art by Shot Hot Design
by James Bloomer
Clarke stood on the dunes, watching the party coalesce on the beach. Over the horizon, and the grey swell of the ocean, lay Africa. Beyond their borders. Outside. Lands of suffering. A knot formed in his stomach just at the thought. He shifted his focus, tried to relax, and scanned the crowd for the familiar gait of his brother, longing to catch a glimpse of his face, but from a distance he couldn't quite resolve the features of the crowd. The wind blew hard off the sea, flicking his hair around his eyes and making the task more difficult. The exhibits, consumer products whose trails constituted art, stood on pedestals on the beach, the crowds floating between them.
"You've not really entered into the spirit of things, have you?"
"What?" Clarke turned to see a woman beside him, short red hair, mesmerizing green eyes and the clothes of a high-chic traveller.
"Your trail," said the woman, flashing a screen in front of Clarke. The screen glowed with a map of the EU, darkness beyond its borders, a red line highlighted Clarke's journey; a journey of directness, from England to Portugal, no meandering, no detours, just purpose.
The woman smiled. "I'm Anna."
Clarke nodded and smiled quickly, returning his gaze to the crowd.
"It would be polite to check out my trail, filter by last month."
"Pardon?" Clarke turned back to her, unable to suppress his annoyance. She tutted and flicked some buttons at the screen's edge, then pushed it back into Clarke's view. A red trail looped across the EU in the shape of a stylised daisy, its stem ending at their current position. Clarke raised his eyebrows in surprise. Anna laughed.
"You should see the trail for that tin of baked beans." She nodded towards the pedestals on the beach, and then looked him up and down with a frown.
"What's your name?"
"First time at a trail-art party?"
"I'm not here for the party, I'm here to find my brother."
"Oh," said Anna, "well you'll never see him from up here."
Anna loped down the dune in long falling steps, her feet sinking into the soft, dry sand. When she reached the bottom, she turned back to face Clarke.
Clarke squinted at the faces in the crowd once more. Finally, he accepted her analysis and headed down the dune.
Drifting through the crowds Clarke watched the passing faces, hoping for a moment of recognition.
"Look at this one," said Anna. They stood next to a microwave meal on a pedestal; her screen showed its trail, a huge danger sign scrawled across Europe. "Twenty-three people have carried it."
"Huh," said Clarke, then quickly looked up again at the crowd washing past him.
"You're sure eager to find your brother."
Clarke nodded, "I haven't seen him for over a year."
The feedback whine of a retro megaphone cut through the chatter and the wind, causing the crowd to turn and face the solitary figure at the sea's edge.
"Time for journey's end," said the figure. The crowd cheered and converged on the pedestals, hoisting the products high into the air and carrying them towards the sea.
"Come on," said Anna, dragging Clarke towards the water.
"No way," said Clarke, "this is crazy."
"It's the end of the trail," shouted Anna.
Clarke slipped his hand out of Anna's and pulled away.
"No," said Clarke, but the crowd swarmed by and swept towards the water. He tried to fight a path back towards the dunes in vain, as the crush of bodies enveloped him. He stumbled, stepped into the water as he regained his balance, and then, before he knew it, he was waist deep in the sea. The pressure of the crowd ceased. They stood, bobbing up and down with glee as the waves rushed past.
Out ahead, in the sea, the products were lifted up: a tin of baked beans, a microwave meal, a book, an iPod and more; held aloft like sacrifices.
"Five!" cried the megaphone. "Four! Three! Two!" The crowd cheered, driven to a frenzy by the countdown. "One!"
The products were thrown, looping out high into the sky. Clarke felt a quick sharp stab of pain in his head and heard a buzz that flashed through his body. Then the grey sea swallowed up its offerings.