Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Spoooking: Chapter One

Tom woke up. He was near a window. There was light shining on his face. He was in bed. But it wasn’t his bed. It was soft. It was possibly the most comfortable bed he had ever been in. Those weren’t his pyjamas he was wearing. In fact he wasn’t even wearing pyjamas at all. It felt like he was wearing some sort of loose tunic.
He tried to sit up. He couldn’t. His body just wouldn’t move.    
What was he doing here?  Where was it, in fact, and how did he get there? 
Well, he was definitely in a room. One that looked a bit like a church. An old one with pillars and arches. But it didn’t smell musty like those places normally did. 
He could hear something. Birds singing outside? No, maybe human voices. They weren’t talking though. They were singing. And there was something else. Something which seemed completely out of place. What was it?
A mouth organ.  He could hear a mouth organ. Somebody was playing a mouth organ. It was a sort of slow jig. As soon as he’d realised that, though, it stopped.  
Then he remembered his argument with Amanda. Well, it hadn’t really been an argument, but it had left him feeling battered. He was going to lose her. He was definitely going to lose her. He just knew it.
But that still didn’t explain how he’d got here, wherever here was.
Another part of his mind arrived. He remembered the accident. It was almost a relief. That was it then. He must be in hospital. Except that he couldn’t quite remember where there was a hospital near Southampton in a building like this one.
He tried to move his arms and his legs. He couldn’t. Nothing seemed to respond to his brain. He didn’t hurt anywhere either. Surely there should be some cuts and bruises even if nothing was broken?
Perhaps, then, the accident had been a long time ago. Or perhaps he was paralysed. This must be one of those places where they care for people like that. Maybe he’d even been in a coma for a very long time.
Had she been to see him? How old was he now?
“Oh, you’m awake then?” he heard a voice say. It was a young voice. Somebody else his age.   
The mouth organ sounded again. Just a couple of notes this time. 
Tom tried to turn, but he couldn’t.
“Don’t worry,” said the voice. “You won’t be able to move for a bit yet. You’ve gotta learn to do it again. S’alright.”
Tom went to speak. He tried to make out where the voice was coming from. He wanted to ask the speaker who he was.
“Hang on,” said the voice. “I’ll come round where you can see me.”
A shadow moved from the right side of his bed.
“There, that’s better, you can see me now,” said the young man. Tom guessed he was probably another patient. He had an oval face,  long brown hair and a small pointed nose. He was very pale and rather thin. He looked almost weightless. “Marcus is the name, by the way,” he said and grinned. He played a little trill on his mouth organ. “Hey, it’s good to have another’un like me. Most of the people here are old and grumpy. The young’uns don’t hang around very long if they come here at all. It’ll be good to have some company me own age. I’ve heard you’ve got an awkward problem. Probably in for a longish stint, then.”
Tom wanted to reply. He tried to ask Marcus where exactly they were. He just couldn’t get his mouth to open. It also seemed as if he had forgotten how to breathe.
“Hey, mister, I saw a muscle move in your cheek then,” said Marcus. “You’ll be ready in about half an hour.” He played a fast trill.
Ready? thought Tom. Ready for what?
“You’ll be able to get up, and get cracking on whatever it is they want you to do,” said Marcus. “The sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll be out of here.”
Tom supposed that could be a good thing. Get out of this place, wherever it is, and get back to normal life. Go and find Amanda. Perhaps she might reconsider going to London … or could he go to Wales?
“Naw!” said Marcus, frowning. “I bet they’ll process you ever so quickly, despite what they said. They always do. Then I’ll be on me own again. Nobody ever hangs around here long. Especially the young‘uns. Except me, of course, I ain’t going nowhere.” He played two desolate sounding notes. 
“You again,” said another voice. It sounded like a woman. Someone a little bit younger than Tom’s mother. “What are you doing here? Haven’t you got things to be getting on with?”
“Just being friendly!” said Marcus. “Don’t you let her bully you,” he added, looking at Tom. He then darted between the pillars opposite Tom’s bed and disappeared completely.
Must be a door there, or something, thought Tom.
“So, how’s it going Tom?” said the woman. She was now standing right next to him, just where Marcus had been. It was really odd, because she hadn’t moved there. She was just there.
It must be the drugs they’ve given me, thought Tom. 
The woman smiled at him. She had long blond hair and slender arms. Odd thing that she was wearing though. Very old-fashioned. Some sort of long white dress. But it did go with the building, he supposed.
“Still can’t talk?” said the woman. “Don’t worry. It won’t be long.”  She pulled the duvet off the bed. It was white and light. She started to examine his chest with her hands. He felt a very slight pressure and at the same time some life seemed to come back into his legs.
“You felt that, didn’t you?” she said and smiled again. She was very pale. Why was she so pale? He could understand about Marcus, who was another patient. But why were the nurses pale as well?
She fumbled in a canvas bag that Tom had not noticed before. She took out a long metal instrument that looked like an oversized fork. She prodded it into his knee. That hurt. One by one, more odd-shaped metal tools came out of the bag. She used them to test different parts of his body.  
“Yes?” she asked, as she stroked his arm with what looked like a rigid feather.    
Tom went to nod his head. He couldn’t make it move. The hope he’d had a few seconds ago faded. He must be paralysed after all. Then his head did move. He felt as if he was moving a huge boulder just with his head. But at least it moved.
“Excellent,” said the woman. “We’ll have you up and walking about later today.”
Walking about? So, he wasn’t paralysed. Perhaps he’d had some sort of operation.
“Good. It’s all good,” she continued. “I’m Rema, by the way. I’m your body coach. I’m going to get Zeboth along. He’ll be responsible for your daily care. Hopefully you won’t be here for very long. You youngsters usually aren’t.”
What about Marcus? thought Tom. There didn’t seem to be all that much wrong with him, except that he was very pale, but not really any paler than Rema.
“Except of course, our dear Marcus,” she added, frowning as she pulled the duvet back over him. 
She was doing it now, as well, just like Marcus had earlier. Reading his mind, apparently.
“Well then,” said a male voice. Another young male voice. It was coming from where Rema had just been standing.
How had that happened?
“I’m Zeboth,” said the owner of the voice. He was tall and slim, just like Rema. He had the same fine blond hair which was long and flowing and came down to his shoulders. He was wearing a pair of loose trousers and a floaty tunic, which looked as if they were made out of silk  He was pale, too, just like Rema and Marcus. “It is my job to help you with everything apart from the maintenance of your body. That is Rema’s department.”
Now it sounded like prison.
“Don’t worry, though,” Zeboth continued. “You’ll be able to talk later today and then you can ask me questions … some of which I’ll be able to answer, hopefully. Now, are you comfortable enough?”
Tom was comfortable. He could feel the whole softness of this bed now. It was a great place to be.
“Good,” said Zeboth. “You can go to sleep if you like. Chances are, when you wake up again, you’ll be able to sit up and even speak. Then Rema can start her work properly.”
Tom did manage to sleep. It was just so comfortable here. He was soon in a dreamy half-awake half asleep state, and then he fell into a deeper sleep where he had soothing dreams. He actually saw the accident all over again, but it wasn’t scary or even distressing. He just saw what happened, as if he was looking down at it. It was amazing how the bigger car had whacked poor Binky and sent her spinning. At least he could be relieved that it wasn’t his fault. He saw snatches of other things too. Little scenes that he had lived through which he’d not thought much of at the time, but now he could see they’d been important. He woke up just as he was going again through his conversation with Amanda on the night of the accident. A faint tune was being played on a mouth organ.
Marcus was standing next to his bed. 
“You’m awake again, then” he said. “Have you come back to life yet?”
Tom did feel more alive. Without stopping to think, he sat up in bed. Definitely everything was working better now.
“Yes,” he said. “I’m wide awake now.”
“And you can talk now,” replied Marcus. “Great. I’ll have some company for a bit then.”
Tom stared at Marcus. What was he wearing? He hadn’t really taken that much notice before. But it was definitely weird. It looked a bit like a judo outfit, but thicker.
“It’s a strange place, this hospital,” said Tom. “Why do the nurses wear such funny clothes?”
“Hospital?” said Marcus. He laughed. “This ain’t no hospital,” he said. “They ain’t nurses. Don’t you get it? You’m dead and you ain’t gone to the Good Place yet – nor the Bad Place for that matter, only we don’t like to talk about that. This is the Between Place.”  

Friday, 2 December 2016

Spooking Chapter 1


The lump was in his throat again.
The first drops of the rain they’d been promising all day fell on the windscreen.
He turned on the wipers.   
By the time he got to the motorway, it was raining heavily. As he filtered into the traffic there were flashes of lightening and claps of thunder. He turned on the radio to try and drain out the noise. He pushed his right foot down to the floor, bringing Binky up to her top speed. The music matched his mood. Rousing rock. He was going to fight this and he was going to win.
He steered Binky into the middle lane. The rain was now pouring over the windscreen like a waterfall. The wipers were going full speed, but he still couldn’t see all that well. As he overtook the slower cars and lorries he also had to put up with the spray and the buffeting from the side wind as he drove out of their shelter.
He would have to be careful as he crossed the Hamble Bridge. Binky was quite light and could easily be blown off course. He lifted his foot slightly off the accelerator. Best not to go too fast in this.
He noticed the grey car first of all in his side-view mirror. A Saab, he thought. What was the idiot doing? He was going to hit him. He quickly looked in his rear-view mirror. No, he couldn’t get in to the third lane. Chances were, even if he did, the Saab would still smash into him.
It was going to happen. There was nothing he could do.
Don’t try to straighten up if he makes you skid, he thought to himself. Steer into the skid.
He tried to relax his grip on the steering wheel. But not altogether – at least it was something to hang on to.
There was a thud.
He felt Binky begin to spin. She seemed to be going in slow motion. They were going towards the parapet of the bridge across the Hamble. Would they hit another car? If they hit the bridge would it hold?
He felt the car slap into the bridge and then he heard the stone begin to crumble.  For a few seconds, he was up in the air, looking at the blue Ford Fiesta falling towards the river.
Was the tide in or out? Which would be better? If the water was deep, the fall might not do so much damage. The water would cushion it. But then, he might not be able to get out. If the tide was out, the water would be so shallow that the car would hit the river bed and both of them would be smashed to pieces.
Why was he up here looking down? Where was his body, actually?
In the car. Then he was in the car and it was plunging through the green-grey water. It seemed an age before it hit the riverbed, but hit it it did. With a silent thud which shook every bone in his body and made his teeth clench. 
He sat still for a moment. Think. What to do? There was no water in her yet. But he must get out and that would mean getting wet and swimming up through the water.
He wriggled out of his denim jacket. That would get too wet and weigh him down. It wasn’t easy get it off, what with the air bag and the seat belt.
He could hear the water glugging into the car.
He’s better get out quick.
He tried to open the door. It wouldn’t budge. He would have to try the window. He leant forward towards the glove compartment. The biggest, heaviest thing in there was the handbook. He tried to smash first the windscreen than the side window with it. Neither would give.
The water was coming into the car faster and faster now.
He remembered what they’d learnt about saving lives in his swimming lessons. He used the old shirt he kept as a rag in the van to make a sort of inflatable. This might help.
The water was up to his chin now. He still couldn’t get the door or the window open. He used his air-filled shirt for breathing. But it was no good. That was getting wet as well. He held his breath for as long as he could. Then there was nothing for it but to let the water into his mouth, into his nostrils, into his lungs.
He thought he was going to burst. It was really painful for a few seconds.
Then he felt sort of peaceful. It didn’t hurt to breathe any more. The water looked beautiful. He felt warm and cosy, sleepy almost. 
A bright light hit the water. Tom watched fascinated as it spread through the grey-green murk until that gradually turned to light as well. Tom felt as if he was drifting towards it, though he could still feel the seat of the car holding him and the airbag pressing on his chest. How could he breathe, though? The water filled the whole car and it had been like that for several minutes already. Just how long could you live without oxygen? 
The light became so bright he could see nothing else.
They must be coming to get me, he thought.  I’ll be out of here soon.
“Not yet, sunshine,” he heard a voice saying. “Don’t look at it.”
Strong arms grabbed him and pulled him away from the light. Then it all went black and he felt as if he was tumbling. 

Monday, 21 November 2016

Fibbin' Archie Extract 4


“I’m frigging cold here,” said Ollie. “What did you want to meet out here for, this weather.”
Ollie was right. But then you always expected Red to be a bit of a nutter.
“Because my friend, we need a bit of privacy for this.”
“Go then. Explain what you mean. Then we can go somewhere warm.”
“Right then.” Red pulled Archie and Ollie towards him. “Into a scrum, lads.”
They huddled together, arms around shoulders, heads bent. “I propose,” said Red, “that we swear on the bones of old Jeff Astle that we shall not let women come between us. That we shall go to the Hawthorns every Saturday afternoon that the Baggies play at home. And if we’re away, we watch the footy on the telly.”
“What about the summer?” asked Ollie.
“Tell ‘em we’re off to Edgbaston, even if we’re not.” Red took a deep breath. “That at least two nights a week we let them go wash their hair and do other girly things while we have a men’s night.”
“What about homework and stuff?” asked Archie. 
“Do it while you’re trying to get into their knickers. In fact it might help. They might be more willing to, you know, if you show them you’re serious about learning.  They like that, the girls.”
Archie actually enjoyed doing his homework with Amanda. It was less boring somehow. And it took his mind off the constant frustration. God, even Red saying the word “knickers” was getting him going.
But Red’s idea was quite good actually. And it would make being with Amanda all the more exciting when he did see her. More frustrating as well. But there were ways and means. He’d cope.
“Well then, chaps?” said Red.
“Yeah, anything you like. It don’t really apply to me,” mumbled Ollie. “Now, can we get inside?”
“Okay. We’ll sort you out. I promise. You in, Archie?”
“Okay then. Pool?”
“Yes!” Archie and Ollie exchanged a glance. “Me balls are dropping off,” said Ollie.

It was nice and warm inside Freddie’s. It was deserted as well. Only Old Chuffy was there.  “I shouldn’t really let you in now,” he said. “We ain’t open. And you’re underage.”
“I come here with me dad. You know I do,” said Red.
“That’s different.” Chuffy sniffed and then wiped his nose on his sleeve.
Archie and Ollie tried not to titter as they saw the green streak on Chuffy’s already dirty brown overalls.
“You dirty bastard,” said Red. “I’ll tell my dad. He wants you to keep this place spotless.”
“That’s enough of your lip, young man. Okay.  You can use the old table in the back room. It’s waiting to be recovered. I don’t suppose you can hurt it.”
“Thank you Chuffy. Oh, and can you bring us half a pint each?”
“No I can’t. I ain’t the barman. We ain’t open. And you lot’m underage.” Chuffy shuffled out.
Ollie shrugged. “Oh well, I tried.” Then he grinned. “But look what I got here.” He fished two cans of beer out of the pockets of his hoodie. “We’ll have to share and we’ll have to keep them under the table. Daren’t let my old man find out. But lads, it ain’t a dry day today. Cheers.” He handed one can to Archie and pulled the ring off the other.  
Archie took a sip of his beer. It was strange drinking at this time of day. Before tea. But by God, it tasted good.
“Give us a sip,” said Ollie, as he took up the cue.
  “After you’ve had your go!” Archie didn’t like to think of him and Ollie drinking out of the same can. He could just hear what Granma would say now. Don’t you go drinking out of the same bottle of any of them friends of yours.  You know them funny boys can get the horrible disease. We don’t want none of that here.
Well, Ollie wasn’t a funny boy for sure. Not if he fancied Millie. He wasn’t either – not the way he felt about Amanda. And Red was always going on about the girls. No, he was all right here. He took another swig of the beer.
“Oy,” said Ollie. “Leave some for me.”
“Well get on with it then,” said Red, also drinking some of his beer. “Me against you two.”
Red always had to have the red balls and they always let Ollie break first. He was the worst of the three of them. Sure enough, after a couple of hits the cue ball went into the pocket, missing the yellow ball just a few centimetres away.
“Blooming Aida. We’ll have to get you lessons.” Red took his cue and lined it up with one of the red balls.
We’m never going to get another go, thought Archie as he watched Red pot five red balls in succession. He took another swig of his beer.
At last, though, the cue ball came to rest without touching another ball.
“Right, me old lovelies, you can catch up a bit. I’m going to have a ciggie,” said Red.
The first shot was all right and Ollie managed to pot a yellow. But it left the table in a bit of a mess. There wasn’t any straight line between the cue and any of their balls. He’d have to move a red.
“Can you do it?” said Ollie.
“If I can concentrate,” muttered Archie. He wished he hadn’t had so much of the beer. It really made him light-headed if he hadn’t eaten. He was glad to see that Ollie was tucking in.
The door suddenly burst open.  Red, came in, still smoking.
“Bloody freezing out there,” he said. “Oh,watch it.”
But it was too late. The red ball was rolling towards the far pocket. It was a home goal.
Suddenly the smoke alarm started ringing. Chuffy appeared at the door. “What the fuck?” he said.