Chapter 1 - Small Town Folk
David awoke to the sound of gun shots, it was midday and a small sliver of light poked through the dirty, worn curtains which were held up by nails. The light revealed the particles of dust that danced around in the air like rain drops in a strong wind. Bleary eyed and aching all over from the restless night his ancient mattress had allowed him, he stretched out to his fullest extent pulling the stained bedsheets from the bed.
He spun his feet around and they met the shabby carpet and the crumbs that littered it. Rubbing his eyes hard enough to pry them open he rattled out a wheezy cough and spat in to a cup by his bed. He found his footing and pulled himself out of bed with some difficulty, despite only being twenty one his body was more akin to that of a much older, worn out man. He made his way to his mirror, dreading to make eye contact with the grey man who he knew would be staring back at him, judging him for his crappy diet and drug use.
Raising his head he was met with the reflection of a chubby, scruffy young man. He wasn't ugly but it couldn't be said he was handsome either, he had a rough mop of dark hair, an immature beard and sullen hazel eyes. "Fuck" he mumbled before bearing his teeth like a baboon protecting its meal and running his fingers across his crooked teeth, ultimately deciding not to brush them today.
He grabbed a filthy white t - shirt and threw on some loose fitting jogging bottoms, took a deep breath and stumbled through in to the hall way. The wallpaper was falling off the walls, stained with years of nicotine and neglect. He flashed through sudden, intruding memories in his head of his mother marking his height against the wooden door frame of the bathroom, of the long walks he made to her room with soup or get well soon cards and then of his father in later years dragging him to and from his room in drunken rages.
He laboured on through to the sitting room to find his dad starting on his first pint of the day in front of the television, an old film was playing in which men in uniform sat around a map, planning some daring raid on a Nazi outpost, smoking cigarettes and disagreeing on strategy.
His father took a large draw on his cigarette before gulping down half a pint of stinking cider. His father was ageing, just gone forty eight last month, he had white saliva stuck to his dry lips and week old stubble that met a laurel wreath of greying auburn hair adorning his head. He was large and imposing with a fat gut and broad shoulders.
Without a word David sat in the seat furthest away from his father, placing the soles of his feet against the decaying coffee table which had seen better days and kept his eyes trained on the T.V. Screen, desperate not to spark a conversation with the brutish man on the sofa. "What the 'ell were you playing at last night" his father growled through a gassy burp as his cider disagreed with his empty stomach.
David said nothing, in an attempt to play ignorant to his fathers question. "What time did you get in you ignorant bastard" his father snarled in a much more serious way "You been out with your gay mates all night again, sat about town doing fuck all but embarrassing me" ?! Spat his father "I shouldn't even let you live here, all you do is get in the way and make my life a misery". David stood up and walked hurriedly out of the room, "Yeah fuck off before I give you a clip son, good for nothing arsehole" shouted his father after him "and get a hair cut you look like a woman" !
He sat on his bed and gathered his thoughts, could this cold, hard man really be the same man he read about in his mothers diaries as a teenager, the man who worked hard every day, took them on holidays, survival weekends and served his country 'honourably' in the Falklands war, the man that had, for the most part, always said "There is good in everyone but sometimes you have to wait longer to see it in some".
The drunken, angry fool was far removed from the idealistic, noble man David vaguely remembered from his childhood and his mother praised so highly in her writings. It seemed like for every insult, slap and punch his father drilled in to his memory, another memory, of his father teaching him to ride a bike or how to identify what berries are safe to eat, was lost.
He swallowed down the insults and fear, shook his head and searched around for some socks, he found a mismatched pair of crusty, holey socks and pulled them on in a rush before slipping on a pair of ruined trainers and heading for the door. He sprinted through the hallway of neutral memories and ran headlong out of the back door, his father bellowed after him "Good riddance you nasty shit" !
David made his way through his overgrown garden and out in to the street, the pavement was smashed and cracked and graffiti was scribbled over the boarded up windows of the derelict house across the road, it was hard enough to get someone to rent the council houses in this neighbourhood but when one had fallen in to disrepair it was often just left to decay.
He walked down the road with his head down and his shoulders slouched, a gang of lads around his age were sat in the bus shelter on the end of his street. They began to shout abuse and profanity at him much like they had done every day of his life for the past 5 years.
The largest of the group was a local drug dealer, Aaron O'Neil, he sold drugs for his father and they had moved to the town five years prior to escape conflict between gangs in Ireland, since the moment they arrived the entire neighbourhood had experienced run ins at least once with the O'Neill and every one feared them.
Aaron loosened his grip on his prized dog Princess, a four year old, inbred pitbull with a nasty bark and a worse bite, allowing her to lunge at David with a snarling, slobbering bark and manic blood-shot eyes, "SICKIM" laughed Aaron much to the amusement of his cronies. Princess forced David out in to traffic, narrowly avoiding an inpatient driver, speeding way to fast in a residential area. "You not wanting some Phet lad, it'll put hair on your tits" sneered Aaron and his gang.
This was all in a days experience for David, he began to find solace in daydreaming and burying his feelings, "However bad Aaron was he was a gnat compared to his ogreish father" David thought to himself, fixing his eyes on the quickly advancing town centre. The closer he got to town the more the architecture and keep of the houses morphed to tie in with the average earnings of the families that inhabited them.
He would walk down this road many times each week, constantly yearning to be the boy driving away in his ten thousand pound car, off to university and better things, a whole, complete nuclear family waving tearful goodbyes. He made his way through the market place to where his friends were grouped at the foot of a statue, constructed in memory of some great pioneer.
He shuffled up to the group that had loud rock music playing from pricey phones. Most were wearing dark colours and laughing about the "normal" people, something of an obsession of theirs, like somehow being in a group like theirs proved that they were different, special and individual. Craig, a Goth whose father had served with David's in some base or another, greeted him with a friendly insult, to which he responded with something that he intended to be an insult but came out as a distorted mumble.
"Did you have a good night last night like" ? Blurted out Craig in his boisterous voice, "you must have been pretty fucked like, the amount you smoked" he grinned. "Nah I was al right mate, I've smoked way more than that before" said David, puffing out his chest as if to prove how manly his marijuana habit made him. "I am getting some more tonight if you fancy coming to mine, my dads out at the pub with yours so we will probably have the house free all night again" offered Craig, a cocky smile on his face. "Yeah well I haven't got anything else to do so I might as well" sighed David. "Aye that and you want to see Kim again, Andy said he saw you two getting with each other outside mine last night" said Craig with a wink. "Yeah well a lady doesn't kiss and tell" said David, cringing inwardly at his own attempt at humour.
They sat for most of the day in the town centre, before moving on to the park where they would stay in a large group of outsiders until long in to the night, failing to take in any of the beauty surrounding them but simultaneously exclaiming "how bored" they were. It was time to get some weed as the last few stragglers departed, leaving those not wanting to go home to their own lives.
Andy was always in charge of getting weed, he had money and an absent father. He was the kind of guy who liked to fit in with the poor and have nots whilst still owning every piece of technology that came out, the latest clothes and a skateboard that probably cost more than everything David owned.
Besides having money Andy was "Mates" with the dealers and often exclaimed he could get really good stuff. This wasn't the case and the drug dealers gladly took Andy's money, laughing at the terrible quantity and quality of the weed they gave him and his attempt to buddy up with them.
"It smells like good stuff this like lads" said Andy excitably in an impeccable accent "It will probably knock you fucking pussies on your arses" he claimed, the the swear words sounding awkward and clumsy in his voice. "You left an hour before everyone else last night Andy, saying you had a head ache, so I don't know what you are talking about mate" teased Craig, pushing him lightly so he stumbled a little.
Whilst Craig and Andy spouted their usual bravado, David hung back so he could walk along side Kim, she was short, dumpy and unremarkable, she dyed he hair every week and wore odd clothes and accessories in an attempt to make up for her lack of personality and in his opinion it worked quite well.
"Pretty good night last night right" ? He inquired, trying his hardest not to mention the awkward kiss they had shared when stoned. Kim shrugged shyly, also feeling the weird tension in the air. "Did you get up to much today" ? She asked in a half hearted attempt at small talk, steering the conversation off topic. "Well I just woke up, did about a hundred sit ups and then headed out for a run" he lied, in an attempt to impress her. "cool" she replied, running her fingers down the scars on her arm that she displayed like badged of honour.
They arrived at Craig's house, it was not as run down as David's, despite a similar home life, at least not from the outside anyway. Inside they were met with the aroma of home cooked food, it instantly made David jealous and his stomach rumble. They made their way quickly but quietly through the hall way, in an attempt to stop Craig's mum from waking up from her sleep on the sofa, she had knocked a glass over on to the shag heap rug and allowed a few drops of red wine, which she had overlooked, to seep into the carpet.
Once in his room Craig threw a blanket down in front of the door, sat on his bed and began to roll a crooked joint, they sparked it up and began to pass it around in a circle. It wasn't long until their eyes became glazed over and they started to talk about non sense and laugh manically about things that would otherwise make them bored.
The night continued this way until Andy fumbled from his cross legged position, found his balance and made his excuses to leave "I have work in the morning people, its been fun but I must depart" he exclaimed, all airs of his put on accent gone to allow the public boy in himself to be expressed.
"I have a job interview in the morning actually, so I better get going as well, want me to walk you home Kim" ? David asked, lying about the job interview. "Emm no I think I am going to stay here for a bit longer actually" replied Kim, curled up in a ball at the end of Craig's bed. "OK then see you guys later I guess" sighed David, heading towards the door, looking downbeat.
"We still on for Manchester tomorrow mate" ? Craig asked with a dopey expression on his face "Yeah I'll get some money somehow, see you two tomorrow anyway" returned David, heading out of the room. He slumped down the stairs unstably, his mind awash with thoughts of what state his father will be in when he got home.
'Will he want to hit me or hug me, scream at me or cry, or will he just shake, lost in thoughts about conflict, talking about men and situations I don't know' The thoughts came to him in a barrage as he made his way out in to the cold, uninviting night and on to his solitary walk home.
He looked up at Andy's window on the way past, wondering how simple his life was, his biggest worry being the neglect his father showed in venturing around the world, chasing lucrative business deals and dining with the elite. "Poor little Andy" he thought to himself "What does he know of pain". He made his way through the market place, stopping for a second to peer through the pub window and see his father pointing a drunken finger at a drinking mate, slurring some bullshit conspiracy speech about 'the government poisoning everyone'.
Walking more briskly now he approached the corner of his street his head down, when suddenly a massive blow came from behind, cracking his head and sending him hurtling to the ground, driving his face hard in to the concrete. Then came blow after blow, it was all he could do to shield his face from the incoming assault, it was over in seconds and he was left bloody and battered but conscious, strewn on the floor like a slab of meat. "This is ar street puff, don't fuckin' come down here again, y'hearus" came a familiar Irish accent amid barking and laughing "now d'one while am still in a good mood".
Shaking from head to toe, David struggled to his feet and hobbled the last two hundred meters to his house, without looking back. He could feel angry eyes burning in to the back of his head the whole way back, scared to look back he arrived home. He cautiously opened the door and slid down the haunted hall to his bedroom where he slumped in to bed and cried until sleeps sweet embrace finally allowed him comfort.
That night he slept feverishly, he began to dream of a strange landscape, in which he was a tiny seed, he pushed and pushed in an attempt to bring his head up through the silt of a river bed, for what felt like an eternity he struggled against the mountain of soil on his head before eventually, a root began to grow out through the dirt.
His mouth was parched as if full of grit and sand and he drank the water like it was going out of fashion, the more he drank the stronger and bigger he grew until he was able to see just above the water line, in to the bizarre foggy distance. It wasn't long before he was big enough to clamber out on to the distant shore and there gasping for air in the sweltering heat a shadow blotted out the sun.
"It is no time for rest, there is work to be done my child" came a soothing, transcendent voice that seemed to enter his brain, bypassing the ears entirely. "Do you think you would enjoy everything you have today if it wasn't for the hard work of those that came before you child" oozed the voice again, wrapping him in cotton and dragging him to his feet. There he witnessed an old, weathered and shrunken man. He was hunched over and wore strange cuffed trousers and a beard covering his bare torso.
His eyes shone like diamonds through leathery sockets and he emanated wisdom and nurturing kindness with every word or graceful movement. "Why aren't I scared" the question came from David's mouth without him ever thinking the thought. "Why SHOULD you be child" returned the old man. "None of this is real, it feels real, its making me feel comfortable and happy but its all artificial … what is happening here" ? Pleaded David, his sentences barely keeping form.
"If I told you, you would never understand and if I explained it to you, you would never remember, so lets leave it at that and enjoy your time here child" mused the old man, a sickly, toothless smile accompanying his enigmatic response. "You see, reality is far larger, broader, braver and beautiful than you have ever experienced in your limited sphere of observation, There is an entire cosmos out there of experiences and love, you just need reach out and take it child" advised the old man. "But how" ? Cried David, desperately begging him for answers to the questions buzzing around his head, like dust in the light.
"You wake up David" ! commanded the old man and with his mouth still open a buzzing began to pierce David's ears. The reality around him began to crumble and crack and he was left falling through a blank eternity and landed in his bed, bolt upright and awake. His head swam with thoughts and emotions but above all the pain of the beating he had received hours earlier and the lethargic feeling the weed had left him with.
He reached out to cease the buzzing that continued in the pitch black, he found his phone on his counter to see he had 5 missed calls and half a dozen texts waiting for him, the clock blinked four am by his bedside and he could hear another war movie playing from the sitting room. Wearily he shifted his weight so he was sat upright, his body ached like it had never done before and his head felt like it was splitting in two.
The first text read "Pick up man" from Craig, the second "its urgent man, seriously pick up", the third "Me and Kim slept together tonight, it was our first time and we have liked each other for ages, but never knew how to tell you, I hope we are still friends as me and Kim are seeing each other now, I asked her to be my girlfriend :)".
Upon reading this David's heart felt like it was torn from his chest, he gasped for air and tears flooded from his eyes. The other texts were from Craig too, apologising and asking if they were 'OK'. It all flooded in through a blur of tears as David launched his phone at the small mirror, the portal to his exterior, and shattered it in to a thousand pieces.
He screamed and buried his face in to his palm, pain and confusion was all he could feel and all he could hear was banging from outside his locked door, until a boot smashed through, sending splinters flying everywhere. His dad peered through the hole, slobbering like a mad hound hot on the trail of prey.
His hand lunged through the gap and groped around for the lock and finding it swung the battered door off its hinges and threw himself at David, grabbing for his neck. He picked him up off of the ground, swaying in his drunken madness and slammed him in to the wall. "You fucking ungrateful cunt" Screamed his father "How dare you ruin my house, you useless bastard, you killed your mother and now you are trying to finish me off" He bellowed "Well I'll finish you first, you scum" ! David's eyes began to bulge out of their sockets and his vision lightened until he could just see spots.
Desperate for air and fearing for his life, David clawed at his fathers face before swinging out his leg and connecting a kick straight in to his testicles. His father gasped and recoiled, dropping David to the ground in a quivering mess before falling down beside him, both gasping for air. David found his feet, grabbed his phone and ran out in to the street and didn't stop until he was around four miles from home.
Dawns first light was poking its way through the wooded area he had deemed safe enough to sleep in that morning and he groggily made his way to his feet. He feared what he may look like and sat on an old country wall, bursting in to pieces at regular intervals of pain. His hands found his face and he ran his fingers along the bumps and cuts, attempting to paint a picture in his mind of what he might look like, like a blind man meeting a new person.
That morning he made his way to a nearby village, a farmer or two asking "Jesus lad, do you need an ambulance" to which he just mumbled a quite "no" to and arrived at the local doctors. "I'd like to make an appointment to see a doctor please … today if possible" he hissed out through his swollen lips.
The day dreaming receptionist idly typed away on her keyboard, not looking at David "I'll see what I ha … AHH" ! She began then exclaimed, "Oh god are you OK hunny, what happened to you" ? She worriedly inquired. "I would rather not talk about it but I need a doctor please" he shyly asked, suddenly aware the of the quiet in the waiting room and the eyes staring at him. "We have a nurse available now, just go right through, first door on your left" she pointed with shocked expression.
"Thanks" David managed, through another grimace of pain as he hobbled through the waiting room, one woman just had her hands to her mouth in a peak and stared at him through wide eyes. He hobbled through the narrow corridor and found the nurses room. He knocked rapidly on the door "come in" came the reply. He pushed the handle and swung the door open and entered the room.
He found inside, an older lady in a nurses uniform, pondering over some sample or other in her comfy chair and ornate surroundings. "My god, you look like you have been through the wars son, what happened" ! She worriedly asked. "I got in to a fight last night and I seem to have come out of it a little worse for wear" he rasped, forcing a wry smile on his swollen face. "You can say that again, you look like you have been backed over with a car" she responded, jokingly "lets have a look at you then".
She began her examination carefully. Every tool she used seemed to be from a torturers implements box and he began to regret ever going there but as she drew to a close, he felt reassured "At least if she can bare to touch me, I can't be all that bad" he thought to himself. "Well darling you have a minor concussion, a broken nose and a missing tooth but I don't think you have any serious damage, we can arrange a ride home if you like" ? She asked in a kind, caring motherly tone. "I am homeless" he replied "... I think I need a shelter". She closed her eyes and nodded, knowingly and left the room.
He stared around the room and fat, warm tears again began to trickle from his already puffy eyes, the room smelt sterile and clean, the officialness of it all made him feel safe in a way he hadn't for such a long time. She returned a moment later and said "These people can help you, don't worry about paying for this, just get them phoned, knowing you are safe is good enough". With a weak smile he found his balance and made his way outside.
He rang the number on the card and was almost instantly connected to a serious sounding woman on the phone "This is North - East shelters and homes, How can I help you today" came the autonomous tone, strict and regimental in practice. "I need a place to stay, I am twenty one and have been left homeless" he explained, in a hushed, damaged tone. "OK sir, I just need to take some detai ..." the woman began, "... please I need help" David interrupted.
He spent what felt like the entire afternoon explaining his situation to the bodiless voice. she explained he should press charges, to which David declined, she then went on to give him some details of a place he could stay in a near by farm, owned by a homeless prevention group.
He made his way to the home, feeling strange and stupid like he may be wasting their time, "surely they have more important things to do than worry about me" He worried to himself "maybe I shouldn't go". But he nonetheless arrived at the shelter and was greeted by a kind older man in youthful clothes, one of those "I am still cool" kind of guys and lead in to small room and given some dinner.
He slept for the entire day and night, that's when he encountered the old man again. "You can't keep away now" ? He joked, in his kind soothing voice "You already have the answers to the questions you will ask, or at least you can find them if you try, so do not ask them but instead join me by the river". They sat by the river, with their feet in the clear, rushing waters. Life buzzed all around them oblivious to their existence or intrusion.
"I left home today" offered David, but the old man just continued to stare. "This is where it gets interesting" said the man excitedly, watching what seemed to be a play performed by barn yard animals on the opposite bank. "You see the boar is our protagonist" the old man explained, "The swan his desire, the donkey his friend and the cat his enemy". The cat leaped on the swan, biting her neck and killing her, the donkey sighed and moaned and the boar squealed in anguish as if stuck. The boar then chased the cat before fighting the cat on a plank, knocking him in to the rushing water and returning to mourn his lost lover.
"What does it all mean though" demanded David, "I need to know, its all so confusing". "I told you to not ask questions, hmpph" the old man moaned "But I guess it is human nature to be curious, the play is always performed, not just here but everywhere in life, its seeing the simple entertainment in the complex, abstract and bizarre that makes a man free" taught the old man. "Now its time to awaken, you probably have a world to explore" ! gurgled the old man, as if under water.
David awoke to find a young, skinny man with a kitchen knife in one hand and David's phone in the other, standing over him. "Oh you awake sunsh'ne, allow me to intr'duce mesel" he sneered, placing the knife to David's throat "I am non of your fuckin' bus'ness and this and everythin' you own belongs t' me now, d' you understand" ! Threatened the skinny man. David was petrified but moved his head a millimetre up and down in confirmation. "Good" smiled the man "we will get along jus' fine a' think" he walked out of the room with a skip in his step and David's phone in hand.
Life continued on much like this from then on, he was counselled by people who didn't understand, robbed by heroin addicts and thugs who didn't care, shown flats he didn't want and offered jobs he couldn't get. Until one day in town, when out on a day visit, he spotted an advert in the window of his army recruitment office. The advert read 'Join the greatest troop on earth, the army and act in our theatre, war'.
David had never been one for superstition and destiny but the sheer impact of the coincidence made his mind up for him and what choice did he have. He joined the army.