew-branch poking through. This must be what they call a senior moment, as I thought, thrusting it out again with some difficulty. I would have to make myself some sort of reminder to remove the brace tonight. Certainly, there was no use taking it off now. It was already so late in the day, and I had places to go. I hurriedly got myself together to go out.

The manager flagged me down at the desk downstairs. He’d been meaning to ask me something, as it seemed. Recalling my treatment of the previous hotel-keeper, I choked down the impulse to brush this one off, and bid him ask what he would.

Right then, he said with some embarrassment; well, first—if it were quite all right to ask—I was traveling alone, wasn’t I?

I was, I told him.

Very well, he said, very well; and had I had a good night’s sleep, that night?

I had, I told him.

Ah! He seemed relieved. Then, it were a normal thing for me, he supposed.

What was?

All that walking around in the night, he answered—beg pardon, but they’d tried knockin’, and no use. Now, he’d told ’em I must have been asleep-walkin,’ and there-you-were! No trouble his end, however, as the other guests was satisfied; he just didn’t know if it were a regular thing for me, or what.

I could only stammer out an apology.

Oh, it were no trouble, Sir, no trouble at all; the other guests, as he said, they was satisfied, and it were a good laugh anyroad, weren’t it? Only between him and me, of course. Well, he said, good afternoon, Sir, and enjoy the walkin’ on today. Mind, no fallin’ asleep, now, while I was at it!—and he left me at the door.

Now, needless to say, this came as quite a surprise. I had never known myself to sleepwalk (though not a few of my relationships might have been more opportunely terminated that way), and to have it happen now, in the middle of a trip through a foreign country, was very off-putting. And now that I thought of it, the same thing had been suggested at the last hotel, though I hadn’t taken it seriously. Could it be that I had not only overslept two nights in a row, but spent both nights sleepwalking around my room? I supposed it was logical enough that the two should come together; after all, if I’d spent the night walking, after a day spent doing the same, no wonder I’d needed the extra sleep. But why I should have done either, was still a puzzle.

And in puzzling over it as I walked, I must have made a wrong turn: so wrong, in fact, the day was all but wasted. To my best knowledge I had been walking west, toward a group of barrows a short walk that way from Chichester, known by the alluring name of Satan’s Drears. But having walked a good while without crossing into any unfamiliar territory, I soon realized why: I had somehow strayed onto the same path I’d followed the night before, and was on my way north, back toward the Devil’s Humps! The path looked so different in broad daylight, I had almost walked the whole way there before I realized it. I turned back, cursing my inattention. I’ve always hated retracing my steps, and in this case I knew that the only thing that would needle me more than having wasted so much of my day already, would be a repeat visit to a place I’d already written off. But it threw me into a foul mood.

There might still have been time to visit the other site by bus, but the prospect of negotiating buses was as dispiriting a notion as any. So I dismissed it, instead making a visit to the famous Chichester Cathedral, site of the “Arundel tomb” of Larkin’s poem. Not that such a thing, as a thing, held any but a passing interest for me. It had never been my favorite of his poems, and the tomb, of course, was no better. Even minor poems are of greater aesthetic value than the objects on which they are purported to be based, as any writer of love-poetry will recognize. But there was something in the stony, placidly averted expressions of the two dead lovers that reminded me again of M—, and by the time I had shaken free of the ensuing reverie and started back in the direction of the hotel, it was already late in the day.

It was only now that I realized how dissatisfying my afternoon’s exercise had been. I had been so preoccupied with self-chastisement—first for having slept in, and then for my wrong turn—that despite having walked a fair amount already I still felt restless and perturbed. The other barrows were out of the question, but surely I was taking my disappointment too far. I decided it would not do to return home just yet. I still had a good half-hour before sunset, at least; the company of others would only exacerbate my present annoyance; and besides, I still felt surprisingly energized. So having stopped for a quick bite at a small dried-goods shop, I set out for a stroll around the hills north of town.

Outside of town, in the still of the early evening, I felt my equilibrium returning. The footpath I followed wound quickly away from habitation, and soon even the sounds of the cars below amounted to no more than a whisper. The grassy hills of this part of England have remarkable sound-dampening qualities—as one can attest who has spent as much time with the problem in a New York apartment as I have. Especially striking, too, was its strange beauty this time of day. The rolling, uniformly green hills, dotted here and there with isolated clumps of trees and little outcroppings of chalk and Sarsen stone, and almost devoid of the unintelligibly-named and nondescript shrubberies that predominate so much of the country and its literature, have an almost eerie placidity by day; in the twilight, they are positively alien. One finds such vivid and featureless landscapes employed in some of the more naïve depictions of Paradise; as though the imaginations of their painters had never ventured beyond the immediate visual perfection of such places, to the nightmarish monotony of an eternity spent there. And yet, I now reflected, perhaps in this they showed a deeper profundity. Perhaps the purest bliss of death consisted in the respite, not only from earthly variety, but from the agitation of desiring and valuing it: a respite even more heavenly than the other, because more inconceivable. The misery of life, to which all our art, all our religion, runs contrary, is not in its own motion, but in our futile motion toward its countless vanities. Our divine part is our stillness, and we are rightly said to join it only after death. Even now, in the realization of such foreign and wonderful beauty, I could hardly bring myself to stop and enjoy it—could hardly command my feet to stand still.

I was now approaching a turn in the path from which the sunset showed the distant town to the south in too singular a light to be ignored. With an effort, I came to a stop, my legs trembling with momentum. It was quite a resting-point: the sunset straight ahead, the windows of the town to my left just beginning to light up, and on the path, about twenty paces to my right—what had been obscured by the turn of the hill till now—a fine stone outcropping of the kind I have mentioned, with a few yew trees behind. A stone arrangement, I should have said: it being unlikely that two stones of such an appearance would have jutted out of the ground of their own accord, so neatly or in such close proximity to one another. Sarsen stone, the crumbly sandstone famous for its use at Stonehenge and other British monuments, is not useful for much else; and its presence, in monolithic blocks like these, can usually be counted on to indicate some special site or other. These two, however, I could not find marked anywhere on my pocket-map. I squinted at them in the diminishing light. They were tall slabs, about six or seven feet high, very regular in shape, and so placed as to leave a narrow gap of about two inches between them from top to bottom, through which nothing but blackness was visible. It was this gap in particular which now caught my eye. I think I intuited the reason immediately; still, it took a full minute of hard staring to convince myself of it, and the result was no less ugly a shock. There was, undoubtedly, a person on the other side of that small space, watching me through it.

And then I surprised myself: I went closer to look. At least, I went closer; looking was a very secondary motivation. My indifference has always outweighed my bravado in such situations; but in this case it seemed to be neither curiosity nor courage that compelled me, but mere physical momentum. It felt as though I had suddenly been dropped onto a steep slope, with those two stones at the bottom. But as I neared them, I was aware that I had not wished to do so. Something was wrong with my legs. I felt dizzy, as though I needed to sit, but I could not sit; they refused to bend; they were no longer my own. With a lurch I rounded the stones, and I almost laughed with relief to see nothing there but the yew trees. Why couldn’t I laugh? My feet planted themselves one at a time, almost comically, like a puppet’s. The trees, I suddenly thought with nightmarish clarity, and looked up; they were expanding, slowly, as though filling with breath. Now I couldn’t look away; my neck was frozen. Below where I could see, something dark and glistening was emerging from the gap between the stones. I felt it wrap around my ankle, then tug; a hard, wrenching tug, I thought, as swimmers sometimes say. That was my last thought; I was fainting.

When I came to, it was nearly dawn. I lay shivering, curled up at the base of a yew tree only a few feet from the path. The Sarsen stones were nowhere to be seen. As I sat up, I was aware of a throbbing pain in my right leg. The foot was caught beneath a large root that looped out of the ground like a worm; apparently my ankle had twisted in this as I fell. It was badly sprained, and the orthotic brace was gone. I did not stay to look for it. Mercifully, the night-porter of the “Crossed Arms” was asleep at the front desk when I arrived, and I was able to limp past her and up to my room without having to explain myself. Of all mornings, this would have been the one to sleep late. But it was not to be. Without the brace’s over-activity, I was back to my old sleepless self. Instead I packed, and passed the time before the first bus out by icing my foot. The numbness put me back in good spirits. For the first time in days, I had an early start.

I only stopped briefly at Shoreham on my way out. Daria, to my inexpressible chagrin, was off that day; but even this had its upside. The polite little fellow there in her stead, for example, required no explanations as to why I shouldn’t be wearing my new brace. I only had to tell him I had worn it so extensively over the past few days that I felt I could use a day off from it—which was true enough—and so had already packed it away with the rest of my luggage. The new limp I sported was, as far as he knew, simply my normal one. He was really a very friendly person, this little colleague of Daria’s, and, having hailed from some part of London or other, was the most understandable Englishman I’d met. He was particularly pleased to hear I’d been touring the barrows, being himself, as it seemed, something of an amateur occult historian. They were such wonderful landmarks, he said, it was astonishing that the country allowed so much business to be carried on so close to them. But after all, he added with British good humor, it was such a small country. Had Daria told me that some of the metal they used in their trademarked alloys was sourced from an area very close by one of those barrows—the Devil’s Something-or-other, as he thought it was? I think she must have, I said, taking my hat; but then, we’d talked about so many things.