Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Travelling home

You never hear the bullet that has your name on it, so the story goes. As above, so below: we only became aware of the asteroid designated AmRa when it was far too late to do anything about it. Despite NASA keeping a database of over 20,000 near-Earth asteroids, despite the New Earth Asteroid Tracking (N.E.A.T.) system and despite the Asteroid Terrestrial Impact Last Alert system being on full alert nothing saw nothing until one day ago.. and ‘they’ were going to keep it under wraps.
We should have realised that something was up when the Orbit@home website shut down –this was supposed to provide another resource to monitor near Earth collisions by asking individual’s to download a programme that could run in the background and optimise the search strategy. (SETI used a similar premise to monitor radio transmissions from Space, would you believe?) The Orbit@home site was unpublished a few days ago due to an unspecified glitch which no one questioned –why would they? If asked I doubt two people in a thousand would have listed an extinction level event as a reason for the site being pulled.
But that was exactly what was happening. The news finally leaked on Twitter from an anonymous source yesterday morning, and was subject to much scorn and derision from everyone… well, all those who knew no better. It was strange that NASA kept quiet and all the governments were strangely silent as well –even Donald Trump refrained from his usual bombastic approach to social media.
Of course, it was soon confirmed by thousands of amateur astrologers everywhere –by that time it was pretty hard to ignore it. It was then that the questions and theories started –as if any of it actually mattered. I knew enough by then of the different arguments and explanations as I had planned to write a short story about the asteroid that hit Tunguska… I shelved the story after I realised just how little we really knew about the cosmos; how likely it was that such an impact could easily happen again and how little prepared we were to stop it –all of which had come frighteningly true now.
Upon hearing the news on the radio –the newsreader doing their best to annunciate through their tears- I knew there was only one place I had to go –back home; back to Slaugham where my mother and father lived. They were the only people that mattered now.
I knew that the main roads would be chaotic so I aimed to stay on the smaller roads; I lived in Wilmington so I had at least an hour’s journey ahead of me, which could well be doubled depending on the traffic and stupidity I encountered on the way.
It was George Carlin who said never to underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups, and that was on an average day… now that people knew there was nothing to lose and no consequences only God knew what to expect and it was clear to everyone that he had deserted us.
I had the foresight to buy a Mercedes G-Class which came in particularly handy during the muddy months as a Sussex Downs Ranger and if things got too bad I could easily go off-road. I had an air-rifle too if things escalated too quickly –I didn’t want to use it but nothing was going to stop me from getting home.
I’d tried ringing my father as soon as I heard the news but the networks had collapsed, probably due to everyone doing the same. I knew that father could take care of himself but mother had suffered from Dementia for years and had rapidly gone downhill in the last few months; I didn’t want them to be alone when it finally happened.
The country lanes were quiet and the first part of the journey from Wilmington to Ditchling was pretty uneventful; there were enough of the smaller roads that I barely saw anyone else. I wondered why there wasn’t the madness and looting that was normally portrayed in the various Hollywood-style scenarios but knew that it was due to the suddenness of the news. In all of these films Earth had time to prepare for the attack, whether through nuclear bombardment of the asteroid or the use of lasers or high powered rockets that could be used to deflect the chunk of rock… but I knew from my own research that NASA needed at least five years of preparation before undertaking any of those scenario’s –that was even if they worked. AmRa was far too large for any of those scenario’s to have an effect and chances are they could only have made things worse –splitting the 60 mile asteroid into smaller chunks that would have done even greater damage in the short run. As it was, this was a globally catastrophic event, there was no denying it. It was dark now, even though it was only two in the afternoon, AmRa blocked out the sun and chilled everyone to their marrow.
There are those that say the moon was formed from a smaller planet hitting the Earth over 4.5 billion years ago. The impact from Theia threw up millions of tonnes of debris that circled the Earth for hundreds, if not thousands of years, before finally coalescing into the moon. There are others that say it was due to the impact of several larger asteroids that water was brought to Earth –Earth being far too hot for water to condense. It was only through the meteors and asteroids bringing frozen chunks of water, nitrogen, carbon dioxide and ammonia that the atmosphere formed and cooled. Who knows what will happen when this one collides?
It's on the drive from Ditchling to Slaugham that my faith in humanity is finally crushed. With fewer roads to criss-cross I have no choice but to be witness to the dregs of humanity. With no consequences and no chance of redemption there was nothing holding people in check any more.
Religion had been a poor solace to people too weak to find out their own truths and now it had been proved to be a fraud, people realised that there was now nothing to stop them from doing whatever they wanted –with a few hours left why not rape, murder and desecrate? Where had the manners and understanding gotten them –downtrodden and shit on their entire lives, being told it would all work out in the end. The Pope had misjudged the situation entirely when he called his followers to their knees in repentance. Though their prayers would not be heard in this life they might still atone for their sin in the next. It wasn’t difficult to read between the lines; that it was due to the collective sins of humanity that the meteor had been sent to cleanse the Earth just as the flood had done two thousand years previously. This time there would be no ark to save the just.
It only took one shot to silence the Pope before more could be said; but the damage had been done. In the last day of Judgement Catholicism had been dealt the most savage of blows that it would never recover from.
With nothing to hold people back there was now carnage everywhere I looked and I did my best to inure myself to the travesty that I drove through. Haywards Heath itself had been the worst I was forced to plough through crowds of people rioting in the high street; I knew that with every alternative route I tried I would add precious time to my journey and I was sickened by what I was now witness to. Imagine the last days of Rome; the sacking of Carthage and the rape of Nanking; all of those paled into insignificance against the atrocities I witnessed then. I told myself that I had no choice but to plough through them; to simply go round them would have left me open and vulnerable to their collective might; they had given up any sense of individuality and surrendered finally to group oblivion.

Finally I reached Slaugham and I could sense that there was very little time left. That was irrelevant now, I had made it – whatever time there was, and there was probably little less than an hour, I was to spend with them.
The village was strangely quiet except for singing coming from the church –the Protestants, it seemed, had managed to keep a better handle on the situation and had probably profited from the Pope’s blunder. I left them to their much needed succour and ran inside the house. It was starting to get blustery now; oppressive winds buffeted, tearing down trees and chimneys. I shouted throughout the house but heard nothing and there was no one there in any of the rooms. I looked through the bedroom window and saw the brick built summer house at the bottom of the garden; it was the obvious place to watch the end of the world. My father was a pragmatist and I could think of nowhere better to be.
Sure enough, there they both were, sitting on the recliners, hand in hand, watching the rapture. The bottle of whiskey sat between them, the sleeping tablets strewn where the bottle had been dropped. It was the right thing to do… Dad wanted to save mum the pain and fear of the impact and he couldn’t live without her. He had no way of knowing whether I was going to make it or not, so this was the only option open to him. I kissed them both on the forehead and took the bottle for myself. I drank heartily and toasted the inevitable as it all became dark lastly.

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

The gulls are not your friends

“Come with me if you want to love.” It wasn’t the greatest chat up line, and probably sounds like a Hollywood cliché now, but to a very naïve villager, just two weeks shy away from home, in 1968 no less, it sounded mysterious, dramatic and everything my 16 year old hearthad wanted to hear. I was also more than a little turned on. 
The late ‘60’s were the time when it was possible to be more open with yourself and others,hence the reason why I moved to Brighton. I knew that no one in my family would ever understand; they had their fixed, Victorian rigid ways of behaving and seeing themselves. The ‘60’s to them were an anathema and had I come out to them I would have been disgraced and expulsed as a leper. Far better to bite the bullet and move away of my own free will. No note, no apology, no word of explanation –whatever heartache my leaving created (and I very much doubted there would be any) would be nothing compared to what I had been subjected to since my apotheosis. 
Realising myself was the most important thing in my life and I knew that living in Brighton would best suit my transformative needs. Even in the late ‘60’s Brighton was known for its gay scene. Once you had avoided the Mods and Rockers, who frowned heavily (at least on the surface) on anything pertaining to the ‘fag’ scene, there was a certain degree of freedom. I had learnt to hide my proclivity, as had most of us; as much as I admired Quintin’s audacity I did feel he had some kind of death-wish (if not a degree of sublimated self-loathing).
Although the Sexual Offences Act had made things, at least on the legal side, easier for us the general public’s attitude to us was just as before, if not more so. Decriminalising it was akin to waving a red rag to their bullish demeanours. I remember a discussion at a local bar when a burly Welshman drunkenly stated:
 ‘Of course, it could never happen in Aberystwyth!’struggled hard to keep my mirth contained. Upon relating this to another chap at the Spotted Dog he simply replied,
 ‘Oh, really. Perhaps you should have told him that Aberystwyth is actually advertised as the Brighton of West Wales! Shows how much he knows, eh?’

 It was in the Curtain Club where I met Saul though. I sat by the bar, nervously nursing my Babycham when he crept up behind me and whispered huskily into my ear. 
“Come with me if you want to love” before nibbling my earlobe. That alone surprised me as there were strategically placed people who had been hired specifically to stop that kind of thing from happening. 
The ‘60’s may have been permissive if you were straight but there were strict rules still forbidding men to even dance close together! And if two men so much as touched on the dance floor they were quickly separated. 
Saul was a Gold Card holder though, which allowed him to queue jump… and coupled with his size and demeanour few people made him do anything against his will (let alone telling him to stop something he was enjoying). He wasn’t a bully –there were plenty of butch, muscly Northerners, brash and belligerent, to fill that criteria- he just knew how to get his own way. He was manipulative but no one seemed to mind that too much –those that objected were seldom seen again. I was flattered by the attention but shocked that anyone could be so bold. 
Saul sat down next to me and ordered a ‘Shirley Bassey’ before asking: 
“Which are you, boy? Bitch or butch?” His voice was deep and masterful, suede covering a granite interior. The pink, raspberry monstrosity was plonked down in front of me and I’d taken a sip as he asked me the question and nearly choked on the sweetness. 
“Neither.” I snapped. 
“Ah, a bold boy, eh? Just a bijou chicken then. Ripe as a charver should be.” 
 “I’m not a fucking whore.” I snapped back loudly, ready to throw the contents of the glass over him. “Keep it down, keep it down, lad, eh?” He hissed. “Don’t get your knickers twisted. You are a bona boy though, aren’t you?” 
“Would I be here otherwise?” 
“You’d be surprised, lad… I’ve seen many a police try to make solicitations, lead unsuspecting chaps out to the alley where his friends are awaiting only to jump on the poor dilly..” I blanched at this. I knew that that sort of thing happened but thought that the Curtain Club was beyond it.. being a supper club. Lord, how naïve I was! “I can tell you’re not police, son. Sorry to cast such aspersions on your fine character. Let us start over, yes? My name is Saul.” He held out his large, ringed hand out to me as if he was royalty (and I suppose he was at the time). 
 “Yes… I know who you are.” I replied, feeling my Adam’s apple vibrate with the words. I tried not to blush. “My name’s Les.” 
“My fame precedes me, fantabulosa! Fresh of the bus and he knows me already. Do you like; what you see?” I didn’t have to think before answering, but I didn’t want to seem too eager. I had clocked him upon the first time I entered the club. 
The Curtain Club was under the Queen’s Hotel, on the Kings Road side. I felt a little lost the first time I entered, star-struck upon finally reaching Brighton and making connections so quickly in The Spotted Dog. It was easy to mark those people of the persuasion –we had our own language! (Saul dallied with it but only managed to mangle it further). Pretty soon I had been felt up and prospected before being led through the Twittens to the Curtain Club. I wasn’t prepared for the entrance fee but duly paid it; it was a ‘supper club’ after all. 
The entrance fee got you an inedible and indigestible meal but also meant that the establishment could serve alcohol and play music up until one in the morning. Upon paying the entrance fee I was led through the arcade-like foyer and down the steps. On the right was the small bar where quiet music played and sweet nothings were whispered, but to the left was the dance floor. This was where I first saw Saul. 
He wore a fitted grey two piece tweed suit, a peach paisley tie and polished shoes and he just swayed out of time to “Whiter Shade Of Pale” with another man. He seemed both wraith like but powerful; a body builder physique, lantern jawed but his movements were serene, dreamy. He seemed totally unaware of the other man he danced with. 
“You’ll do.” I replied and hoped that my gamble paid off. I was a quick learner (or so I thought) and knew that I was being tested. I was pretty sure that Saul wanted me, now I was to know for sure. He clapped me on the back just as the rest of the bar took a collective in-breath. I had no idea who I was getting involved with. I’ve asked myself since whether I would have changed my tactic had I known any differently, and I honestly don’t know. 
 “I like your spirit, Les! By God, I’ll do, will I? Let’s drink to it, shall we?” “How about a proper drink? Whiskey?” I replied, not wanting to take another sip of that concoction. “Why not… and then after the drink maybe something a little more?” 

He took me upstairs. He had a permanent suite at the Queens overlooking the sea and he took me three times that evening. He must’ve known I was cherry, I did a poor job at hiding it, but the first time he was gentle; loving almost –if that was possible in such a man. I knew I wasn’t his first, and probably not his only, but he made me feel as if I was. The second time was mutual lust, I was spurred on by his desire of me and the newfound freedom that I found. We collapsed in each other’s arms on the bed, sated –or at least I was. He just lie there, staring intensely out the window. He must have waited for me to be asleep –oh, he could be patient when he wanted to- and before I knew it he had tied my hands and feet to the bed. I woke up splayed out like a sacrifice, face down, and he was sitting on the chair by the bed, watching me. I was afraid but knew that it would do no good; something told me the more afraid I became the worse it would get for me. 
“You’re mine, see? You promise to be mine?” He said, flat like an automaton; none of the charm that won me over just a short while ago. There was an intense look, a coldness I’d never seen before in a person and I could only nod. “Good. And because you’re mine we’ll seal it.. I’ll brand you as mine and you’ll never be anyone elses.” 
He took out his cigarette lighter from one pocket and a knife from another. He unfolded the knife and held the blade over the naked flame of the lighter until it glowed red hot. “If you love me you’ll not scream out. If you love me then this won’t hurt at all.” He said and marked me as his own. I didn’t scream. Afterwards he was loving, kissing his brand before taking me violently; making me his own in body and soul. I didn’t resist. 

That was one of only a handful of times that he became violent towards me, though he ruled me with a velvet fist. He only had to change his intonation or gesture a certain way and people knew that his mood was about to shift and left him alone. We were in a café on the seafront when one of the waiters misread the situation. 
“Your bill, sir?” The waiter had said as Saul put his coat on. 
“You’re new here, I take it?” He replied, always willing to give people the benefit of the doubt. 
“Yes, but I’m not sure what that has to do with anything.” The waiter replied imperiously. Saul called this type of person a Jobsworth Johnny; much akin to the security guard taking ownership of the whole property, this man was too wound up for his own good. 
“Put it on the tab.” Saul growled. 
“I hardly think so, Sir. This isn’t a pub, this is a respectable establishment.” Things happened too quickly to establish cause and effect. 
One minute the waiter was squaring off against Saul, a scrawny 5ft bootlicker against the goliath; the next he was writhing about on the floor, blood pouring from his lacerated face; broken bloodstained crockery strewn around him lik china snow. Saul led me outside quietly whilst the rest of the patrons looked on in horror. No one did anything to stop us; they knew Saul, knew what happened to those people who crossed him. It was just a shame no one had told the waiter. 

 A week later I found myself working at the exact same tea shop as there was now a vacancy. Saul felt that a job would do me good; build my character; he didn’t want people to think that I was sponging on him and he would always be assured quality service when he visited. I was treated with almost religious awe and forbidden to do anything demeaning like washing the dishes or sweeping up, regardless of how many times I asked. 
The fear was that Saul would find out and take offense so I was promoted to Head Waiter, much to the chagrin of the previous chap, Donald; but what could he do? Anyone who made a complaint against Saul wasn’t heard from again and pride over a job is no reason to risk your life. It did mean that I was isolated from my fellow workers regardless of how many times I tried to make friends with them; they all thought I was trying to gather information on them for Saul and either went out of their way to be nice to me or ignored me completely.
Every night he would meet me outside in his Bentley, calmly straddling the double yellow lines knowing that no one would ever ticket his car. He’d always ask how my day went and I’d lie convincingly. I was consistently tipped over and above the usual amount by the customers and quite often gave the money to beggars I’d pass in the street, sickened by the prospect –this was not money I had earned, it was a form of tithe. One evening Saul raised this with me on the journey home. 
“Why do you give your hard earned money to those fuckers that’ve never worked in their life?” I couldn’t figure out how he knew what I’d been up to unless… 
“Have you been following me?” I asked, shocked that he had resorted to such Machiavellian tactics, especially when I had given him no reason to resort to such things. 
 “It’s necessary.” He replied simply as if it was the most natural thing in the world. “More for your safety than anything. I worry for you.” Saul worried about nothing and for no one… or a least that had been the case up until recently. 
I was never allowed to read newspapers whe living with him; we never talked about what he did for a living. All I knew was that he was some kind of entrepreneur, a promoter of talent and a risk taker –he told me that on our second ‘date’. 
Working at the cafe, however, allowed me the chance to read other peoples newspapers when they’d finish with them. From that I managed to figure out what kind of entrepreneur Saul really was and why people were so afraid of him. Recently though there had been a new business concern, a rival promoter had set up shop and threatened his status quo. 
“Nothing’s going to happen to me.” I said, trying to placate him. 
“People could use you to get at me… I couldn’t allow that.” 
“How do you know that for sure?” I replied. 
“That’s what I’d do.” 

 So he had me followed. I suppose I should have taken offense at that, but honestly I couldn’t. I was doing nothing wrong and despite all I’d learned to the contrary I did actually love him –I saw a side of him that few people even dreamed existed and that made me feel special. He rarely raised a hand to me…. So I saw this as just an extension of his caring. But I also saw it as further proof that he was becoming more paranoid and, though he would never admit to it, afraid. 
His once stable business was crumbling. Saul was fast finding out that strength and will were not enough; his competitors had something that far outstripped his bullyboy tactics. They were ruthless and didn’t care how they gained power –there was nothing they wouldn’t do. His business associates were deserting him in droves, more with every week that passed and there was nothing that Saul could do. 
He was too rooted in the old fashioned ways of crime, still held to a creed that this new generation spat on –there was no way to reason with people like that. The last time that I saw him he was gaunt, his once lantern jaw and butch physique seemed scarecrow thin and the fire had dimmed in his eyes. 

He woke me in the very early hours of the morning, there was a sea fret blanketing the town, lulling it to a false sense of security but Saul used it for cover. He hushed me out of bed and bade me to get dressed –my suitcase was already packed waiting for me. We left through the side door, carefully watching every shadow. I knew enough not to talk, the fear in his eyes spoke more than either of us could say. 
Despite all this I felt safe; whatever happened I was with him and all was right in the world. It was only when we were in the car driving inland that he finally talked to me. His voice was coarse, broken. 
“You’ve got to forget about me. You’re gonna forget about me. Whatever we had, whatever we were going to have it’s all gone now but I’m damned if I’ll let them take you away from me. I’d rather die.” I looked at him, the shock now registering. “I’m not going to, but I need you to be out of it. I can’t protect you and do what I need to do…. So I’m going to send you away, see. No one else knows where you lived so you’ll be safe… and when this is all over I’ll come for you. You’ll have to get the train from here to Lewes and then back home, but it’ll be safer dropping you here. No one would ever think to look for you here.” 
He dropped me outside Southease train station, in the middle of nowhere at 5 in the morning. I was wrapped up warm but felt cold from his haunted look. “I will come back for you, you’re the only one.” And he was gone. 

I got home alright. The family made a fuss of me, despite me coming out to them. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder, it seems –and I missed Saul terribly. I told my family nothing of what went on with him and no one pushed me too hard. The time with Saul had changed me, I was no longer guilty of my secret and managed to walk tall. Every day I checked the newspapers to find out if anything had happened to him. There was a stabbing outside the Queens Hotel but no names were mentioned; sources put it down to a lovers tiff gone wrong; but I never saw anything else…. And I never heard from Saul again.

Friday, 1 November 2019

The 90% (Or All is right in the world)

She had to prove him wrong. Time was fast ticking away and it had been a disastrous day, but she had to disprove his damn worldview; had to.
Yesterday had been a different story, a view of the world that made her happy: all was right with the world and people were generally good. The he joined her team at work, had the audacity to sit next to her and over the course of the day turn her life upside-down.
John, from Hassocks, 24 years old; barely out of university and so green he could have been a walking advertisement for the Vegan brigade (which was ironic under the circumstances). Tall and sickly thin, freckles, ginger hair and glasses –an unfortunate combination which, coupled with the medical complaint known as ‘running at the mouth’, made him an annoying shit.
Why was it that those that went to university felt the need to rub it into everybody else’s face; justify their existence and piss everyone off with their new found wisdom. They saw themselves as superior, and experience had taught her that they were anything but!
Of course, she didn’t know any of this when she first met him; she was always willing to give people the benefit of the doubt; it took just her ten minutes of his elitist crap to come to that conclusion. She was a quick study, being a firm believer that a picture is worth a thousand words and first impressions were never wrong. It took her ten minutes to decide that she didn’t like John from Hassocks at all. His ego rankled her and they clashed on everything.
He was staunchly anti-religious (especially regarding Christianity) whereas she was a Protestant and proud of it. She was the vegan and he was a lapsed, but still very keen, fisherman; enjoying the occasional trip with his father. She believed in turning the other cheek, seeing the good in everyone and England for the English. Good and evil; black and white.
“So you’re a racist.” John replied, upon hearing this.
“If that means being proud to be English then, yes. I am.” She replied, unnerved by the reply. She was, actually, very racist but that wasn’t something she wanted other people to know.
“Yes, then… and a hypocrite as well.” He challenged. “What does it actually mean to be ‘English’? We’ve been invaded so many times that the original inhabitants of the green and pleasant land were either butchered or bred out a long, long time ago.”
This was infuriating. She saw herself as being essentially cool, calm and collected; but in the first half an hour of talking to him she had almost lost her shit completely. She was also due to go on jury service in the next couple of weeks and made the mistake of mentioning it in conversation.
“I have a dislike for the judiciary system...” He jabbed at her.
“Why does that not surprise me?” She countered, really not wanting to get into the conversation. Where was a large polo mallet when you really needed one, she asked herself.
“The whole system is corrupt.” He replied, matter-of-factly.
“Oh, come on; that’s total crap.” She snapped. She tried her best not to let her feelings get the better of her but his whole attitude just annoyed her so much!
“Look – discounting the fact that the whole system is pre-dictated on the facile agreement that everyone swears to tell the truth on a fictional document; it’s not up to the lawyers to ascertain the guilt of someone, it’s to find a way to justify their massive salary. The lawyers are paid to understand the law, not people. If they can get their clients off on a technicality then they will do whether they’re guilty or not.” She let the words ‘fictional document’ go over her head; now was not a time for a religious debate, so she said:
“But that’s why there’s a jury, surely...”
“Oh, please. Look, it’s like this: people are selected at random on the basis that everyone is created equal and it’s a jury of their peers, right? Well, I hate to say this but we’re not all equal. It all depends on economic, sociological and intellectual biases for a start. I’m not the same as you.” You can say that again, she thought and really wished that she hadn’t started the damn conversation. “By putting me on a panel with a 44 year old Sun reader with the intelligence of a used teabag is ridiculous. There is no average person.”
“That’s crap and you know it.” She snapped back.
“Harlan Ellison once said that 90% of everything is utter shite… and he was right, you know. If you look at art or music in terms of quality, or even people on a graph you’ll get a bell-curve. You’ve heard of that, I’m sure. The peak is always in the middle and that’s called the average. So those that exceed are in the top 90%...”
“Ah – so you think of yourself as one of the top ten percent, I take it? Riiight.” She snapped, incredulous at this attitude.
“Ok – let’s take an extreme example. Serial killers.”
“What?” She asked, curious as to where the conversation was now leading.
“Well, take people’s perception of serial killers; look at all the films about them. They’re perceived as ‘different’ to us; and much is made of their perverted nature… In fact, anything further that people can do to distance themselves from serial killers the better. But you want to know the real rub?” He didn’t even wait for her to answer, John was on a roll. She got the feeling that he’d got this patois down through countless retellings. Perfect for chat up lines… “Your ‘average’ person is one bad day from becoming a serial killer… if only they knew.”
“I can’t believe that for an instant. What you’re saying is that there’s no innate difference between…” She shook her head, trying to take it in. “..between a Joe Nobody and a serial killer?”
“Think about it – most of these serial killers had diabolical upbringings. I mean, really, really shitty. I mean, I’m not making any excuses and can’t generalise, obviously… but a case could easily be made. Most people turn round and say ‘I could never do anything like that!’… but had they had lived the life of, say, Ted Bundy or Charlie Manson, then I can’t help but wonder how they would’ve turned out.”
“Bollocks. I’ve known people who have had far worse lives. I mean, how many people are walking round with a life that is just as bad, if not worse than Ted Bundy, and have not become serial killers?”
“It’s impossible to know what the triggers are for each person…”
“Look, I’ve read up on serial killers too, and from my experience these people were just projecting how bad they felt onto others so they didn’t have to take the rap for it… or they felt that their behaviour was justified because their victims were ‘asking for it’.” She couldn’t believe how this conversation was unfolding. One bad day or not, she really wanted to smite John at that very minute!
“That’s such an oversimplification!” John replied, almost mimicking her objection earlier.
“These… people, these serial killers always try to play the victim.. “ She pushed back. “‘Poor me, my childhood was terrible’ ; we could all say stuff like that! But it never adds up to anything, if you ask me, as their crimes were always premeditated!  It’s rare for these killings to be spur of the moment. These were clear thinking individuals making clear and informed decisions.”
“I said nothing about ‘playing the victim’;” John replied. “And I actually agree that their crimes were pre-meditated.. but that’s not the point…” She was having none of it though, she interrupted him.
“When something is carefully planned in advance… and the person knows it’s illegal then they are totally responsible and should be held accountable. I had some really bad experiences but that doesn’t mean that I want to go out and kill, kill, kill!” Although at that particular moment there was one person that she would happily have throttled. “When you start talking to people you find that it’s actually quite common!”
“Ok – so maybe you’re getting confused by my argument; getting bogged down in semantics. I’m saying that you can’t say for certain that you wouldn’t end up like them if you lived their life. You’re saying that’s not true –you would never kill like that. How do you know that for certain? Talk about living in a glass house! Life happens in increments; each incident stacks up; you never know what’s going to break the camel’s back. People can crack up in two ways, you know… suicide or murder.”
“That’s such an oversimplification! How you can come up with such generalisations without the slightest bit of evidence is beyond me! I wonder what the stats would show us: comparing those men who have been abused by their mothers and chart how their lives turned out. How many of them turned out to be psycho’s.” She wanted this conversation over, but there was only one way out: admit that he was right, there was no way she would let him have the final word.
“How the hell can you use statistics as a comparison? If you’re saying that my views are an oversimplification then you’ve got to be doubly careful with your rash generalisations purely because of the type of measurements you make. It’s not just a case of looking at ‘those men who were abused by their mothers’ and seeing how many of them end up killing anyone…”
“It’d be far more accurate than taking ONE example, like you did, and drawing conclusions from that!” Oh, please, she thought. What have I done to deserve this? This is only the first morning; it can only go downhill from here.
“I haven’t given any examples and nor have I drawn any conclusions.” He replied snidely. “What I actually said was that I don’t agree with people’s views of serial killers.”
“No, what you actually said was ‘’People are one bad day away from mass killing.’”
“Right – remember that petrol crisis a few years ago?” He replied.  “People were killing others over a tank of petrol… other people have been stampeded in Black Friday deals.”
“I think I need evidence to back those up.” She said.
“It was on the news… In America recently there was a Chinese kid who was shot because he knocked at the wrong house in a Halloween costume! Shot for no reason at all.”
“But that’s America, surely?” She regretted saying that, and knew that she’d just added more fuel to the already fanned flames.
“I don’t think you can afford to be that blasé about it all. It’s no good saying that in America you get shot for no reason because it’s America! That’s happening over here now!”
“What are you? Some kind of pessimist?”
“Well, I’d actually call myself a realist.”
“Ha! I would describe my view as realistic; at least as far as humanity goes… and at least as far as I can make it; although with my history I should probably be the one busy cutting men into pieces.” Men like you, she thought to herself.
“I don’t see the worst in people… I let them dig their own holes.” John grinned.
“Well; I’m naturally a kind person… I feel for others. You have to lack empathy in order to hurt others in a premeditated way and some of us just aren’t built that way. I can’t take credit for it though, it’s a mixture of brain chemistry and environment.”
“So you agree with me then!” She was stunned by his conclusion, but when she later unpicked what she’d said she realised that he was right.
“No… that’s NOT what I said. You’re just turning my words against me!”
“Ok… You think that people are generally friendly and kind. Is that your world view? You don’t believe in my 90% and that only the really screwed up ones kill. Have I addressed all your concerns?”
“Yes.” She replied through gritted teeth.
“Well then; I’ll set you a little test. In one day I want you to prove me wrong. Believe me, I want to be proved wrong. If you can tell me of at least three positive interactions with people over the next... well, let’s say by the end of tomorrow then I will concede that you’re right and I’ll change my world view.”
“And if I can’t?”
“Well, nothing… nothing really. But let’s hope that I am wrong, eh?” John said smugly. Oh, how she wanted to wipe that wry grin off his mouth.

She had just over one day to prove herself. She so desperately wanted to prove him wrong and, more importantly, prove herself right. They didn’t speak for the rest of the day, bizarrely enough; save for work related questions, nor did he mention the bet or make any snide remarks but she was pondering on what she could do to make a difference.
It was no good approaching people at work; in her mind she already had a rapport built up and it would be far easier to prove kindness in people she already favoured (and John would, no doubt, dismiss them). No, the whole crux of John’s argument was dealing with the ‘average person in the street’; and that meant random acts of kindness –something that she agreed with in principle, but had never actually put into practice. Now was as good a time as any.
That evening on the platform she noticed someone drop a five pound note from their pocket and she was about to pick it up to give it back when another person pushed her out the way. “Bloody thieving bitch.” The elderly man remarked, prodding at her with his finger, drawing the attention of the woman who dropped the money.
“What’s happening?” The woman asked.
“This bloody woman was about to nick the money that had fallen out your purse.” He said.
“I was not! I was just about to give it back to her.” She replied in disbelief.
“Oh piss off.” The woman snapped and she meekly moved down the platform, drawing looks from the other passengers. On the train journey home she was treated with distrust and disparaging looks so she couldn’t try to engage anyone in conversation. Was the world always like this, she asked herself. Was John right after all? No, she couldn’t allow herself to think like that. She just had to try harder.
The next day she did her best to wear a happy face and greet everyone with a smile, but no one else seemed to share her positivity. All she got in return was lewd stares, grunts of disapproval and, when she did try to strike up conversation, affirmations of a completely different kind. She sighed inwardly and felt dejected, crippled inside.
John’s effervescence made things ten times worse. Although he never mentioned the bet it was easy to tell from her expression that things weren’t going so well. She so wanted to ram that sparkling smile down his bloody throat.
At lunchtime she gave money to a couple of charity workers waving collecting tins. She didn’t even bother to see which charities she was giving to she just wanted to feel good about herself. However by the time she’d walked to the other end of the pavement she was almost swamped by the other chuggers who had witnessed her display of goodwill and wanted to get in on the act. She ended up losing her temper at them and told them, in no uncertain terms, to sod the fuck off.
She tried giving money to the homeless to elicit some kind of response and was rewarded with a sarcastic “50p? Wow, this will go handy towards my Ferrari! Bloody Tories, no idea of how the world works; not everyone has a silver bloody spoon round their necks!”
She then saw a pregnant woman smoking and felt for the unborn baby inside; she couldn’t stop herself and said something. The woman looked shocked and she thought for a minute that she’d actually done something worthwhile; made a difference. A slap in the face made her realise that the woman wasn’t pregnant… just fat. A crowd of people had to drag the two of them apart in the end. It was all put down to a misunderstanding.
At the end of lunch she finally had her chance; a young girl came up to her sniffling away. She’d lost her purse and needed some money –just 50p- to call her mummy. Deeply touched, she gave her the money and it was worth it just to see the look on the little girls face. Five minutes later she realised that whilst all that was going on some other little shit had stolen her wallet.
Back at work she had to ask one of her friends to lend her the money for the train home; the only act of kindness in the whole day, but she was beyond caring now. John was staring at her with a knowing look in his eye and she just couldn’t return his gaze. In fact she did everything she could to avoid talking to him, even going so far as to listen to her I-player for the rest of the afternoon.
At the end of the day she dashed away without speaking to him and stood on the train platform sobbing inside. Had she really worn blinkers all these years? How could this fucking university freak make such a fool of her? It wasn’t fair.
“What’s it like living in the 90%?” She heard the voice and didn’t want to turn around, but there he was; large as life and twice as ugly. John. “Still believe that people are inherently good? Still live in fairy land?”
That was enough. Something inside her finally snapped; even though it went against everything that she had ever believed in, she couldn’t stand it anymore. She didn’t believe in cliché’s but as the red mist descended she coolly and calmly took him by the shoulders and just pushed him on to the railway tracks as the 17.22 to Brighton entered the station.
All was right again in the world.