Leeds

“Yeah, maybe in India,” said Cheryl and threw a wrapper at Tony’s head. Tony was driving the 1980’s green Cortina erratically and I was calmly pointing out that thousands of people die on the roads every year. We were heading down a windy road towards the dismal Yorkshire town of Weatherton in the late afternoon. We were speeding down through broken fenced and abandoned, resigned looking fields of dull green and grey hues. The roads these days, since the world banks had all but dissolved some twenty years ago, left a lot to be desired in places. The sky was grey and nobody was in sight of course, or even on the roads in front or behind. We were in sight of the grinning little town now and a sharp bend was ahead. Tony seemed to accelerate and lean round at the same instant and said in loud voice

“Yeah, but we still have trains from London to Cornwall, all India’s trains are at Southampton Train Scrappage that closed down last year, I know because I delivered the a set of blowtorches there,” he was still looking round at Cheryl when we hit the embankment and sent us flying high into the air over towards a dark field. But we all shut up when we landed and some time past in silence as we were probably knocked out; it was hard to tell. Soon I looked round at Cheryl and she had blood on her face and she put a hand to her side and moaned abominably. I agreed.

“Stupid bastard,” she then forced out looking dazed. I was looking round and trying to smell petrol to see if we were going to blow up like they used to in films before national TV was scrapped. My door was jammed up against a dark tree shape. I was glad to be alive and no bones were broken and I could not smell petrol but Tony had not moved or made a sound. Oh dear – a large branch, upon closer inspection by leaning forward, was sticking through his chest and he was dead for sure. The branch went through his seat and nearly into Cheryl’s knee. She screamed enough to wake the dead then.

Cheryl was still making noises of distress when we were out of the car clinging to the weeping bunion type tree that was wrapped in brambles. The car was sinking into the swamp that we were in the middle of and did not look like blowing up. Cheryl managed to say

“I’m not feeling so good, please get some help. I’ll stay here and look after Tony … please,” she was clinging to the tree tightly. I moved her away from the tree along some dry ground towards a hillock. Tony was dead I told her, as she went reluctantly, and explained about the car blowing up. She could hardly walk (I wanted her to walk down to the row of houses I could see looming not far away so that she could get straight into a passing car that I intended to flag down IF one appeared on this god forsaken moor.) She was having some sort of fit now and soon stopped breathing as we rested behind the hillock. Just then the car DID blow up, a booming and violent raw went through the air and I ducked over Cheryl and the surrounding area glowed brighter and orange for a few seconds. I started CPR on Cheryl. Then I heard the hood or something clatter down noisily somewhere and then the explosion was all but over, just the hot burning noises of plastics and oil flames fighting upwards. Cheryl had made no reaction to my efforts. Her face was visibly blue and bloated in the grey sun. After ten minutes her face was getting cold and rigid feeling, but then she spluttered loudly and took a heaving breath in and her face filled with colour and she was alive again! I was very glad. She saw me smiling then tried to sit up, bending her knees a few times. It started to rain, a cold miserable, silent rain – we should try to get off this moor before too long I said. It was getting dark and we were only wearing t shirts, the heating in the car having being working for once we had made a point of turning it all the way up and taking off our coats whilst on our journey to Leeds, through this and many other grim little piles of bricks across the Pennines.

We picked our way slowly through this swamp, for want of a better word, that we had landed in towards the short row of houses whose dark exterior I could see. The weeds were tall and the ground soggy but walkable in most places. Cheryl was clinging to me and I guided us slowly, not wanting to rush her as just a few minutes ago she had not been breathing.

We came to the side of the back of the row of buildings but there was no road directly in front of them like there would be in most places, just an overgrown bit of land. I glanced left in the receding light and was taken aback at the sight of the front of the row of buildings. It was not what I had expected. Around the back heading towards it I had not paid must attention to it’s darkness and seeming normality. I saw that there were two strange looking main building that demanded further inspection, and then seemingly some other lesser structure balanced and clinging to one of them. On the closest of the buildings, above the large elaborate door I glimpsed a large and terrible, huge stone head with flowing curly hair. But I had to get Cheryl to safety and so we headed across the front garden area and clambered across a stream and could see a road then. I looked back frowning at the buildings and could hear a vision of strange happy laughter. I felt a wondrous joy. I turned and helped Cheryl to the side of the road where she sat down.

We only had to wait about fifteen minutes for a car to arrive and Cheryl talked all the time with increasing emotion laughing to herself at memories of Tony. I was sure she was going to be fine as we could not find any bumps on her or my heads or anything like that. The car slowed as soon as it saw us blinking its lights as I flagged it down. The driver came rushing out and was very concerned I could tell, and Cheryl was visibly relieved as the driver said he could take us quickly to hospital. We got her in the back of the car and she sat down looking out at me and managing a smile. She blew me a kiss.

“You get in the front and we’ll go,” said the man as he hurried round to his side. But just as I was reaching quickly for the handle after shutting the back door I remembered the house with the stone head behind me and replied

“Yeah … er actually mate, I’ll see you there. I’ve … got to go back. Tell Cheryl I’ve got a plan. A plan for the greatest coffee shop the world has ever seen.”
The man was framed by a yellow row of dripping, boarded up terraces behind him that stretched down the hill into the distance. A cold wind blew and grey clouds raced above. The sun was dim. The man looked at me for some time with one foot in his car and a hand on the door. We faced each other and an odd look came to his face. Then he slowly glanced in Cheryl’s direction and his face changed as if cross that he was wasting time and then got in and started the engine.

“Ok mate. Ok,” he had said and the car rolled away. And had Cheryl had known that I was not going to be getting in that vehicle?

I turned as the car vanished and saw the sun shining down on the front of the buildings back across the wasteland that had high grasses and pebbles underfoot. I jumped across the stream with a bounding leap, my face set dead serious with my eyes sparkling and my tongue dumb and protruding slightly. I swaggered and marched across the wasteland my arms swinging (in part hoping for Cheryl’s safety) as I took excited glances ahead. I did not want to take it all in too fast. I came to a halt in front of the building on the left and the grey clouds were racing fast above the holes in its roof. The terrible gargoyle was staring down at me with a sort of peaceful determination and malevolence. Her cheeks were pudgy and her mouth was beautifully frowning and sandstone coloured. All the window frames were of stone and had swirls and incredible triangles and hexagon cylinder decorations. Everything on this sleeping, unique, grand old construction was boarded up (for now) with old looking boards that had no graffiti on them. Above the impressive door frame was the date 1787. I took another glance at the strangeness of the other structure to my right as it was lit up again when another cloud uncovered the sun. I walked slowly towards it with smooth, large white stones underfoot. I moved slowly along its front taking it in. There was a hub of an old building, lower and wider than the first one and slightly less grand, it had a date five years later than the first building above its doorway. Its window frames were of stone and of fantastic designs. All the windows were boarded up but the main front door was not. Now then, all around this building clung another much newer structure of leaning materials which nearly touched the gargoyle building and reached higher than it. But even though newer, it was looking very tired and was almost painfully bleak to look at with its black stone effect walls and white peeling, rotten, supposedly modern (in the 1960’s maybe) window frames. Some windows were open I saw. It seemed to be apartments or something and had broken aerials sticking out the top, forever unreceiving. None of the windows were boarded up and behind a couple of heavy curtains I could even make out some light. The other windows were black. This modern construction clung to both sides of its parent building and sat on top with one row of windows on either side and three rising above. I moved closer. A light came on suddenly above the doorway in front of me, but there was no sound. I had stopped and could make out a typical row of buzzers to the right of the metal door. This door would need replacing. Yes, if I was going to carry out my plan I would need to talk to the landlord. But just then I heard loud grinding and screeching voices fill the hillside

“Well tell ’em to fuck offfff,” said a male voice very loudly and in reply an awful female voice came

“Ffffuckin’ get your own phone. My numbers are on that one you CUNT … I ’ATE yer. Yer CUNT. Get out GET OUUUUUUUUT,” she screamed piercingly. Some pigeons flew off to my right. And then doors were heard slamming five or six times and then footsteps running down hard steps as I moved closer could be heard and then the man could be seen through the glass and he pulled open the front door to the flats and took one look at me and said

“She never shuts up does she?” he said it with staring eyes and then hurried off.

I advanced. The buzzers did not have any names on but one had a number 1 stuck to it. I reached out slowly thinking of the glories ahead. I took a deep breath and buzzed the buzzer. Nothing. I stood for a minute then buzzed another buzzer. A crackling voice seemed to say something but it was as if said by an electric corpse and I only made out the words “Bovril’s getting cold.” After a minute a man came down with a mug in his hand, he took a slurp as he opened the door and in the light of the hall way I could see his face. One side was completely covered in a kind of growth of bumpy skin that was mostly black and he only had one eye that was blackened and it looked nowhere it seemed to me. Even when he turned it on me as he held the door open it seemed to look at nothing and never. I blinked and he took another slurp from his steaming mug. The scene was grim. His gown was held together with filth. He did not seem put out now and stood patiently, then moving his feet he said

“Glad to have some compnee. Thinks I’ll sit on the wall. Don’t have to come near me. Step aside lad,” the words came out garbled
I stepped aside and watched him move over to a section of crumbling wall where he sat down. I went and stood in front of him thinking Cheryl might be at the hospital by now (if this town has any sort of hospital which is doubtful) and thinking of my plan for the best coffee shop in England; two magnificent old buildings restored with a courtyard in front selling the world’s finest coffee’s and also great food cooked by professional chefs. The sun would always shine and indoors there would be comfy sofas and pool tables. But first I’d have to acquire this land and demolish these miserable flats. I said to the diseased man

“Excuse me sir, I am looking for the landlord of these flats. Do they live here or nearby do you know?”

“Yeah,” funny slurp “bottom buzzer mate,” he pointed and then seemed to withdraw and watch with the normal side of his face set in amused smiling sadness as I turned away hearing him slurp his drink loudly.

I went to the buzzers again and rang the bottom one. Immediately a slim Middle Eastern man in a suit appeared out of the nearest door. He looked about 35 and had slick hair and gold jewellery. He said nothing as he opened the door just raised his head sharply as if to ask my business.

“Are you the landlord?” I asked

“I am yes,” he said in deep accented sounds.

“I’ve got a proposition for you.”
His face took on a hint of puzzlement and general interest and he stepped out and he motioned behind me. I turned and saw the old man with the fungus on his face had gone somewhere, there must be a 24 hour newsagent or something I thought. Or maybe he just took a walk through the tall grasses with his Bovril. The Asian man sat down and I took out my pen and a scrap of paper from my pocket that had my list of things to do. Oh yes, I thought, I must find out how long carpet solvents take to evaporate from a rug in a well ventilated room later on or tomorrow. The Asian man indicated with his head again and pulled out a comb and started combing his hair. I took a deep breath and said

“I wish to buy this land, including the flats and two older buildings. Am I speaking to the right man?” The other man looked at me. After a second or two he replied

“Yes. Well let me see, most of the flats and corridors are filled with mildew that has destroyed the floors and most of the walls,” he indicated with a sweeping arm and I turned and looked over the black windows in the fading light. Filled with mildew … that man’s face … The Asian man continued “And I’m going back to Newistan, soooo we could do a deal yes, but I won‘t for one second consider taking anything less than…” I quickly handed him the piece of paper I had just scribbled on. It had the figure ‘£800, 000’ on it. He looked at it without moving his face and shook his head handing it back. I scribbled out the last number and replaced it with ’£1000, 000’ he took it as I handed it to him and he once more shook his head. He held up three fingers and I smiled in greatest amusement, my teeth showing. The August rain was cold. A distant lorry hooted. The rooks and crows laughed nearby.

“When can we finalise?” I asked

“ I’ll meet you here at midnight with the papers,” he said and stood up and went back inside without further word.

I stayed around until midnight looking around the grounds and at the magnificent buildings I was soon to acquire. At one point I saw the Bovril man trudging back slowly, but I stayed well hidden.

At precisely midnight it was still raining and the Asian man emerged with a shiny leather briefcase. I stood up off the wall and walked towards him. He motioned me inside. We sat down in the reception area on some faded plastic chairs. There was only a hint of mildew in the large hallway I noted gladly, and there were some fine old features such as a dome. In mostly silence we looked over the papers pointing and nodding. It took quite some time to go through them all and on several occasions the Asian landlord went and fetched strong black coffee in elaborate Asian mugs. He explained that I could not go in his flat because of his pet Goliath bird eating spiders. Soon all the papers were signed. He closed the briefcase and it clicked shut. We stood and shook hands as gentlemen, then he went out the front door and I followed. He did not look back as he disappeared into the darkness. I watched him go and I smiled in anticipation of the thought of the laughable task of telling the occupants of the flats to get the hell out. Then my mind went blank.

Soon I walked slowly and with good posture in the rain towards the gargoyle building, thinking of my favourite female tennis star that I love playing at the last ever Wimbledon a few years ago. I arrived in front of the gargoyle, and with set features looked up at her. A great sadness filled my soul.

THE END

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