Never Alone

Arthur got off the black and yellow diesel train and put his green waterproof coat on. He was in a new town and must look for a job and a flat. As the train roared away spewing diesel fumes he went in the WH Smith on the platform and bought some diet Pepsi and a bag of pistachios. He went and sat in the nearby park; it was cold but sunny. He was in no rush.

After all of the pistachios had been eaten he slung his bag over his shoulder again and put the rubbish in a bin. His bag was not that heavy and it had everything he owned in it. In his bank account was a few hundred pounds. He looked up at the church which had a digital display replacing the old clock, it read 13:44 Nov 27 2024. Just as he turned his attention to the road in front of him he heard the clock strike for 13:45 (it still used the old bells). He crossed the road and whistled a happy tune and headed in the direction of the town centre he had seen from the train.

Once there he asked for directions to some job agencies and walked amongst shops including bookshops. He went in a few shops and could also see a 24-hour ASDA not far away as well. Excellent.

Eventually he found the back street the old man had directed him to and walked up to the window of the agency on the corner. The first job in the window he looked at was for a packing job and had the reference number 211 before it. He did not read anymore than that but marched confidently in and was asked nicely to sit at the desk by a very good-looking blonde girl of about his age. She asked how she could help and his name and Arthur replied sternly and politely his name and about the job in the window, reference 211, a packing job.

“Oh yes job reference 211. It requires packing experience. Do you have any Mr MacFell ?”

“Yes I do. A previous town I lived in I had a packing job for nine months and then I left to go travelling again.”

“Oh how nice. What was your last job?”

“It was smashing wooden chairs round the back of a factory.”

“Can you start tomorrow?”

“Yes.”

“Well here is a map and be there by 7:45 am.”

“Thank-you very much indeed.”
Then after a few taps of her keyboard she finished very professionally and politely with “Goodbye Mr Macfell, and good luck.”
“Bye!” he said cheerfully as he went back out onto the road closing the door softly behind him. He walked off relishing the question of what his next move should be, whistling loudly again. He had to find a flat but he wanted to send a letter to his cousin as well, so he went and looked for the Post office.

He did not ask for directions this time but wandered around looking at nice garden features around town and fancy coffee shops. At one end of town it was scruffy with dirty kebab shops and grim back streets leading to scrap yards and abandoned buildings. He searched this area and was pleased to find a place that sold old scaffolding. That will almost certainly come in useful he thought as a bus trundled slowly past. It was clearly full of mutants and must be going to the council estate on the hill. He went back to the clean side of the town centre and found the post office. He bought some paper and took a pen out of his bag and wrote to one of his cousins who lived in south Wales who he exchanged letters with every now and then. He wrote

“HEY! It’s Arthur ur cuz. I am in a new town again. Just got job. Good news is that there are three McDonalds in the town centre. Glad to hear of your new powerful lights for your bike. I’ll send you address when I know it. SEE YA!”

Not long later he overheard two old ladies talking about their dead friend’s dead son’s empty flat as he stood looking at ham and salad baguettes. Arthur turned and said

“Excuse me. I couldn’t help overhearing about a vacant flat. Is it nearby? only I am looking to rent a place myself.”

“Oooh Dolly! This young man wants Eric’s flat!”

“Eeeeh. I’ll be!” replied the other old lady whose trolley had flowers sticking out the top. “Well tell him the whereabouts of Eric’s landlord then you daft old bat!”

Not long after that Arthur was walking quickly and happily up the footpath next to the busy dual carriageway while juggernoughts thundered past. He was twirling a large gold key around on the end of a piece of string.

The door to his flat was alone round the back of an ancient building of which the front was less that a metre from the busy road. Round the back it was ever so slightly less noisy. He looked to his right and took in the big garden. It was walled by a tall, black old wall with stuff growing on it and a line of very big old trees was just inside the garden. There were nine of the massive trees and more smaller ones dotted around the overgrown garden. It looked like a nice relaxing stroll down to the end. A mixer truck went past loudly but only the yellow top of it could be seen by Arthur. To the right of the garden, which was also lined with the high black wall, was a dirt track that led through a golf course to a farm (He had seen the rotting wooden sign pointing down the track which read “Sunnydale Farm”. Only his door was round the back. He unlocked and opened the rickety door to his new home and was pleased.

Inside the door were a coat hook and an uncarpeted staircase. His front door behind him had ancient bolt locks and a stained glass window that was in good condition but dirty.

The staircase went up to a landing with massive window that had net curtains. Arthur peered out onto the busy dual carriageway as two buses went past in opposite directions, one going into town and one towards the hills. Then the staircase continued up and a dark and dusty landing was at the summit. The lightbulb had gone and the ceiling was high above. One normal door was there, which had no lock on it and a small door which when he opened it revealed handy storage space, there was already and old Hoover in there and clothes lines and pegs. He closed the small door and opened the other door into his flat. One long, high room contained the kitchen and living room/bedroom. No flats were above or to the sides, and below were coal sheds. To one side was a bathroom, which was the only modern thing on the premises he had seen; it was immaculate. Another large window was at the end, which overlooked the garden and the road. On the other side of the road was an enormous graveyard that Arthur could not see the far end of. The kitchen area was old and burnt in places and he would have to buy a new mattress. He unpacked his things which were – clothes, a radio, a bag containing toothbrush, toothpaste etc and a large hardback book called ‘NAM THE VIETNAM EXPERIENCE 1965-75.’ It contained lots of pictures of such things as bombs being loaded into US warplanes and soldiers holding M60 and RPD machine guns etc.

He thought of his financial situation briefly. He would be able to pay the rent easy, he thought and as long as he didn’t buy expensive food he should have enough for the odd trip to the cinema or the train down to see his cousins in Wales. He did not know how much his job paid he realised then, but it was the year 2024 so it would be ok. His rent was £200 per week, a tin of beans cost £5. If he went into the red he would just have to flee Europe, he thought as he always did when thinking of his finances, ha ha. The banks did not inform you of going into debt, they just charged and charged you massive fines for every minute you were in debt, but continued to pay all your bills so you got more and more in debt. Bastards, he thought in amusement. He put his clothes away and went and bought food and an inflatable bed that he went to sleep on with his clock set for 7 am.

*

He got up and soon left his flat having had porridge with honey on and black coffee. He closed his rickety door and went and got on a bus to the other side of town where his job was.

He came to a path, which led into some wasteland, and looked at his map again, this was the place – the wasteland just past the cement works on Cinder Street. There was a funny building in the midst of the wasteland and some people were milling about, that must be it. He whistled a tune in excitement with some butterflies in his tummy. He noticed an old railway track to his right that led to the building. As he approached he saw a big truck pull up. Then the back of the truck tipped up and loads of big cylindrical containers fell out into a ditch, some missed the ditch and rolled away but two people kicked them back into the ditch. When he arrived at the building he saw that it was the remains of some sort of circular train shed or turntable. There were in fact six train tracks leading into it through old, immense wooden doors that were open. Weeds grew everywhere and just inside the building the tracks stopped. They had apparently been torn up and the floor was rubble and stones that was flat as if it had been rolled over with a steamroller. The roof was no longer there. He approached a short woman who had a clipboard and looked like she was giving orders to a couple of men in yellow vests. He joined them and the woman said “Just wait a minute ok!?”
Arthur nodded. When the other two men turned and went off the lady told Arthur that she was the boss and ticked his name off on her clipboard then walked elegantly over to the pile of containers through one of the massive wooden doors, the truck had left by now. The boss lady, who wore elaborate green silk gloves with precious stones on, told Arthur

“You workers all split the containers up into six stacks, one stack behind each door of the circular building next to us. Then you arrange yourselves just inside the building in a circle, some of you will have your backs to the walls and some will be stood in the doorways, but what is important is that the circle is to my approval. On my command you turn and in an orderly fashion go and get a container each, you should split yourselves equally for each doorway. Depending on the doorway you exit, you may have to go around the outside of the building. Then on my further commands you get in circle inside the building again then all proceed to the centre of the circle and seal the containers. Then turn about briskly and carefully stack the containers in that pit over there, all leaving through that door” she pointed elegantly and continued “Then you get back in circle and await my command to repeat. But just one thing – all this must be carried out with all in perfect formation at all times, and you must not dawdle or hurry. Understood!?”

“Yes,” he said

“Good. We start in five minutes,” she said more softly. And she turned and started shouting orders. Arthur stashed his packed lunch in a hole in the wall and two men walked over and they got chatting. The two men were new that day as well and lived in the next town. The three stood in silence looking around and smiling. Then the one called Slater said

“My wife is meeting me from the shops and we get the number 40 bus. How do you get home Arthur mate?”

“I could walk or get the number 85 bus or I could even get the train one stop up the tracks and walk through the golf course near my place.” Then the boss blew on her whistle and everyone got in circle just inside the building, there were about thirty or so of them now. The boss climbed up to some sort of platform and shouted “On my command commence operations…” she looked around the circle suspiciously and the workers were silent “NOW!” she whistled again as well.

And so work began. The containers were sealed and put in the other ditch and then repeated all in silence and formation, Arthur found it fun and philosophical. An old man was finding it hard work and was sacked within two hours. Arthur looked often at a woman with a backside so large that it had a mind of it’s own. She had the jolliest face he had ever seen and he talked with her on his lunch break. Then she went off to the shops and he sat with the two men he had talked to before, eating cheese and egg sandwiches. When the enormous woman returned they beckoned her over and she made the men laugh saying thing like “Silence!” and “Not one unit!” The boss looked on like a hawk and she also had a horsewhip, which she swished about. She went on her lunch break for twenty minutes at a different time to them and the workers were expected to continue working on their own. Woe-betide anyone out of formation when she returned.

The days work finished at 8pm, six days a week and Arthur got the bus home or walked.

A month later Arthur decided to go to into town to get drunk one Sunday afternoon. After his dinner of Spaghetti on toast he thought he should check to see if his pay had gone into his account but just to do that these days cost quite a few pounds, so he did not bother.

In town he found a rough looking pub on the scruffy side of town. He went in and was soon very drunk and laughing uncontrollably with some men of whom a few were older and wore strange attire, some his age or younger with large tattoos, metal teeth etc. One of the younger ones was eventually curled up on the floor vomiting and groaning that his drink had been poisoned. Arthur and his fellow drinkers laughed at him and poured drinks on him and threw crisps and peanuts at him.

He left and got a kebab with two of them then he was on his own walking through the park, He was Singing “LA LA LA HEY LA LA,” loudly when he looked up hearing a strange noise. A plane was banking and looking out of control! It was a jumbo jet he could tell from the row of lights above the other row of lights. It was making an awful noise. Arthur stopped singing and slowed down, closing his mouth into a grim expression. He saw the plane start spinning and then it was doing impossibly acute turns, round and round at high speed. Then it did an enormous loop the loop and went rocketing downwards upside down. It was still high up as it straightened out and somehow carried on as normal. Arthur watched motionless as the lights on the wings flashed into the distance and then it went into some clouds. He was sober now but the incident was never on the news and he never heard anyone mention it and when he mentioned it, people were disgusted at him, so he stopped mentioning it.

*

One day a new girl arrived at work. She was absolutely stunning looking. Arthur saw that she was nearly as tall as him and had an Eastern European look about her. Her hair was blondish and was all swept neatly back into a short ponytail. Her eyes were green and as she talked energetically to the boss nearby he could hear that she spoke bad English and sounded Croatian or maybe Czech. She moved quickly and happily and stood up tall and slim and athletic looking.

One day soon it was dinner time and the boss was stood on her platform looking, she said, for anyone who was causing trouble or not eating a nutritious lunch. Arthur was stood with his two pals, the massive girl was over talking with some pals and others were in groups chatting and eating their healthy dinners. Then Arthur’s two pals went off to buy fruit and Arthur was left sitting on one of the unsealed containers which he had carried over to sit on (this was allowed). The Croatian girl, who was called Jelena, was stood not far off with some other women when her phone beeped. The workers were aloud to have their phones on for emergencies. The boss heard the phone and looked sharply over in the Croatian girl’s direction, studying and listening and her whip could be seen twitching behind her back. Jelena answered her phone and wandered away from the other women and sat down on a container not far behind Arthur, he did not look round. Jelena was talking in her own language but to Arthur it sounded like she wasn’t talking in foreign words at all but in ridiculous, calm gibberish. He was entranced and she stood up and walked closer to him still talking. Everyone else was chatting away and did not notice them even the boss was now facing the other way filling out forms. Jelena’s voice was exhilarating and baffling to Arthur but then he decided to get up and walk away casually. Jelena put away her phone and Arthur went and chatted with Charlie and John who were talking about cricket.

One day he decided to get the train home and go through the golf course from the station which was only one stop from where he would catch the train. He had not done this before because he had found out that you could be fined for walking through the golf course if you were not a member. But today he would take that risk just to see the golf course. He got on the train with his bike. The train was a modern electric one and had seven packed carriages. His bike he had picked up cheap, it was a fixy single speed road bike and was super lightweight with carbon fibre forks. He had put a horn on it, which never failed to amuse him. The train set off but took a wrong turn, or so thought Arthur. He watched as the viaduct, which led in the direction of his flat, receded away and the train picked up speed going in the wrong direction for Arthur. He got up and went and asked the lady serving food where the train was going and she replied Liverpool and it only stopped there, two hundred miles away!

“Oh dear. Is there a train going back this way when I get there?” asked Arthur.

“No. You’ll have to ride your bike to Congleton up over the hills and get one of the night trains from there.”

“Thanks.”
The train went through deserted platforms that were derelict and grim. He eventually got the night train home from Congleton after riding over the hills from Liverpool. As the train went on, all the carriages had their lights turned off one by one as they became empty. By the time the modern train pulled into the same station he had got on hours before he was the only person left on it. He departed and went home where he sat in the garden until it was time to go to work again, and he rode there at high speed.

One day after Arthur had been working on the wasteland in the old train building for eight months the boss went on her dinner as usual. The workers carried on as normal but after a minute or so everyone realised that they were out of formation when approaching the middle of the circle carrying a container. Everyone stopped. Jelena was next to Arthur that day and she knew what to do to correct the situation, as did Arthur and all the others. Everyone turned to a partner, one male and one female, and raised their left arms and reached out to one another, Arthur and Jelena were one of the pairs. When all their hands met they started moving in a circular motion stepping carefully round and around looking into each other’s eyes. After they had spun a few times they started spinning faster and the men smiled and the women started laughing and the women also skipped round and round and everyone swapped partners always one male and one female, no one was left out. Men would pass close to other men and would threaten extreme violence in unspoken eye contact, but also comical violence like Hulk Hogan versus The Ultimate Warrior at Wrestlemania VI. The men would feel cold camaraderie with the other man, and then carry on. Just then the great wooden doors slammed shut, closing everyone in! They had all stopped and then strange sounds could be heard out in the wasteland or further. They could hear chugga chugga chugga chugga and everyone looked around at each other, their arms back by their own sides. Then a trains whistle! And another and another, six in all. CHUGGA CHUGGA getting louder. It was the sound of six old steam trains bucketing along at a fantastic pace they all knew together and they were transfixed. The noise was getting closer and the pistons and steam could be heard. Then lightning struck once and thunder boomed once and everyone in the train building suddenly pretended to be covered in toxic waste like Emil in Robocop. They shared the moments of horror and made the hideous noises like Emil and then started walking around like Emil does. It was hilarious and terrible. The trains were whistling and racing at them and the wheels could be heard on the tracks, bucketing along at a fantastic pace. “HELP ME!!” the workers all said. Just when it seemed the trains would smash through the doors and kill them all, the noises of the trains stopped and the thunder and lightning sounded again and everyone fell on the floor unconscious.

While unconscious they all knew that the others were there and they stared back into an abyss of black chaos beyond time. They started laughing and shouting in stark terror and joy as they lay close to one another but unseen. Then in a moment of intense consciousness they saw weird black figures wearing blue clothes running towards then over and away from them at great speed. The figures were barely human. Everyone pointed and reached out but the figures jumped and turned their heads in startling ways. Eventually it all calmed down and spheres of colour sent the all happily into peaceful sleep.

When they awoke they found that they could hardly move. They were feeling very relaxed though and looked around at each other. They just wanted to lie there and enjoy the friendly sleepy feeling. But then they all followed each others gaze up to the bosses platform. The boss was stood there very angry, her whip was twitching from behind her back as never before. She shouted to the workers down below

“YOU’RE ALL FIRED!” then she threw down her whip, which landed at her extravagantly booted feet, and took off her gloves and threw them down on to the platform as well. The she descended the steps and was gone.

The firemen arrived soon and proceeded to drag the workers away, non of the workers complained. Arthur was being dragged by his arms next to the very large, very jolly woman who was called Nadine; they slid and bumped along the stony damp ground. Arthur turned to her as her massive bottom went along and said

“Well at least we’ve been getting paid this last few months.”

“Yeah, Fifty six quid,” she replied jollily

“Oh is that what it is per day.”

“No, that’s what it is per month, it’s £2 per day.”
Arthur closed his eyes then opened them, chuckled and continued to be dragged to the ambulances, which took them all to hospital.

He awoke and got immediately let out the following day by the nurses and visited the work-mates that were still unconscious in their hospital beds, some had already gone. He nods at them and goes home.

That night Arthur punches his punch bag that is hung on a piece of scaffolding bought from the place he found when he arrived in town. After several cups of tea and a lie down he goes quietly out of his flat. It is drizzling so he has put his waterproof coat on, hood up and he crosses the road and enters the graveyard, which he has never been in before. He walks towards the far end and it becomes darker and darker, no one is around. Eventually he arrives at a metal fence with spikes on top. Through the fence and all around is quiet, still and dark. He grips the fence and it has many coats of paint on it. For a minute he stands there breathing loudly and slowly, the rain is quiet. Then a familiar sound he hears. Away to his left can be heard a faint chugga chugga chugga chugga of an old steam train and then the faint blast of an old sounding whistle. He listens as the CHUGGA CHUGGA gets louder and soon the mighty wheels of the train can be heard racing along the tracks at a tremendous pace. The pistons can be heard powerful and impressive. The train speeds past, it’s coal fire visible as an orange blur for a moment or two, and he looks keenly for the silhouette of a spade shovelling coal but does not see one, the people driving or shovelling are unseen also. The carriages rumble past and he imagines that they are wooden and the train whistles again as it is travelling away to Arthur’s right, into the night.

THE END

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