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 The reception counter is to the right opposite a sofa that looks about fifty years out of date.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 I’ll let him have his fun and enjoy old and outdated technology.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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Homecoming – Chapter Fourteen (Previously known as Time Heals…)

Eventually the police arrived. I probably ended up waiting about an hour. My phone battery was dying, and I didn’t want to waste it looking at the time as I don’t know when I’ll be able to charge it. The police car pulled up and two uniformed officers got out. A male and female. I approached and explained who I was.

It wasn’t a long process. The male went inside the bookies and spoke to him. Probably about CCTV or witness statements. The female asked me some routine questions. Did I lock the door, what time did I park it, when I did I realise it was stolen? She seemed a little caught up on it not being my car, and I was only put on the insurance yesterday.

Afterwards they said they would contact me if and when and also asked if I had a place to stay and an easy way to get there. I stupidly said yes, even though I didn’t and then they left.

My wallet is full of money I took out of the ATM. I don’t know what bus goes to Westmeadow. I’ll just get a taxi. It’s been a long enough day and it’s not really my money. She gave it to me, so I can use it.

I pull out the crumpled-up scrap piece of paper from my pocket and type the number into my dying phone. That’s annoyed me more than the car. The charger I bought was in there. Now I have to buy another one.

“Hello,” Jet answers.

“Jet, hey. I’m sorry it’s late. It’s Chris.”

“I would recognise your voice anywhere. What’s up?”

“I need that room at Joyce’s if you can get me in there? I got stuck in Wexgate, someone stole my car and I can’t find a place to stay.”

“Someone stole your car? That’s unfortunate. I’m sorry to hear that. And don’t worry about the time. I’ll come and collect you and take you to Joyce’s.”

“No, it’s fine. I’ll get a taxi.”

“It’s no problem, it’ll save you the money. Just tell me where you are. I’ll call Joyce’s on the way and then drop you off there.”

“Thanks, but if you just call them I’ll get there.”

“It’s no bother. I ain’t calling them until you tell me where you are.”

“I’m on the main street, with the shops. Silver Street I think it’s called.”

“Yeah, that’s the one. Give me twenty minutes and I’ll be there.”

“Thanks, Jet.”

“It’s been a long time since someone’s called me that. I like it. See you soon, Chris.”

“Thanks, you too.”

I hang-up with a lingering smile stretched across my face.  As much as I hated that town, there are some people I miss. It’s been a long time since I thought about the good times. My mind always thinks everything in my childhood was miserable, but not everything. There were some good times. Jet was a good friend. Jessica is her real name. I’m not sure why we called her Jet, but we did. Maybe something to do with her hair? She wore black all the time as well. That could be something.

No one walks past the entire time I’m waiting. The faint lingering smell of takeaway food grease has faded. A single car drives past which makes me stand up, but it’s not Jet. I always find it satisfying, that sound that cars make driving on a wet road. The clouds have parted, allowing the moon to shine down on us. I still can’t see many stars, though.

Eventually another car comes around a corner and onto the street. I don’t stand this time, thinking it won’t be Jet. The car slowly crawls down the street and stops in front of me, the headlights blinding me.

“Chris?” a voice shouts out the window.

“Jet?”

“Get in, I’m sure you want some sleep.”

“God, it’s been forever. What kept you so long,” I joke as I get in the passenger seat.

“Yeah, yeah. I can leave you here if you would rather find your own way.”

“That was the plan from the beginning, you’re the one who said I had to wait for you.”

“I don’t want you wasting your money. Not when I can get here and back so quickly.”

“Quickly?”

“Shut up. I bought you a drink and a snack. It’s in the bag on the back seat.”

“Awww. So motherly.”

“Shut it.”

I lean back and grab the heavily creased plastic bag. Inside is a bottle of water and an apple. I twist the cap of the water, breaking the plastic seal and take a swig.

“An apple?” I say after drinking half the bottle.

“You can’t be just eating chocolate and crisps all the time. They’re not good for you. We have to look after our bodies. We’re not getting any younger.”

“I can see that.”

“HA. Always ever so funny. I called Joyce’s and got you a room. You can stay there as long as you like.”

“How much is it a night?”

“Nothing. We wouldn’t charge one of us. You’re always welcome in Westmeadow. Everyone’s been buzzing that you’re back. Really curious to see how the big shot writer has done for himself.”

“I wouldn’t really call myself a writer.”

“Don’t be so humble. You wrote about that school. That was a big news story. I remember the whole town reading about it. We were so proud of you.”

“That was nothing, and it’s the only thing I’ve ever done. I’m done with that anyway. I’m doing a favour for a friend and then I’m done.”

“What favour?”

“Oh nothing important. She wanted me to interview someone up north, but I decided to stop here on the way up there.”

“I’m sure we can get you mobile soon enough.”

“Thanks, I appreciate that.”

I didn’t like lying to her, but it’s not like I could tell her the truth. She would either laugh at me or kill me. I’m not sure which way I’m leaning towards. I place the apple on top of the bag on my lap.

“Not hungry?” Jet asked.

“Not really. It’s been a long day. Honestly I’m just tired.”

“I get that, you will be at the hotel before you know it.”

We don’t talk for a little while. I stare out of the window at the darkened surroundings. I remember so much and yet so little. It’s all jumbled. This whole place seems so tranquil when compared to London. It’s been such a long time since I left the capital that I didn’t remember the world sleeps at night. Few cars, fewer people. Near enough every house we pass has lights on, shielded by curtains. Soon enough we’ve left town and are heading through dark twisting country roads.

“Have you heard about your dad?” Jet asks, cutting the silence with a rusty knife.

“Which part?” I start. “His second life or his death? I found out earlier.”

“The later part, I suppose. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be, you didn’t kill him.”

“That’s not what I mean. I’m sorry. I wanted to tell you when it happened. But I couldn’t find you. I searched you out on the internet but couldn’t find you or be sure that who I found was you.”

“I don’t blame you or hold it against you. Don’t worry about it.”

“Thank you. It means a lot to hear you say that.”

More silence. I can see the stars in the sky now. No street lights. The moon is almost full, looming above us. I think I can make out the big dipper, but I’m not sure.

“So what’s Tim like?” I ask, pretending to be curious about my new half-brother. “Do you know him?”

“He comes in the shop sometimes, his mum brings him after school. He’s a nice young boy.  A bright future in front of him. He seems happy. Such a little sweet heart. A good boy. Always eats his fruit and doesn’t even buy sweets.”

“The opposite of me then? Who is his Mum? Do I know her?”

“I wouldn’t think so. Janice arrived in the town about six years ago. Hit it off with your dad straight away. Small town so things travel fast. They married and had little Timmy. They raised him well. A real shame what happened to him.”

“If you say so.”

“That’s your dad you’re talking about. You may not have nice memories of him. But he really changed once you left. Learn to forgive it will do you a world of good. He was a good man. Maybe not a saint, but who is. He tried, and what more could you really ask for?”

“For him to have tried when I was younger?”

“I’m sure that was a big regret for him, but he was a changed man towards the end. A good man. I wish you could have seen how much he had changed.”

“So do I.”

 

To Be Continued…

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I’m Back

Finally, I’m being productive again. A few weeks back Kingdom Hearts 3 came out. A game I’ve been waiting nearly fifteen years for. I lost all interest in it about six or seven years ago when all it seemed we were going to get were progressively worse spin offs for handheld consoles. When Kingdom Hearts 3 was finally announced as in production five years ago I was a little excited but also very hesitant. During those five years my patience dwindled to the point where I didn’t think it would come out, I had a similar thought to Final Fantasy XV. When KH3 had a firm release date I wasn’t interested. I knew I would get it, but I wasn’t bothered about playing it straight away, despite how excited people around me were.

Then I saw reviews pop up just before release day. It was supposed to be really good. Then I couldn’t get away from the trailers. It seemed like every youtube video I watched had a KH3 trailer. I caved and bought it, even choosing it over Resident Evil 2, which I was very excited for and still haven’t played. I started the game and I was almost a child again, playing through various Disney movies and seeing the next part to a story I began so long ago I had to watch youtube videos explaining it to me. Over the next week or so I 100%ed the game, doing everything I could. I played it for over 70 hours. So I enjoyed it, it didn’t disappoint me. I wasn’t in love with it the way I was with the first two back in the day.

I have quite a few gripes with KH3, there are way too many cut-scenes, like almost half the game is watching cut-scenes. I want to play not watch. It became boring very fast. It was also way too easy. Apart from against one of the gummi ship bosses, I can’t remember dying. The worlds didn’t exactly fill me wonder. They all felt bland and apart from Andy’s room from the Toy Story world and the Pirates of the Caribbean, I would say they all disappointed me. My biggest issue is you don’t go to Al’s Toy Barn in Toy Box, how was that not the toy store? Thank god, the gameplay made up for it though. It was so much fun to actually play. The combat was incredible. I wasn’t disappointed with the game overall, I’m just glad I wasn’t getting hyped up for it.

Either way that’s what has consumed my life for the last few weeks. Which means I haven’t been writing or reading. But that changed this week. Writing and reading has been strong again. I’ve started Good Omens, which is a good book and nearly finished writing Homecoming. I’m being productive again which feels like a breath of fresh air.

Thanks for reading,

Ashley

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Homecoming – Chapter Thirteen (Previously known as Time Heals…)

 

The sun has nearly set, with the fading orange glow being replaced by street lights. The wind rushes through everyone on the street, as people hug themselves and tighten their jackets. The scent of greasy takeaways and car fumes mix together and glide through the air, engulfing me as I walk towards the car. It’s almost like a more contained version of London. No where near as busy. Not a mad rush to get anywhere and everywhere. My footsteps echo along the emptying streets as I reach the car.

It’s starting to get late and people are starting to head home for the night. The comfort of warm radiators waiting for them. I need to find a place to stay. It’s probably going to have to be a hotel in Westmeadow. There isn’t any left in Wexgate, as much as I’ve looked on my phone.

Where’s my car? I’m sure this is the lay-by I parked in, but it’s empty. Where is it? It was here. Outside the betting shop. Come on. No one would have stolen that piece of crap. I pull the keys out of my pocket. Come on, this isn’t funny. Jesus Christ today has been all over the place.

“God damn it,” I shout to myself.

I half-skip, half-jog up to the betting shop and open the door.

“Hey,” I say to the guy behind the counter. “You notice a car outside? I parked up an hour ago, if that?”

“Yeah, the old banger? It went off about ten or so minutes ago.”

“Seriously? That was my car. For god’s sake.”

“You want me to call the police?”

“I can do it on my phone. It isn’t nine-nine-nine for this kind of thing is it?”

“No, it’s. one-oh-one.”

“Thanks, I’m going to call them now. Thanks mate.”

I go back outside and pull up my phone. God damn this day. This place is hell. I really am done with this whole part of the country now. When I’m back in London that’s it. I’m staying there.

I need to call Casey first. It’s her car. Not mine. She can deal with this. I don’t wanna have anything to do with this. Waste of my time.

“Hey,” Casey answers.

“Hey. Bad news. The car, it’s been stolen.”

“Um, what?”

“I left it outside while me and Ryan went to a coffee shop and then it’s not there. The guy inside a shop told me it was taken about ten or so minutes ago. I’m sorry.”

“This is very weird. It’s not your fault. It’s just one of those things, nothing you could have done. I’ll call the police and deal with it, you just stay put. They’re gonna need at least a statement. I’ll call you back if I hear anything.”

She hangs up without a good-bye. I start pacing, looking up at the sky. Why is this stuff always happening to me? Finally, things started looking up, I had a plan and now this.

Where am I going to stay tonight? Casey isn’t coming to pick me up. I can’t even get to Westmeadow. I’m not sure about the bus schedule anymore. I imagine it’s changed a little since the last time I was here. I want to scream, just give up and cry. The street is empty now. I just want to fall asleep somewhere. There’s an urge, pulling my hand towards my phone, that’s telling me to just call Ryan. He can give me somewhere to stay for the night, or at least some words of advice. But I don’t want to call him. Not yet. I don’t want to look completely pathetic.

I reach an ATM, just aimlessly meandering down the street, waiting for my phone to ring. Money. I have plenty now. It’s not mine, but it’s for me to use and I’ll consider this an emergency. Get a taxi to Westmeadow, claim it as a business expense. It’s not like Casey is expecting me to pay her back. I’m sure she would understand. It’s cold outside and I have nowhere to go. She hasn’t rang back yet, so I don’t know what to do. I could just get back to Westmeadow and wait for her call there. Get to that hotel, and take the offer of a free room and stay there for the night. By tomorrow, either I’ll have the car back. Or I won’t. Either way I’ll be able to make it back to London and get on with my life.

The story has completely escaped my mind. It’s not important any more. I just want to get back to my normal life. Away from all of this rubbish. I snap back to the real world and realise that I’ve already put my card in the machine. I tap my pin in and take out a hundred pounds. That’ll be enough I’m sure, probably a lot more. I could even tip them. Probably have enough left over for a drink when I get to Westmeadow as well. I deserve one.

The first cold drop of rain hits my face like a steel fist. I shudder and tightly close my eyes. I wish I would just wake up and be back in London. This whole day has been a nightmare. Why would I even agree to this stupidity. Who cares about Casey, she can get her own story. I don’t care about any of this. It means nothing to me, I gave up a long time ago on being a writer, I just need to find the other thing I want to do. It might take a me a little while, but I’ll get there. I’m going to use her money to go back to London, grab my things and leave. That will be the end of it. She won’t know where to find me, I’ll be lost in this country with nothing holding me back. Nothing to remind me of the past. A fresh start where no one knows who I am. I could do and be anything.

The ringing of my phone snaps me back to the world. I jump up a step to a doorway to get to cover. Don’t want to drown yet another phone. It’s Casey.

“Hey,” I answer.

“Hey, Chris. You haven’t left the area, have you?”

“No, why would I do that. I’m going to have to write a statement.”

“Yes, good. They’re going to get a statement from you, and also from the guy running the betting shop. After that, you need to find somewhere to sleep. I’ll come and pick you up tomorrow. I’m sorry about this. If it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t even be down there.”

“Don’t be stupid. It’s not your fault. I’m sorry I lost your car. You don’t need to pick me up.”

“You didn’t want to go and now there you are, stuck in a different town. It’s not fair. I’ll pick you up tomorrow and I won’t hear another word about it.”

“How long do you think it’ll take the police to get here?”

“I don’t know honestly, it could be a while, it’s not like car thieves rank high on their priority I imagine.”

“Probably not,” I say and then sit down on the step. “It’s alright, I can see the betting shop from here, if they turn up tonight then I’ll see them. I won’t leave until they show.”

“Thanks, I know this is a pain.”

“It’s not a problem, and not your fault so don’t go blaming yourself.”

“It kind of is though, I’m the one who sent you there. How did your meeting with Ryan go?”

The rain starts to slow down, with only the odd drop falling here and there. The sun has completely gone from the sky, leaving the grey sky. Every other street light is on, brightening the street just enough to see. The lights that aren’t on have large posters stuck to them, I’m not close enough to read one but I can guess that it says they were turned off to save money or something to that effect. The wind has slowed as well, although it still scrapes across my face like sharp nails. I can just about see my breath as I breathe out, reminding me of the times I used to pretend I was smoking when I was a little kid in winter.

“Ryan was good,” I finally answer. “It wasn’t as awkward as I thought it would be.”

“And do we have a story?”

“I don’t know yet, but it is weird. Did he tell you?”

“Bits and pieces.”

“Well it’s just that everyone in Westmeadow, they’ve changed a lot. It used to be such a run-down wasteland. Full of backwards thinking people and violence. Now it’s completely different. I noticed it earlier when I passed through. It doesn’t really feel like the same town anymore. It seems newer, and almost fake. If I didn’t recognise some of the people I would have guessed they were all actors. It just didn’t feel right. I noticed, but didn’t think anything of it, but once I spoke to Ryan it started to add up. Something has happened there.”

“So there is a story.”

“I don’t know.”

“Sounds like there is.”

“I said I don’t know, and I meant it. It’s weird, but what am I supposed to say? The town became nice over night and no one noticed. I’ll head back there tomorrow and ask around. Maybe there is something weird going on, maybe there isn’t. I don’t think there’s a story though. What could it possibly be?”

“I don’t know aliens took over everyone who lives there, stole their skin and stay out of the news so they won’t get spotted, and then their single human survivor, or captive, commits suicide and they take him to the neighbouring hospital since they don’t know how to deal with it.”

“Crap.”

“What?”

“I didn’t ask about the suicide. I should have done, but it completely escaped my mind.”

“Seriously? That’s the one lead you had, and you didn’t even ask about it?”

“I completely forgot. I’ll call him tomorrow and ask for details.”

“Yeah, I think that’s a good idea. Well done, you could still make it as a reporter with skills like that.”

“Shut up.”

“Don’t you want to hear your praises?”

“When will they get here?”

“It’s been like five minutes, I wouldn’t get your hopes up just yet.”

“I know, but I can dream.”

“Ha. Sure you can. So you actually went back to Westmeadow? How was that? Did you run into anybody you used to know? What about your Dad?”

I sighed. I’d put that at the back of my mind and I’m not quite ready to unlock that door quite yet.

“It was strange. The place looks completely different and yet the same. Fran’s café is still there. I’d forgotten about that place.”

“Nice, anyone you recognised?”

“A couple, an ex and a couple of others just wondering around. Nothing too intense.”

“An ex? And that wasn’t tense? So, who was she. Tell me everything.”

I knew that would distract her, so I wouldn’t have to talk about my Dad for a little while.

“It wasn’t intense as it’s been ten years and we’re not children any more. It wasn’t anything serious just one of those school things. I think we both knew it wasn’t serious back then. Today proved that. She said she could get me a room at the hotel if I was staying in the town.”

“Nice. Sounds like you to sponge a night somewhere.”

“I wasn’t going to do it. I really wasn’t. It’s just that, I couldn’t find a place in Wexgate. All of the hotels are fully booked. And it’s not like price is an issue it’s your money not mine.”

“What a gentleman.”

“What? Expenses are real.”

“You’re on thin ice already, and I think the car took your expenses to the limit. I wasn’t expecting to lose that.”

“Hey, that wasn’t my fault and they could find it.”

“Come on be realistic they’re not going to find it. It’s an old crappy car. It’s probably already on fire in some woods knowing the area you come from.”

“Hey, I never did that.”

“Yeah but it happened didn’t it. You told me you saw cars on fire.”

“Like once.”

“Yeah, once more that I did. Scumbag and your scummy town.”

We laugh and the rain starts again. I can’t believe this weather. The rain drops are few and far between, slowly descending to the ground. The street lights reflect out of the pools that have formed in the pot holes, creating an other-worldly effect. I used to believe there was another world on the other side of mirrors and water.

“God, I hate rain, but I love that smell.”

“It hasn’t stopped raining today. You know they believe the reason we like that smell is because ages ago we needed water to survive and that smell meant water.”

“That’s crap,” I start. “Who is ‘they’ ? and how would they know that?”

“Scientists.”

“No,” I interrupt. “It’s some stupid thing someone shared online and you believe because you believe everything you read, regardless of evidence.”

“Jesus, Chris. Got your head stuck somewhere today?”

“I’m just saying it like it is. Believe what you wanna believe.”

I wish I wasn’t me. Even before saying it, I knew it was the wrong thing to say. I knew it would just cause problems. I don’t even know why I open my mouth. Should really just be used to it now. Causing trouble, always pissing people off. Always having to shout my mouth off even though there isn’t a need. I used to tell myself that it wouldn’t happen again, and then before I know it I’m there. Stuck in another awkward conversation, knowing I’m the reason everyone feels like crap.

“It’s reasons like this, that you don’t have any friends.”

“I know,” I answer. I’d been thinking the same thing.

“At least you still have me, I won’t be running away any time soon.”

“Oh the police are just turning up now. I’ve got to go. I’ll call you once I know what’s sorted.”

“Okay, good luck. Speak soon. Bye.”

I hang up the phone and my hand drops to my lap. There’s no one coming I just don’t want to talk right now. It’s stopped trying to rain. The clouds have covered the sky, leaving no room for the moon to peak through. I can’t even see a single star. Not that I would be able to with all these lights. There isn’t a soul about. A car doesn’t drive past. The world is still and quiet. I shift on the step I’m sitting on and wait in silence.

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Time Heals… – Chapter Twelve

Ryan directs me towards a little place, only a couple of streets away, called Moonlight Whispers. A small cosy coffee place, that doesn’t care about the lack of customers. Purple seems to be the main colour of choice. The window and door frames are a dark purple, the over hanging sign is brighter shade and inside, all the tables and chairs are covered in purple cloths and upholstery. It’s mostly a darker shade, so not that unappealing or in your face. There are low hanging dim lights that make the place feel smaller than it actually is. Six circular tables are dotted about the place, each with four chairs. All but two of the tables are occupied. A couple in idle chit-chat, a suited man on a laptop, two teenagers with their phones out not looking up and two elderly people sipping and smiling. The walls are lined with photos of the moon, hanging over the sea or a city landscape.

The counter curls around making a semi-circle that juts out of the far wall. There’s two young people working behind it, one wiping down the sides and another stocking up the various treats. Behind them is a wall of cups, coffee bean bags and various syrups. Machines fill every available space on the counter and the back wall.

We make our way through the maze of chairs and stop at the counter. The girl, who was filling up the treats, looks up at us and smiles.

“Ryan, so nice to see you again. It’s been a while.”

“Hi, Kate, it has been a while. Needed a coffee that’s been brewed right again. Spent too long drinking just the hospital rubbish.”

“And who is your friend?”

“This is Chris, we used to go to school together, back in the day. He’s back in town for a little while and we’re just catching up. Thought I would bring him to the best coffee shop in the county.”

“Thanks, what am I getting you then?”

“Just a black coffee for me, please,” I ask.

“The usual as well, please,” Ryan adds and then turns to me. “You don’t want a snack or anything?”

“No thanks.”

“I’m buying.”

“I’m good.”

Kate waits for our little diversion to end and then waves towards the card machine. Ryan slaps his card on it and waits for the beep. The machine chirps and Ryan slides his card back in his wallet. Kate moves to the back wall and grabs two cups, clanking them together as she does.

Machines start whirling and churning and soon enough we’re sitting at one of the empty tables. The chair groans under my weight and cries with every movement. The creaks echo around us, swirling between us as we both pull our chairs closer and finally sit still.

“So, please, tell me your story,” I ask.

“I know it sounds stupid, but it’s the whole town. Just hear me out before you judge me,” He pauses so I nod and then he continues. “A couple of years back people started acting strangely. I moved out when I started working here, got a flat close to the hospital and I used to go back every weekend. See the parents and a couple of friends. Things like that. And then one week, they just stopped complaining.”

“What?” I laughed and almost got up and left. “This was a waste of my time.”

“No listen. Don’t jump the gun. I mean it. You know when you go and see any member of your family or close friends and it’s mostly complaining. About work, other people, aches and pains. You know how it is?”

“Of course,” I nod.

“Well they didn’t do that. Just one week. Mum had no gossip about anyone. Dad wasn’t complaining about work. He always has something to rant about, but it was different. At first, I didn’t think anything of it. Then I went to the pub will Michael and Kristie and they weren’t complaining either. They also bitched about co-workers at least, but nothing. I was on the bus back home when I realised. It was weird. Then the next week, the same. No complaints.”

“So?”

“Just listen. You’d know if something was off with people you see all the time. I went back every week for a few months and they were completely different. No moaning, always positive about everything. Then they started praising the people they used to bitch about. When your dad got remarried, he invited my parents and they actually went.”

“What? Seriously?” That would be weird to imagine.

“Yeah, exactly. They blamed him for everything, but they still got dressed up and appeared at his wedding. Everyone in the town did. Your dad wasn’t liked. I’m sorry, but he wasn’t.”

“I know that, he was my Dad. There’s a reason I left town.”

“Yeah, right. Well they all became best friends with him. No one had a bad thing to say about him. And when I started moaning about him, they just reversed it and started supporting him. Saying that he wasn’t that bad, or he was misunderstood. That’s he suffered but he was a good man.”

“Yeah, he suffered, but he wasn’t a good man before that either. Excuses.”

“you understand what I’m trying to tell you though? The whole town changed, it used to be a horrible run-down hell hole, but people started cleaning it up and then crime stopped. The place is now almost invisible to the outside world. I haven’t read one news story in years about anything that’s happened there, no crime, nothing. It doesn’t add up.”

“No, it doesn’t. You might be onto something there. I don’t really know what could be going on, but something is not adding up. I don’t think I will be going home tonight.”

A wave of excitement rolls through my body, I almost want to dance. There is a story here, I can feel it. I was completely wrong earlier.

We finish our drinks and I offer Ryan a lift home, he refuses and says it is only a short walk. I thank him and take his phone number, so I can contact him if I find anything. I promise I won’t publish unless he had read the entire article.

I leave the coffee shop, with a new lease on life. It is as if the sun is shining down on me and everything was going to go my way. A new story about a strange town, exposing their dirty secret. I can feel it in every inch of me, there is something big here.

To be continued…

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