It wasn’t morning yet, but Fen knew she had to get up, because John, her ‘boss’, got cranky if she was late for work, as often a boss can be. There was cold wind blowing outside, Fen could tell by the sound of the neighbour’s door battering against its frame and the chill draught from under the door blowing around the toes of her foot hanging off the side of her bed. Fen had to try hard to resist rolling up in her blankets and forgetting the rest of the world existed. She had had a good night’s sleep; she had dreamt a peculiarly vivid dream which, for that short while, had managed to convince her that she lived in a different universe, one which she had to begrudgingly let go of as she returned to the reality of her bedroom. As Fen raised her head dizzily from her pillow the whole world seemed to twist around heavily. With great exertion she forced her legs around so she could get a foothold on the cold wooden floor and pull herself up and out of lethargy.
A warm feeling rose inside of Fen as she locked her front door. Some people may have felt uncomfortable in these surroundings; there was a dead silence and the darkness was overflowing from the nooks and crannies of the brick work and back alleys, held back only by the uncertain flicker of the sodium street lamps which made the damp pavement glow orange. Fen however was perfectly at home, for the hour before the sun rose these roads were her little world. No place there was unknown to her, she had been along this street hundreds of times, often exploring the little areas under hedges or behind derelict outbuildings just to see what was there. She gazed around knowingly as she made her way to work.
Fen remembered those little adventures she had had, wondering whether she would ever find new adventures in the future, or if the best part of her life had already passed. Fen looked up to a cloud in the sky that was gleaming in the moonlight, for a second she tried to comprehend how far away it was and how large an area it encompassed, but she could not. She felt the cool air on her face, and, drawing on a peculiar sense of clairvoyance, she felt that today was going to be a good day.
The shop where Fen worked was at the edge of town, away from the department stores and clothes stores where the majority of the people the day would bring to Hungerford town centre would be going. Only a handful of locals would drop down the road next to Woolworths to visit “Al’s Emporium”, but Fen liked it better that way; she wasn’t much for serving people she didn’t know and would probably never see again. It’s clientele weren’t exactly a group of conversationalists but at least now and again she could have discussion about some of the strangest of the shops wares which were displayed in the bottom left of the shop window, or about some irrelevant topic within which she would surprise herself with her own useless knowledge. The original Al was dead, he had used to run the shop all on his own, but instead of being replaced by his son, Al junior, at his death as he had wished, Al junior employed a few local teenagers to run the shop while he pursued a career in law. The new Al also applied a hierarchical system in which Fen was the lowest rung, despite having worked there the longest.
As soon as she entered the shop Fen went and slid her bag, which contained her lunch, into her closet underneath the till.
“We just got a new batch of ‘Fishermen’s weekly’, you know the ones, the ones that Mr Ferguson likes to buy as early as possible, I need you to dig them out and quickly put them out before he turns up.”
‘Al’s’ sold the most useless rubbish of any shop Fen knew; at first it had been a general collectables store, but it gradually came to pander to the unique needs of Hungerford’s various opulent eccentrics. Its commercial success relied quite heavily on ignorance of ‘Ebay’, which ironically enough was now the source of much of its merchandise. Fen had worked there for about a year now and was glad for the job, she had never fancied becoming a face for a clothing multinational like her friend Laura had become. ‘Al’s’ had a nice atmosphere and allowed her to bend work time to suit her studies. Today she didn’t have to go to college however.
Fen placed ‘Fishermen’s weekly’ on the rack next to the train spotter’s guides and the motorcycle annuals, having in mind the fact that Mr Ferguson would be there five minutes later to pick one up; it was a feeling similar to setting a mouse trap.
“Ding-dong” went the door as Mr Ferguson entered, just as expected.
“Ah, Fisherman’s weekly; do you how hard it is to get hold of these?” He said as he approached the display, as he was inclined to every 5th day of the month. He picked up a copy and put it on the till while simultaneously reaching for the wallet in his right pocket.
“That’ll be £5.50 thanks” Stated Fen with a pang of guilt, as she knew the Internet subscription cost only two pounds a month.
“Worth every penny,” said Mr Ferguson as he almost collided with John as he turned to leave the shop.
“So you’ll be fine Fen, I’m off now, Mark’ll be here at 3 to let you go, Ok”
This reminded Fen that it was Thursday; Thursday was a good day for Fen. It also made Fen wonder why she had never asked John exactly what he did during the day, then she remember that it was because she didn’t really care what 30 year old man did during the day, assuming that he probably sold insurance or something similarly dreary.
Thursdays were not usually very busy days in the shop, and neither was this one. Fen counted five people enter the shop that morning, two had obviously just got lost and were intrigued by the shop display, and the other three had just come to see if a particular item was available; strangely enough they weren’t but Fen promised to see if she could get hold of some if they came again, which they invariably did. She then proceeded to put the objects on the Ebay purchase list, knowing that Mark would sort it out from there, as that was essentially all he was paid for.
Most of her time was spent sitting in her cosy chair behind the till and listening to her collection of downloaded music on her second hand I-pod substitute, while thinking deeply over matters of philosophical importance. Fen was in an interesting stage of her life, She had comparatively little behind her, her childhood consisted of jumping between various foster homes due to both her ‘unique’ personality as well as a series of untimely coincidences. It was the sort of thing that should leave you emotionally scarred, but Fen felt quite indifferent to her past, there was not much pain in losing what you never had, Fen thought.
There didn’t seem to be too much in front of her either, the GCSE’s had been barely passable and her A-levels hadn’t exactly been going a lot different. Fen didn’t exactly want to be working at Al’s forever, but she didn’t like to think about that too much.
No time like the present Fen thought to herself as she realised she’d been sitting there for some time. The music blaring down her headphones had begun to become a blur and she felt her stomach ache as she rose from stupor. Looking up to see that it was about one o’clock she reached to retrieve her bag from under the till, ripping her headphones from her ears and stuffing them into her pocket where her mp3 player resided.
There was a meagre selection of food within Fen’s lunch box: A spotty banana, a small packet of hula-hoops and a ham sandwich with poorly spread margarine. However much Fen disliked the feel of globs of margarine on her tongue, she knew that it was filling a hole; she just wished she had taken more time over it the day before.
* * *
The sun was shining, and Fen had to squint as she left the gloomy interior of the shop. She felt its warm radiance heat her shabby green overcoat, but the coolness that hung in the air around the shadowed parts of her body reminded her that these sorts of days would soon be over to be replaced by the unremitting overcast days of autumn. The walk to the bus stop was a short one, but gave Fen time to check her bag contained a bit of cash and her mobile phone should she need it.
The Bus stop was empty, and when Fen arrived there she went to sit in the shaded seat next to the advertising board. Today there was a new Ad from last week, it showed a woman who appeared to be mightily impressed by the smoothness of her shins subsequent to shaving them. Fen wondered who would be convinced by such an advertisement, but conceded that she had little experience to answer this question as she had never had either the money nor the time to invest in shaving equipment.
“Fen!” It was Laura, Fen cast her a fleeting smile as she sat down beside her in the Bus station. “How was work?”
“Quiet, it was quiet I guess”
“Oh, Thursday yeah? I see. I dunno, I didn’t do much today either I s’pose, the normal; clothes, eh.”
“Mmm,” Fen nodded with comprehension.
The conversation dropped into silence. Laura was used to this and rearranged herself into a more comfortable position, slouched on the rotating bus station seat quite precariously. Laura was wearing jeans and a white shirt with variously placed toggles and buttons that seemed to serve no useful purpose. Despite this a flicker of envy passed through Fen’s mind as she realised that it was much more suitable to the weather than what she was currently dressed in.
“So, what shall we do, then?” Fen knew that Laura knew the answer to that, as it was what they did every Thursday. Fen suppressed her cynicism. She’s just trying to make conversation; anyway we could change the plans today. “Well?”
“We could just do what we usually do, but we don’t have to, if you don’t want?” Said Fen submissively.
“Er, well sure, we can always decide later on though”
“Fine, yeah,” Fen laboured a positive expression, noticing their bus in the distance in the corner of her eyes and rising to her feet. Laura almost slipped on her seat as she turned her head around to see the same bus. Fen waved and the Bus came to a halt next to them with a low-pitched grunt of the brakes. The rumble of the buses engines invited Fen to climb into the bus.
“Return to Tonsborough Please,” Fen said placing the change she had just retrieved from her pocket in front of the driver, who was still looking out the front of the bus.
“That’ll be one pound ninety p,” Said the bus driver just as he noticed the money Fen had placed next to him.
“Same for me, thanks.” Laura said producing a similar amount of money from a small purse.
Ripping their tickets from the machine the two sat down near the back of the bus.
Fen put her head against the bus window; she felt the bus’s vibrations rattle her skull as it accelerated along the road. Looking up Fen noticed that the blue sky had lost some of its lustre as ominous looking grey clouds had begun to fill it. The lowered levels of light made the streets look a bit greyer, Fen felt bizarrely comforted by this, as if Hungerford was unnatural in glowing with the light of a sunny day. There were only a few elderly people with them on the bus as well as a young mother and her excitable child. Fen wondered how these buses kept running with so few passengers each day.
As the bus approached their stop Fen pressed the ‘stop’ button, got up from her seat and walked to the front of the bus where she stood grasping the pole next to the door tightly in order to keep her footing, because her inertia threw her body forward as the bus came to a stop. Laura followed behind Fen.
Fen knew this street as well as any near where she lived, even though it was in Tonsborough, which was about an hour walk from her house. It was one of Fen’s favourite places, the corner of this high street.
It contained a small collection of the sort of shops Fen liked the best, selling comic books, electronic gadgetry, video games, CDs and anything obscure and colourful you could dream of. This cluster of independent stores was a Haven from the soulless shopping districts like the one near where Fen worked that abhorred her so.
Colourful new displays would send a tingle down her spine and she loved to revel in the creations of all the artists and writers and musicians, losing herself in their imaginations. The Shopkeepers were very tolerant of her frequent and extended visits, often using their shops like libraries. This was probably because they were of about Fen’s age and mindset; they would often discuss with her the commercial state of that particular media form or the qualities of its latest releases. Moreover they knew that now and again Fen would buy something she really liked, and she had little money to spend anyway. Still Fen was very appreciative of their patience even if she didn’t show it. It was true that this place was truly a rare find.
It had been Laura who first brought Fen here, but now she took a back seat to Fen’s enthusiasm. At times she like to listen to Fen Gush over some new piece of gadgetry or a classic comic series, but her interest in such things was limited. Both understood this silently and the two friends had developed a compromise over time because Laura saw how much Fen got out of the place, even if she couldn’t empathise completely. Laura would regularly leave Fen to her devices and wander into the ‘normal’ high street, sometimes to see her boyfriend who had shifts at the Wilkinson’s from time to time.
Fen’s favourite shop was the ‘Paradox’. Its façade centred around the Huge purple lettering of its Title, in a comic book font with jet black outlining, slanted and distorted in a way that made it seem as if it was exploding from the MDF panel it was painted upon, strongly and deliberately reminiscent of the stores wares. Similar to Al’s the shop had diversified in recent years to a point where you could buy such a wide range of things, that it was hard to classify as a shop. For this reason the innards had become somewhat of a jumble, but Fen was charmed all the more by this. The multiple floor levels and steps just added to the bewildering effect of the tightly packed and muddled mix of display cases; shelves of comics; bargain bins and drawers of small collector’s items that covered the walls on both sides of the shop and much of the floor space.
Fen supposed that she could not blame most for finding this shop intimidating in its intricacy and immensity, however she could not help from feeling the complete opposite as she entered the shop with a stimulating chime of the doors electronic entry bell. She immediately turned left, her eyes drawn by a stack of ‘The Sand Defenders’ sitting, enwrapped by plastic film, denoting it as a new arrival, next to an unusually empty shelf.
“Hello Fen, Hello Laura, do you want anything?”
Fen gave Glen, the young man standing behind the counter, emblazoning the Paradox icon across his chest, a small nod of appreciation, and preceded to walk over to what had caught her eyes, meanwhile Laura attempted to continue the conversation.
“I don’t think so, How are you this afternoon?” Laura asked giving Glen a polite smile.
“Can’t complain I suppose”
In the meantime Fen lofted the obviously intriguing package to waist height and for no apparent reason blew over its top surface. Glen gave her a abrupt perplexed stare and then exclaimed with a speck of pride in his tone,
“We got them in this morning, fresh from Japan,”
Fen froze for a second, and as though she had suddenly come to a decision swiftly put the Stack on the ground, ripped the film asunder, and began to place the comics on the shelf.
“You know, I could…” But Glen stopped There’s no point he thought.
Before Laura could speak and rationalize Fen’s exploits, Fen apologised.
“I’m sorry…” She had become focussed on the front page of the copy in her hand but dragged her gaze towards Glen. “…You know how…”
Fen didn’t need a second word.
Laura had her hands in her pockets; she looked at Glen and then to Fen.
“I think I’ll head off now, today,” It was not quite clear whom this was directed at but Fen answered,
“Ok” She looked around again, trying to overcome her interest and attempted to be more tolerable. “I’ll see you soon, we can call each other right”
“Oh, Oh yeah, sure” Laura looked back to Glen for a second and then turned to leave the shop, “See you, then”.
* * *
The Heat of the day seemed to linger quite far into the evening, but this was probably just the effect of the still moistness of the air. There came a moment as the sun began to fade to red in the west, when the temperature dropped down a step suddenly and the water appeared to condense out of the air itself and start falling in tiny dribbles from the overcast atmosphere, made carroty by the a mix of the setting sun and the street lights beginning to incandesce.
The Instantaneous ‘tock-tock’ of the precipitation on the fibreglass ceiling of the McDonalds in which Fen sat completed the eerie yet weirdly familiar ambience, as if everyone inside had sensed the coming of the rain beforehand. Only Fen halted her activity of munching on fries to absorb the split second. She got a peculiar quiver across the hair on her arms, and proceeded to rub them with her greasy palms.
“Are you going to eat them?” Dan could be quite brazen about other people’s food, but then again part of that was a typically adolescent insatiable hunger.
“Lay off, Dan!” Laura said with some humour; Fen took a few seconds to come back into the situation.
She had met up with Dan while browsing in the music shop; they were both looking for the same album. Once they had found it and Dan had bought it, the two had agreed to rendezvous with Laura here.
“Mmnf…” Dan still had a chip in his mouth that he had failed to notice when he began to speak. “Have you heard their first album?”
“No, this isn’t their first?”
“No, you see, they released it only in America, but the band has changed a lot since then, and their sound has changed, so that its saleable over here…” He took a short pause to gobble a bit of his hamburger, “I’ve heard bits of it, its not great, its ok though, you know if you’re into that stuff, not as good as this one though, yeah,”
“Oh, I didn’t know that,” Dan peered at Laura for speaking, but only Fen seemed to pick up the condescending quality in his expression.
Fen looked down at what she had left: a few fries and a tiny wedge of her cheeseburger. She sort of wished she had given into the waitress’s hassling to ‘go large’. She thought she heard her stomach rumble.
“So you’re coming tonight?”
“Err, not sure, what’s happening? Where is it?” Fen replied to Dan.
“The Anvil, a gig, its at the anvil, two bands. My friends cousin is one of their bassists.”
“What bands?” Interjected Laura.
“ ‘Umpanki’ that’s my friends cousin’s band, and the other one it was, it was ‘The Yorkers’ I think, or ‘the Yonkers’. Umpanki are good and it’s only two quid entry ”
Fen checked her wallet; there was a pound coin and some twenty and ten pence pieces, which she guessed would probably bring her total to two pounds.
“Fen?” Laura asked as Fen placed her wallet back in her pocket.
“Ok, Ok, sure, lets go. What time is it?”
Dan lifted his arm and withdrew a sleeve to produce a leather strapped watch.
“Its half six now, it starts at seven, we could make it, if we cut across the Old town,”
Laura winced, but Fen made an expression that impressed upon the others her indifference.
“I’m in, we should leave, so we’re not in a rush”
With some muttered agreements, the scrape of chairs and a rustle of brown paper bags and cardboard cups, the three rose and went to leave the shop.
The evening air felt harsh on the skin when compared to the warmth in the air that they had felt when they had entered the restaurant. It was still drizzling, but not quite enough to get any complaint from any of them. Since they all knew the route pretty well, they proceeded in the same direction without a word until Dan started talking, almost singularly, about a videogame he’d just bought.
As they turned into the old town Fen noticed that the sun had already melted into the horizon, as unnoticeably as it seemed to Fen the summer had passed. This served to give the old town a further edge that made Laura shiver and tighten her clothes and cross her arms around her body. Fen was annoyed by the sense of superiority this gave her, as she felt she had little to fear, and her green overcoat was quite toasty. They would likely meet some hot-blooded kids on bicycles or a gang of teenagers smoking against a wall, at that point they would just keep walking, with no effect to them more than perhaps a pause in conversation.
Regardless of this, Fen still felt funnily uneasy. She couldn’t help fearing what the numerous shadows had to hide. This place was not unlike where she lived, just another estate she thought, but in fact this had the effect that it troubled her more; She well knew the things that sometimes could happen in places like this. However irrational fear was replaced by reason as they went on. The regularity of the streets and building imbued her with confidence and buoyed her as she became accustomed to the atmosphere.
It seemed the others were affected similarly; their voices began to rise. “So do you know who else is gonna be there?” ask Laura, interrupting a temporary bout of silence between them.
“Usual Anvil crowd, there will be a few people we know from college probably, I wouldn’t worry, it’ll be ok” Dan answered.
“We’re almost there now anyway,” Fen was accurate in what had been a rough guess at their location. They were out of the old town now.
As they passed a BP the ambient noise boiled up into the recognizable hum of a large group of young people in one place. This noise grew further as the Anvil came into view. The Anvil on first viewing would appear to be a quaint and traditional public house, but its Elizabethan timberwork and layering of ivies concealed a hall that had been built more recently around the back. The three knew exactly where to find it.
If the Passage through to the hall seemed intimidating to Fen, Laura was terrified, even if she hid it very well, her legs moved like stiff rods and her arms were again tightly wound around her chest. This effect was produced by a group of boys evenly distributed along the passage all wearing incredibly suspicious hoodies and caps, their facial features masked by shadows. They exuded peculiar smells and shifted irregularly, seeming to whisper inaudibly to each other sporadically.
The three trotted on bravely, and the atmosphere inside the hall seemed much more comfortable to them, putting them at ease. There were band members tuning up on the low stage and groups of friendly looking, enthusiastic teens standing about tables of squash.
Fen paid her last remaining coppers to a man in a black Iron maiden T-shirt standing by the door, who had waved a slitted box at them when they entered. While the other two paid, Fen walked forward and eyed up the location. There wasn’t much she could think about it, it was a grey hall which a wooden ceiling. There was expensive looking lights and musical equipment in piles around the stage, but they did not give a very exciting impression in their current state, some tangled in wires, some with taped up holes covering their sides.
With a sudden change of mood Laura zipped past Fen’s side, she had seen a friend at the far end of the room. Fen looked on as she saw the silent image of Laura greeting the group. The sound of the welcoming voices became clearer as Fen walked over and drew to Laura’s side. One girl lifted a finger aggressively in Fen’s direction,
“You’re, you’re I know don’t tell me, err…” She put the finger on her chin and twisted her body round in an exaggerated manner. “Phoebe right! Phoebe?”
“No…” a boy interrupted Fen, “Its Fen”
“Oh, cool name”
Conversation immediately jumped to something else, brought up by another boy standing on Laura’s right. Fen stood there awkwardly, trying to be interested in what they were talking about, but it tended to flow over her head. She looked around; Dan was talking to the man by the door.
“…So good, I saw them in the summer, in Milton Keynes…”
“…Really? I heard their lead singer is crap…”
“…Not so bad, but not great…”
Fen wasn’t so much into this type of music, but she liked to watch skilled musicians at work, she had never been to a big name gig before, and particularly liked it when they did covers. Fen joked to herself I can imagine decent bands are playing.
“What do you think, Fen?” She was caught of guard.
“The Yonkers, do you think they’ll be good?” the nameless girl said.
“Not my kind of music really”
“Then why are you here?” A boy said swiftly, they all laughed. At about that moment the first band began to introduce themselves. Fen took the opportunity of everyone being distracted to slide away from that group. She was surprised that she had not noticed that the hall had now very well filled.
Fen saw hundreds of hopeful eyes fixed above her head, presumably at whoever was speaking.
Fen walked about the crowd for a bit, until she decided to make herself comfortable leaning against a radiator. She had a good view of the band, which were just beginning to play.
* * *
Fen felt awkwardly still, she could see Dan and Laura enjoying themselves, throwing themselves about among the pulsating crowd of people. I’m enjoying myself too; the music is actually quite good. Fen let her arms begin to swing to the beat, but soon felt stupid dancing while leaning. She settled back to her original non-chalant stance, letting the blend of chords flow over her. This continued for a minute or so, up until the band came to the end of that particular song. Fen found herself hit by the silence. The front man began to speak with a squeak of the speakers.
“Thank you everyone” He paused to take a breath, “Its been an awesome night for us, thanks guys” He placed the mic sloppily down in the holster and the band began to pack up their instruments and equipment. The noise level rose as banter grew to fill the hall. Fen saw Laura stagger through the crowd towards her.
“Yeah, yeah” Fen grunted, she noticed Laura seemed a bit too tired to come up with an answer so added, “Umpanki, they were good weren’t they”
Laura gave a hasty chortle,
“You could say that, their lead guitarist was awesome”
Fen nodded. She saw him leaving, a guitar bag on his back, she looked back round at the stage to see that the second band were almost ready.
Laura continued, “The Yonkers will have a job to beat that, right,” Fen agreed but gave such a subtle grin of comprehension, that Laura stood there silent for a couple of seconds and moved off saying, in afterthought, “Come into the crowd more…” Fen lost what she was saying at that point as Laura’s voice was interrupted by the noisy crescendo of the hall’s anticipation as a new front man took up the mic.
Fen thought his hair-do was ridiculous, spiking out in all directions, in a way that seemed like he had intended it to look like he had accidentally been electrified, when he had obviously taken a good half an hour perfecting its intricate curls and barbs with a tub of brylcream. His voice made Fen wince similarly.
“Are we Ready to Rock!” he shrilled, subsequently looking back at his band with a gleeful smirk. Are we ready to rock? Fen thought. His clothes were, likewise to his hair, garish and superficial to Fen. She wondered what sort of thing he wore on a normal day. He had a skeleton t-shirt and some jeans ripped from the ankles to the knees on both legs. Albeit, the crowd roared with fervour at his remarks.
“Lets goooo!” He reached new altitudes of pitch; Fen spluttered cynically, but suddenly felt very self-conscious seeing other people’s enthusiasm. She pushed herself tighter up against the radiator, and crossed her arms. The Lead guitarist with hair over his face started with a huge chord that made Fen cringe, but she tried to keep an open mind. To Fen the sound moved forward from there like a train crashing into a rusty heap of metal. Despite this she began to nod her head to the beat of the music.
Fen decided she was being dull, and moved off her spot and started mixing in with everyone else. Her eye was caught by a set of voluminous dread locks. They were swinging around and back again as their owner threw her body into several contortions per beat, and as Fen looked closer she noticed her eyes were blank like a dead fish’s. Fen stared wondering at this person for a few moments, then she looked round. There were a few people toing and froing in a similar way but most of the crowd were not so vigorous, if just as a carried away. As Fen looked she realised that she felt unbearably distant from the image before her.
Fen tried to let herself go a bit, tapping her feet to the beat. Then Fen closed hers eyes tight and swung her arm round her body, then again in the opposite direction, and again, and again. I don’t care! Realising her leg was still motionless she began to lift her legs up and down to the booming grate of the Bassist’s beat.
She forced the idea that she might look idiotic marching like a soldier out of her head by marching all the harder. Her eyelids were still tightly shut and her heavy overcoat rubbed heavily against her limbs jutting back and forth inside it. Fen wasn’t sure if she was even following the beat any longer but she didn’t care anymore, she just kept going. Flailing her cares away with only the glow of flashing lights through her eyelids visible to her; Fen kept Dancing and dancing and dancing. It was ridiculously exhilarating.
Then suddenly something caught. Fen's eyes were forced open by a sudden change in her orientation. She seemed to have become weightless and she glimpsed the staring eyes of people turning to look at her fall. Then a flat hard and cold face brought a searing pain against her left temple while simultaneously sending a shock wave through her body.
For a minute the pain throbbed silently. The music was still playing, drilling through her skull, making her skull ache, making her muscles tense horribly. In her immediate vicinity there was a sort of muffled jumble of different voices. The instant seemed to stretch out for minutes.
Fen opened her eyes wide. The floor in front of her eyes was wooden and stretched out into the distance under a myriad of stirring feet. Her arms worked around on it and got into a useful position. Fen levered herself off of the floor, it seemed that people had lost interest and were concentrating on the band again. Ouch. The pain on her head spiked again, Fen tried to soothe it with her cool, slightly numb, fingers, while rising to her feet shakily. She began to walk again. The commotion seemed not even a memory now, and Fen even felt the group consciousness impress its amnesia upon her. She kept walking but felt awkward and strange, even though everyone seemed to be ignoring her now. She kept walking, drifting uneasily across the hard floor, pushing her way though people now and again. I need some air, she thought to herself.
She clasped the door handle tightly and felt the chilly night air blow past her as she opened the door. The corridor alongside the avenue was emptier now; those guys must have gone in. Feeling slightly better Fen strode along it trying to regain her composure.
The pitch-black night stood harshly in front of Fen as she stepped out of that corridor, when compared to the sensual cacophony of the hall. It was silent except for the vague drone of the music behind her, but it seemed even quieter than it was to her. She stood there for a few seconds then looked round to see a bench at the other end of the street. She began to walk towards it. As she sat down on it she took a belated sigh and began to assess her position practically. She could take her bus back home. She searched all her pockets, the return ticket was gone, she searched them again, and it was definitely gone. It must have fallen out in the Anvil But Fen was not too keen on returning. I’ll just wait for the others to be finished, and then call them.
On this decision she moved to check if her mobile was usable, but as soon as she removed it from her pocket she felt distressed, as she knew it had gone flat due to its coolness to the touch, One look at the screen proved this. Eurgh! Why didn’t I recharge it? She lamented looking gloomily towards the corridor entrance. She really felt like that it was last place she wanted to be at that moment. I’ll hear them coming out She told herself feigning mental security.
So Fen resigned herself to her fate and sat there, taking in her surroundings. It was quite cold, but fen was still warm from the gig, so it didn’t bother her much especially with her overcoat. The extreme darkness had faded since her eyes had begun to adjust to the light levels. A smouldering lamppost orange pervaded the night sky and revealed the silhouettes of the leafy trees and adequately sized houses of the suburban district within which she sat. She noticed the silence especially now, helped by the fact that the music coming from the hall was virtually inaudible, but also because Fen was now perfectly still. The moment lasted for a while, but soon her mind was drawn back to recent events. What happened there, eh? She joked, but she still wondered. For a while she tried to dig up from within herself the perplexing desire that had driven her to make a fool of herself, but it was like trying to reach into an abyss, what she saw made her feel so empty and drained that curiosity and fear fought in her mind. Fen sighed again but, as she knew, it achieved nothing.
She sat there rolling the events over in her head for what seemed like hours, but it seemed her mind would not allow her to come to a conclusion. She felt mentally exhausted and began to look forward to finding some normality. I’ll feel much better tomorrow she kept telling herself.
The moment came when Fen could do nothing to leave her thoughts behind her and walk back to the hall. Her skin clinging to the inside of her clothes as she got up made her realise she must have been sitting there for quite a while, she shook off the languor in her muscles and began to move, and the sitting-ache soon wearing off.
As she walked round the corner she suddenly noticed a disturbing lack of noise. Her heart dropped. She began to walk at a perturbed rapidity, attempting to temper her growing anxiety. An airy hall expanded into view; she could hardly believe it. There were only a few people hanging around, who seemed to have little interest in the events that had occurred here, but were packing up stage equipment, or sweeping up rubbish. Stunned she stood there for a few seconds, till the sight of scraps of paper in front of her sparked a reaction.
She ran headlong towards one pile of dust and rubbish and began to dig into it, spreading it from its neat pyramid shape into a sprawling mess, frantically picking out pieces of paper. But there only seemed to be bits of food packaging or magazines or programs. Once on pile was exhausted Fen ran on to another; the cleaners stared at her mystified. Yet again she could only seem to find useless scraps of paper. As she searched her hopes would sometimes be buoyed by the occasional bus ticket, but be dashed again because it was not hers.
Failure with one pile caused her to stop and sigh, her hands were covered in a colourfully shaded mix of grime and fluff, and her knees were now aching. The frustration started to build up glaringly in the back of her mind but she shook it off by looking to the bin for hope. Over she ran to it, immediately dunking her arms in without inhibition, groping through the slurry rummaging for that speck of paper with exaggerated optimism. She forced a hanging disappointment away, by pushing even harder, straining her arms and her eyes not daring to let go of anticipation of being just about to find it. Its got to be here She thought to herself over and over. But there was nothing. Fen hardly noticed that she was beginning to ache badly, breathing heavily and fumbling as she moved.
It was either their weak grasp of the English language, or their shock and pity of this desperate individual that forced the people standing around to remain mute. But as fen began to frenziedly sift through their brushes that one spoke up.
“What are you doing!? What do you want?”
Fen paused shattered, breathing heavily while her head and arms fell in their joints sluggishly. After a few seconds she raised her head to meet the eyes of the speaker. “Well? What do you want?”
It was then the predicament fell with all its terrible reality square on Fen’s psyche. She was stuck, she had no way home, but that hadn’t really been what hit her worst, she suddenly felt dreadfully lonely and lost, a feeling that was compounded by the disgusted and afraid expression on face of the man staring back at her. The anguish exploded ahead of itself, as she felt worthlessness and meaninglessness overcome her.
“Well girl?” He said.
Fen began to cry. She felt shameful and cowardly before them and couldn’t help but leave; although she was quite tired physically, she quickly lifted herself up and ran out of the hall, leaving the man even more bemused than before.
* * *
Fen drifted from foot to foot silently in the emptiness of an unrecognisable street, the click of her heels on concrete echoing from fences and brick walls. The world seemed to be some sort of orange-scale photograph here, Coloured by the ubiquitous sodium street lamps. Fen walked on, in the vague direction of home, hoping to find some sort of direction. Fen looked at her watch, it read 10.38. Fen wondered where the time had gone.
Fen arrived at a sign, which contained a place name she recognised: Hungerford. It was shown as an exit to the next round about. She decided to follow the signs guidance wherever it might bring her. She dreaded talking to or even meeting another human being anytime soon, so she reconciled herself to travelling on foot for as long as it took. The roundabout was large and uninviting to the pedestrian, covered in dirty oil stains and in lack of any pavements. Fen walked across it furtively, retreating to the metallic fences on its edge when cars came by.
Fen now saw that the exit she wanted led to a dual carriageway and a bridge of sorts, that thankfully had a footpath, which would need her only to vault over one railing to reach it from where she now stood. Carefully, and avoiding another car, she hiked her foot up against the railing, dragged her body still wrapped in her green overcoat, up and over the railing, landing with a satisfying thud on the tarmac on the far side. Fen began to stride up the path when she became aware of what the bridge encompassed.
Hundreds of pairs of lights, white and red, appeared to phase in and out of existence as cars as they passed underneath of row upon row of streetlights. Fen stopped, gently leaning on the railing; then moved a few metres up the bridge, to get a better view. Mesmerised by the colourful light show below her, Fen screwed up her eyes so the points of light would runs up and down her blurry eyelashes vibrantly. Funny little cars, they don’t know I’m here.
Fen glanced to her right, this was not it. A maze of rising and declining waves of roads winding around each other stood there before her, barely visible in its magnitude in the darkness. Fen wandered on towards it unknowingly.
The Path seemed to lead forward prudently, and Fen trusted its various twists and turns and steps and slopes, moving forward with hope. It escorted under and over rumbling highways, until it came, after some walking to the edge of a black bunch of vegetation. Fen stopped looked carefully at a path through to an even darker alleyway of wooden fences, presumably through a housing estate. I’ve come this far Fen thought as she continued into it
The alleyway was about as dark and spooky as it had looked from the outside. Eerie branches of foliage were slung down from the tops of the wooden fences on either side of Fen, brushing her moistly as she wandered blindly on, feeling her way along reticently. Fen could only imagine what it was that was crunching and prickling her soles as she stepped forward.
Next Fen stumbled into an area that she felt was slightly less close, she looked around. It was still jet-black but she could make out four walls and two exits. Fen realised it must just be a miniature square of pathway, created out of the arrangements of the surrounding gardens and houses. It was a secret room at a secret hour. Standing there Fen suddenly felt very cold and very still, and after a few moments she overcame her curiosity for its tranquillity and moved on.
After some time the alley brightened up a bit, and Fen realised some tens of metres down the alley seemed to open onto a road of sorts. Now not relying on her hands to find her way she picked up the pace. A few seconds later Fen stopped at the road; It seemed to be lengthy in both directions, straight and meanly lit. Fen determined that she should choose a direction then look for signs; She decided left.
Fen resumed walking quietly and silently. Before long a sign became apparent, but it was too dark to read without closer inspection. Fen drew nearer,
“Hungerford east: 1½ miles” It read. The sign suddenly began to glow, but retained the image of fen sliding across it, coal black on its surface. Fen turned around and was forced to squint. It’s a car, she guessed but all she could see were two, brilliant, headlights. The vehicle speeded past with a typical ‘vroummm’; Fen could see it was a Van now it was past her.
She kept walking. Her body was tired but her goal now felt at least slightly tangible. Only a few miles she thought expectantly. In the monotony of her trudge, thoughts of the gig resurfaced. It no longer seemed to be so unsettling to think over it now; she felt calm and emotionless, ready to accept anything was true. Fen sighed, because however she now felt the mental reaction was the same as before, she just wanted to get home and see how it went tomorrow. Fen remembered, her prediction at the beginning of the day, smirking to herself. I guess it wasn’t that bad though she reflected.
Finally she arrived somewhere; it was a T-junction with a path into a park on the opposite side. She stood there for a moment, trying to put her finger on a feeling she had for the place. It sparked; she knew it, that park was near where she lived. But I haven’t been here in a while Fen recollected, still she was comforted by the fact she was somewhere she knew.
Looking left and right down a clearly empty road Fen crossed to the park entrance.
It was a peculiar looking place in the dark, with the little bits of light being produced by a row of lamps being mostly absorbed into patches on willow branches or empty sections of grass or paving slabs. Strangely enough, Fen realized that she had been here before at this sort of time, when she was much younger and liked to explore places at night, with her friends. It had a homely feel almost, what a strange habit that was Fen conceded. She began to picture in her mind the whole shape of the park, from what she remembered. There was a rusty old play-park next to a small grassy hill in an average sized rectangular field; The Play Park would be the far side of the hill from where I am Fen thought.
As it came into view Fen saw the surface of the hill glisten with a blue-white light, the source of which evaded Fen, yet it still made a stunningly beautiful picture in Fens mind, with each grass blade twinkling delightfully in the emergent wind. She kept her fixed on it, and it grew in her vision as she slowly moved towards it. The detail came even more into focus, making it even more striking an image.
As Fen began to climb the hill the cool prickly grass tickled in between her digits. At first it was steep and then it leveled out, but fen reveled childishly in the exertion. She sat herself firmly down on the summit, in order to take in the view. It was a full moon tonight, which smoldered just above the horizon, making everything look white and glossy, even Fen’s drole overcoat. Fen could see all of her old stomping ground, the swings she had jumped from, the merry go round that bumped awkwardly every turn, and the bushes she had dug holes under. Beyond that and over another fence was Hungerford. There were hundreds of little lights, and Fen could see the area where one of her old houses was, where she had lived with a nice set of foster parents, until one had got a terminal illness and they had had to give her up. Fen remembered meeting Laura here amongst a clump of other girls and boys next to the climbing frame, and becoming friends. She remembered coming here alone.
There were no stars tonight; the clouds had filled the sky again. The air had turned a little chillier and Fen tightened her coat around her as she lay gazing into an empty sky.
* * *
Although Fen was quite comfortable, the wind was building and she felt the need to move to avoid becoming too cold. She lifted herself up, slightly dazed, and realized the moon had gone, smothered heavily by dark clouds. They hovered ominously but Fen didn’t let them get her down, as she knew the way home from here.
Fen felt a dying touch of nostalgia as she heard the gate creak as she pushed through it and strolled on to the street on its far side. The world was sodium orange again. Fen had just begun to settle her mind when she heard a faint ‘tick’ in the distance; it seemed too come from a rooftop somewhere. Then there was another tick, and then another, and a couple more, that seemed to be it for a brief instant, until a noise swelled out of the surroundings, and from the rooftops roared the sound of a downpour. Fen felt like this was all the excuse she needed; She began to run zestful rainwater streaming through her hair and across her face. It was really coming down now and Fen swiped her hand across her mouth to free herself of the gushing water, allowing her to breathe more easily. Lamppost after lamppost zipped by as she surged forward. Her overcoat now fully soaked, she pushed on, faster and faster.
Fen felt a cool dampness penetrating all her clothing, refreshing her as it clung clammily to her glowing arms and legs. Despite the pervading coldness of the midnight rain, a warmth drew up inside her, and she felt lifted by something she couldn’t explain. Every step, every front gate whizzing past, every lamppost surrounded by a hive of glowing raindrops, made her want to run even faster. She could sense her house in the distance and knew it wouldn’t be far now. On she scurried playfully, not caring to look around when she crossed a road. Just another street now She slowed now, cramps beginning to kick in; but she remained walking at pace.
Fen remembered leaving her house that morning, and her street was now just as it was then, dark and silent as the rain had slowed to a steady patter. Fen walked contently up to her door and retrieved a key from a soggy pocket. Relief now really began to kick in. She was home.