Saturday, 26 December 2009

book 1 ~ Exposure

No horizon
Apparently, at sea level, back in the world, the horizon is always about twenty-two miles away.
Some apparently have used this as an argument for the earth being flat, with the horizon as the edge. But if that was the case, how come you could sail to France from England?
Did anyone really ever believe the world was flat?
Anyway, if it was it would look like it does here – with the view simply going on and on into the distance, the landscape just steadily getting more and more indistinct until it’s just a blue haze. At some indiscernible point the sea becomes the sky.

And the sun wouldn’t rise and set. Here it appears out of the east as a tiny light in the sky and gets bigger and bigger all morning. It sails overhead at noon and drifts away, smaller and smaller, into the west in the evening.
The difference is subtle and usually there’s a mountain range, or just some hills in the way, so you forget. Sometimes though I’ll be crossing a plain, as I am here, or standing by the sea, and there it is – no horizon, and I remember where I am.

Death # 1 – Half in Love...
In the after life you don’t need to worry about hypothermia. You feel the cold, and it feels miserable, but it can’t kill you. You’re already dead.

I’ve been walking through this forest, alone for what seems like months now, going up into the mountains. The path is hard to follow at the moment, but I can just make it out during brighter spells as a string of puddles reflecting the pale sky among the roots of these ugly, stunted trees with their ash grey flaking bark. This is not an attractive forest. The trees seem to be mostly made of dead stuff - a dense mat of little brown needles held onto the branches by old spider webs and grey mould. The trees are no great size but still tall enough to obscure any landmarks. I just follow the path. I haven’t seen more than fifty yards ahead for what seems like weeks and when I did it was an almost vertically sided valley off to the left. I couldn’t see the bottom but I could hear rocks and water falling. The sky is either a shade of grey (almost black when it’s raining) or with an odd khaki yellow glow where the sun should be. Mostly all I see is this trail of puddles ahead and behind. Then the mist comes down, or it gets dark and everything disappears. I feel like Frodo on my way to Mordor or wherever it was.

My name is Gabriel Fortune. People call me Gabe. I don’t really like it but what can you do? I died on the nineteenth of November 1983. I was eighteen. It all seems such a long time ago now.
It wasn’t exactly a suicide. You hear all the time about supposedly bright teenage boys (everything to live for) doing themselves in. There’s a national crisis apparently. But I never seriously thought of killing myself. I suppose I just allowed it to happen. I let myself go.

There was this party, somewhere up on the Mile Oak Road, and I went with some of the lads from work, from the DIY shop. It was dark and wet and I really don’t remember exactly where it was. I wasn’t really concentrating. I know I was full of excitement inside. The thing is, I’d not been to a real party before. You may not believe this, but you have to understand, I wasn’t a ‘normal happy teenager’, if there is such a thing. I didn’t fit in. I didn’t have a lot of friends, or, any, really, and most of the people I’d known in the sixth form had gone off to university. I... Well I don’t want to go on about it. The A level results arrived in July and that was it - I wasn’t going to go to university. That’s all there is to it. I got a job at the DIY shop, even though I knew sod all about DIY. And I stayed home with my parents. We didn’t really talk about it either.
So when the news of Elaine’s party reached me and they said apparently anybody could go I realised that that could be taken to include me and I knew somehow that this was it – make or break time. That previous, rather fanciful (and extremely fuzzy) image I’d had of what my future might be, going to university and everything, had been finally shown to be an illusion – a badly painted and carelessly tethered backdrop instead of an actual view. It had come loose one night at the end of the summer and flapped away to reveal this. This was my new life and these were the people I was going to be sharing it with. I knew I should at least try to fit in but I was not optimistic. Usually these people just ignored me.

Anyway, I’d been a few weeks in this job, so I said to Tim, ‘Can I come with you lot to Elaine’s party?’ which took a lot of nerve for me. Frankly, I didn’t want to be a nuisance, but then I thought it wouldn’t hurt to ask, so I did, and he was really nice about it, which surprised me a bit. I sat with them at tea break, which I didn’t normally. Normally I just read my book or went for a walk. I didn’t really say anything, but I was very excited. It was a party, with Tim and Terry and Gillian too (who was gorgeous). I was on my way.
That’s what I thought that afternoon - ‘I’m on my way’, ‘My life has begun.’ It seems pathetic now. There’ll be women there, I said breathlessly to myself on the way home, and booze and maybe drugs (I wasn’t sure how I felt about that), and some good music. (I thought maybe I should take the new Bum Child Nukes album along). Who knew what might happen? I might even have a girlfriend by this time next week I thought. How stupid could I get?

I asked Tim and he said meet at the Cricketers at nine and we’d head up at closing time, so that’s what I did. Gillian, Adrian (Tim’s brother), Terry and Lee and a couple of girls were there, and Gillian smiled at me, but I didn’t want to push into the group so I didn’t really get the chance to join in the conversation. I felt alright though. I just sat at the bar and ‘observed’. I felt pretty cool. I knew I was not exactly one of that group so it was ok. I really didn’t mind.
Later I realized I didn’t have a bottle to take so I went to the off licence and picked up some cider. When I got back to the bar though there was no sign of them, and I admit I panicked a bit. Finally I found someone who knew where they’d gone and I had to run. When I caught up they said they hadn’t noticed I was missing. I’m sure I’d told them, but anyway I didn’t want to argue, so I followed them. I felt a bit pissed already. Maybe it was the running, but to tell the truth, I never drank that much usually. Anyway, I followed them, and at one point Gillian grabbed my arm and skipped along with me up the hill singing Love Cats.
When we got there I was literally just quivering with anticipation. It was just what I was expecting. It was in this big house set back from the street, and there was a load of people outside, and you could hear the music from the road – Rhythm Stick, Crispy Spiced Duck, Sex Dwarf.
I walked in grinning. The lighting was dim, and I swerved from room to room – people sitting on the floor in red light, people burning something under a broken bottle on the stove under strip light, people sitting on the stairs in the dark. I saw people I recognized from classes below me from school, people who left at sixteen or seventeen. Was I one of them now? A guy called Dave who I’d been scared of all through school said ‘Hey!’ and pulled me down to sit on the floor with him and asked how I was. He looked totally different now – very cool in fact, very Midge Ure. I was still wearing my old school shirt because, well, they weren’t worn out yet. I wished I wasn’t, but Dave was really friendly and the girls he was with – one was only fourteen, I’m pretty sure, were quite friendly and I sat with them. I didn’t know what to say, and I couldn’t really hear what they were saying anyway because of the music, so I just sat and smiled and bobbed my head to All the Waters Smell of Meat while they went somewhere else. Then I explored a bit more on my own. I couldn’t see anyone I knew and my mood was slipping a bit I have to say. I asked someone where Gillian was and they said upstairs. I went up but I couldn’t really see who was who, and I didn’t want to interrupt them so I went and stood in the line for the loo and said ‘Hi’ to a girl but she just looked away. Other girls behind me were giggling. I don’t think it was because of me but I didn’t feel too good anyway – quite angry actually and a bit sick. I went and sat down by the wall and watched them.
That was when it hit me. No one gave a toss if I was there or not. No one wanted me to be there especially. It was completely pointless. None of the girls fancied me, that was for sure. It was all wrong. I hated it. I was furious. I felt so stupid.
I stayed for a while after that. I’m not sure how long, and I don’t know what time it was when I left, but I tried to make the most of it. I danced to (I Feel Like a) Goddamn Sexual Tyrannosaurus and Lust for Life. No one else was dancing, but I thought hey, what the hell? Then I nearly collided with the speakers. That’s when I decided to go outside. I remember quite clearly thinking ‘Shit, I’m really pissed’. I squatted down against the wall out the back of the house feeling the cold air and looking closely at the stones in the wet path. I didn’t feel like I was actually going to throw up but the night seemed blacker than usual somehow. My face was burning hot and my shirt was stuck to my back with sweat. That was when Adrian and some girl I didn’t know lurched past, and gave me a half full bottle of Southern Comfort. He said something funny and I nodded and smiled. I remember thinking ‘This is a rueful smile.’ Debbie Harry sang Die Young, Stay Pretty and  I took a swig and pushed myself up against the wall into a standing position.
When things got too much at school I used to go up onto the downs, or down to the harbour, so I thought, ‘That’s what I’ll do’ and I walked, quite straight I thought, out the back gate and across a sports field. There was a gap in the fence beyond I remember and then just a field. It was really dark.
I don’t remember a lot after that. I must have walked for miles. I wasn’t happy. I know that. I was angry and tearful. Looking back on it I suppose I was just lonely and sexually frustrated like any number of other teenagers, but it seemed like everyone else was having fun. Everyone else was ok. I thought it was just me.
I do remember sitting down under an old hawthorn to get out of the wind and suddenly realising how cold I was. I’d been wandering about for quite a while and I thought I should head back. I just kept thinking sooner or later I’d see some lights or something, but when they found my body apparently I was half way to Devil’s Dyke. I just remember the ploughed fields going on and on, up and down, and occasionally coming up against a barbed wire fence or a thorn hedge, and having to make huge detours round the edges of fields, trying to find a way through. I completely lost my sense of direction. When I sat down I distinctly remember thinking that I’d had enough – not just of the Downs in the rain that night but of everything. Maybe it was the booze making me melodramatic, but I remember quite clearly thinking ‘This is it. I’ve done what I can. I’m sick of this. I’m going to stop.’ So I suppose that’s what I must have done. I just stopped.
I remember sitting down in the grass there, watching the rain drip off of my hood, and feeling the wet seep into my pants. Then after a while the cold went away and everything just seemed wonderfully peaceful. I remember observing the drips on the twigs near my face turning to ice and thinking how fascinating it all was.

To continue reading either go to Lulu to buy or download the book, or let me know when you want to read the next bit and I'll post it on the blog

A life backwards

It's in the nature of blogs of course that you come across the latest postings first (or you find yourself in the middle.) Normally it doesn't matter but if you want to read my novel in order, the first installment is as you'd expect, the oldest posting.
Thanks for your patience.