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 memorious part of us that wakes up in any primal environment.
Heading from one end to the other, we traipse into a clearing and find a huge pig in the middle of it. It minded its own business, neither fearing us or angry at our presence.
My dad laughed and, as is 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 this is probably a hundred feet from a muddy path, and half a mile from anything one might actually be able to reasonably traverse on motorcycle.
And then, a few feet from that, a TRS-80 Model 100 portable computer, half-hidden by the ivy.
Perhaps memory plays tricks. The display glowed green in the dark, but I’m pretty sure those things didn’t glow the way 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 the mid-1980s: one did not simply run into portable computers in the middle of the woods. In the fraction of a second it took to simply realize “Oh, battery powered,” a soundless crackle danced around the space, a feeling I know my father 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 and notebook were stolen from a nearby farm and abandoned, with most of the swag, 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.
Photo: Sorbus Sapiens