The Elements

The Elements Chapters 28-32

A young boy is caught shoplifting and is offered the choice of 8 months hard labour or taking part in a new reality TV show. Having never been on TV, this is his preferred option. The show is an elimination show but unknown to the public who watch every night and interact via social media 24 hours a day, the show is not what it seems. When the boys learn the true meaning of the word ‘elimination’, everything changes.

Aimed at readers aged 11-14, The Elements is a novel very much in need of an agent and a publisher and quite possibly a sympathetic editor – three things that have so far proven impossible to find. Rather than let the words sleep forever in a folder on my desktop, they’re being serialised at Plain Or Pan.

I appreciate you’re not quite the intended demographic for the book, but it’d be great if you could read it through the same eyes that first landed on a 2 Tone sleeve or a Topical Times Football Book. Positive comments welcome. Any and all offers of publication will be considered.

All previous chapters of The Elements can be found here.

The Elements
by Craig McAllister
Chapters 28-32

 

The two officers in the patrol car had been asked to investigate a disturbance at somewhere called Kimble. The sat nav in the squad car was no use. It was either outdated, they reasoned, like most of their equipment, and couldn’t show them directions to a place it didn’t know existed, or the signal to the sat nav was poor.

Using his own phone, the officer in the passenger seat called up the co-ordinates but it too couldn’t pinpoint Kimble. It seemed strange that they shouldn’t know about the place, given that it was seemingly local and responsible for the TV show that was the subject of almost all conversation in the squad cars and station staff room. Repeated requests to recheck the co-ordinates had been met with the same answer – ‘those are the co-ordinates we have…Kimble must be around there somewhere.’ The driver continued to drive fruitlessly, returning to roads he had previously driven, passing the same landmarks from different directions, squinting in the dark for some place he’d never seen before.

 

 

Chapter 29

The man had his master key and after entering the first three rooms they’d come to – McPherson’s, Stewart’s and Campbell’s – was convinced that Zimmerman had lied to them. It was in the next room that his opinion began to change. The boys had definitely been here recently. Harrison’s room was just as untidy as the others, but the drawers had been left gaping and open and as the man rattled one of them in anger, he saw that they were all empty. There were no clothes there at all. Cameron confirmed that the wardrobe too was empty, save for the two pairs of boots at the bottom.

By the time they’d left Reilly’s room and then Alan’s, it became clear that the boys had packed up and run off. They checked the others. Burgess’s room was tidy. There were clothes in the drawers and wardrobe. Given that Burgess lay dead in the hospital morgue, this was no surprise. It was the same in Anderson’s.

Rounding the corner, they were surprised to find Fowler’s door open. They were even more surprised to find Zimmerman sitting on the bed, his back to the open door. The man, ready to go for Zimmerman, hastily recoiled when he heard the voice of Arkwright speaking from within.

“As soon as John and Joseph return, we’ll retire to the board room, all of us, and sort this mess out.”

The mention of the board room set the man’s teeth on edge. The scene of his most humiliating backtracks, it was in there that he’d been told he must vet all questions ahead of press conferences. It was in there too that he’d been told he must return the boy Stewart’s phone. The man had no respect for Arkwright and the others’ authority, but for his own good, he grudgingly did as he was told. If he could get his story straight tonight, there was a faint chance that he might leave here unscathed and still as rich.

He stepped inside Fowler’s room, followed closely by Cameron who had one hand on the butt of the gun inside his trouser pocket.

“Mr Arkwright, sir! Professor Zimmerman!”

They turned, as surprised to see the man as he had been to see them.

The man turned on his best charm. “You know Cameron, don’t you? We’ve been looking everywhere for the contestants. I had hoped to calm them after the events from earlier on.” Scanning the room, he put on an exaggerated expression of dismay. “Have they gone?!”

“It appears so,” said Arkwright. “By the looks of it, they left in a hurry too. Almost as if they were extremely frightened…”

The man looked at Arkwright, trying to work him out.

“I know what happened, y’know. It’s all on CCTV.”

The man continued looking at Arkwright. Was he bluffing?

“Three young boys dead. Two shot, one beaten on your instructions. This is a catastrophe of untold proportions, man!”

Arkwright’s voice was steady, quiet and measured.

The man began to talk until Arkwright held up a hand to silence him.

“We will talk in the board room. We must get a story straight before the authorities arrive. Whatever we decide, though, one thing is certain. You will need to disappear.”

There was an inference in the last word that the man didn’t like. It seemed to him that he was about to be hung out to dry, or worse. The three grey men in the grey suits would hold their hands up in despair and somehow salvage the show. He though, it seemed, would never be seen again.

 

 

Chapter 30

As the squad car drove aimlessly in ever-widening circles, the officer in the driving seat peered out into one of the dark country lanes they’d driven up a short while ago.

“Is that someone running?” he asked his partner.

“It certainly looks like it,” came the reply. “At this time of night?”

The car soon caught up with whatever was ahead, and sure enough, it was someone running. As the police car approached, the runner turned his head in surprise. His hair gave him away.

“Hey!” said the driver. “That’s that Harrison boy from the show!”

The Elements-branded backpack and clothing confirmed it. Harrison stopped running and, picked out by the yellowy twin beam of the headlights, bent over, panting and catching his breath. Clouds of his breath puffed out into the cold night air before evaporating around his head. He stood straight, exhaling, hands on his lower back as the two officers approached him.

“Alright, sir?” said the first officer. He had an accent that Harrison had heard before but couldn’t place.

“Is everything OK?”

Harrison wasn’t sure how to answer. The second officer spoke. He had the same accent.

“Harrison, isn’t it? Have you come from Kimble? Are you running from there?”

“We’re responding to reports of a disturbance. Would you know anything about it, at all?”

Harrison nodded.

“Would you like to sit in the car, sir, and tell us what you know?”

Harrison, tired and cold and desperately missing his parents told them everything.

The officers, not expecting a story quite like the one they were hearing, sat in silence as Harrison’s version of events unravelled from the back seat of the police car.

“I think,” said the first officer, not entirely without reason, “that we may need some assistance.”

The second officer sparked the radio into life. He requested back-up, asking that they locate them in the country lane where they were currently parked. Harrison had offered to show the officers where Kimble was, but the officers weren’t going anywhere near the place until they had help from their colleagues. Even then, they feared, that might not be enough.

 

 

Chapter 31

John and Joseph had searched high and low for the man and Cameron. They hadn’t cleared it with Arkwright – hadn’t needed to clear it – but they’d intended to kill them both wherever they found them. Once they’d done that, they’d sit down, the three of them, and concoct a story that explained all of the deaths and, crucially, keep their names out of it. With them nowhere to be found, John and Joseph had returned to Fowler’s room.

They were surprised to find Arkwright and Zimmerman chatting with the man and the boy Cameron. The atmosphere was tense, but neither side wanted to appear irritable or aggressive. On seeing John and Joseph return, Arkwright broke into a smile.

“Ah, gentlemen! It seems everyone is here at last. Shall we head to the boardroom and get down to the business of getting our stories straight?”

“No time for that,” said Cameron. He hadn’t spoken in the entire time they’d been in Fowler’s room and was getting anxious and trigger-happy. Without warning, he pulled his gun and shot at Arkwright. Arkwright fell, clutching his neck and shoulder. He was dead before he hit the floor. John and Joseph pulled their guns at the same time as the man and all three fired.

Poor Zimmerman was caught in the crossfire and flopped dead on the bed. One of the other bullets, Joseph’s, as the ballistics team confirmed afterwards, shot the man in the head, instantly dead. Cameron shot again and Joseph keeled over awkwardly, blood oozing onto his grey waistcoat from the neat hole in his stomach. Cameron was quick on the draw but as he reloaded and fired a third time, a bullet from John shot him through the chest. The bullet from Cameron’s own gun had already left the chamber and, just as John registered his hit on Cameron, he was killed by Cameron’s last bullet.

The whole episode lasted a few seconds. As the walls rang to silence, the tendril smell of gunpowder crept around and out of the room. In the room, all five occupants lay dead. At that precise moment in time, no-one inside Kimble was alive.

 

 

Chapter 32

Outside, the boys’ meditative silence was broken.

“Is that gunfire?” asked Reilly.

No sooner had he asked than the firing stopped.

“Sounded like it,” said Fowler. He was keeping his voice low. “Maybe three shots. D’you think anyone else has been shot?

“I think there were more than three shots,” said Alan, sounding worried.

The boys slunk into the shrubbery behind them. They barely noticed the cobwebs on their faces or the waxy damp leaves on their necks. They stayed huddled and silent, listening for any other signs of activity inside the house.

“I wonder who shot who…it’s very quiet,” pointed out Alan once more. “D’you think anyone else is dead?”

They remained hidden in the bushes, afraid to step out and check for signs of movement from the house, unsure of what to do.

“We sit it out and wait,” implored Connor. “We’ve made it this far. The police can’t be far off.”

The police weren’t far off. Three squad cars and an unmarked saloon carrying two senior officers had met the two officers and Harrison. Giving directions from the back seat of the front squad car, Harrison led the convoy to the house.

The boys, cold, damp and hiding in the undergrowth, were ecstatic to see the tell-tale flash of blue lights illuminate between the trees. Their flickers briefly lit up the surrounding area in a strobing flash of electric blue, shadows distorting and bending grotesquely as the police cars sped, siren-free, towards the entrance to Kimble.

It took half a dozen officers to disable the locked gates through brute force and, as the cars swept towards the main door, the boys stepped out from the shrubbery. A blinding flashlight shone in their faces and a voice from behind it asked if they were safe. Connor stepped forward, hands open in front of him.

“We’re safe, yes, but we heard gunfire a little while ago from inside the house. There were about four or five shots. It’s been quiet since.”

A female officer and two older men wearing dark suits rather than uniforms came towards them with blankets and wrapped them around each of the boys’ shoulders. As they fussed over the boys, asking if they were hurt or had any injuries, telling them that everything was going to be OK and that their parents would be on their way, half a dozen police officers broke the door down and entered Kimble. Their job was just beginning.

 

 

 

(more to follow in the future)

Hard-to-find

Yes-Man for The NoMen

It’s a payola scandal! A great rock ‘n roll swindle! Under incessant pressure and non-stop pushing of ‘product’, Plain Or Pan has succumbed to the bung and the bribe. With a pocketful of untraceable fivers and the number for a burner phone that I’ve been assured will offer up the earthiest of earthly delights, I bring you The NoMen. They have me in their collective pocket and, to be honest, there are far worse places you could find yourself. Their latest album, A Bad Reputation Is A Good Place To Start might sound like the sort of title The Cramps would’ve given to any number of their 2-minute punkish twangers, but the 20 tracks contained therein sound in equal parts wonky, obtuse, singular and entirely heartfelt and dedicated. I daresay there’s a Lux influence in there somewhere, but there’s so much more besides.

 The NoMen have been around for almost twenty years and remain something of a mystery. Despite radio specials in France, Germany and Canada, they have appeared live only twice, much preferring instead to bunker down in the studio and produce album after album of self-mad, self-made, lo-fi psychedelia. To date they have released at least 8 or 12 or 17 albums. It’s hard to tell, and harder to keep up with. The Pain Of Jazz. If Not Why, Then When? Straight To Dave. Dawn Of The NoMen. Just some of the unique and uncategorisable albums in their back catalogue that might warrant your attention.

Self-proclaimed children of Ed Wood and Joe Meek, their blend of fuzz-soaked, analogue boppery skirts around the same sort of margins as artists as individual and diverse as Psychic TV, Ween and Buffy Sainte Marie.

On the latest LP, a collaboration no less between NoMen and ex Swell Maps’ Phones Sportsman, the tracks that first pricked my ears included the campfire lullaby of HuMan (Evolution In A Nutshell), worth the price of admission for the extended coda alone, and Karma Pyjamas, a track that falls short of two minutes but manages to fuse the day-glo imagination of Super Furry Animals with Robert Kirby’s string arrangements for Nick Drake underneath a sneering vocal that wouldn’t sound out of place in a high camp ’70s horror film.

Elsewhere in this pot pourri of controlled madness, you’ll come across drawling Cope-ish, Mark E Smith-like vocals, subsonic fuzz bass and all manner of jerky, quirky incidental parts.

You’re never far from a Radiophonic Workshop-influenced proto-electro whoosh or a Dalek-voiced Cabaret Voltaireism or a janglin’, reverb-soaked 12 string guitar, and often, you’ll hear all three of these disparate influences before the band has alighted on the first chorus. The NoMen dig anything from the outer musical margins that might have been released between ’65 and ’75; the more obscure, the more discordant, the path less-travelled, all the better. Eno, Ono, you know….

…and their brilliantly bizarre tribute to Floran Schneider has to be seen to be believed.

You should investigate by visiting their Bandcamp page tout de suite. Now, where did I leave that number for the burner phone?`

Get This!, Hard-to-find

Serious Drug Addict

Born out of the blues boom of the early ’60s, the Thames Estuary scene was a fertile breeding ground for the stars of the decade and beyond. Away from the distractions of London city centre, it proved the ideal training ground for the very musicians who’d help make the city swing in the coming months and years; Jagger and Richards were welded at the snake-hips as a result of a shared love of Chess Records. Alexis Korner’s blues nights in the Ealing Jazz Club brought together like-minded afficianados in the shape of Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, and both Clapton and Page would take stints as lead guitarist in The Yardbirds, a role also filled by Jeff Beck. Amongst it all was John Mayall, his Bluesbreakers band a constantly-revolving who’s who of the movers and shakers of ’60s guitar-based music; Jack Bruce, Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood, Mick Taylor… you name them, they likely appeared on stage or on record with John Mayall in one way or other. It was a small scene, they say, but a highly influential one which helped shape the popular music of the day. You knew all that already though.

Fast forward to Lanarkshire in the mid ’80s. A short train ride away from the attraction and distraction of Glasgow city centre, a scene – let’s call it the Bellshill Boom – developed around the singular vision and concept of Duglas Stewart. Born out of a love of post-punk, sunshine pop and anything with a decent haircut (although…check below for conflicting proof), this scene was, in its own way, just as influential as that satellite scene around London 20 or so years previously. Taking their cues and clothes from the Lovin’ Spoonful, Jonathan Richman and the melancholic ache of Burt Bacharach, Stewart’s band BMX Bandits led the way, the real sound of the suburbs, a Bluesbreakers for the Bellshill beat brigade.

Cor!

Like a foppish, pointy-fingered John Mayall, Duglas curated a group of musicians that created a new sound of young Scotland – twee, perhaps, arch, certainly, and totally at odds with the Caledonian bombast currently being force-fed via commercial radio, but with an element of fun running through it like the lettering on a stick of Blackpool rock.

That the individual Bandits were free to come and go, to form other bands, to play on other people’s records only added to the looseness of it all, but every one of those players has, at one point or other, said just how formative being in the BMX Bandits was.

Once a Bandit, always a Bandit, as Duglas has said. He’s watched on, headmaster-like, as his charges have gone on to form (deep breath) Teenage Fanclub, The Soup Dragons, The Pearlfishers, The Vaselines…and all of the side-projects there-of; Hi-Fi Sean, The Primary Five, Future Pilot AKA, Superstar, Green Peppers, Linden etc etc. If Pete Frame were to produce a Rock Family Tree for the Bellshill scene, it’d be longer and more detailed than the Bayeaux Tapestry.

BMX Bandits are the very epitome of cult. As a favour to Alan McGee they took a youthful Oasis on tour with them, a mismatched yin-yang of non-macho and monobrowed mayhem if there ever was one. Kurt Cobain sported their t-shirts and was quoted as saying that if he could be in any other band, it’d be BMX Bandits. Duglas may well be the Scottish equivalent of Daniel Johnston, another of Kurt’s favourites and, like Duglas, a writer of simple, tear-soaked heart-jerkers, unpretentious and innocent.

In some quarters BMX Bandits were considered a kind of joke band, but to those in the know, their songs, in equal parts life-affirming and heart-breaking, are perfect little vignettes of proper Scottish soul, a considered mix of the fragility of sandpit-era Brian Wilson with a wide-eyed wonder at the world around them. Their 1991 album Star Wars is set for reissue on May 4th (obviously) via Last Night From Glasgow. Having received an early copy last week, I’ve been on something of a Bandits binge for the past few days; Come Clean, The Sailor’s Song, later songs like That Summer Feeling and Little Hands. All essential listening. The track though that’s really stopped me in my, er, tracks is Serious Drugs.

BMX BanditsSerious Drugs

Serious Drugs was released as a single in 1993 and appeared on the Life Goes On album. Both single and album failed to bother the charts. Nothing unusual in the world of the BMX Bandits, but in the case of Serious Drugs, it’s Serious Shrugs – the great lost number 1 hit that never was.

Voiced not by Duglas but by Joe McAlinden, Serious Drugs is a fantastic record, the sound perhaps of Teenage Fanclub respectfully tackling My Sweet Lord.

It’s there in that E minor to A major chord change. It’s there in the “ooh-la, ooh-la-la-laCome Up And See Me backing vocals. And it’s definitely there in that super-charged slide guitar part after the first bridge when Joe and Norman come over, just for a moment, all John ‘n Paul. The melding together of McAlinden’s and Blake’s voices is sublime, Joe high and keening, Norman low and honeyed. Serious love, indeed. And that spangled, high in the mix Big Star acoustic guitar…the compressed drums…the frugging bassline… Serious Drugs wears its influences proudly but politely in a way that someone like Noel Gallagher could never grasp.

By the time the saxophone solo has oozed and eased its way to the forefront and is leading the band to their rasping fadeout, you’re already thinking about playing it all again. Serious Drugs is seriously great. I suspect you knew that already too.

The Elements

The Elements Chapters 24-27

A young boy is caught shoplifting and is offered the choice of 8 months hard labour or taking part in a new reality TV show. Having never been on TV, this is his preferred option. The show is an elimination show but unknown to the public who watch every night and interact via social media 24 hours a day, the show is not what it seems. When the boys learn the true meaning of the word ‘elimination’, everything changes.

Aimed at readers aged 11-14, The Elements is a novel very much in need of an agent and a publisher and quite possibly a sympathetic editor – three things that have so far proven impossible to find. Rather than let the words sleep forever in a folder on my desktop, they’re being serialised at Plain Or Pan.

I appreciate you’re not quite the intended demographic for the book, but it’d be great if you could read it through the same eyes that first landed on a 2 Tone sleeve or a Topical Times Football Book. Positive comments welcome. Any and all offers of publication will be considered.

All previous chapters of The Elements can be found here.

The Elements
by Craig McAllister
Chapters 24-27

 

Arkwright pressed a button on his dashboard and the huge metal gates of Kimble parted. Once through, they closed again to the outside world. The silver saloon crunched smoothly past the fountain and parked outside the large black storm doors that opened into Kimble. He and John and Joseph emerged from the car as one. The doors slammed shut at the same time and they marched in time to the steps leading to Kimble’s doors. Crunch crunch crunch. Arkwright looked the length and breadth of the building as he walked. Most of the lights were out, as they should be at this time, but one or two lit windows here and there suggested activity. Staff offices, the hospital, the management area; all bathed the shrubbery outside in shallow yellow and white light.

John was first at the door and it was his fingerprint that opened it. The three stepped inside and stood in the hallway. There was no sign here of any wrongdoing. Arkwright nodded to his companions and they followed him up the staircase. At the top they turned a sharp right and headed straight for their shared office, the soles of Arkwright’s Italian leather shoes echoing through the glossy white corridor. Only once inside did they speak.

“Joseph, get the monitors up and running, will you? And override the main function – I want to see and hear into every room until we find out what’s been going on.”

Joseph set to work and within a minute, four large TV screens on the wall mirrored what he had on his laptop. The three of them studied what they could see.

On the first screen, remote video cameras showed images from every corner in Kimble. Camera 17b was the most interesting. It was located in the small anteroom behind the meeting room. Joseph zoomed in. Even in black and white, it wasn’t difficult to make out the flickering pictures of the bloody mess that was still there.

On the second screen, the thermal imaging showed activity inside one of the contestant’s rooms. The image quickly changed back and forth, the thermal glow intermittently replaced by dark grey night vision, like that of a nature programme showing badger activity. The boys’ eyes – it was hard to make out how many were in there – were little white dots. Occasionally the dots would flash. A quick tap on the keyboard confirmed the room belonged to Fowler, number 2. Using the overridden microphone, they could hear voices – they had no idea which voice belonged to who, but they did recognise the American twang of Zimmerman. He was in the room with them. This puzzled them somewhat.

On the third screen, Camera 48 had picked up the presence of the man and Cameron in the hospital. They were each sitting on the edge of a bed, heads down and engrossed in their phones. The hidden microphone picked up no voices.

On the fourth screen, The Elements social media feeds scrolled past in real time. Every post – currently around 8,000 a minute, according to the digital clicker in the corner of the screen, related to horror and chaos and rumours of killing. The police were tagged into many of the posts, so it wouldn’t be long before they showed up. Parents too would at this very moment be speeding in cars on motorways to Kimble, most travelling south, a few from the east. Not that they’d find it easily, even if they were in the general area of Kimble within an hour or two. Arkwright, John and Joseph would worry about them when the time came.

“Gentlemen,” Arwkright spoke. “What is your take on all of this?”

John answered immediately.

“It looks to me as though our man and his apprentice have spooked the boys and their shrink into sharing a room for the night. And I reckon the spooking might be due to what Camera 17b is showing us. Not only that, but it seems the public knows about it too. In fact, it appears that they might know more about this than us!”

Joseph had no more to add.

“So who do we speak to first? The man or the boys?”

There followed a grumbling, animated debate until it was decided. They’d speak to the boys first.

 

 

 

Chapter 25

Zimmerman explained the man’s plan. The man, he said, had asked him to find them. He wanted to strike a deal – Financial, boys! Big money! – that would see everyone – Zimmerman included – complete The Elements with no more threat of death. Yes, the boys would still be eliminated after each round until only one remained, but no-one, he promised, would die. For this to work, though, there would need to be an understanding that none of them could ever tell the true version of what had happened here tonight.

There followed much discussion and toing and froing between the boys and Zimmerman. Why hadn’t the man come down here to tell them this himself, they asked? Why should they trust him? Did the man think they were all stupid?! The Elements was finished, as far as they could see, said Alan, so they should just sit it out here until the authorities arrived. Tell the man that you can’t find us or something.

In the middle of the debate, Zimmerman’s phone rang. The room fell silent as he answered.

“No…not yet. I think I’ve located some thermal activity in the dormitories though. Yes…the boys’ rooms…no, I haven’t pinpointed which one. It won’t take me long. Yes, I will call you as soon as I have them.”

“What’d you tell him that for?!” shouted Fowler. “They’ll be halfway here by now.”

Zimmerman spoke, but no-one was listening. Panic ensued, boys clattering into one another in the dark, some wanting to take their chances and run. Reilly and Alan hid in the bathroom. Harrison remained focused on the door.

“Boys,” spoke Zimmerman over the chaos. “BOYS! I have already stalled the man for 20 minutes. You are lucky he is not at the door already.” He waited until the room had calmed once more. “Whether you really want to or not, I will message him and tell him you wish to discuss his offer. I can say that I will take you all to him. This might buy us more time, but not a lot. In the meantime, assuming you do not want to go through with the man’s idea, we need to think of a plan.”

Just as Arty finished up, there was a loud knock on the door. The room froze.

 

 

 

Chapter 26

Arkwright, John and Joseph had headed straight for the boys’ dormitories. Arkwright suggested that he alone do all the talking. They’d reached the door and
Joseph had knocked loudly. Not waiting for a reaction, Arkwright stepped closer to the door and raised his voice.

“Professor Zimmerman. This is Arkwright. Please allow me to enter.”

At the mention of Arkwright’s name, Zimmerman’s mood instantly lightened. “Boys,” he whispered excitedly. “Mr Arkwright is the boss of all of this. He hates the man even more than I do. He’ll know exactly what to do!”

The professor replied.

“Mr Arkwright! I’m so glad you’re here.”

“Professor Zimmerman. May we come in, please?”

The professor whispered once more to the boys, convincing them that opening the door to Arkwright would be a safe thing to do. On the others’ say so, Fowler opened his door. The three men entered. One of them tapped some numbers into the keypad by the door and the room was once again illuminated in sterile lighting.

The boys blinked, squinted and looked at the three strangers who now made the room very cramped indeed.

“Professor Zimmerman,” nodded Arkwright. “Boys. My name is Wilbur Arkwright. I run Kimble Productions, the company responsible for The Elements show. I understand there’s been a bit of, eh, an issue this evening?”

Everyone spoke at once until Connor was delegated to do all the talking. Silence fell once more as he explained through tears how the events had unfolded, from the three nominations to Stephen being voted out first, then the talk from the man that explained that each of them would batter Stephen to death, to the boys and Stephen being taken in to the room with the baseball bats and the shooting of Burgess, then Grayson when they refused to participate, to the ritualistic clubbing to death of a boy by his friends, before the man telling them to leave. Explained in detail, it made for a horrific true story.

“Here’s what I propose we do,” said Arkwright after quiet deliberation. “John and Joseph here will find the man and his accomplice, that Cameron boy, and will see to it that they are properly dealt with. None of you should be here. It is not safe. I will open the doors of Kimble right now and allow you to leave. Go to your rooms, pack what you need and meet back in here as soon as you can.

 

 

 

Chapter 27

The six boys were gone no longer than a few minutes before they were all once again in Fowler’s room. Only Zimmerman and Arkwright remained, with John and Joseph presumably having gone to find the man and Cameron. With clothes and possessions quickly stuffed into either luggage or Elements backpacks, they stood expectantly, awaiting Arkwright’s instructions.

“Ready?” He looked at them individually until each acknowledged him in the affirmative. “Follow me then. Professor Zimmerman? Will you accompany the boys and myself?”

With Arkwright leading and Zimmerman at the rear, the group made their way quickly through the corridors and into the reception hall at the main front doors.

As they did this, Cameron and the man, fed up with Zimmerman’s stalling and half-baked attempts to locate the boys, were making their way from the hospital wing to the dormitory area. If the boys were here, all they had to do, the man reasoned, was check each room until they found them.

“This is where we bid farewell, boys,” said Arkwright with encouragement. “Go! Run! There is a village a few kilometres beyond the trees. It has a railway station. I suggest you board the first train that passes through and get yourselves to safety.”

With this, he pushed wide the doors and opened his arms.

“Go! While you still can!”

The boys looked at Arkwright. They looked at Zimmerman.

“Go, boys! Please! This is the safest way,” said Zimmerman, reinforcing Arkwright’s instructions.

As they left, walking, not running, confused rather than committed, Connor turned to speak to them. He had no words to say. ‘Thanks’ would have been the obvious thing, but this didn’t feel like a ‘thanks’ sort of situation. They were being abandoned, thrown out, left to fend for themselves. Surely there was a safe area inside Kimble where they could be kept until the police arrived?

Connor turned his back on the men and quickened his step to catch up with the others. As he did so, the heavy wooden doors of Kimble shut with a dull thud behind him.

“Guys, this isn’t right.” Connor addressed the boys with a confident voice. “They shouldn’t be throwing us out and asking us to run away. I say we sit here, on the steps, until the police get here.”

The boys’ conversation became animated and heated. No way was Harrison staying here, he said. He was heading straight for the train station. Reilly was concerned, quite rightly, with the man and Cameron. They would find them, he reasoned, and when they did, they’d kill them all. Escape was the best idea. Alan and Fowler sided with Connor. Staying here, outside the house, where there was plenty of woodland and shrubbery to hide in should they need to, was the best idea. The police would be here at some point, at which they’d be safe. Campbell reasoned that staying together as a group was a far better idea than everyone going off individually, a theory heartily agreed by Alan and Fowler. After discussing the pros and cons, only Harrison remained unconvinced.

“I’ll see you pussies somewhere down the road, then,” he said. He waited a second or two longer, perhaps to see if anyone might talk him out of leaving, or even join him, before turning on his heels and jogging off. He was swallowed up by the black of the night and quickly, even his gravelly footsteps faded to nothingness too. Harrison was gone.

The others looked around, identified an area in the shadows and regrouped there. It was only then that the enormity of everything that had happened began to take hold. Conversation ceased and each boy was left in his own thoughts. We’ve murdered someone, realised Connor with increasing horror. He broke down once more and quietly sobbed, the silence around him seeming to magnify each incoherent gasp.

 

(more to follow in the future)

 

 

 

Double Nugget, Gone but not forgotten, Peel Sessions

Super Bowl

There’s something about those early Inspiral Carpets records that’s really great. And by early I’m talking about the pre-Tom Hingley, pre-chart, pre-baggy (eugh) records; tunes formed and fermented in garages, coated in a dusty Nuggets-inspired layer of authenticity and woven together through sheer punkish energy over anything resembling finesse.

Well, yes, Clint Boon was undeniably a whizz on the Farfisa and, given that he was at least 42 years older than the other Inspirals, it’s perfectly logical reasoning that he should be skilled on his instrument of choice whilst the others faffed around with open chords and one-finger bass lines played through the same sort of Peavey amps that my very own garage band would use to blast our own hamfisted first attempts at songwriting out into the neighbourhood, but what those early Inspirals perhaps lacked in subtlety led them to create a sound that was unlike anything I’d heard. I know now about Nuggets and what have ye, but back in 1988, the Inspiral Carpets were something of a revelation. To these ears, they were dynamite.

Lazy naysayers would often point to The Doors as the obvious point of reference. For me, though, Inspiral Carpets had much more in common with Teardrop Explodes. It’s there in the second-hand ’60s references fed through an anything-goes indie attitude, the organs and rat-a-tat drumming…the over-arching sense of melancholy that’s created in their maelstrom of noise.

I saw them live a handful of times in those pre-Hingley days and they were always worth catching. And the early records always came with wee folded flyers -‘Moos-letters‘ they were eventually called, with a pudding-bowled nod of the head to the trippin’ cow that would become their logo and record label. You could send away for tapes and t-shirts, proper cottage industry stuff, a product of the fanzine scene of the mid ’80s and a precursor to today’s Bandcamp era. Handily, each Moos-letter charted the band’s rise to success, from Glasgow Tech to Strathclyde University to Barrowlands to the SECC, that Dung 4 cassette steadily rising in price to a giddy £4.49 before being finally unavailable by the time of Moos-letter 5.

Like many of you reading this, I sat with a tape permanently ready to record anything of interest on the John Peel show. Peel loved the Inspiral Carpets. Between 1988 and ’91, they recorded four sessions for his show – that’s the same number as The Smiths in about half the time, although only a mere 20 sessions short of the total set by his beloved Fall.

Not long after seeing Inspiral Carpets open for the Wedding Present, they did their first Peel Session (August ’88) and I sat itchy-fingered by the Grundig music centre, expertly de-pressing the pause button in the exact moment between each track fading and Peel’s warm voice of encouragement announcing the name of the track just played.

That’s Inspiral Carpets in session tonight with ‘So Far’. Mighty fine stuff indeed. And we’ll be hearing more from them later on. Which I’m rather looking forward to.” I wish, in hindsight, that I’d thought to leave the tape running and capture more of his iconic voice.

Inspiral CarpetsGreek Wedding Song (Trainsurfing EP version)

One particular track on that session stood out. With a title that screamed ‘working title’, Greek Wedding Song is the perfect microcosm of that early Inspirals’ sound; shouty vocals atop that urgent, Teardrop Explodes-ish bassline and fizzing guitars buried deep in a swirl of ’60s-inspired swelling keys that fall somewhere between wasp-in-a-jar stylophone and noodling Ray Manzarek classicism.

In just a minute and a half, the band lays out their punkishly amateur stall, only for the tune to come waltzing back in after the false ending on a ne-ver a – never a frown Golden Brown coda. ‘It’s a bit short for a Peel Session, lads‘, Clint Boon might’ve said beforehand. ‘Let’s stretch it out by going full-on Stranglers for another minute or so.’ Influences worn proudly on sleeve, it’s a cracker.

That full session from ’88 can be heard below…

Peel Session – first broadcast 1st August 1988

Clint and one of his roadies in 1989.

The Elements

The Elements Chapters 20-23

A young boy is caught shoplifting and is offered the choice of 8 months hard labour or taking part in a new reality TV show. Having never been on TV, this is his preferred option. The show is an elimination show but unknown to the public who watch every night and interact via social media 24 hours a day, the show is not what it seems. When the boys learn the true meaning of the word ‘elimination’, everything changes.

Aimed at readers aged 11-14, The Elements is a novel very much in need of an agent and a publisher and quite possibly a sympathetic editor – three things that have so far proven impossible to find. Rather than let the words sleep forever in a folder on my desktop, they’re being serialised at Plain Or Pan.

I appreciate you’re not quite the intended demographic for the book, but it’d be great if you could read it through the same eyes that first landed on a 2 Tone sleeve or a Topical Times Football Book. Positive comments welcome. Any and all offers of publication will be considered.

All previous chapters of The Elements can be found here.

The Elements
by Craig McAllister
Chapters 20-23

 

The man and Cameron had removed the bodies of Burgess, Anderson and McPherson. They now lay in the morgue within the hospital wing of Kimble. Cameron busied himself on his tablet. The man sat on the edge of an undressed hospital bed and contemplated. How things would play out from here was still unclear. The man knew that by now, the boys would have used social media to alert the world to what had happened. He could still deactivate all their accounts with the touch of a button, but the damage had been done. It was just a matter of how quickly the authorities got here. Borrowing Cameron’s tablet, he deactivated their accounts anyway, partly because he could and partly because there was always a slim chance that the police would be tardy in showing up. He hadn’t finished with the others yet. He had to get to them before the authorities, or worse, the three grey men in grey suits. The man feared those old men more than anything else. His career in television was hanging by a precarious thread, but if he acted right, he might yet save it.

Did he need Cameron to help him? He’d certainly been useful when removing the bodies. And he might be useful later, if the room – the bloody scene of three senseless crimes – required sterilising. But he was so annoying, right there by his side all the time. He’d had loose intentions of moulding Cameron into a version of himself, but he’d quickly thought better of that idea. The boy was too trigger-happy, too eager to fire at will rather than treat each hunt as sport. And he wasn’t that great a marksman either. Truth be told, he was a bit of a liability, was Cameron. He would have to go.

The man needed to get the other boys back under his control. This whole event could be explained with a bit of collaboration and creative storytelling from the boys, he rationalised. If they all colluded, there was still a chance that the show might continue. Three eliminated contestants instead of one could be explained, he theorised, but that would require a story that they would all stick to. He could promise to make it up to the boys, maybe syphon off some of those Elements shares he had been given and pay the boys in cold, hard cash; silence money, bribery, whatever you chose to call it -he could buy both their silence and his future. He thought of Zimmerman. How he hated that man, but he did have a manner that the boys connected with. The professor might be the difference between getting the boys back on side or this whole thing imploding. He took satisfaction in dialling his number, knowing that Zimmerman was an early bedder, imaging the look on his face when the shambling professor saw the caller ID of who was calling.

 

 

Chapter 21

It was Alan who first realised his accounts had been deactivated and his service cut. One by one, all the boys realised that they were now disconnected from the world. The hope was that someone, somewhere had by now acted on their pleas.

“They know,” said Harrison. “They know we’ve sent messages, so they’ve killed our phones. They’ll be coming to get us right now.” Harrison stared into the dark, eyes trained on the inside of Fowler’s door. The others sat in silence, replaying the night’s events, praying that some sort of rescue operation was underway.

 

 

Chapter 22

Wilbur Arkwright quickly got dressed. He didn’t want to wake his sleeping wife, so he’d taken his grey three-piece suit out onto the freshly painted hall landing and was getting dressed there when his phone lit up for the second time. It was another message from Zimmerman. The psychologist’s first text had been straight to the point – he thought he should know that the man had flipped, that he and Cameron had been running around Kimble with guns and that some of the boys ‘might have been hurt’. The second message conveyed the news that there was a good chance that some of the boys were in fact dead, that the man wasn’t finished and that maybe he should get himself along to Kimble.

As he tightened his belt on his new made-to-measure suit trousers, he cursed himself for not terminating the man’s contract long before now. He’d easily been the best man for the job, but once he’d got to grips with its demands, his true personality began to take hold. At first, Wilbur and the others turned a blind eye. The show was generating more money than anyone had ever imagined, and, with a new house and two new cars to show for it, greed quickly got in the way of ethics.

Wilbur headed down the creaky stairs – ‘quaint’, the estate agent had called them, hoping that his wife would remain sleeping. In his kitchen he straightened his tie and set up a video call.

“John,” he said croakily. “Joseph. We have a problem.”

John and Joseph listened carefully as Wilbur outlined the situation as he knew it.

“I expect the police will be involved by this point,” he said. “Which is why we need to get down there before they do.”

Self-preservation made greedy people do irrational things. The simplest, most straightforward, most honest thing to do would have been to call the police themselves, give them the keys to Kimble and let them do their job. But being neither honest nor straightforward, this wasn’t quite what Wilbur, John and Joseph did.

 

 

 

Chapter 23

Zimmerman padded through the corridors from his sleeping quarters to his office. He locked the door behind himself and logged into his computer. Singing unselfconsciously, he found the application he was looking for, opened it up and, using the application’s thermal imaging capabilities, set about trying to locate the boys. It didn’t take long for him to find them, the bright orange and red glow emanating from one of the boys’ rooms giving them up. He made a mental note of the room number, logged off his computer and left his office, locking the door before heading to Fowler’s room.

As he walked, he messaged Arkwright.

How far away are you?

He then messaged the man.

I haven’t been able to find them, yet. Still working on it. Arty.

This would buy him time, but not a lot. The man was impatient at the best of times. His phone vibrated gently.

We’ll be there in 20 minutes. W.

Zimmerman returned a thumbs up emoji and continued on his way. His phone vibrated a second time. Seeing it was another text from the man, he chose to ignore it. Zimmerman busied his way through the softly lit corridors, crossed the middle figure-of-eight point and arrived at Fowler’s door.

He stood outside and listened. If he didn’t know better, he would have thought the room was empty. Zimmerman had a master key. It allowed him to access certain areas without anyone ever need knowing. He considered using it now but feared for what might await on the other side of the door. The boys were running scared. They were expecting the man and Cameron to show up at any time. They could be waiting behind the door to ambush anyone who might burst in. He didn’t fancy receiving a crack on the head from that boy Harrison.

Zimmerman knocked gently. Silence. He knocked again and spoke.

“Boys. It’s Arty Zimmerman. I’m here by myself. Can I come in?”

Shuffling and muffled voices could be heard. They spoke for a bit before answering.

“How do we know you’re alone?” spoke a voice. It was dull and far-off sounding from the other side of the thick door, but Zimmerman recognised it as Stewart’s.

“You must believe me, Connor Stewart.”

Silence.

Zimmerman spoke again.

“Give me your mobile number and I will call you on video. I can show you that no-one else is with me.”

More muffled voices. A pause. Then Connor spoke, giving Zimmerman his number. Asking him to repeat it, Zimmerman keyed the number directly into his phone and pressed the ‘video call’ option. His own sporadically whiskered face filled the screen. Connor, surrounded by the other boys, accepted the call. Zimmerman’s face now filled his screen. Connor spoke.

“Show your camera up and down the corridor, please, Professor Zimmerman.”

Zimmerman turned his phone one way and another, confirming that he was alone. The call was disconnected, more discussion took place between the boys and eventually, Fowler slid open the door.

Zimmerman stepped through, aware of Harrison holding a lamp above his head, ready to put it into action should he do anything sudden and unexpected. He raised his hands out in front of himself.

“Please, boys. I am on your side. I want to help you.”

 

(more to follow in the future)

Get This!, Hard-to-find, Sampled

Someday We’ll Evaporate Together

One of the high points of lockdown (pts 1 and 2) has been the consumption of new music. I’m a particular fan of Bandcamp Friday, when on the first Friday of the month, Bandcamp waives their usual artist fee and, with no string-pulling middle man, the artists benefit by an extra 15%. If a record costs you twenty quid, the artist gets every penny of your twenty quid; good business for both sides in the transaction.

I took a bit of a punt on Hifi Sean‘s ‘Ft.‘ compilation – only half of those twenty notes, as it goes – and I’m glad I did. Hifi Sean is Sean Dickson, one-time vocalist with the Soup Dragons and Ft. is a double album of Sean-produced electronica where a whole gamut of disparate guest vocalists pop up to add their recognisable voices and/or playing to the music. With collaborations involving Crystal Waters, Norman Blake and David McAlmont, an elastic-band bass-popping Bootsy Collins, Alan Vega and Soft Cell’s Dave Ball amongst others, it’s quite the pick ‘n mix. But the standout in what is undoubtedly a bountiful bunch is the Yoko Ono-voiced In Love With Life.

It’s astonishing. Ambient, textured and glossy, it’s a beautiful mesh of Pet Shop Boys’ minor key minimalism and the sort of dragged-out dark beats that Underworld might choose to close an album with.

Yoko OnoIn Love With Life

A good marker for the sort of music Sean has been creating in recent years, it’s as far removed from both his old band and Yoko’s more artistic endeavours as you could possibly get. Synthetic and computerised, sterile yet soulful, it’s a juxtaposition of spoken word against synth washes and echoing snares that triggers some sort of deeply conscientious nostalgia for simpler times and clearer values. Seriously, it does.

Yoko’s vocals are lovely, taking centre stage when they need to before dropping out to let the music wring your heart dry. It’s like an audible yoga trip or something; cleansing and spiritual and, despite the subject matter, life-affirming in many ways.

I hate thinking that our civilisation and the culture that we’ve created in 5000…10,000 years, we’re trying to destroy it.

It saddens me because

I am in really in love with life

and with people

They’re beautiful.

 

That’s it. That’s the message. We’re destroying everything that’s sacred…and standing back watching as we do so.

Yoko’s words are almost haiku in economy. She writes simplistically yet she says it with a real, undeniable gentle love, an extension of the words she first wrote in Grapefruit in the mid ’60s when she said, ‘Listen to the sound of the earth turning.

I assumed the Yoko vocal to be a sample but part of me would love to believe that Sean and Yoko (Sean and Yoko!) sat down together in some small studio or other and recorded it together, he at the faders while she recited her simple poetry atop the glistening beats. It’s all rather cryptic, though, as Sean told me.

“Myself and Yoko decided we would not reveal how we made this track, as the mystery of it adds to the magic of it all.

All I can say is that it was based on a poem Yoko wrote and we both worked together to make it work with the music. I wrote the track around the concept of the poem, with Yoko deciding where she wanted to place the words.

She loved the finished track and in 2016 featured it as part of the Ono Lennon ‘Give Peace A Chance’ campaign.”

So there y’go.

There’s also a remix/revision (track 7, below) on Ft.’s sister album Excursions. It’s currently a tenner on Bandcamp too, and if you wait until Friday to order, Hifi Sean will receive all of what you pay. You really should buy it.

In Love With Life in both its forms is terrific. Hippy, peace-loving and pleasantly at odds with the mess of the world around us, it’s the Balearic end-of-set closer that never was. I reckon you’ll play it forever.

*You can buy Ft. at Hifi Sean’s Bandcamp page here.

The Elements

The Elements Chapters 18 and 19

A young boy is caught shoplifting and is offered the choice of 8 months hard labour or taking part in a new reality TV show. Having never been on TV, this is his preferred option. The show is an elimination show but unknown to the public who watch every night and interact via social media 24 hours a day, the show is not what it seems. When the boys learn the true meaning of the word ‘elimination’, everything changes.

Aimed at readers aged 11-14, The Elements is a novel very much in need of an agent and a publisher and quite possibly a sympathetic editor – three things that have so far proven impossible to find. Rather than let the words sleep forever in a folder on my desktop, they’re being serialised at Plain Or Pan.

I appreciate you’re not quite the intended demographic for the book, but it’d be great if you could read it through the same eyes that first landed on a 2 Tone sleeve or a Topical Times Football Book. Positive comments welcome. Any and all offers of publication will be considered.

All previous chapters of The Elements can be found here.

The Elements
by Craig McAllister
Chapters 18 & 19

 

The boys didn’t go to their rooms. They made their way instead to the recreation area. Seated on the sofas, in the dark and bathed in the glow of the expectant arcade machines, the six of them tried to make sense of what had happened and what might happen next. Three of them were dead. The rest of them might be dead before the morning. On Rhys’s suggestion, they decided to hideout in one of their rooms. It was possible that the man might assume they’d followed his instructions. If they were out of sight, they may be out of mind too. If they were caught in the recreation room, Rhys said, there’d be hell to pay. It was likely he’d catch up with them before long – a quick check of the hidden cameras would reveal their whereabouts – which meant that this time right now was precious and shouldn’t be wasted.

Jumpy and alert, they made their way back along the familiar white corridors. Lights out had been and gone, so their way was lit not by the usual crisp light but by subtle uplighters at regular intervals on the floor. They arrived at Fowler’s room first and he ushered them all inside.

“Good evening, Andrew Fowler. It is now after lights out, so I do not have the authority to illuminate the room. Your alarm is set for 0730. Please be ready for breakfast at 0815.”

Andy flicked the middle finger into thin air. With the six boys inside, the room felt tiny and instantly too warm. Connor spoke.

“Hi. Is it possible for you to deauthorise the camera and microphones in the room, please?”

Five heads turned in the dark to look at him.

“What d’you mean, mate?” asked Fowler quizzically.

“You’re being filmed in here. I’ve asked her to turn the cameras and microphones off.”

“What?!? You can’t do that, can you?!?”

“You can.”

“You can’t!”

“You can!”

“Then how come she hasn’t acknowledged your request?”

“Because she probably responds only to your voice. Go on, ask her. And be quick. We don’t want anyone listening in to us.”

Fowler looked up at the ceiling, towards the general area of the central light.

“Hello again. It’s me, Andrew. Can you please deauthorise the camera in the room, please?”

“All cameras and microphones,” interrupted Connor.

“Sorry, hello again. It’s me, Andrew, again. Can you please deauthorise all the cameras and all the microphones in the room, please? Thank you.”

Fowler turned to look at Connor as if to say, see, it doesn’t work, when the unseen voice replied.

“Deauthorising camera 1 and mic 1 now. Deauthorising camera 2 and mic 2 now. Deauthorising camera 3 and mic 3 now. Deauthorising camera 4 and mic 4 now.”

She continued until all eight cameras and microphones were turned off. The room was silent again.

“I had no idea you could do that,” uttered Fowler, mainly to himself. Nor, it appeared, did anyone else. Even in the dark, Connor could see the realisation dawn on all their faces. The possibilities this would have given them over the past month or so!  

“Right. Now no-one can hear or see us…for the time being. Does anyone have a plan?”

Of all people, it was Harrison who hatched a sensible idea. He recommended they bombard their social media accounts with pleas for help. Every boy had his phone out and was tapping online before he’d even finished what he had to say.

“Tell the world exactly what’s going on!” he encouraged. “Someone somewhere must be able to do something.”

“No names though!” interrupted Reilly. “We can’t have Anderson’s parents finding out online that their son has been murdered. Or Burgess’s. Choose your words carefully.”

A frenzy of thumbs and fingers sent multiple messages out into the ether. Messages begging for help, initially, and then once those had been sent out, more detailed ones outlining what was really going on at Kimble.

“Turn on your location services too,” commanded Connor. “And send out a new picture – any picture, even from here in the dark. The co-ordinates of the picture will let everyone know exactly where we are.”

There was a collective wha…? amongst the boys at Connor’s brilliance.

“That’s Rhys’s idea – clever, innit?”

Rhys gave Connor an approving nod, an unspoken thanks for giving him credit. The replies were coming in rapidly. Every boy’s mobile device was receiving messages far quicker than they could read them.

As the replies mounted up, the boys started sending out location-tagged selfies. Grey, fuzzy and impossible to make out, the important part was the geographic tag at the bottom. After ten or so minutes, the frenzied posting abated.

“Might be worth sending your folks a message too,” suggested Alan. “You could call, but…” he looked around, “…there’s not much in the way of privacy.”

The boys quietly tapped away on their phones, sending messages of love alongside pleas for help that were direct but not too upsetting for their parents. In the midst of it all, Campbell’s phone rang. Every boy jumped, spooked at the sudden and unexpected loudness of it.

“It’s OK – it’s my mum!”

He answered and the room fell silent. Rhys turned his back for privacy, but the boys listened in any way.

“Yes…listen…yes, I’m alright…yes, honestly, I am…Listen to me. Listen! (pause) You need to tell the police. We are in danger here. We’re OK for now….Listen, mum, don’t interrupt…We’re hiding, we’re safe. We’ve been sending out pictures. The pictures are all tagged with the location of Kimble….Kimble… K-I-M-B-L-E…Kimble mum, it’s where we are just now, it’s where the TV show is made. Yes….yes…uh-huh…no…ye -listen! LISTEN! SEND FOR HELP BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE…. I love you too. Please hurry. Love you. Love you.”

Rhys hung up.

“Jeez. She’s hysterical.”

“Is she getting help though?” Fowler asked.

“Yes, she’s phoned the police.”

“What do we do now?” asked Alan to no-one in particular.

“We wait,” snarled Harrison. “If they try to take us, we go down fighting.”

 

Chapter 19

The switchboard operator at the Police Headquarters had never had a night quite like it. Normally she’d deal with 3 or 4 calls an hour. Tonight, her phone was red hot. The system couldn’t cope. Lights flashed on panels, indicating multiple calls waiting. No sooner had she answered a call than her headset announced another one incoming on another line. All the calls were of the same nature. Something about a disturbance at a place called Kimble, the place where that Elements TV show was being made. She enjoyed watching The Elements. Her favourites were Alan and McPherson. She wanted to mother poor Alan and she laughed at McPherson’s stupid humour. She’d sat on the sofa just last night after the flag had been won and sent Stephen a message saying she hoped he was alright and not too sore from falling in the hole. He hadn’t yet replied, but he’d have been tired last night, she reasoned. Maybe when he had more time, she’d get a message back from him. The operator’s husband had tutted at her. Reality TV, he said, was not for him, even if he’d watched The Elements every night right there beside her on the leather sofa.

After 20 or so calls, the operator put the line on hold. All calls, including one from Alan and one from Connor were backed up in a queueing system. The operator hesitated before calling her superior this late at night, but she thought he should know about this. He had the authority to send a couple of policemen round to check things out and it sounded as if they might be needed on this occasion.

Her superior tried not to sound irritated by her call. He told her she’d done the right thing and that he’d take it from here. Right away, he said, they’d send a car out to check up on things. Actually, he said, they’d probably need to try and locate Kimble on a map first. He’d never heard of the place until this Elements show had started. Did she have a postcode for the sat-nav, he wondered? The operator didn’t, but she wasn’t to mind, her superior told her. It surely wouldn’t be too hard to find.

 

(more to follow in the future)

Get This!

File Sharing

You know that scene in Goodfellas when Ray Liotta’s character Henry is out of his head on cocaine and convinced he’s being followed everywhere by police helicopters? Soundtracked by a fast-cut montage that jolts from Nilsson’s Jump Into The Fire to Mick Jagger’s Memo From Turner to The Who’s Magic Bus, it’s a great marriage of music and film, the trio of FM radio rockers the perfect foil for Henry’s descent into uncontrollable paranoia. As perfectly pitched as the movie’s soundtrack is, from streetcorner doo-wop standards and Italian crooners via Spector’s Wall of Sound to classic rock as the story moves through the decades, I think Martin Scorsese missed a trick. How he never thought to find a space for the Rolling StonesFingerprint File has always baffled me. For a director with such a handle on how to splice music and movies together, it would have been a perfect fit.

Rolling StonesFingerprint File

All open-tuned, phased and flanged riffing with the odd tickle of wah-wah, Fingerprint File is serpentine funk rock; Sly and the Family Rolling Stones, perhaps. It’s Mick and Keith on guitars, Mick holding down the choppy open-handed rhythm while Keith splashes multiple colours of blooze funk on top. Bill Wyman hands bass duties to Mick Taylor in what would be his last recorded input for the Stones – and, with a fluid and wandering freestyle, the boy Taylor bows out in exquisite fashion.

Wyman moves over to synth, his vamping chords ghosting in and out of the thick funk stew inbetween the ubiquitous Nicky Hopkins on piano and Billy Preston doing his best Stevie Wonder routine on the clavinet. At the back, the ever-reliable Charlie, the true boss of the Stones, is loose and louche, his brilliantly-recorded airy and alive drums a tiny half-beat behind the others – all the more important for adding that general air of flung-together grooviness that runs through the whole thing like everything else the Stones touched once their hair had grown in direct proportion to the length of their songs. What a sound!

Jagger’s vocal is pure creeping coke paranoia, confident and self-assured, but with one eye over his tiny-vested shoulder. In fact, given the stuffy nose he sings most of it with (there’s even the odd ssssniff-ff now and again), I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you told me he’d had half the GDP of Columbia stuffed up his nostrils prior to he or Keith pressing ‘record’ at the mixing desk. Over the course of the track he runs the whole range of his schtick; he sings, he drawls, he sleazeballs, he pronounces the end of every line with exaggerated comic effect (‘haaa-yee-aaa-igh‘, ‘daaa-yee-aaa-own‘, ‘ultra vaaa-hlet-laaa-eee-aa-ight‘), at one part he breaks into a wiseguy, street-smart proto-rap. It’s quite the performance.

The lyric, no doubt inspired by Watergate and Nixon and the political climate of the mid 70s is presciently on the mark for the 21st century; you know my moves…you’re listening to me…feelin’ followed…feelin’ tagged…some little jerk in the FBI keeping papers on me, six feet high….it gets me down…these days it’s all secrecy and noooo privacy… All perfect Goodfellas material too, as it goes.

Good night, sleep tight, whispers Jagger at the end, knowing full well that that’s the last thing you’ll be able to do. If you’re not wide eyed at the thought of being snooped on 24/7, that groove’ll make you want to return the needle to the start of the track and play it just one more time. As far as underplayed Stones’ classics go, Fingerprint File is one of their very best.

The Elements

The Elements Chapter 17

A young boy is caught shoplifting and is offered the choice of 8 months hard labour or taking part in a new reality TV show. Having never been on TV, this is his preferred option. The show is an elimination show but unknown to the public who watch every night and interact via social media 24 hours a day, the show is not what it seems. When the boys learn the true meaning of the word ‘elimination’, everything changes.

Aimed at readers aged 11-14, The Elements is a novel very much in need of an agent and a publisher and quite possibly a sympathetic editor – three things that have so far proven impossible to find. Rather than let the words sleep forever in a folder on my desktop, they’re being serialised at Plain Or Pan.

I appreciate you’re not quite the intended demographic for the book, but it’d be great if you could read it through the same eyes that first landed on a 2 Tone sleeve or a Topical Times Football Book. Positive comments welcome. Any and all offers of publication will be considered.

All previous chapters of The Elements can be found here.

The Elements

by Craig McAllister

Chapter 17

 

 

In full view of Stephen, the man picked up the box of baseball bats – ‘he really means this’ thought Connor, still hoping this was all an elaborate joke – and walked towards a door behind the screen. Cameron opened it for him and the man went through. Cameron continued to hold the door. Stephen happily followed. The other boys held back. They looked at one another. No-one said a thing. Fear was etched on every face. Eyebrows were raised. Quizzical looks exchanged. Staring eyes. Tense neck muscles.

Harrison was the first of the eight to go. Slowly, the others followed behind. Connor was last through the door, welcomed into this new room by a relaxed and smiling Cameron. It was a sterile white room. No windows. The only door in and out was the one they’d just used. There was no furniture and definitely no tables of canapes and sparkling water. The man spoke again.

“Mr McPherson. We will leave you here to say your final goodbyes.”

Stephen looked puzzled.

“There’s no time for food and drinks, boy,” said the man. He stepped aside, allowing Stephen to see the box of baseball bats.

Stephen continued to look puzzled.

“While you were away galivanting with the press, I gave the other contestants a short lesson in Roman history. Do you know, McPherson, where the word ‘decimated’ has its origins?”

Stephen looked puzzled still.

“Burgess. Remind McPherson for me, will you? There’s a good chap.”

Burgess remained silent.

“Mr Burgess. I asked you to tell Mr McPherson the origin of the word ‘decimated’.”

Burgess lowered his head

“Mr Burgess! Are you awake, boy?! Then answer me!”

Burgess kept his head lowered and shook it.

“No? What do you mean, ‘no’? ‘No’ as in, you don’t know the answer or ‘no’ as in you won’t say.”

Burgess said nothing and continued shaking his head.

“Very well, Burgess. Cameron?”

There was a sudden, shocking crack. Burgess fell to the ground, a pool of blood spreading slowly from where he’d been shot in the neck. He was dead, of that there was no doubt. The boys, Stephen included, cowered together.

The man began to shout.

“Look what you’ve made me do! This wasn’t part of the plan! Burgess! Pfffft! Now I’ll have to come up with an elaborate story to cover your untimely death, you irresponsible little bastard. Does anyone else, ANYONE ELSE, plan on following in Burgess’s footsteps?”

The man, wild-eyed and nostrils flared, dared the assembled group to defy him. An edgy silence took hold. Connor wanted to look at the crumpled form of Burgess but dared not even blink. Cameron continued to lean on the wall by the door, as if nothing had happened. Only the gun, still smoking silently in his right hand gave his actions away.

“So, now, McPherson.” The man was calmer again. “The other contestants will bid you farewell. Cameron and I shall leave you all in peace.”

Cameron opened the door and the two of them left.

Connor dared himself now to look at the poor, dead body of Burgess. His neck was pooling quickly, crimson blood spreading slowly across the stark white floor. He looked quickly away, catching the eye of McPherson.

“Wh-what the fu-fuh is going on?” asked Stephen, looking first at Connor, then at Reilly and continuing around the group until he’d looked at them all. No-one dared eyeball him or reply.

“Is this s-s-some sort of s-sick j-joke?”

Silence.

“Are you going to…?” He couldn’t bring himself to say what he was thinking….couldn’t believe he was thinking what he couldn’t say.

More silence. Grayson coughed. A terrified Alan could feel warm, fresh urine cloud across his groin. Connor searched his mind for the right words to say. Harrison spoke first.

“Yeah. He wants us to kill you. And I say we do. Cos if we don’t…” Harrison looked at the corpse of Burgess, lying dead in his own blood. He didn’t need to finish his sentence.

Stephen’s face twisted in silent anguish.

“What? No! NO! They told me my mum and dad would be here to pick me up in an hour!”

Stephen now began to cry. Angry, uncontrollable crying. Proper snot ‘n slevvers stuff, punctuated by incomprehensible babble and jerking gulps. The group remained silent, despondent, ineffective. All except Harrison. By now, he’d picked up one of the baseball bats and was holding it out in front of him, testing its weight, finding its sweet spot. Without even being aware of doing so, most of the boys took a step back. Harrison began to swing. Whoosh! Whoosh! The others now fanned out as far away from him as possible. Whoosh! Whoosh! In his haste to get to the wall, Fowler clumsily limped through some of Burgess’s blood and slid. He was lucky not to fall into the mess on the floor. Whoosh! Whoosh!

Harrison approached Stephen with menace and intent. Stephen hardly noticed or, if he did, he hardly seemed to care.

“Whoah, Harrison!” Connor suddenly found his voice and said aloud what everything else was thinking. Harrison wheeled and stared him down.

“Shut it, you, or you’ll be next!”

“He’s right, Harrison,” said Reilly. “Put it down, man.”

Harrison turned and swung the bat in front of Reilly. Whoosh! Whoosh!

“I’ve a good mind to batter you first, Reilly. ‘Can’t read a map! Ha! Ha! Ha!’ Aye – can’t read a map, but I can swing (whoosh!) a base (whoosh!) ball (whoosh!) bat (whoosh!)!!”

With that, Harrison swung a full swing in Reilly’s direction. He hit the wall. A chunk of white plaster fell. A tennis ball-sized indent remained, jagged cracks of plaster zipping out of it like the cracks on the shell of a hard-boiled egg, Reilly’s head a few centimetres from the epicentre.

Harrison looked at the damage on the wall and the terror on Reilly’s face.

“I’ll finish with you later.”

With that, he turned again to Stephen and without warning cracked him low across the kneecaps. Stephen screamed in agony, falling at once to the floor. Harrison raised the bat above his head and was in the process of bringing it down on McPherson’s skull when Reilly blindsided him and tackled him from the side. Harrison and bat parted company and he and Reilly went skidding across the floor. The other boys became animated. Grayson pinned Harrison’s ankles. Alan held him down at the neck, pinning him with the dropped baseball bat, a hand at each end. Rhys kneeled on Harrison’s back with all his weight. Harrison tried to wriggle free, of course, but strong as he was, he wasn’t strong enough to out-muscle the three other boys.

Connor sat with Stephen. Both legs were smashed and broken, hideously jutting out at wonky angles from the knees. Stephen was hysterical. Crying, shouting, wailing incomprehensible words and noises.

“F-f-f-f-f-f-f-Euuurrrggh! Aaaagggh! Y Y Y You b-a-a-a-st-a-a-a-d. Gnnnn, schh, pfffff….”

His ginger hair was matted to his forehead. Tears and snot caked his cheeks and lips. Connor tried to soothe him, but Stephen needed a doctor, not an arm around him.

Fowler spoke.

“Calm it! Everybody!” He held his hands in front of himself in defence. “This is totally messed up. I say we ask them to get a doctor for Stephen. And Burgess. Although….” His voice tailed off. “And he (pointing at Harrison) needs to go too. He needs to be kept well away from the rest of us.”

“I agree,” said Connor. “Stephen needs to get to hospital now!”

Alan, still at Harrison’s neck spoke next.

“They’ll kill us all! They will! When they come back in here, we’re all dead.”

Harrison tried to speak now, but with Alan still holding him down with the baseball bat, it was impossible.

“Let him speak, Alan, pal,” suggested Connor. Reilly selected a bat from the box on the floor and stood menacingly over Harrison, just in case.

“It’s what I tried to tell you, idiots,” snarled Harrison, his cheek still held fast to the floor by Alan’s baseball bat. “It’s kill or be killed.”

Outside, the man and Cameron could hear parts of the conversation – not every word, but enough to know that their idea for elimination wasn’t quite going to plan.

“We’ll give them another couple of minutes, Cameron. I was quite encouraged by the banging and shouting a minute ago. Less so now. We’ll let the group decide on their course of action and, if necessary, we’ll step in. Do you have those photos on your device?”

Cameron nodded in the affirmative.

Inside, Rhys offered a suggestion.

“How about we wait for them to come back in and we ambush them with the baseball bats – four boys on each of them…” Looking at the carnage around him, he corrected himself. “Three or four boys on each of them. They’re armed, but we’ll have the element of surprise.”

Connor thought this was a reasonable option.

“What does everyone else think?” asked Connor.

“I agree with Rhys,” said Alan.

“So do I,” said Connor.

“Me too,” said Reilly. “But I think we’re wasting our time.”

The others – Grayson, Harrison and Fowler were non-comital.

“I think,” said Fowler after a pause, “that we need a doctor for Stephen. Surely when they come back in, they’ll see what’s happened and stop it. They’ll need to get a doctor – this will be being streamed live. They can’t let us fight one another until people die.”

“People are already dead!” shouted Connor.

“And we’ll be next!” reiterated Alan.

“There’s no way this is going out online,” said Rhys. “The man shot Burgess dead! They’ll never show that.”

“No. No, they won’t.” It was the man. He and Cameron were now back in the room. “None of this will ever be seen on any screen. What happens in here will remain in here forever.”

The man surveyed the scene. Harrison was on the floor, a crimson trail smeared between his left knee and Burgess’s neck. Campbell was kneeling beside him, gripping a baseball bat. Alan was still holding Harrison’s neck down with his bat too. Burgess lay dead in a pool of blood. McPherson was propped, half-sat, against the wall, his legs broken and bent and totally useless. The others were infighting and arguing amongst themselves. They were fragile and ripe for the taking.

“Why is this boy even still alive?” the man queried, pointing to Stephen. “I asked you to kill him.”

Harrison tried to speak once more, but Alan kept his weight on the bat. The man ignored both of them and selected a bat from the box.

“You!” He pointed it at Grayson. “Take this and beat him.” He threw the bat towards Grayson and Grayson, more out of surprise than compliance, caught it.

All eyes fell on Grayson. He held the bat limply by his side. Stephen watched silently and fearfully from the other side of the room.

“Beat him!” The demand came loud and clear a second time. Grayson flinched at this.

“Go on!”

Grayson looked at Stephen. His swollen, red eyes pleaded him not to acquiesce with the man’s command. Grayson held the bat out as Harrison had done before, letting it bounce up and down in his hands until he got the measure of it. All eyes were on Grayson and what he was about to do. He took two steps forward and, just when it appeared he might actually carry out his order, he stopped. Stephen audibly moaned. All other boys held their breath.

“Beat him, boy! One hit and pass the bat on. We’ll all have a shot until McPherson is dead.”

With this, Stephen let out a long, low feral moan. He started to speak more words. Most were incomprehensible but one or two could be understood.

“N-n-n-n-no! Gzzzzht! Spffflnjja. N-no. Ma-ma-ma-ma-mum. Gzzzht! Ma-ma-ma dad. Puh-puh-puh-puh-leazzzze.”

“Your mummy and your daddy aren’t coming to rescue you, I’m afraid, McPherson. Y’see, around the time you were being voted boy least likely to by your global fanbase, your parents were involved in a terrible car crash. There’s no easy way to tell you this, but they both died at the scene.” The man paused, savouring the reaction. “They’re gone, McPherson. As you too will shortly be yourself.”

Visibly irritated by the banshee howl of despair that followed, the man paused until he had everyone’s attention again. Confusion mixed with silence and wounded animal noises from the injured boy made for a charged atmosphere. Had they really killed Stephen’s parents, wondered Connor. Really?

“Cameron. Bring me your device, thank you.”

Cameron stepped into the middle of the room and handed the man the tablet with the photographic proof of the car crash. The man jabbed and tapped at the screen, bringing up the images.

“It’s a Ford Spectacular your dad drives, McPherson, is it not? Registration WK67 CSM?”

Stephen’s choked gargle was enough to confirm, but the man showed him the first picture all the same. Stephen looked at the digital image of the twisted former car, front end crumpled like an accordion, stuck in a tree that had half fallen over, the hatchback boot sprung open. The driver’s side window had a spider’s web crack all the way across it.

“U-u-uh-huh,” sobbed Stephen.

“And is this your father?”

He swiped the screen then showed Stephen the slumped form of his dad, head at an unnatural angle across the steering wheel, his right eye obscured by dark blood.

Stephen continued to sob.

“And is this your mother?”

She lay back in her seat, nose pointing north, her mouth agape, seat belt mostly embedded in her neck, as dead as Stephen’s dad beside her.

“So, you see. No-one is coming to rescue you, McPherson. In fact,” the man turned to talk to the others, “no one is coming to rescue any of you. You are all only children, yes? None of you has brothers or sisters?”

Connor had no siblings. He looked around the assembled boys. Their nods confirmed the man’s statement.

“As you are eliminated, so too shall your parents. When the voting comes through at the completion of each stage, the losing contestant will not only lose his place in the contest, he will also lose the two people who are dearest to him. The people who he has relied upon all his short, dishonest life, the people who he will be hoping can somehow make it to Kimble and liberate him, will be dead even before he is. Who’s going to miss a couple of old folk and their troublesome teenage son? No-one, that’s who! As soon as the voting elects a loser, the machinations begin to roll, and your unsuspecting parents meet an untimely and unfortunate end. It may be a car crash. It may be an electrical fire, or a botched mugging, or a freak drowning. I’m sure we’ve only just scratched the surface of the multiple ways in which your parents’ deaths can be made to look like tragic accidents.”

Grayson was jolted back into action. He swung, not for Stephen as instructed, but for the man. No sooner had he felt the satisfying dull thunk of baseball bat on upper shoulder than he felt the burning pain of his flesh being ripped apart at the thigh from a bullet from Cameron’s gun. And no sooner had he registered that he’d been shot than he was shot again a second time. The second shot proved fatal. The bat fell from his grip, Grayson collapsed where he stood and he too began to bleed out from the neck, lying spread-eagled on the floor. The room erupted in chaos once more.

In the melee, Harrison had pushed past a petrified Alan and was standing again, wielding his baseball bat. Not at Cameron, who had just shot Grayson dead, or the man, who had not long ago killed Burgess. He was bearing down on Stephen. As Stephen placed his skinny arms out in front of him, Harrison cracked him hard across the ribs with a full swing. No-one would ever know how many ribs Harrison had broken with that one swing. Stephen passed out with the shock and pain and for almost half a minute, the room fell into silence. Most were convinced that Harrison had dealt the fatal blow to Stephen until Stephen began to cough up foamy, thick blood. As Harrison readied himself for another swing, Fowler attacked him from the side, scattering Harrison one way and the bat the other. They rolled on the bloody floor, smearing Burgess’s and Anderson’s blood on one another. They stopped fighting only when the man fired a shot straight into the ceiling.

“STOP!” he yelled, and they did.

Stephen continued to cough blood, drawing attention to himself.

“We now have TWO DEAD BODIES in this room! And the only person in this room who should be dead,” continued the man, “is this boy here.” He pointed a well-manicured finger at Stephen. “Now. Either you all follow the lead of Mr Harrison here and take a turn at finishing the job so we can all leave this room, or I finish it for you, and none of you will ever leave this room alive.” He stared them down. He wasn’t kidding. “What shall it be?”

Alan began quietly sobbing. Connor was numb. He had no idea what to think.

Without waiting for an answer, the man threw the bat towards Reilly. Already holding a bat of his own, he failed to catch it and watched it bounce across the hard floor, it’s echoing rattle reverberating loudly. The man might’ve been annoyed at Reilly’s failure to catch the bat, but he never showed it.

“It’s your turn, Reilly. Make it a good one.”

Reilly looked at the bat lying on the floor, dropped the one he was holding and contemplated his options.

“PICK IT UP!” screamed the man without warning and once more, through compliance rather than fear, Reilly picked up his own bat again.

Against the wall, Stephen continued to cry and moan and whimper and bleed. One of the broken ribs had punctured a lung, not that he knew this, and so, he was finding it increasingly difficult to breathe. His vain cries of defence were shallower and quieter to the point of whisper. He began to cough blood again, more painful than ever.

“Pick a spot and hit him with it, Reilly. It’s not that difficult.”

Reilly walked towards Stephen.

“I’m so sorry, man,” he said quietly to him, then changed tack. Instead of beating him with the bat, Reilly swung it limply and grazed the soles of Stephen’s feet. He dropped the bat and turned away. Cameron tutted in exasperation and fired a single shot into Reilly’s ankle. Reilly wheeled and screamed in pain.

“DO IT AGAIN!” screamed the man at him. “Hit him properly or Cameron’ll finish you off as well!”

Struggling to stand on his one good ankle, Reilly once again held the bat. He hobbled towards Stephen, who was clearly trying to say something to him. Had he been able to decipher the shallow gasping babble, he’d have known that Stephen was begging for him not to hit him. Reilly had no option though, and with a better swing than he should’ve been able to muster under the circumstances, he brought the bat crashing down between Stephen’s neck and his left shoulder. A sickening crack told everyone that he had hit him good. Stephen grunted an animal-like grunt and slumped further down the wall. “I’m really sorry, man,” acknowledged Reilly, tears streaming down his face. He found a corner that was free of violent TV hosts and dead bodies and wept quietly.

“Fowler! You’re up!” The man shoved the box towards him. “Choose your weapon.”

Fowler hesitated then limped towards the box of bats. He’d made up his mind that when it was his turn, he’d crack the man over the skull with the biggest bat he could find before turning it on Cameron, but after seeing what had happened to Anderson and Reilly, he’d had immediate second thoughts. Fowler had no idea what he was going to do, but he had no intention of contributing to McPherson’s death.

“Hurry up, boy. We don’t have all day.”

“I’m just seeing which bat is best,” stalled Fowler.

“They’re all the bloody same!” retorted the man, extremely impatient and eager to get things finished.

To reinforce things, or perhaps just to speed things up a bit, Cameron clicked the safety catch from his gun.

Fowler selected a bat. It suddenly felt deadly in his hands.

He hated it.

Fowler limped towards Stephen, who was definitely now more dead than alive. Ignoring the faint protestations from Stephen’s bloody mouth, Fowler swung the bat low, from waist height, catching Stephen on the top of the arm. “I’m really sorry, mate,” sobbed Fowler. He threw the bat away and found a spot near Reilly. Stephen slid in slow motion down the side of the wall to his left. The back of his matted, ginger hair left an arced brush stroke of blood as it went on its journey.

“See, that wasn’t so difficult after all, was it, Fowler? Who’s next?”

Connor prayed he was invisible.

“Who’s not been yet?” The man looked around the room at the boys. “Campbell. Stewart. Alan.”

Connor stared steadfastly at his feet.

As their names were mentioned, each boy’s heart beat a little faster, a little louder. Their mouths became that bit drier, their hands a touch sweatier. Alan began sobbing uncontrollably. Big, sniffy, child-like sobs.

“You’ll get your turn, Alan, don’t get upset, boy! Right after Stewart – up y’come, Stewart.”

Connor’s heart dropped.

His feet felt leaden. Each footstep was a gigantic effort. He wasn’t sure if the man had offered him a bat or if he’d picked one of the remaining ones from the box himself, but suddenly there was a baseball bat in his hand and it felt like it might be too heavy to hold, let alone swing. His ears rang. He had a sudden watery, metallic taste in his mouth. His vision began to blur and whatever the man was saying to him was drowned in a sea of ringing in his ears.

“…all day, Stewart. We don’t have all day! Beat him and be done with it.”

Connor gathered himself. He looked at Stephen, pathetic and slumped, near dead, beaten and broken by his own friends. He wasn’t so sure that Stephen hadn’t already passed away. He hadn’t moved. Hadn’t made any further noises in protestation at what was happening to him. It didn’t look as though his chest was moving anymore. His red and swollen eyes remained closed, dirty track marks of tears running from them, down his cheeks, around the contours of his crusted, bloody mouth.

“I think he’s dead now,” said Connor softly, to no-one in particular.

“Best give him one more decent thump for luck, Stewart. Make certain of it.”

Connor let the man’s sick demand sink in. There was going to be no way out of it. He had to hit him. With tears in both eyes he shuffled through the pool where Burgess’s blood and Anderson’s blood had now converged. He stood two metres from where Stephen was slumped, the bat wavering in his grip. He thought of Stephen on the trip through the woods, the times they’d shared cooking at the campfire, the friendship they’d created that was now suddenly and unexpectedly cut short. Blinded by tears, he stepped forward and brought the bat crashing swiftly down on Stephen’s head. As he dropped his weapon, he was sure he heard Stephen exhale for the last time.

Connor didn’t look back, didn’t look at the man, didn’t look at Cameron. He found a spot at the side and wept in anguished silence.

“Cameron,” said the man. “Check his pulse, please, thanks.”

Cameron confirmed to the man that Stephen was now dead. The man began muttering expletives under his breath. Shaking his head, he looked first at Stephen, then at Anderson then finally at Burgess. He let out a long sigh. He looked at the three weeping boys along the wall. Disgusted with them, he looked at the rest. They too – even Harrison – were also in tears. This was not supposed to have happened. The man thought that, with a bit of a pep talk and the underlying threat of violence if they failed to comply, they would carry out his instructions swiftly. How wrong he was. He now had three dead bodies on his hands. He needed time to think.

“Contestants,” he said, trying to keep his voice neutral. “Get out of here. Go to your rooms and await instructions. Cameron, remain here, thank you.”

The boys bowed their heads and made their way slowly from the awful room. Connor stole a last glance at each of the three bodies as he exited, a hellish sight that would live with him for as long as he lived.

 

(more to follow in the future)