MUSIC BLARED from car-stereos. Darius and Tim poied in front of camp. The rest of our crew trickled in. Many stories were told. Many neighbours met. So our first afternoon passed.
I busied myself with inflating beds and camp furniture - Sam's one refrain about The Gathering constant over the last year, ‘inflatable mattresses are key’. This resonating so strongly I'd even brought an inflatable couch as well.
As time and shadows lengthened, as the sky downshifted from blue to purple to darkling grey, we opened illicit alcohol and fired up a BBQ.
And it was around this time, as I was sitting on my comfy couch, puffing happily on a blunt, and admiring my strong and sturdy looking tent, that I first heard it. Next to me was Joseph, yakking about his latest idea to Gary, with all the energy such things brought him.
"Your mobile phone," Joseph was saying, "has got both a receiver and a transmitter in it, right? So where you can't get coverage, why couldn't you connect phone to phone?"
"Right, right," Gary was saying, nodding his head and hogging the spliff they shared.
On my other side, Tim was holding court, spinning a yarn about big Dan. "So anyway we're trying to convince Dan to come to The Gathering last year, and he's adamant he can't go because he's saving up for this pair of special sunglasses - "
"He even carries a picture of them in his wallet and everything," interjected Darius.
"Yeah it's got all these features he wants; he's been saving up for them for, like, months - "
And I'm sitting there in this hubbub, admiring my sturdy and strong looking tent and happily smoking my blunt when first I heard it. A low grumbling sound, like the din of a distant truck, faint but approaching fast.
You know that first recognition of thunder? That jolt because you hadn’t known a storm was coming, perhaps take a peak from behind closed curtains to spot the dragon streak across the sky? It was like that. Except, no lightning.
I cocked my head in confusion as it bounced along the ridgeline towards us. It sounded like, like,
"He goes into the surf forgetting they're on top of his head - "
"It's perfect for third world countries - "
"They're knocked off by the first wave - "
It took on a hundred-voice counterpart just down the tent row, its cacophonous arms boiling, flailing towards us, huge, all our conversations inundated, now drowned. And I understood suddenly, leaping to my feet, as did all of my crew.
A Mexican Yell that sucked us up into its vortex and we were screaming, screaming, screaming at the top of our lungs. Tossed around, buffeted - then - discarded, as it went avalanching away, picking up other campsites as it went. And us standing there, listening to its outrider echoes fade, our faces radiant with the enchantment of the moment, life so large, so real to us then.
Now, I don't know how how that yell started, one which reverberated around the Canaan Downs several times that night, us roaring like maniacs every time it did, but I like to think it was some spontaneous ignition, some campsite spark blown into a blaze.
Our raw, untrammelled cry to the universe that we had arrived and we were ready.
The music, however, was not.
We still had eighteen hours to wait.
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