The Outsiders – Prologue and Chapter 1

9 Nov

PROLOGUE

Thirty years on, and Simon is still haunted by the same dream that relives the most undesirable part of his childhood. Thirty years on though, the emotions attached have diminished. Now it is just a sequence of events; paintings in a gallery, somebody else’s story. It is now a story contained in a myths and legends book, but only those that had been there could know the truth.

It had started with the stream, quickly spreading to the lakes and the rivers. It was only a matter of time before it struck the water that came through the taps. Unlike the crystal clear water the village was used to, frequently described as the source of the purest water, purer than the water from the natural springs in bath, the water was now black. Pure black. It could only be described in texture as like oil, but not in colour. Missing from the slick liquid was the rainbows of colours, and any hint of reflection.

The water board had been called. In fact, it was only this morning that Simon had once again listened to his own Mother on the phone complaining. The water company said that they had tested the water, and true to the villages reputation, the water samples had come back clearer and fresher than one could expect from a lake, let alone a stagnant lake.

Simon walked alongside the edge of the stream, which led up to the water mill at the top of the lane. The path of concrete Simon walked was slightly risen from the water bed, level with the corn field that lay opposite; which contained large outbuildings abandoned since the war. 

Refocusing his attention on the water, Simon watched the solid black separate. Savage sharp teeth, and white rounds with the tiniest pin prick of a black dot appeared. Simon stumbled backwards. With his imagination running wild, curiosity too overwhelming to ignore, he was forced back to the edge of the water. Peering forward, the black remained, and so did the eyes, and the teeth. It wasn’t in his mind. Slowly rising from the water the black reached out to Simon, beckoning him closer. Simon leaned forward. Reaching from the black came a frail, wrinkly hand, with large blue veins and liver spots. As much as it shocked him, instinct made Simon take the hand, easily it came towards him. He could feel the beat in his head, the one that throbbed like when the neighbours played bass too loud. He knew he was scared. He knew he should run; but his legs were numb, as were his feet. He knew to try to move would mean he would be left in a crumpled heap. Pulling his shoulders up, he looked straight into the eyes of the creature.  As he did, he was aware that he was pulling the hand towards him. Rising from the water was the body of an elderly lady, dressed in black. Stunned, Simon helped the lady from the water. Without saying a word, merely placing a silencing finger to her lips, the lady turned, and walked away down the lane.

Simon didn’t tell anyone about what had happened at the stream, how could he? They would all think he was quite mad. Every time he tried to form the words, his lips began to freeze,  and it would sound like he was trying to be an unsuccessful ventriloquist. Certain that one of the villagers would have seen the lady, he began to ask questions. In a village of only 200 population, strangers were always noticed. Yet, for once,  nobody had seen the outsider.

It didn’t take long for the question to be turned round. Soon the villagers were curious to know as to why Simon was so fascinated by this lady. He tried to dismiss their questions, but his Mother knew there was more to it. She always knew when he was hiding something. He would spend his time in the kitchen, kneading the bread for his Mother, trying to remove the image, but it was there, as crystal clear as the vein that had run the full length of that old weather beaten hand.

One night, sat in the local pub, where all the villagers gathered of an evening, Simon asked for the villagers patience. The freezing of lips had feared him more than the lady, and he had spent much time practising to speak with the limited movement. Slowly, and barely audible, he told his tale. Soon, the packed pub was silent, as the villagers sat and contemplated what Simon had said.

A vibrating at the window began, like strong wind in the middle of winter, and then it moved to the door. Increasingly it shook and rattled, until the whole pub felt like it swayed with each movement. Suddenly the door flew open. Outside the pub, stood hundreds of black figures, and from the pond across the road, further black clad demons rose. As a low drone spread through the pub and across the village, Simon scrunched his eyes tightly, and clamped his hands over his ears.

It was as the lone drone spread through Simon’s dream each night that he awoke, surrounded by the images of the slick black creatures.

CHAPTER 1

If he closes his eyes, he can pretend he is somewhere else. The warmth of the air, the sound of the rushing water, far away he could be, somewhere free. ‘Jerry, Jerry get back here.’

He opens his eyes and knows that brief escape was the last for today. Turning he goes through the big heavy doors, the noise so loud, the heat so intense. Instantly he can feel the sweat start to pour down his back.

His trousers are far too long. Collecting the dirty plates he begins to load them onto the big industrial trays, ready for the pot wash. ‘No, boy. The pans, I need the pans now.’

‘Yes Chef.’ replies Jerry, almost military. Walking across the kitchen, his trousers drag through the debris of food that has gathered on the floor, over to the large sink. It is loaded with more pans than one could wash in an entire day.

He begins to scrub. The water is so hot his hands instantly turn red. He wouldn’t make the mistake of adding cold water, he’d done that before and had been made to start from the beginning. The fat from each pan congeals around the side of the sink. The water splashes it up and over onto the floor, over his trousers, clinging like hard wax. Yet, soft in texture, like one expects to find a coffee crème.

The noise in the kitchen is unbearable. With the heavy extractors blowing, the shouting of orders, pans bashing and plates crashing, it barely ceases. Jerry had thought that he would be used to it by now, but six months on and just an unexpected sound could still have him jumping out of his skin.

When Dad finishes work, it is different. They go fishing, sometimes cycling, or even just watch TV. But it feels like he hasn’t finished work yet this month. Jerry stops and begins counting on his fingers. That’s right 17 days, non stop so far this month. Dad never apologises, or says that he doesn’t have to work, it just goes on and on. ‘Are those pans ready yet?’

‘One minute Chef,’ Jerry shouts back.

‘Now, I need them now.’

Collecting the pans, he walks past the big gas rings, and the industrial ovens. The heat knocks him back. He is tired. He has been up since 4am, same as the last 17 days, and he’ll still be here at midnight. So much for summer holidays. ‘Move boy.’

Jerry jumps back, knocking a dish off the side of the stainless steel top. ‘Stupid boy,’ Chef bellows, ‘Get out my kitchen, NOW.’

Jerry runs through the kitchen. He can hear more plates smashing; knowing he has knocked each one off, knowing he will have to clear it up. He can hear shouting, but he runs straight out the door and across the garden. He sits under the old oak tree where the air is cool.

As his breathing shallows he looks across to the pond. Through the fountain comes a mere trickle of water. He must tell Dad, but not now. Jerry can see him stood at the kitchen door, looking for him. Dad will be all apologies, but Jerry knows as soon as he enters the kitchen again, it will continue as before. He was used to the fact that he may have a Dad at home, but here, Dad was Chef, and nothing would ever change that.

Standing up, Jerry tries to brush the dry dirt from his wet trousers. It is no good, he will have to find clean ones. Dad has gone back inside, so before heading to the changing room, Jerry wanders over to the fountain, knowing the breeze is that much fresher by the water.

He likes to count the fish. His favourite the red speckled Koi, is called Frank. He just looks like a Frank to Jerry. Dad laughed at him when he told him the fish’s name, but he didn’t care. Leaning over the rails, he peers into the pond. There is plenty of water, but no Frank, or any other fish. Black swirls in the water make him look twice. What is that? He looks again. Such strange shadows, he hadn’t seen anything like it before. Looking around him, Jerry tries to see what could be casting such shadows into the pond, but there is nothing out of the ordinary. Looking back at the water, he sees that the liquid is now thicker, and heavier, like as if the kitchen fat has been poured into the water, but with black food colouring. Certainly, there was no trace of colour.  Suddenly, an eye is peering at him from the black swirl. Bright white, with the smallest black dot. He closes his eyes and counts to three. When he opens them again, the black swirls are gone, and he knows the fish are hiding in the shade of the plants. Shaking his head, he runs to the changing room, grabbing a large soda on the way. He knows how the imagination can play tricks when you get dehydrated.

***

Jerry sits on the stool at the end of the bar, sucking on the lemon slices. This is the best time of the day. The customers have gone, and the restaurant is laid ready for the morning. In just a few minutes the staff will all come through and have a quick drink to congratulate themselves on their day, before heading home. This is when Chef becomes Dad, and Jerry becomes eleven again.

Spotting the indoor fountain still running, Jerry wanders over. It is large and cooling, and the customers children like to paddle in it. Especially on a day like today, when the air is thick and heavy. When it is impossible to feel human.

He doesn’t understand it himself. Why would anyone come to a restaurant situated in what Jerry can only think of as a large greenhouse? Dad says it is an Orangery, but Jerry struggles to pronounce it. Either way, the ‘Glasok’ is the restaurant where everyone wants to be seen. The waiting list is three months long, and to not turn up is not an option.

Reaching under the greenery, Jerry switches off the water pump. The light whir slowly dies and the water settles. There in the water lays the dark swirls, the same dark swirls from the outside pond.

As before he closes his eyes. When he reopens them, the swirls are still there, and this time there are two eyes staring straight at him.

He turns, ‘Dad.’ he shouts. ‘Dad.’

Rushing through the door from the kitchen Dad comes charging. ‘What? What’s happened.’

‘In the water,’ stutters Jerry, ‘There’s something in the water.’

Together they lean over to look at the water. It is still and clam, and the brightly coloured stones at the bottom of the pool are the only thing visible.

Dad looks at Jerry. Then at the bar. ‘No more lemons for you. Come on, lets just go home now.’

‘But Dad..’

‘Get your things, and get in the car.’ Dad stares long and hard at Jerry. The long hard stare that tells you you’re in big trouble. The long hard stare that doesn’t need words. He walks to the car, not allowed to say bye to anyone, feeling lonelier than ever before.

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