(So here’s the backstory: I started work on South by Southampton, the sequel to my book Strange Days in High Wycombe. However, after some perusal time, I decided I didn’t like the opening and wanted to completely re-do it. However, I don’t like throwing things away, therefore for your enjoyment here is the rejected opening. Hope you enjoy, but not too much. – OJ)
What is this? I mean, I know what this is. It’s me, half-clad in yesterday’s clothes while slumbering upon a sofa. That much is obvious to even the most half-witted cretin. What I really mean, if you can comprehend it, is why I am nearly falling off a sofa, with a head filled with past regrets and dubious recollections.
And why am I still in bloody High Wycombe?
Quite simply the answers fall within my current position. I recognise this sofa and the surrounding area as the dwelling cave of my former guide, Kriste. A devious rapscallion of the highest order who, no doubt, persuaded me to perform the merry dance of exchanging my well-earned finances for the bitter taste of alcohol. Like a deceived consumer, I obviously fell to this trick, and now find myself in my current predicament. One that does not taste good, not one bit.
Although, one could easily blame that on morning tongue, a vile experience that we’ve all had after a beverage or several.
Not that it excuses the whole damned thing. I had planned to leave this infernal town swiftly, after the incident between myself, Charles, and the lady known as Hartley. Ah, Hartley… now there was a foxy vixen. It seems like only yesterday I was staring into her eyes and thinking that maybe, just maybe, we could be something together.
What am I talking about? Of course it was yesterday. I had a lot to drink, but not that much to drink. And that togetherness I yearned for? Dismissed out of hand by a free spirit who saw her future in her own life, and not one with a man such as I. A fair decision, albeit a wrong one in my eyes. For I am a fine gent, and could have given her the world.
Or at least a nice holiday on the coast.
But enough flim-flam over the ladies of the day! For I am still here, still upon this beige monstrosity of furnishing, and still trying to figure out exactly where my trousers are.
You know what? No matter for trousers. The eyes remain weary from the lesser of a good night’s sleep. While there is no shame in the noble art of sleeping on the sofa – for I have done so many a time – it does not give comfort to most denizens of its cushioned land. True, it is the refuge of the hardened drinker, giving false promises of rest to those whose head is heavy with intoxication. But in the end, it is nothing more than a short shift and lumpy conditions. Why, the sofa that I rest on right now is good for a foetal lie, but a good old stretch? You’d be lucky. Instead, your toes dangle off the furthest edge, and your head tries to make a pillow from cushions and the like.
Luckily, I was excused any neck or back pain from such a position. Normally, especially depending on the sofa, you’d awake with a sharp stab in your bones, and a reminder that man was built for a mattress and fine duvet, not the quilted throw you find yourself under now. I mean, I should say it is a nice throw – a deep crimson and soft to the touch – but it is no replacement for a fine piece of bedding.
No, laying upon the sofa is a sure sign that your previous night ended in collapse, falling upon the sofa and making it your kingdom. For at the time, it was the wisest move you could make outside of the actual bed, but over time it constricts and corrupts your body towards its own lie. The sofa is for sitting, not sleeping, and you soon discover this awful truth. Caked in your own drool, dressed only in your pants and diminished dignity. A prone failure of your own lack of willpower.
Enough of that! As I say, one cannot just lie on the sofa and feel the heavy hand of regret rest upon his shoulders. He must rise! He must find those trousers, and make his way back in the world. Especially when he is not blessed with the thunderous power of the dreaded hangover. Yes, I awoke early, but relatively well of mind and body. Sure, there was the drinking stink to my pores, but nothing that couldn’t be healed by the refreshing blast of aqua. The spirit – and not the alcoholic kind – would be something that wouldn’t be easily fixed. That said, I was feeling quite good of heart, and therefore not in a position where I would copiously vomit and remain stationary until a time when I felt alive again.
For the moment, I felt actually quite spry, and why not utilise that feeling in a jaunt to the bathroom.
Of course, I know in my heart this is all folly. A lie I tell myself to dismiss the later aggression that will pummel me into submission. No, I will not acquiesce to this nugatory feeling, and shall instead stand forth, in yesterdays boxers, and urinate.
And by God, is the first urination after an evening of drink – mildly preceeded by a weekend of further debauchery – a grand old feeling. You stand there, proud like the man you are, equipment in hand and powering away the force in your bladder toward a pure porcelain. That white soon turns to an off-yellow, a sign that hydration is in your future, but the feeling remains one of utter goodness. You have expelled the horrors from your body, and while the bowel still hides its dreaded secrets, you have taken that first step.
You have, in the words of the ‘lads’, pissed, and it felt not just good, but right.
With that, there is nothing more in this morning than to freshen up, and finally take the day by its haunches and saunter forth. I was still in Wycombe, which was against the plans of the previous day. In fact, all plans were now so far out the window, they had nested themselves on the sill. No longer would I be trapped by this one-Kriste town – I would get myself sorted, and return to the land I know and love. A land where ruffians and drunkards know not.
The land of the South, literally. I mean, it’s in the name and everything.
But as I said, first a shower to cleanse my body, if not my soul.
Now let me first preface with this notion: it is quite uncomfortable showering in another person’s home. While I do realise I have used Kriste’s facilities before, and not shown any dismay with the procedure, with the knowledge of my immediate removal from the wilds of the Wyc, I can’t help but feel the intrusiveness of being in his bathroom, especially when nude. That first decampment of pants and other assorted garments leads to a vulnerability, as well as a perverted fear, of being as nature intended in a home that is not your own. Throw away the obvious thoughts of sleep and changing clothes, the immediate nudity that comes before showering does make one feel a little… odd.
Maybe it’s just a fine, upstanding gentleman such as myself that feels such things. After all, I consider my naked form a joy to behold, and unleashing it within this environment is not a premier choice in matters. Obviously, it is a necessity, as showering with clothes on is nothing short of madness, one I immediately associate with my former Wycombe guide. Why, I’d muster that many a time he has stepped under the shower’s warming embrace, fully clothed, killing two beautiful birds with an ugly stone.
One simply shudders at the thought.
After all is said and done, though, you must step into the bath and unleash the waters from the showers multi-pored head. Only a fool would immediately step inside, freezing his skin against that early burst of cold aqua. No, first one must adjust the head so it is away from your own body, but not in a position so that it blows its liquid load over the floor.
So to speak.
Therefore, aim away, and await the warming puff of steam that signals the arrival of the hot, cleansing water. Then is that wonderful point where you adjust it toward your person, step under, and feel natures goodness splatter all over you. And, oh God, is it good. Especially first thing in the morning, where the only soak you have is the sweat of the previous nights activity. You’re groggy, slightly dirty, and awash in your own juices. A shower not only cleanses, but awakens you to the day ahead. Now, I know it may seem that I constantly talk of the wonder of showers, as well I should. In fact, just feeling the warm water drift down my body, seeping into each crack, I am given flashbacks of my previous jaunts here. In fact, my eyes are drawn to the slowly filling plug-hole that gives my feet a little bath.
Dear Christ, there it is – the dying embers of a hairy beast’s body. The tendon-like monstrosities that have escaped his head and engorged itself within his plumbing.
Enough. One cannot think of such horrors when one is combining it with the wonder of cleaning. Oh, what wonder it is, for it embraces you like a lost lover, coming all over you and making you feel just darn special.
It also allows much thought to be had, and the first that pops into my noggin is the phraseology I use in describing my shower. Suddenly, the joys of being doused to a clean state remind me of some sort of bukkake nightmare. But that isn’t my paranoia, it is the filthy minds of those who would think such things. I am merely thinking of it by proxy of those sordid minds. In essence, I’m the hero who is highlighting this so no further minds are drawn to such filth. You can thank me later.
But the mind does wander while the suds lather up your chest and assorted regions, and the monotony of washing begins. Mine couldn’t help but consider my little adventure that I had embarked on. Coming to Wycombe, of all places, on the pretence to find the lady known as Hartley. And why? For a few pennies from an old friend, now turned utter foe, named Charles. When you whittle it down to those minor specifics, it all seems to fickle in the grand scheme of things. Coming to a town to find a woman for cash? It also stinks a little seedy, making me scrub that little bit harder.
Of course, throw in a guide named Kriste, and an unfortunate sexual encounter – or two – with the lady in question, and the twists and turns of this tale become something more. Part of me asks ‘Guy? Why would you do such a thing?’ ‘How could you prostitute yourself, fiscally and physically, in such a way?’ ‘Why on Earth would you drink so much?’
All valid questions, some of which needed no answers. Such as the latter, of course. One drinks because one enjoys the lubrication that comes with alcohol, both physically and socially. As for the more personal Q’s on offer? An empty mind. An assortment of emotions that one cannot comprehend in the sanctum of the shower. All they can do is tickle at your synapses, and make you even more curious as to their intentions.
The only one, true intention that remained in my mind was the most important: I had come to Wycombe to earn some money, and that money was not about my person. Unless a direct bank transfer was occurring – and with Charles that was always a possibility – I had performed my work without payment. And dammit, I was no volunteer of the state! I was a man. A manly man. A manly man who not only found the dear Hartley, but went to bed with her and more. Much more! Sure, that wasn’t in the contract, but hey. One has to improvise at times.
Now at this stage, I feel my genitals shrivelling to the constant exposure to the showers beats. Therefore, to the last hurdle – a swish of the hair, an application of shampoo, and the blind dance of the follicle-fluffer. Burrow those fingers deep into your scalp, and tell yourself that the dirt truly is gone. Wash, rinse, repeat, until the suds fall from your face, and into the plughole to die a death in the sewers below.
Blast! And don’t get it in your ears, because that terror is a damned horrible one. Sounds like you’re under water, which I guess you are. Well, your ears are, and no amount of shaking and feelings of lurch can make you feel better about that. You are condemned to a momentary horror – and to be fair, it is merely momentary – where aquatic motion assaults your inner ear, and makes you feel quite the disorientated. What can you do? Nothing. Just accept your fate, and move onward with the showering routine.
One that, by this stage, has ended. For now all one has to do is leap out of the bathtub, grab the nearest towel, and apply it directly to your soggy physique. Dab and wipe each droplet of cleansing from your body, and let the feeling of freshness engulf you. Also, try not to think of your nudity as well, for that will just make things quite awkward. If you’re that way inclined toward the nude bod. Which I am not. Quite proud of mine, actually.
Anyway, where was I? Ah yes! Towel-dried, and ready to go, feeling like a new man. A better man. A clean man.
With only one more question tingling away at the revitalised brain.
Where were my clothes?
Now, I’ll be the first to confess that due to my trip to Wycombe being largely unplanned, I had not anticipated enough clothing to last until this day. That means only one thing – fetid undies that not even the Devil himself would wear. One can get away with the trousers and tops being sullied but worn over several days, but there is a feeling of freshness that day-old pants just do not provide. Especially after a shower, when you are at peak loveliness.
Right now, the thought of wearing pants and socks that I had worn only recently, and were unwashed by lavender fluids was enough to make me gag. However, there I was, in the hallway of Kriste’s flat in pants I had slept in the night before. Pants that, quite possibly – for the memory of the weekend was already splintered into several shades – I had worn a number of times. Why, I couldn’t even remember if I had bought a change of clothes. Who plans for Wycombe, after all?
There was only one thing for it: acquire the clothes I had the previous night, claim them as my own, and leave the others as sacrifices to whatever Gods there were. Sorry, old T-shirt friend, but your fate has already been sealed.
In fact, that fate camps you with the sleeping Kriste, who I was not eager to awake.
While my jaunt between his living room and bathroom was silent, my tiptoed approach around his quarters eventually led me to his bedroom door. It was sealed shut, with nary a hint toward the person inside. I was certain he was in there, but in what state? For right then, he was Schrodinger’s Kriste, both sleeping and awake. Or, perish the thought, living and dead.
By God, what if he was dead? What if whatever last night’s shenanigans were, they had finally broken his body and his spirit? Imagine it, drinking your way to an early grave by tackling the full exotic menu of the public house you sat yourself in. What manner of man could resist such a challenge? Who could turn down such an opportunity?
It struck me as true as the sun rose in the sky. Kriste was that man, and had drank so much his liver had burst and his kidneys had given up the ghost. He was a walking corpse, and if I opened this door, I would find a bloated cadaver that only gave me more problems that I wished to cope with.
But what was the alternative? Walk away? Pah! Immediately, I would be a suspect for a death that, given it was Kriste, would immediately be seen as suspicious. ‘Why of course, officer, I was seen leaving Kriste’s house. Was he alive when I left? I could not tell. What do you mean, murder?’
I’d seen enough police shows to know that circumstantial evidence was all they needed to nail my buttocks to this crime. Sure, it was Kriste’s own folly that had led him to his aborted state, but my presence and lack of alibi meant that I could have provided him with the final drop to push him over the edge. Motive? None immediately came to mind, but what of the arguments and insults we threw at each other? Or rather, I threw at him? The whole series of events that had unfolded over the weekend would be enough for any judge to convict me. Not only that, I had enemies. Powerful enemies. I could see Charles in a moment of jealous rage confirming the fact that I had bloody intent for Kriste, and he could easily slip some coin toward Benson and the like to re-affirm such things.
I couldn’t believe this. I was suddenly a fugitive! I had become the beast that Kriste was, and sent him to a liquid grave of spirits and ale. His own savagery had infected me and meant that now, I was the wicked form of man that dared walk the Earth. I had committed the ultimate sin, and destroyed a life before it even began!
Wait. I’m getting ahead of myself. This whole scenario is based on the fact that Kriste is, indeed, dead. And I cannot know this without stepping in that door and finding out for myself. Walking inside, looking upon his bloated mass, and seeing if breath was leaving his body.
Oh, the cold, horrid things that noblemen such as I have to endure to clear their good name. Very well, in rotten clothes and sweating brow, I would open this door and see what wretchedness lurks inside.
A grab of the handle, and a light shoulder upon the wood. It didn’t have much give, but soon popped open to confirm my early suspicions.
The smell was rancid enough to peel the skin from your face. A mix of aromas so disgusting, so repellent, that vomit was the only natural course of action. Thankfully, I was made of firmer stuff, and was still thankfully outside the realms of the hangover. I controlled the strong gag reflex that demanded to make itself known, and crept in to get a good look at the long dead Kriste.
There he was, half-clothed upon his bed with a duvet covering what little dignity he had. Who knows what final thoughts he had, what words he wished to impart to those nearby. Maybe he did say something to me, something wise, to take on my way and give to those who wished to know. For then, he would indeed be like his differently-spelt namesake, a prophet who was taken from us too soon.
The smell was awful, and I cowered at the sheer weight of it. I had to make sure though, as Kriste lay there in the past tense, that he truly was gone. For then, I could call the authorities, and make myself known as the discoverer of this awful truth.
There was no note, so suicide was out the question, despite his lovelorn manner. No, death by misadventure was the story here. Too many drinks over such a short space of time, that had rotted his core and turned him into a ticking time bomb of death and decay. I looked at his face, all bloated and ravaged by the cruelty of life, and thought of the times we had together.
I also thought that I should check he was breathing. I’ll be honest, the thoughts of touching him for a pulse makes me ill, so instead I shall kneel down, look to his lips, and see what blue has befallen him.
His eyes are closed, which is natural for a dead man. His lips seem to tremble with the last hints of life, but is there anything there? Does his body still function under those sheets and shirt? Who knows. Only looking for one final breath can confirm anything.
Kriste, my lost soul. My guide.
Oh, dear God. Mere centimetres from his mouth, here I find myself assaulted by the snoring dead breath of a boozehound. Sprayed by flecks of vinegary spittle and discovering where the aroma of horrors is emanating from.
The main thing is, however, that he is alive, and that I should get out of here as quickly as humanly possible. Out of Kriste’s room, out of his flat, and most of all, out of Wycombe.
Dear God, the smell…