The Outsider by Stephen King

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I didn’t know anything about this book before reading it, other than it was a crime story. I’m not the biggest fan of crime stories, I probably haven’t read the right ones. I picked this book because it was the new Stephen King book out in paperback and cheap because of that. I started reading it Saturday morning, thinking I’ll read a couple of chapters before breakfast and before I knew it I was over a hundred pages in and couldn’t put it down. That’s something people say a lot about books, but it’s a good cliche and very true in this case. I had to know what happened next. I would recommend this straight away to anyone.

It’s hard to talk about this book without giving spoilers, so be warned. There will be spoilers from this point on. Nothing major, just enough to say why I liked this book so much.

I was enjoying this book quite a bit as a crime story. I’m not too familiar with the genre so I was along for the ride. I was piecing clues together and not getting very far. A man being in two places at once and I was jumping to the obvious conclusions, one of them was an impostor. I thought it would be simple enough like that, but I was still enjoying the book. Probably would have finished it, had a good time and mostly forgot about it.

That changes around half way through. On Saturday night I was sitting up in bed reading, trying to figure out the growing mystery when the plot started twisting. Slowly at first, but then the twist really hit. I stopped reading and thought I had stumbled into an all out horror without realising it. I put the book down with chills shivering through me.

It and Dracula combined with a crime novel makes The Outsider. Two of my favourite books. I loved this book and finished it within two days. Stephen King has a knack for creating characters that I care about way beyond the plot. I wish every writer was this great at building up characters. I want to know what happens next to them and I think that’s the trick to anything horror. If I care about the characters it adds to the fear. I’m not just scared of something, I’m fearing for the character’s lives.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys crime or horror. It’s a mixture of crime and horror. It’s a chilling read with twists and I really enjoyed it.

Thanks for reading,

Ashley

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Homecoming – Chapter Seventeen

I make it back to the hotel room in the early afternoon. There’s no point rushing. I grab a glass from the side and take it into the bathroom. Red eyes staring back at me in the mirror, as I fill up the glass. I take a swig from the cool water and place the glass on the side. Splash water on my face, as if that will help. It doesn’t. I can’t cry any more, it’s not fair. I can’t just feel sorry for myself. Those things happened a long time ago and there’s no use wallowing about now. For a second the urge to go out and see Tim’s family, the Campbells, rises, but not for long. I don’t think I could actually see them, even if they think all is forgiven. That’s what Ryan said, I still can’t believe it I hate myself for what happened, so God knows how they feel about it, and I can’t blame them. Probably best to let that wound heal on its own. They don’t need me to reopen it.

After washing my face again, I go back to the main room and grab the phone out of the bag. Brand new and sealed. One of those crappy cheap phones that are only good for phoning and texting. It’ll do though. Probably needs charging for a full day before use as well. Casey would have a go at me if I turned it on any sooner, what a shame she isn’t here to see it. I rip the packaging apart and plug the phone in. I’ll let it charge while I fiddle around with the sim card and such. Going to need to top it up as well. OmniCryo, never heard of that network before. Sounds stupid, like they were trying to hard to sound cool. Whatever, I’m sure they take card payments.

There’s a little note in the bag, which the phone was in. I pull it out and read Jet’s number. On the other side is another string of numbers with ten pound credit written next to it and a little heart. Nice. She’s too nice. Can’t believe how she’s turned out now she’s an adult.

Finally, a battery appears on the small screen with twelve percent written inside it. I can turn it on now at least, who cares if I mess up the battery it’s not supposed to last forever anyway, nothing does.

I set my language, date and time and then go into the contacts. I forgot how fiddly the buttons are on these old pieces of crap. So small. The home screen only fits on icon at a time, with arrows on either side. I’m lucky it’s even in colour. I scroll through to the phone book icon and click in the big button at the top of the pad. The only option is top up. I dial and follow the automated commands to type in my code, wait for the confirmation and hang up. Next thing is to add the contacts in. I type Jet’s name and number in, and then grab out the crumbled piece of paper from the night before and do the same for Ryan and Casey. That’s everything sorted. Finally things are going my way. It’s been a good hour since something’s gone wrong so maybe I can get this whole crap done with and go back home. I don’t want to be here anymore. Hey there’s even time for a drink.

Got to stop thinking like that, first thing first. I call Ryan and wait.

“Come on, answer. Answer,” it goes to voicemail. “Hey, Ryan. It’s Chris. I just wanted to ask about the suicide I forgot about it last night. That’s the whole reason I was here. What’s going on with that? Get back to me whenever you can. This is my new number, the old phone died. Speak soon.”

That was easy. One step done, nearly at reward time. Next I call Casey.

“Hi?” she answers.

“Hey, Case, it’s me. I’ve got a new number. My phone died, and I left the charger in the car.”

“Hey, Chris. Good to hear from you I was starting to worry.  So what’s happened down there since yesterday?”

“Absolutely nothing. I’ve spent most of the day looking for a phone and I’ve left a message for Ryan. It’s been productive.”

“Sounds it. I’m sure you will get there at some point. There’s no deadline so doesn’t worry about that. Just keep me informed.”

“Yeah I will do. Got to check in with my boss. Can’t let her think I’m just prating about here not doing much.”

“Sure, just spending my money on booze and women.”

“How did you know? You sent spies here to watch me?”

“Are they not subtle enough?”

We both laugh and there’s a comfortable silence that follows. Why don’t we hang out any more? Since University it seems like we never see each other, unless it’s for work. I don’t really see anyone from that time any more. No one I hang out with now went to University. Drinking buddies, I call them, most of them owe me money and I owe the others.

“So what’s happening there?” Case asks, breaking my thought.

“Not much. My dad died.”

“What? Are you serious. I’m so sorry. Are you okay?”

“Yes. I’m fine. It took a minute to get used to the idea, but I’m okay. It was going to happen one day and if you didn’t send me here I probably wouldn’t have ever found out.”

“Jesus. That must have been a shock.”

“It was. Not as much as he got remarried and had a kid”

“What? Seriously? That’s insane. When? Have you met them?”

“A few years back, and no I haven’t seen him. Don’t want to either.”

“You have a brother. You have to see them.”

“Half-brother. There are a lot of things I’ve done in the last day that I never wanted to do, so I’m going to draw the line at meeting my half-brother who I never knew existed before today.”

“That’s fair, but it’s still your brother.”

“Yeah and apparently he was a really good dad to him and actually cared. Good for him. People are probably only saying that because he’s dead.”

“Jesus, Chris. That’s a bit harsh. He was still your dad.”

“He sure was, and what an amazing dad he was. I’m glad that no one else had to suffer his crap and that his other child got better attention. Maybe he wasn’t drunk the entire time either. Maybe he didn’t hit the kid’s mum and the kid didn’t have to lay in bed and listen to them argue with only the quilt as protection.”

“Chris. Maybe it was wrong to send you back there. If you really don’t want to be there you can come back any time. I’ll drive up there and pick you up myself. I’m sorry, dude.”

“Don’t be. I’m just venting. It’s really annoying. Everyone I’ve spoken to about Dad says he was such a good guy and a good father. He wasn’t. I know that, they know that. The only reason they say otherwise is because he’s dead.”

“There might be some truth to that, but I don’t want you to have a breakdown. I thought it would do you some good going back there.”

“So, you admit it?”

“What?”

“That this was all some kind of ploy to get me back in this hell hole.”

“No there was a story there. You know that.”

“Yeah, but anyone could have covered it.”

“No, they couldn’t. It wasn’t really a good story to send someone on. It’s all based on hunches. It sounds weird, but I have no proof. Sounds like a myth that’s been passed along one too many times. You were the only person I could send. It helps that you know the place. You can see how it’s different. No one else could do that.”

“Sure. I’ll take that as a compliment. I know you think this is doing me good, and maybe you’re right. You’re also right about the story. There is something here. I can feel it. The people here are different. The streets are quiet. The whole place gives of this uneasy vibe, and the people are way too nice and helpful. Nothing about this place reminds me of my childhood and I don’t think places like this actually exist in the real world. There is something here. Maybe they murdered my Dad and covered it up together, as a town. That would make sense at this point.”

“Umm? I hope not. That would be really messed up that I sent you there. It’s not like you’re going to get an interview like that.”

“Sure. I’m going to try and get in contact with Ryan again. I’ll speak to you soon.”

“Check in tonight and let me know what’s going on. I’ll text you if I hear about the car or anything else.”

“Thanks, Case.”

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An Overdue Update

It’s been a while since I posted on here. I should do it more often but not only does time slips away faster than I realise, I often don’t know what to write about. Things have changed quite a bit since I last posted though. I have a new job, one that should give me more time to actually write and actually read. At my old job I could work twelve plus hour shifts with as little as half an hour breaks. Obviously I was tired most of the time. Now I have strict 8 hour shifts with an hour and twenty minutes break a day. I have more time than I know what to do with. I’ve read half a book on my phone just on break in the last two weeks.

I’ve also finally finished It by Stephen King. Definitely my favourite King novel. Absolutely gripping throughout it’s epic length. The longest book I’ve ever read, and the only book over 400 pages that I’ve read since Uni (Audiobooks don’t count). Uni took all of the fun out of reading, but I finally feel like that’s coming back. The book It, was an unbelievably good read which I never wanted to end. Once it finally did I wasn’t disappointed, which I always find I am at the end of a long book or series. It’s hard to wrap things up nicely, but Stephen King managed this in It. The novel is in my top 4 books of all time, joining Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I need a fifth book to make this a nice number, but nothing compares. So throw any suggestions my way.

I also finished writing Homecoming, my 4th finished novel and started writing my next one, with the working title; End of Times. I think the title will change, it was just something to name the document. Homecoming was completely out of my comfort zone, while End of Times is within my comfort zone genre-wise, but the scope is beyond anything I’ve ever attempted before. It’s going to be the longest thing I’ve ever written. I started it three weeks ago and have already hit the 10000 word mark and don’t feel like I’ve even started yet. I can’t wait for people to read it. It’s going to take a while before I can get close to sharing it. The idea has been floating around in my mind for nearly ten years, but it’s started to piece itself together.

Speaking of Homecoming, I’m going to try and upload one chapter every week, probably on Saturdays or Sundays. I’ve uploaded around half of the novel so far, and will try to be more prompt about it. It’s also an a focus of mine to make it easier to find all the chapter of both Homecoming and The Broken Pocket watch so people can catch up and share these easier. I’m also determined to get The Broken Pocket Watch in print by the end of the year. I’m crap at editing, but I’ll make a real effort to achieve this.

That’s all for now,

Thanks for reading,

Ashley

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Homecoming – Chapter Sixteen

My whole-body groans and moans as I roll about in the hotel bed, trying to figure out what that noise is. Buzz, buzz. What is that? It’s coming from my pocket. No, crap. What an idiot. It’s my phone. I’d turned it on at some point last night. I pull it out and flick off the alarm. It’s nine in the morning. Yay. I love being awake this early. I also only have seven percent battery. Not a good feeling. There was also a folded piece of paper in my pocket which I pulled out with the phone. I unfold it and find a little note I wrote to myself. Casey’s number and a reminder to call Ryan. God, I hope I didn’t tell that guy at the pub what I was doing here. I don’t really remember much about last night past drink number three.

I need to get a phone charger first, before I start anything else. I turn off the phone and head down the stairs. There’s a new person sitting at reception, a young woman. I say hello as I walk past and she responds with a smile and a good morning. She then starts tapping away at a laptop in front of her.

The air is cool outside. A brisk fresh breeze greets me. It’s a refreshing feeling. I smile and take a deep breath. I can almost completely ignore my headache, I’ve gotten good at that. The streets come back to me as easy as walking. I remember every turning to get around. I didn’t think I would, but there isn’t an issue. I turn and walk down one street and cross the road to turn down another. I even skip through an alley that takes me towards the shop and now I’m here.

The shop may not look the same as it once did, but at least it’s in the same place. Can’t imagine what I would do if the whole town had changed around like that. I step inside the shop and walk up to the counter. The same girl from yesterday is working, there isn’t any one else in the store.

“Hey,” I start, and she smiles back at me. “Could I get a phone charger please? Micro-USB.”

“I’ll see if we have any,” she answers. “Nope, sold the last one yesterday. That’s weird. Hey, wasn’t it you that bought it?”

“Yes, that was me. My car got stolen and I’d left it in there.”

“That’s a shame. I’m sorry. I’ll ask Jess if we can order you a new one.”

“I know this is a weird question, but I’m desperate. Do you have a charger I can borrow? I’ll give you  my phone and you can charge it outback.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t have a phone with that charger. My parents bought me a nice cheap phone that does everything I need it to.”

“Damn, thanks anyway. Let Jess know I said hi.”

“You can tell me yourself,” Jess answers behind me.

“Oh, Hi, I didn’t see you here a moment ago.”

“I was in the stock room and heard you voice. I’ll order you a phone charger, but it might take a few days to get here. Have you had anything to drink or eat this morning? That’s more important than your phone anyway.”

“No I haven’t, not really hungry. I will grab a bottle of water though. “

Without a word she walks over to the chiller and grabs a bottle and picks up an apple on her way back to me.

“You have to eat something, so take this with you,” she says as she holds out the bottle and the apple.

“Thanks,” I answer, taking both.

“Don’t you have a phone charger I can borrow?”

“No, sorry. I have an old phone that uses an old and outdated charger.”

“Great.”

“I do apologise.”

“It’s not a problem, don’t worry about it. I’m sure I’ll figure it out one way or another. Is there a payphone around here?”

“None that work. I think they were all disconnected a few years back. Check at Joyce’s, they should have a phone you can use in the lobby.”

“Thank, will do.”

I leave the shop. The phone at Joyce’s isn’t really an option. I don’t want people thinking I’m snooping by calling Ryan. Word would spread quickly. Shame there isn’t a phone in the room itself. Or a shop around here I could buy a cheap phone. That would be perfect, after all it isn’t even my money I’m spending. I could even get a taxi to Wexgate and meet Ryan in person. That would be great. Hire a personal driver for the day essentially. It would be brilliant just to know when he’s working though. That would be ideal. I can use my phone to call him and then meet him, even get a charger in Wexgate.

I’ve walked a few streets away from the shop. Everything is quiet, like the whole place was asleep mid-day. I pull out my phone and switch it on. The boot up screen flickers on and I wish I’d never turned it off, probably going to be even more drained now. Come on and load you stupid little thing. I hate technology. I love it, but it’s so irritating. I don’t remember getting irritated at phones before they were capable of so much.

Less than five percent. Great. I can probably just about call him. Come on, come on, answer. Nothing, I hear the beeping at the other end and then an option to leave a message. I start to speak and then silence. The phone is dead. Crap. I can’t believe this.

Well I can, it’s my luck. Piece of crap. I resist every urge to throw it across the street and shove it back in my pocket.

“Hey,” a voice behind me calls out to me. I turn and find Jet walking towards me. “Didn’t think I was going to catch up to you.”

“Hey, what’s going on?”

“I remembered, literally the second after you left the shop. I have a left over phone. I tried selling them a few years back but they didn’t really go down well. I have a couple of left overs out back. Here you go,” she holds out a bag. “Charger and everything. It’s not a fancy phone, but it’ll do the job for you.”

“Thanks.”

“My phone number is also on a piece of paper in there if you ever need me. If you hear anything about your car then I’ll give you a lift back to Wexgate, or anywhere else you need to get to.”

“Thanks, I appreciate it. How much do I owe you?”

“Oh nothing, don’t you worry about it. You’re one of us forever and we look after each other here.”

“Seriously. Thanks, I appreciate it.”

“Now eat that apple. You’ve lost too much weight since you’ve been gone. We can’t be having that. Want to meet up for dinner later?”

“Seriously? Asking me out after all this time like nothing has happened?”

“It’s not a date, and besides. I’m married.” She says waving her ring finger at me.

“Damn, someone trapped you. Congrats. When did that happen?”

“About four years ago.”

“Anyone I know?” I ask, almost ashamed of how my voice sounded.

“I don’t think so. It’s someone who moved to the town a couple of years before. Vincent Perkins.”

“Can’t say I’ve heard of him. So, your name is now Jessica Perkins? Very nice. I’m happy for you.”

“Thanks, we’re very happy.”

“That’s good to hear. I’ll call you later and we’ll sort out dinner.”

“Sounds good, see you later.”

Without looking back she walked down the street and turned a corner and went out of sight. Our lives were so similar at one point. We were the rebels, the outcasts. The ones who did what we wanted when we wanted. About six months before I left this town we had been laying in the park looking up at the welcoming night sky, stretched out into eternity. We spoke about running away, never coming back. Finding a new start. We lay in silence staring upwards at the sparkles hanging above us. That was supposed to be my future. Now look at us. I did run away, and I achieved nothing. She’s trying to sell new items to boost business and has left over stock showing her failures, but at least she tried. I can’t imagine that girl with electric blue hair doing any of that, but here she is.

Life does not move the way I thought it would. Every plan I had made seems to leave me by the curb. I turn and start walking towards the park. Don’t really feel like sitting in the hotel room right now. It might be a little cold out, but at least it’s sunny. Unlike yesterday. I hate this weather. You can never tell what it’s going to do next. Would be hard to believe it was raining yesterday.

The park hasn’t changed at all. Same trees, same climbing frames, same everything. I walk over to the tree that changed everything all those years ago and sit with my back leaning against it. I should go and charge the phone, get on with actual work and be productive but I just can’t. I don’t feel that need right now. A simple life would be nice. There’s always been this nagging somewhere in the back of mind that I need to write something. I had grand ambitions. I was going to be this big journalist, interviewing politicians and writing on scandals. I don’t even know why I wanted to do it, just a calling from deep inside that started before my memories started forming. When I was around ten all I wanted was for our school to start a newspaper like in one of those American TV shows and then I could write for it, after that the world was mine. I could travel around writing about what I found. Everything was planned so tightly. But it didn’t happen.

If only I could get rid of that nagging feeling, that voice telling me that moments not spent writing weren’t worth living. Even with that voice I can’t do it. I can’t just go and write like there’s no tomorrow, it just doesn’t flow like that. I took it seriously but never enough. Things just didn’t work out the way I thought they would.

We used to play in this park all the time, back when we were children. Our mothers used to bring us here and we would climb that frame and slide down that slide. We would run around and push each other in a game of tag. There used to be a little wooden bench just beyond the climbing frame that our mums would shout at us from. Telling us to be careful. Or they would hand out snacks and drinks. I miss that. I’m not a child any more, but I miss it.

There isn’t a wooden bench today, instead there’s two metal benches on the other side of the playground. A single woman is sitting on one of them, holding her bag while watching her children play. There’s a new swing set that’s been built since the last time I was here. There’s a man pushing his daughter on there. I would have loved a swing set, so would Tim. He probably would have hurt himself though, trying to reach higher and higher.

Tim used to want to be a vet. He loved animals, always had pets. I didn’t, but he had dogs, cats, birds. Anything and everything. That was his dream to become the town vet. Instead of people having to drive to Wexgate or Northampton they could have come to him. That was his dream, carried it on all the way to the end, as far as I know. Every step he made towards that dream has now turned to dust. Every second of thought, piece of effort, all gone. Nothing to show for them. Gone in a second, and never coming back. I never really thought about that, until just now. He wanted to do good in the world, help people, and that’s gone now. One more bright light gone.

 

To be continued…

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Homecoming – Chapter Fifteen

Joyce’s B&B looks almost identical to my memories. Maybe a bit cleaner, but the same sign, the same door and the same windows that only slide an inch up. There are two lights on behind the curtains. One on the ground floor and one at the top, on the second floor.

“All my clothes were in the car,” I say, mostly to myself as I’ve just noticed.

“Oh, that’s a shame. I’ll pick you some up tomorrow from Wexgate. What’s your size?” Jet asks

“You don’t need to do that. Leave it. I’ll sort it out.”

“No, you’re a guest and we will treat you as such,” she says getting closer and pulls back the neck of my t-shirt. “Medium.”

“Hey stop it.”

“Don’t make me wrestle you, what’s your trouser size?”

“34 reg. Jesus. You’ve changed.”

“Don’t you love it. Now you get on up there. You’re expected. I’ll see you tomorrow. Don’t worry about the money. It’s all covered for you.”

I take a couple of steps towards the building and then turn back.

“Thanks, I appreciate it. I’m sorry I left back then without a word. I’m glad I get to see you again.”

“Same here. And don’t mention it. We’re happy for you to be here.”

I turn back and walk through the door. Walking back in time. The beige walls, the beige carpet, the rack with local maps to walking destinations. It’s all exactly the same. The reception counter is to the right opposite a sofa that looks about fifty years out of date. Above the sofa is a black and white photo of the building from the sixties. Before it was a bed and breakfast and it was just a house. I used to love looking at photos like this, a time long gone.

There is a single dim light hanging in the middle of the room, not illuminating much beyond. Behind the counter a young man’s face is being lit up by a fat old CRT TV. The old bulbous machine blurting out whispers. His face turns from the TV to me as I approach.

“Chris?” he asks, with a smile.

“Yes. I don’t recognise you. I thought I would know whoever worked here.”

“I’m sure you would recognise a couple of us, but not me. I’m newish to the town. Moved in around five years ago. It’s a wonderful place.”

“Sure. If you say so. What’s with the old TV?”

“It’s nice isn’t it. To have something so old and out of place, but it still works still does its job.”

I want to reply with a sarcastic one-word answer of, cool, but that’s not the best idea right now. I’ll let him have his fun and enjoy old and outdated technology. What real difference does it make to me.

“I’m told there’s a room here for me,” I answer instead.

“Yes, room one-oh-two, just behind those doors and up the stairs. One level up. Do you have any bags that need taking up?”

“No, thanks.”

“Breakfast is served between seven and ten in the room on this floor, just behind the stairs. If you need anything don’t hesitate to stay and enjoy your stay here at Joyce’s.”

“Thanks.”

That probably came across more sarcastic than I meant. Opposite the main entrance was a single door, with a small window taking up the upper right-hand side. I walk over to it and push it open. Behind it a light flickers on and illuminates a staircase that starts right in front of me and slightly to the left, works it way up and then turns right when it hits the back wall. To the right of the stairs is a hallway that is still shrouded in darkness.

The floor, including stairs, is covered in the same sterile beige carpet as the reception and the wall is an even more sterile white. I hate generic rooms like this, inoffensive and bland. If I ever own a house I’m going to paint every wall a strange colour and probably not even have carpets. Easier to clean.

I take the steps, two at a time and go through the door marked floor one. My room is on the right. It’s not really a B&B anymore is it? It’s a proper hotel, just kept the name. Apart from the reception I remember none of this. I don’t know why I would either, maybe it’s always looked like this. I just feel like it’s changed.

The room is just as bland as everything else. A single bed with a floral design quilt. A bible on the bed stand and a table with a chair under the window. No TV. Not that I was hoping for one. The whole room is smaller than back in London. Cleaner as well, which makes a nice change. The beds in front of me, pushed against the wall and the table is at the foot of it. At the end of the room, near the table, is a door that I’m assuming leads into the bathroom. Other than that the room is bare. No pictures, just beige. No leaflets on the table. It doesn’t even look like anyone has been in this room. No air conditioning either, just the window slid up an inch or two.

My phone is nearly dead. Under twenty percent. That, my keys and my wallet are my only possessions. I feel like I messed up somewhere along the way getting here. What bad choices did I make to get to this finish line. It’s past nine. The whole town is probably getting ready for sleep. I turn off my phone and lie down on the bed.

I want a drink, I need a drink. The day’s been a distraction, but I need a drink. I can’t will myself to get up and get one from somewhere, but I need it. I have the money. Just need to get up and not be lazy. That’s a plan. Get up and not be lazy. Get a drink and then all will be good. But from where? I don’t know where I am really, what shops will be open. The pub must be open though? Doesn’t it?

I slide out of bed and slump onto my feet. At least I still have my wallet with me. I don’t care about the phone but being stranded here with no money would be a nightmare. I open the door and skip down the stairs, using every bit of energy not to look like I’m about to collapse and die any second.

The guy at reception has turned his attention back to the old TV in front of him, the light reflecting of his face like strobe lighting at a club. He doesn’t look up at me as I walk past, or acknowledge me in anyway, almost as if he’s in a trance.

The cool air welcomes me outside. I step onto the empty street and breathe in that cool night air. The whole world is silent. It’s hard to imagine that London is relatively close and would be completely awake right now. Every other street light is turned on, but no one is out to use them. I remember where the local, The Bear, is and start in that direction.

This place seems to perfect. Not how I remember it at all. None of the pavement is cracked, none of the roads have potholes and every lawn is smoothly cut. No rubbish sticking out of bushes, no graffiti on any of the walls.  Something about that doesn’t seem right. There isn’t a light on in any of the houses I walk past. Not a noise coming from inside any of them. No TV sounds drifting through the windows, no muffled music, nothing.

I reach The Bear and thank God that it’s still open. There’s a light on behind the dark tinted windows. I can just about make out the lights of a fruit machine twisting out towards me. God something normal. The outside of the place looks the same. A hanging sign with a bear standing on its hind legs with the words “The Bear” curved above him. Big double doors on the corner of the street, opening to a dark, but no longer smoke filled, pub. I remember finding my Dad in here so often. Sneaking up to the window and trying to peer through the dark glass, having to press my face to the glass just to try. Now that he’s dead I imagine they’ve lost quite a lot of business. It never seemed that busy in the first place, especially now that I know how busy pubs can get in London.

The door swings back with a thud as I take my first steps into the deserted room. Great this place doesn’t feel as normal as I was hoping either.

There’s one person in the entire place. An elderly man who I don’t think I recognise behind the counter.

“Good evening, Sir.” He says.

“Evening,” I answer and start towards the bar. “Where is everyone?”

“Probably at home in bed, it’s a weeknight. Rare I get a customer past eight.”

“It’s quite a while after eight so why are you still open.”

“The sign out there says we open till midnight so I stay open until then. Can’t be lazy on shift, now can I? I have a business to run,” he says with a laugh.”

“I suppose. But if there’s never any customers what’s the point in being open this late?”

“There is a customer, you. I’m here for you.”

“A pint of lager. Whatever you’ve got doesn’t matter.”

I sat at the bar and watched as the guy turned, grabbed a glass and filled it up.  He brought it back to me and let me take a swig.

“So what brings you back to these parts then Chris?”

“You know me?”

“Yeah went to school together, a couple of years apart. I remember you, but only by name really.”

“Sorry. I don’t really remember you.”

“That’s cool. Who remembers everyone who went to the same school as them really? I don’t. I heard you were back in town and it reminded me of you. I knew of you, shall we say. My name is Daniel Attwick.”

“Nice to meet you,” I start. “So, did your dad own this pub then?”

“No, my Dad did not. He worked in Wexgate. A phone salesman for some company I can’t quite remember. I bought the pub when old Terry left. Worked here once I left school and then never left.”

“Fair enough. Seems like a lot of people have left in the last ten years.”

“You could say that. Things have changed. Changed for the better, I think at least. Can I get you another one?”

“Yes. Please.”

God, I demolished that. I’m probably a little more than just thirsty. Don’t even remember drinking half of it.

“Here ya go. So, what is you’re doing here? Writing another big story about where you came from? Not that anything happens here.”

“Not quite. I’m heading up north. Just stopped through earlier to see how the place had changed. Then went to Wexgate, got something to eat and my car was stolen. Luckily, I could contact Jet. She hooked me up with a room at Joyce’s and here I am. Hopefully my car will show up soon and I’ll be able to get on my way. If not, then I don’t really know. Back to London I suppose. Haven’t got that far yet.”

“That’s some bad luck you’ve got there, good thing you had someone who could help out. Jet was it? Who’s that? I don’t think I know them?”

“Jess? Jessica Ray. We called her Jet back in school.”

“Oh, I know her. She runs the little shop down the road. Yeah she’s a nice girl.”

“She is.”

“Good of her to pick you up and bring you to us.”

“Yeah it was. Can I get another one please?”

“Sure thing. Any friend of Jess is a friend of mine.”

Something about his words leave a bitter tingling inside. I’m friends with Jess. I knew her way before this guy, but now I’m the outsider. I suppose this is what I wanted, but who does this guy think he is. Jet was my ex. Not his. I take the next drink and sip it. Gotta slow down, it’s been a long day.

 

To Be Continued…

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