Friday, 27 July 2012

My good friend and comedy partner Dan Marshall is currently appearing in  a gritty urban reworking of A Midsummer Night's Dream, with some new elements apparently inspired by Neil Gaiman. This sounds intriguing to me - I quite liked the play in year eight English lessons and Gaiman is one of my favourite authors. He has a great knowledge of mythology and folklore and a wonderful way of bringing them into the modern world. Sadly, I can't be in York to watch the play, but reading about it gave me this idea for a short story using mischievous fairies in a contemporary urban setting...

Jack is the awkward kid at the party, the one who doesn't really want to be there. He doesn't know how to introduce himself to people, has no confidence in his dancing ability and really has no idea at all how to tell Sammy how pretty her hair looks. Or is it her dress that he should compliment? Not that he ever will. Indeed, Jack would be a lot happier at home, staying up late not to "get well messy", as he can't believe someone genuinely just said, but to work through his new Planet of the Apes box set. Yes, as the stereotype festering in your mind would suggest, he's a real sci-fi fanatic, Jack has a passion for wonderful worlds of impossible spaceships and extraordinary inventions. They're a way for him to escape from the real world of his social inadequacy, from awkwardness into awesome. So, naturally, he assumed that his visitor, which only he could see, was an alien.

Jake is the new kid in the gang, the one unsure of his place in this city and in this life. Cheesy Dave has been a constant in his upbringing, the one person he's always been able to come to throughout his series of children's homes and foster families. But now, Cheesy Dave is asking Jake to take on too many responsibilities that make him uneasy. It's not just the dealing, it's what he has to do to anyone foolish enough to get into debt with Dave. Jake's parents, before the accident, had tried to bring Jake up religiously, and, while neither Mum nor Dad had exactly been a saint themselves, this had, Jake liked to think, left an imprint of morality on his soul. So, naturally, he assumed that his visitor, which only he could see, was an angel.

Jack's alien first appeared to him a week ago. Elegant, pale, effeminate, floating on flimsy yet powerful wings; an awe-inspiring presence with an indescribable, somehow extraterrestrial glow. Jack had been kicking himself, mentally, physically and indeed metaphorically, after bumbling through an unexpected and awkward conversation with Sammy. For some reason, he'd tried to give her his opinion on her choice of sandwich (it was easier to express than his opinion on her… eyes? Are they good to compliment?) and hadn't even made a good job of that. The first thing the alien did was mock him on this, doing silly impressions of, for example, the way he'd described the mustard, a particular cause of embarrassment. The alien had been annoying at first, its fooling around preventing concentration on Beneath the Planet of the Apes, but it wasn't long before Jack felt a strange connection with it. This was the kind of visitor from outer space, after all, that he'd spent his life dreaming about meeting. The alien seemed to understand Jack's problems and to want to help him. It had been the alien, in fact, who had persuaded Jack to come to the party.
"Come on nerd boy, you need to get out more. This isn't healthy. Never going to win Sammy's heart from in front of your TV, are you? Alone, that'll be you - lonely, depressed, wasting your life away. Did I mention alone?"
The alien was right. And so Jack is at the party.

Jake's angel first appeared to him a week ago. Elegant, pale, effeminate, floating on flimsy yet powerful wings; an awe-inspiring presence with an indescribable, somehow ethereal glow. Jake had been having an emotional moment, thinking of everyone he'd lost, holding back the tears in case anyone saw. He'd been needing a friend. He used to go to Cheesy Dave at times like this, but since his duties has been ramped up, he didn't feel comfortable with that. The angel quietly listened to his sorrows. Then the angel told him to man up.
"What are you playing at? Stop acting like a child. You're a man now. Or you should be, anyway. Your cheesy friend has offered you a life here. Take that opportunity."
The angel was right. And so Jake is on duty for Cheesy Dave.

The evening is heating up, and some of the partiers aren't satisfied with the alcohol alone any more. Matty P (the one with the cocky eyes) manages to pull himself away from one lady or the other to tell everyone that knows where something stronger can be bought. But who's going to go to pick it up?
"Go on, nerd boy," whispers Jack's alien, "you can put yourself forward. That would impress Sammy. That would make you popular."
And so, to everyone's amazement, not least his own, Jack offers to buy the drugs.

Cheesy Dave has to go out. Jake has to be left in charge of the stash. He can do this. He's a man. A man with an angel.

Jack's shaking with nerves just walking to the address. This is a rough neighbourhood. What is he doing here?
"Better be on your guard," warns his alien, "you don't want to mess with anyone around here. Posh nerd boy like you will get beaten like a fly."
As the alien says, Jack doesn't exactly fit in, with his neatly collared shirt and his pricey new trainers.
"Don't get your phone out, obviously. And do not let anyone see that."
The alien is pointing to Jack's watch, an expensive model from Austria, a gift from one of his father's business trips. He doesn't want to risk losing that. Jack feels threatened, enclosed, afraid. And, to be honest, as he knocks on the door of the frankly unremarkable terraced house, the alien isn't helping. He has no idea what to say to the scruffy haired boy in the tracksuit who opens the door.

Jake answers the door to a kid about his age in a shirt that, except for the creases, is peculiarly smart. The student (Jake guesses) looks nervous and mumbles something that's probably a greeting.
'Aww, bless," says Jake's angel, "are you going to let him in then?"
Jake lets him in.
"Wow, this kid looks rich. You are going to charge him the full student price, right?"
Cheesy Dave loves charging clueless students a little extra. Jake leads the student upstairs and takes a few packets of coke from the stash.
"The kid's watch looks flash. Bet you'd like a watch like that. Probably a present from his family. Bet you'd like a family like that."
Jake is getting annoyed now. And, honestly, envious. He would like a family like the nervous kid's.
"Why don't you take it then? The watch. It could be yours, easily."

"He's probably armed. You're really not safe here" says Jack's alien.
The alien's right. Jack's on the defensive.

"This kid's not a customer to be trusted. Good chance he'll regret coming here. If pressed, he'd blab about you to the police, you know. Especially after you've looked at him like that."
Jake is angry now. He's had enough.

"You need to get out of here, nerd boy. Fast."
Jack's had enough.
He punches.
His fist misses the alien.

Jake sees the attack and instantly reaches for his knife. Before he knows what he's doing, the blade is through the nervous student's chest.
"You get him, boy! Be a man!'

Jack fails to see clearly. He pushes forward. The scruffy haired youth falls back and hits his head, hard, against the window ledge.
"Oh shit, nerd boy!"

When Cheesy Dave returns to his flat, he finds two boys sprawled on the floor, lifeless. His stash is gone. For Jack's alien did not come in peace and Jake's angel was corrupted by sin. Whatever they are - alien, angel, some may call them fairies - tonight their wardrobe got a little flashier and tomorrow they'll be a little higher on the ethereal plane.


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