Am I losing you? A load of old bollocks, is it? I can tell what you’re thinking. Well, at this point in time I suppose you’re hoping there’s going to be some kind of payoff for lending me your ear for the day, but in the grand scheme of things does it really matter, my friend?
You’re stuck here just like me and it’s not like you’re going anywhere anytime soon, hey? We’re just a pair of fools trying to pass the time in this soulless purgatory we now call home. So, you just kick back and I’ll carry on from where I left off. Don’t interrupt me, it’s rude.
Now, where were we? Although I’m unsure of what unconscious images my mind had been brewing up while I slept that night, I do remember being haunted by their presence when I woke up. I looked at the clock and I was shocked (well, mildly) when it read just after two in the afternoon—even for a feckless House Urchin like me that was really pushing the envelope. I didn’t feel rested at all, just drained of life and agitated. As soon as I started to walk down the hall my mind began to spin cycle, picking up momentum until it felt like a rain-cloud forged cloak had set up shop in my brain. I had to find out what was going on. There was no time for Mags and I didn’t want to see her anyway. I still felt angst towards my aunt and it was surging beneath my skin. It was a demon best left caged.
Are you getting bored again, hey?
Listen, I need to get this off my chest, I really do. You’ll have your turn, just as soon as I’ve bumbled through my little piece. I tell you what, from now on I’ll just to stick what I consider to be the important bits, so for the final time I’ll tell you that I had a deviously long, soapy shower, trimmed my pubic hair into a neat little rug, ate a large bowl of canned soup (mushroom, cream of) and put my trousers on…well, you get the picture.
Just checking in. I understood what the phrase meant, in fact, I used it many a time at school when I was caught pilfering the Space Raiders from the tuck shop. You know, sorry about that, I was just checking in, as in, just checking in to make sure that you are security conscious at this fine institution. That didn’t end well, but I am familiar with the term, nonetheless.
The words were as plain as the paper on which they were written, and after a few pieces of toast and a lot of pacing, I came to the conclusion that it must have been a test of initiation put in place by Daisy and The Honch, and I that I had passed it with flying colours. I’d stayed at home, I was commended and I was grateful, pathetically so. But, still, I didn’t know exactly who the messenger was.
I felt choked inside the house, the walls were a noose and I had to get out, even though the soot-lathered rain was thick. Hood up, I ventured deep into the bowels of the estate using the shimmer of the street lamps as my guide and even in a black and drenched state, every object sat firmly in its place.
The postman, that bloody postman, I knew he didn’t live a million miles away from the house but he had started to do his bicycle rounds at increasingly weird times and surely a postie doesn’t deliver letters after dark? I was sure he wasn’t some kind of burglar or backdoor Fagin, but I do, or shall I say did, find his behaviour somewhat strange. Anyway, the reason I mention Mr Postman is because on that particular night I felt his pathetic, tubby presence following me as I trudged down Smiths Lane, and just as I was about to try and kick him off his bike and send him crashing into a watery abyss, he sped past and vanished, as if he could read my thoughts. Again, I felt uneasy.
At the time I wasn’t really sure where I was going, but home felt more and more of a halfway house with every strike of the clock. I felt like a snail: a spineless, slow-moving and generally undesirable creature that couldn’t quite shake his shelter from his back, no matter how much he tried. But, I suppose, if you’re not a snail, you’re a slug, and I think that’s much worse.
Left, then right, then right again, a few hundred yards, then left onto the dual carriageway. Come rain or shine, I had taken that route on foot since before I could grow a sort of beard, but on that cold, wet night in the shadows of the murk, I saw things that I had never quite noticed before. Mundane things to most, maybe, you know, things like the trees planted along the pavement every twenty-five feet as a token gesture from the council, or the nondescript rows of terraces neatly built into blocks of four: little nuances that are there for everyone to see, but nobody notices because they’re too busy doing nothing.
Well, for example, at the end of the road where Smiths Lane meets Park Way, there is a manhole cover and on that manhole cover these words are etched on by a knife, a compass, or something of the like:
Harold of Stunston’s plight ends here. Farewell ye merry townsmen.
I’m not sure who Harold is, the cards life dealt him or when he trod Earth’s boardwalk, but I can only imagine it ended with him topping himself in a premeditated moment of madness. Perhaps, he’s still alive but roams the sewers living on toilet paper and human deposits. Or, maybe he decided to stay strong, only to get hit by a 23 bus at the end of the road. Perhaps it was all a big joke, and what Harold actually did was go home to his wife for hot pie, mash and lashings of liquor. It’s anyone’s guess really, but the fact is, that night, my senses were in overdrive.
The poor pointing work on Mrs Firtree’s front wall; the struggling roots fighting their way through the lane’s yellow lines; hints of violence from days gone by; a local tramp holding his hand out for scraps of change to use as tokens for numbing substances in strained desperation—all of these things were part of Stunston Estate’s rich tapestry and had been as constant as the sky itself. But usually, they were hiding right under my nose. That night, as I say, that night, they had all come out to play.
Once you turn off the estate you hit a patch of wealth that pompously towers right behind the town. Rather than the rows upon rows of terraces, you are greeted with the stench of affluence and a shoal of fancy structures that accommodate the town’s self-professed elite: city commuters who seem to value coin over comradery, mutiny over manners…c-, well, you catch my drift.
Listen up, I’m not saying that salt of the earth people making a success of their lives is a bad thing at all, in fact, it’s poetry personified. It’s just the people in those particular dwellings haven’t had to work for their fortunes, and that’s my issue. I’m not really jealous if that’s what you’re thinking; I don’t think either one of us is in any position to be worrying about things like that right now be honest. We’re just stuck here. We’re the bottom of the barrel.
Anyhow, with my newfound senses and curiosity (being a nosey little bastard, if you will), I crouched behind a pine tree and gazed through the rain’s mist. I peeped at one of those affluent families tucking into their evening meal. I imagined what it’d be like to be a shit pawed fly on the wall. As I watched them from behind a conifer, I envisioned the kind of conversation that was going on in that room. I reckon it went a little something like this:
Daddy: Son, how was bassoon practice today?
Son: Daddy, it was wonderful, I’m all set for my recital next Monday.
Daddy: Super, there’ll be some lovely dessert for you tonight.
Son: Oh wowie, what are we having? What’s for dessert?
Mummy: A trio of pud’s for you, my little superstar.
Son: That’s got to be the news of the week!
<The sound of communal laughter soils the room>
Mummy: Cheese on your Bolognese, muffin?
Daddy: Oh yes please dear…
Mummy: I wasn’t talking to you, darling…
Daddy: Self-service for me then, haha!
<They all laugh in unison for over one whole minute. Yes, one whole minute>
Son: Oh, yes please, that would be delightful.
As I peeped at them in the glow of their dining room, smiling and satisfied, I didn’t know whether to be sick or knock on the door and ask whether I could join them, forever. Mind you, although the meal looked tasty, I don’t think our conversations would have aligned, I’m far too crass. I felt like crying.
My phone vibrated, it was a text from Daisy:
Come to where the barrels are…x
When I read that message and saw that kiss, a determination encompassed me. There was no time to waste. I just had to hide behind the conifer for a few more minutes to get myself in order.
Of course, it was no riddle: I thought I was being ushered to The Honch’s secret society and as I jogged through the rain in pious strides, I couldn’t help but wonder what was in store for me. But then it got weird. My lungs felt heavy, a film encased the outside air and then, nothing.
I came around to a charcoal mist; a blackness so dense, that it seemed to cloud up my hearing. There was neither sight, nor sound, just infinite nothingness, kind of like how I’d imagine being buried alive must feel. But, I could move freely around the space.
Running my hands along the floor and then up the bare brick walls, I came to the conclusion that the room had nothing in it at all, not even a slop pan or a rat to talk to— the area was barer than the backdoors of Matt Lucas and the cold took up residence in my bones. Someone had taken my phone and my rain jacket. Someone had stripped away everything. Someone wanted to teach me a lesson, but I didn’t know what.
So what happens in the gaps between life’s vital scenes? You sit idle and let your mind run wild. You panic but you don’t scratch and claw. You reach out for a glass of the stiff stuff but it’s not there. You plan things but you go nowhere. That’s it, nothing more, nothing less. It’s the stuff that madness is made of.
It was frosty in the abyss. I curled up into a protective ball and thought about how I might get out, or if I was even supposed to try and get out. I munched on a few Tic Tacs to calm my nerves and pass the time. I decided that it was another initiation test, one of loyalty and grit. So, I did what I thought was right—sat in the centre of the room and let my mind wander.
My mind went back into overdrive and images of Daisy’s face, the nobility of The Honch, Stunston’s street lamps, aunty Mags, slop buckets. Rob Robust, life, existence; the strength of the English pound and everything else on God’s green earth whirled through my head as it began to swell.
I had to focus my thoughts, so for a few moments, so I entered a state of meditation in which I breathed in and out, in and out, in through the nose and out through the mouth, until I was calm: eventually, my head became a clear canvas.
Two entities found their way into my blank vision: The Honch and The Postie. They both bashed heads inside my brain until they merged into a blob.
That bloody postman, had he put me in the dark place? I just couldn’t put my finger on it; the bloated blue bastard had slowly started to become an unpaid extra in the story of my life and over the couple of days leading up to that moment, he had changed from a nosey neighbour to a persistent pest. But why? What was he doing and what did he have to gain? Was he a part of The Honch’s organisation. As I sat there with chattering teeth and the foul stench of my own urine wafting up my nose, I knew that I needed to hunt him down and find out what he wanted, if anything.
I even made a little poem up about him to pass the time…
You deliver the post right under my nose;
A portly blue stain in the place I call home.
You’re sneaky and fat, you peep with your mail,
Through the small letterbox of a thousand beached whales
Well, that was about as far as I got, because as I was conjuring up the third part of the first stanza, a rod of yellow light pierced my eyes from above.