Be Real

Be Real

By Adam Dixon

“…and then he ran away!” Sean concluded with a dramatic sweep of his arm. He laughed in triumph and brushed the jet-black fringe from his eyes. His three friends sat before him, stretched out on the grass.

“What, just like that?” squeaked Nick. The shorter boy was sat forward, rapt attention on his pimpled face. Like Sean’s, his collar was undone, and his tie flapped loose in the breeze.

“Yeah, it was pretty pathetic,” Sean continued, accepting a cigarette with a gracious nod.

“Why did you do it, though?” Charli tossed her long blond hair over one shoulder as she settled against Nick. Sean inhaled, holding back a coughing fit with practiced willpower. He exhaled the stinging smoke from his nostrils, making sure that everyone was watching.

“The dickhead nearly made me drop my camera,” he said. The group crowed their understanding.

“Oh yeah, that’d do it!” Nick laughed. “You’re more attached to that thing than your own dick!” Charli pealed with laughter, and Sean winced.

“Well, maybe,” Sean forced a grin and rested his hand on the case hanging from his neck. It housed his beloved Nikon, which was old for a compact digital but was his pride and joy. He scanned the area as he passed the fag on, surveying the green space with disinterest. Wooden fences bordered two sides, and the metal fence of a school guarded the others. It was a pleasant place, and quiet in the evenings. A smattering of children played football nearby, watched over by a solitary adult.

As Sean’s gaze swept across the park and back to his friends his eyes met Jo’s. Her eyes were large and brown, and they glittered in the fading sunlight. The corners of her mouth twitched into a smile. Sean felt heat flare in his cheeks and he looked away. Jo would rarely speak up or join in with the boys’ story-telling, not unless it was to put one of them down. Sean held his swagger, listening to Nick spout some similar bullshit story. He could feel Jo staring at him and he pictured her full lips for an instant, and the beauty spot just above them which was almost invisible against her dark skin. His mouth went dry.

Fortunately, whatever Jo might have said was silenced when Sean’s phone rang. The heavy chords of Royal Blood cut into the air, muffled by trousers. Nick swore and demanded that Sean “turn that shit off”. Sean fished his phone from his pocket and let it ring for a few more seconds. As his thumb hesitated over the screen, the call cut off. It was his mum, and it was time for him to go home.

“Well, guys, I’d best be off,” Sean said, stuffing his phone away.

“Aw, bless him! Mummy’s boy!” Charli exclaimed in delight. Sean reddened.

“Yeah well, things’ll change when I’m eighteen!” he insisted. “I’ll be at lock-ins and everything!”

“Yeah, whatever you say, mate,” Nick chuckled, stroking Charli’s hair as she rested her head on his chest. He took a drag from the dying cigarette and blew three perfect smoke rings into the air. Sean felt a stab of envy; it wasn’t that he fancied Charli at all, it was how Nick was always at ease around girls, despite his spots and his high voice. Maybe it was his tan and his muscles; Sean was pale as a ghost and lanky as a scarecrow. He was caught somewhere between admiration and hate for the smug prick.

“Off you pop, then,” Nick said, waving dismissively. Charli smiled and said goodbye, and Jo simply waved. Sean stalked off down the street, head down, the sound of his friends’ merriment and the shouts of the kids playing football fading away. His footsteps sounded lonely and insignificant to his ears, and he muttered angrily to himself as he walked. After a few moments, he paused and looked up. He enjoyed the way the red sunlight was decorating the horizon, and the empty road split his frame of vision into three pleasing sections. Sean unzipped his case and raised his camera to his eye. The snap of the shutter was like a whisper of pure potential to his ears.

“Sean! Hang on a sec!” a voice called. Jo came hurrying from the park, shrugging her backpack onto her shoulders. Sean’s spirits lifted, but he also felt a burst of panic. He just stood there as Jo caught up with him.

“Hey,” he said, trying to sound casual. Jo stopped and smiled.

“Hey,” she said. Her voice was deep and scratchy; Sean quivered at the sound of it. He cleared his throat and stuffed his Nikon back into the case. He felt ridiculous as he towered a foot and a half above her.

“You off as well?” he asked.

“Well, yeah,” Jo replied, and her eyes sparkled. “Thought I’d keep you company. I’m going your way.” Sean nodded and kept walking. His footsteps seemed loud and brutish now, echoing obnoxiously around the street. Sean racked his brain for something to say. Where’s your mouth now, big man? he thought. After a few minutes, Jo spoke up.

“So, have you decided to go to uni, then?” she asked.

“Y’know, I’m not sure,” Sean replied, grateful for something to think about. “I guess so, as it’ll probably help me in the long run. The colleges round here don’t really appeal to me.”

“Yeah, I get that,” Jo said, rubbing her lips thoughtfully. “There’s not much for me, either, but I don’t really fancy uni. My parents are pushing for me to go, though.” She grimaced. “My dad nearly hit the roof when I said I wanted to be a carpenter! It’s like I told him I was pregnant or something!”

“It’s hardly a secret” Sean grinned. “You made them stuff, didn’t you?”

“Couple of chairs, even a bedside table for my little sister.” Jo said, with a note of pride. “I worked afterschool for weeks to get those done. They were impressed, but they weren’t happy.”

“That sucks,” Sean replied, adding a grimace of his own. “Is it…is it because it’s not a girl’s job?” He raised his fingers to make quotation marks. Jo laughed.

“No shit, Sherlock!” she said, but her smile took the sting from her words. “They say it’s unlikely I’ll get an apprenticeship over a guy when there aren’t many to begin with. Won’t stop me trying, though.” Sean marvelled at Jo’s determination; if only he could be so sure of himself.

“I’m actually a bit freaked out by it all,” Sean said as he scratched the back of his neck. “Mum and dad are pressuring me to make a decision, and the school is pushing me, too. The school only cares about conversion numbers, so fuck them, but mum and dad mean well. But what if I don’t want to go? Will I need to get some boring job which I’m gonna hate? I know that’s reality for a lot of people but surely it can’t be all there is? I just wanna take pictures and forget about exams and sixth form, but there’s so much riding on what I do with my spare time! It’s all too much, y’know?” Sean stopped, suddenly embarrassed. He was breathing heavily, and his fists were clenched.

“Sorry,” he mumbled. “It’s bothering me more than I’ve been letting on.”

Jo was staring at Sean with an odd expression.

“What?” Sean asked, folding his arms. Jo pursed her lips and traces of glitter sparkled as they passed under a lukewarm lamppost.

“It’s good when you’re like this,” Jo said at last. “No bullshit, not like back there,” she jerked a thumb over her shoulder, back towards the park.

“I dunno, I guess I feel like I can tell you this stuff,” Sean said with a shrug. “You’re not judgey like the others, you don’t expect me to be anything. You’re…” Sean waved his hands, searching for the right word. “You’re real.” Sean felt heat in his cheeks again and he moved on hurriedly.

“One good thing about uni is that I can get away and be myself. Plus, there’s not really anyone I’d miss from round here.” Jo’s head jerked up.

“No-one?” she asked. Sean balked at the obvious cue. He dry-swallowed several times, wishing that the street wasn’t so bloody long so that he could escape to his home.

“Well, I…” he said, rubbing his neck. “I’d miss…well, y’know, I’d…not miss exactly, but…oh, fuck it!” Sean halted and turned to face Jo. Their eyes met. Now or never, big man! he thought. He wished he was more like Nick.

“I’d really miss you, Jo,” he said, forcing the words out. “You’re not like everyone else. I can be real with you.” Heart thumping, he carefully took one of Jo’s hands. Her calloused fingertips brushed over Sean’s knuckles and he almost lost his nerve.

“I’d miss you too, Sean,” Jo replied, her voice a breathy whisper. She took his other hand and squeezed. God, she’s beautiful, Sean thought, as warring emotions tore through his body. He opened his mouth, but Jo placed a finger on his lips.

“Don’t,” she said. “Be real with me.” Jo pushed the camera case over Sean’s shoulder, then cupped his cheek. Sean felt his head being pulled gently down, and panic flared in his mind as Jo’s face filled his vision. Her dark eyes began to close as she turned her mouth towards his, her lips parting. Sean watched her come nearer, closing his eyes at the last possible second before their lips met.

It was delicate at first, and hesitant. Jo’s lips were soft and warm, and Sean could smell coconut butter on her skin. Jo’s fingers stroked his cheek, her fingertips tracing his jawline. Sean pressed closer and encircled Jo’s waist with his free arm. His heart hammered against his ribs and his body grew hot. He let go of Jo’s hand to pull her into a tight embrace, and she exhaled in pleasure, breaking them apart. Sean opened his eyes saw that Jo’s were also open, and they were shining in the fading light. Jo smiled shyly and ran a finger along the downy fuzz on Sean’s upper lip.

“Now that’s what I’m taking about!” she said in a husky tone. Sean giggled. Like a girl.

“Real enough for you?” he whispered, and he leaned his forehead against hers.

“Mhmm,” was Jo’s simple reply. Sean could feel her heart pounding as her breasts pushed against him.

“So, what, are we, like, together now?” Sean asked lamely. Jo chuckled and pulled away from him.

“Don’t get ahead of yourself, boy!” she chided, fluttering her eyelashes. “You might not be good enough for me!”

“Oh, it’s like that, is it?” Sean replied, raising an eyebrow. He grinned back, but he felt dread settle in his stomach. Jo inspected her nails with exaggerated care.

“Yep. Maybe I don’t want someone who tries to act like tough guy. Starting on people in parks and all that. Besides, you might be buggering off to uni soon!” Sean’s expression must have betrayed him because Jo burst out laughing.

“Y’know, you’re pretty sensitive for a tough guy!” Before Sean could protest, Jo stood on her tiptoes and kissed him, slowly and softly. She breathed a deep sigh when they parted.

“Come on then, I’ll finish walking you home,” she said, chuckling. Sean shook his head with a smile and let himself be dragged along. They walked through the darkening street holding hands and chatting about anything which came to mind, their hearts fluttering like birds in their chests. For Sean, life had never seemed brighter or more beautiful than it did right then. He didn’t know what he wanted to do, but in that moment, for the first time in months, he didn’t care.

Follow me on Twitter @ADixonFiction.

Photo courtesy of pixabay.com

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Undead Dating – Collaboration!

Hello everyone! Back in June, which already seems like a lifetime ago, I attended the Blogger’s Bash in London and met some fantastic bloggers and writers. One such blogger was Steve, who with whom I clicked right away. Steve’s blog, Talk About Pop Music, is great fun and provides some well-informed information about a a variety of successful pop songs. I’d thoroughly recommend a visit! Anyway, we got chatting and Steve suggested that we collaborate in the future. I was happy to take him up on the offer.

Steve’s suggestion was that I write a short story based on the lyrics of a song of his choosing. He chose “Here in my Heart” by Al Martino, which interestingly was the very first UK Number One!  The subject matter of my story is perhaps not what most people would think of when hearing Mr Martino’s dulcet tones, but I enjoyed the way it unraveled for me regardless. I’m going to post it on my below but please do visit Steve’s blog for the original post and for some pop music entertainment! Cheers, Steve, I’m excited to finally work with you!

 

Undead Dating

By Adam Dixon

Horatio Brudenell-Cavendish shambled across the half-destroyed streets of Brighton, his undead heart heavy in his chest. He raised his head to watch the dark, churning thunderclouds and the flames dancing across the sky. Before he had perished in a drunken accident in 1756, he hadn’t expected his afterlife to be lonelier than his mortal existence, but here he was, reborn into a world where humans had been utterly vanquished with no-one to talk to. His black thoughts and self-deprecation had pursued him into this new awakening, and he doubted that this time he could end it so effectively.

“Oh, Lord, what a cruel joke you have played upon me!” he said, staring with dry, withered eyes at the terrifying flashes of light and fire which lit up the sky. “Was I so detestable to you in life that you must punish me so in death? Am I never to be loved?” The last sentence Horatio whispered, the sound barely audible and barely escaping the confines of his ruined throat. He saw the now familiar sight of hundreds of undead staggering across the remainder of the town and ignored them. He would not speak with them, and why should he? They were probably still rabid from the looks of them, and he had no desire to spend his time with such brutes. He dragged his feet aimlessly until he stood before a burned shell that was once a modern church. Even the holy places hadn’t escaped divine justice, it seemed. His sad eyes caught sight of a bright, cheerful poster which proudly announced that “The Brighton Undead Speed-dating Service is operating once again!”, and would take place at eight o’clock that evening on Brighton Pier. Horatio stared at it for a few moments before sighing and heading off in the direction of the pier. He had little hope of finding someone to spend eternity with, but he couldn’t allow himself to give up completely. Besides, he’d see Elsie again, and that alone was worth it. With that thought in mind, he smoothed the creases of his dirty waistcoat and tightened his frayed, mud-covered tie as best he could and pressed on.

***

The dating hall took place in the remains of the old arcade on Brighton Pier. Horatio still wasn’t certain he knew what an arcade was, but judging by the strange, oddly-coloured machines guarding the perimeter of the room he thought it must have been a forbidding place. The Pier had mostly survived the End Times, but everything past the hall had been destroyed and fallen into the ashen sea. The putrid odours of rotten and burnt wood hung heavy in the air, wrinkling noses which ought to have been used to it by now. The harsh wind screamed around the room from the gaping maw at the end of it, and coupled with the rough splashing of the waves it made it difficult to hear what was being said.

“So, have you been to one of these nights before?” the werewolf seated in front of Horatio asked in a loud growl. Horatio nodded, a greasy lock of black hair falling across his mottled forehead.

“Yes, I have tried my hand at these evenings thrice now,” he shouted, trying to sound interested. His eyes kept flicking back towards the zombie who stood at the door, watching the proceedings like a proud mother. Despite the disfigurement caused by her reanimation, Horatio thought she was beautiful. Her clothes, which had been in the ground a far shorter time than Horatio’s, were the brightest garments in the hall, regardless of the mud stains. Elsie Cartwright was like a shining beacon to a man adrift in a storm.

“Can’t’ve been much of a hit with the ladies, then!” the werewolf barked, shaking her great snout. Horatio’s attention snapped back to her and he forced a smile.

“Evidently not,” he said with a sigh. The werewolf cocked her head and gazed at him, a strange look coming into her yellow eyes. Horatio fidgeted, wishing the bell would ring again and signal the end of their three minutes together.

“Can’t think why, though,” she said, her pink tongue lapping at her chops. “You’re more interesting than most of the groaners I’ve met. Better looking, too.” The wolf huffed and turned away in embarrassment and Horatio grimaced. In life he had been tall, dark and handsome, but in death he was just as repulsive as everyone else.

“Ahh…well, thank you, madame, you are most kind,” he said, wondering whether or not he should return the compliment. The wolf certainly looked expectant. As he struggled for something positive to say about her, the bell rang.

“Oh, time’s up!” the werewolf said reluctantly. “Nice meeting you. Don’t be a stranger, now!” She gave what Horatio assumed passed for a wink. He smiled back and nodded politely, thanking her for her time. Standing up, he shambled over to the neighbouring table and approached the next eager face. The hall became animated as several others did the same, albeit rather slowly. The participants were obliged to endure an extra two minutes of “walking time” as the zombies present took a while to change tables. Horatio felt as if it would be a very long night. He looked up at Elsie as he sat down in front of his next “date” and she smiled and waved at him. Horatio felt his undead heart soar and he smiled back. He then forced himself to focus his attention on the newest bag of hideous in front of him and resolved to wait to speak to Elsie. She would be much more agreeable company, he was certain, and he would feel better for hearing her voice.

“’Ello ‘andsome!” the zombie in front of him leered. It had one good eye and its jaw was hanging by a few rotted threads of sinew. Horatio wasn’t sure if it was male or female, but he suspected that asking such a question would not start their meeting in the most positive light. Just another hour and a half, Horatio¸ he thought to himself, then you may speak with Elsie. Steeling himself, Horatio began conversing with his next “date”.

***

“I beg your pardon, Miss Elsie,” Horatio began once the “dating” had finished. “May I help you in any way?” He had managed to politely decline the werewolf’s offer of a night-cap without causing offense and had waited with impatience as the undead made their snail-like progress back to town. Horatio had taken a deep breath and shuffled over to Elsie. She turned to look at him and smiled.

“Oh, hello there, Horatio!” she said with genuine pleasure. “That is very kind of you! Yes, if you don’t mind, I could use a hand clearing away the tables. I’ll be here all night by myself, you see.” Horatio nodded, knowing all too well the limitations of their reawakened bodies. He set to work aiding her and worried over what to say. I must begin a conversation, damn it! He thought to himself with irritation. Why am I such a damnable bore? A bolt of lightning darted across the sky and struck a building somewhere in town, a tremendous crash filling the air a moment later. Still Horatio was mute.

“Any luck tonight?” Elsie asked, saving him from the awkward silence.

“Not especially, Miss Elsie,” he replied, spreading his arms wide. “Perhaps I am not good enough for the creatures of this new world. I daresay that I wasn’t much of a man for my betrothed in my former life, either, being a drunken scoundrel.”

“Oh, rubbish! I’ll not have you sayin’ that!” Elise chided, swatting him lightly on his shoulder. “You’re a strapping figure of a man, or at least you were, an’ anyone can see that! You’re a fair deal more agreeable than most of the folk from your time an’ all! An’ from my time, too, as it happens. My old hubby never spoke to me the way you do.” Horatio blushed, feeling what little blood he had left rise to his face. Elsie had died in the 1930’s, and she had lived a life destined to be frustrated by social barriers. They had become greatly reduced when compared to Horatio’s time, but they had not progressed enough for a strong-willed woman like Elsie.

“You have my thanks, Miss Elsie,” Horatio stammered. “Have you…have you had any potential…suitors?” he asked her, afraid of the answer but needing to know. Elsie looked at him and a shy smile crept across her face.

“Actually, there was a charming ghostly fella who spoke to me tonight,” she said. “I know it’s not my policy to get involved but he was ever so nice. He was a Frenchman who died whilst visitin’ the area centuries ago. Very polite an’ not at all high-an’-mighty, much like yourself, Horatio! I think I might like to see him again.” Horatio felt panic flood his body and he was struck dumb by the feeling. Come on you, fool! His mind screamed at him. It is now or never!

“Miss Elsie, I…” Horatio began, chewing at his lower lip. It tasted awful and the shock of it made him forget his embarrassment. “I wonder if you would consider spending some time with me instead?” Elsie paused during folding a chair.

“With you, Horatio?” she said, her eyebrow rising and her mouth opening slightly. Horatio cleared his throat and continued.

“Yes, I understand that it is somewhat improper of me,” he said, smoothing the front of his half-rotten suit jacket. “But, you see, I have been…in love…with you for some time now.” Horatio looked at Elsie with sincerity in his eyes. Elsie’s eyes widened and her hand flew to her breast.

“Miss Elsie, since I have reawakened I have been so alone,” he said, stepping towards her. “My heart is lonely, and my soul although it be damned cries out for a companion. I…wish to spend the rest of my unnatural life with you, Miss Elsie. You would complete me.” Horatio trailed off, surprised by his tenderness and feeling the beginnings of panic returning. Oh, Lord, what if she denies me? He thought with desperation. I will die all over again! Elsie stood watching him, her undead eyes blinking rapidly. The wind howled around the arcade in a mocking laugh and the pier creaked ominously as if it were about to collapse. Horatio almost wished that it would.

“Oh, Horatio,” she whispered. “You do have a way with words! Any girl would be lucky to hear them!”

“Miss Elsie, I will give you my arms gladly if only you will restore this blackened, un-beating heart of mine,” Horatio said, reaching out a wasted, green-hued hand. Elsie laughed and seized it, gripping it tightly and beaming like an angel. Horatio felt his shoulder groan and worried that he might live up to his promise in a more literal fashion than he had intended.

“Horatio, you’ve said enough pretty words,” Elsie said, gazing into his eyes. “We’ve time enough for those and more besides! Truth be told, I’ve not had eyes for anyone else since you first walked in here. I’ll share your arms an’ give you mine also, you silver-tongued charmer!” Horatio felt his spirit dance and his heart suddenly flutter in his chest like a phoenix arising from ashes. He had never felt so happy, even in his mortal days. Elsie took his other hand and smiled at him.

“But let’s take it slowly, shall we?” Elsie said with a sly wink. “No need to rush when we’ve got all of eternity before us!”

“No, indeed not, Miss Elsie!” Horatio said, his own face breaking into a wide smile. He ignored the unnerving creak as his jaw stretched and he stared deep into Elsie’s eyes. Happiness, I have found you at last! he thought. Perhaps the new, dead world would not be so bad after all.