Flastag - Chapter 1


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  1. #1

    Flastag - Chapter 1

    Ethan felt hispulse quicken when he saw her. There she stood, leaning casuallyagainst the wall of the bus shelter, as she did every morning. Shestill had no idea that he existed, but this morning would bedifferent, he had resolved that this would be the day he spoke toher.


    For around threemonths now, he had wrestled with the anxiety he felt before theapproach. Most of the time he felt confident, but the prospect ofapproaching this woman always had him doubting himself. The sameinsecurities would plague him. He wasn't tall enough, he wasn'tpopular enough, he wasn't rich enough and he was too ugly.


    She was dressedcasually, as university students always were, in a sports hoodie,tight lycra trousers and sliders. She carried only a mobile phone,the same mobile phone she was fixated on every morning. Often shewould video call her friends, and Ethan loved to hear her laugh, jokeand banter. Today Ethan wore his leather ankle boots, his favouritepair of jeans and his leather hooded jacket. A couple of days before,he had his hairstyle changed to an over-cut, at the suggestion of hisfriend Sophie.


    He was gaining onthe bus stop when two young men in tracksuits cycled past him, one ofthem was pointing right at him.


    “You are apussy-hole.” He chided, as he passed by. Ethan was accustomed tosuch behaviour from the natives, so he knew better than to react. Hehad lived here in Middlesbrough all of his life, and it wasn'tuncommon to be accosted for spare change, spare cigarettes or hismobile phone. Even so, he was pleased that his quarry had not noticedand that she had not looked up from her phone.


    This was themoment. She was alone, so that was good. Had her friends been therehe would surely have had a more difficult time of it, especially withthe men. He would be forced to engage in verbal jousting and verbalone-upmanship. Such was fun, but a woman would favour her own friendsway ahead of a stranger, and it would've put him at a colossaldisadvantage, even if he were tomake an impression.


    This short stretchof road was called Mandale Road. It spanned two roundabouts, in thecentre of one of them was erected the model of a large upended blackladle. Middlesbrough was a steel town, sometimes referred to as'Ironopolis.' The bright orange of the steel pouring from the ladlewas set to flow onto the road. But it was only a model, and theonce-proud steel works was now closed for good.


    In the shelteritself, mere yards away from Holly. The cars zipped by along the roadbeside and formed a queue for the roundabout. He felt his head becomelight, his mouth began to dry and he hesitated slightly.


    “Hello.” Hesaid breathlessly.


    She looked up fromher phone and said. “Hello.” She instantly returned her attentionto her phone, looking somewhat uncomfortable.


    “My name isJames.” He said. She ignored him.


    “What's yourname?”


    “Holly.” Shesaid, irritably.


    “And how are youon this fine day, Holly?” He said, with all of the positivity hecould muster. He instantly felt better for powering through herinitial iciness. She looked at him again, and she was smirking.


    “I am doing verywell James, thank you.” She said correctly.


    At that, he wasstuck, and he could feel the beginnings of despair as he racked hismind for something to say. This was what he feared the most. Hedidn't know Holly. She didn't know him. They were strangers to eachother. Why should she ask him how he was? Why should she speak tohim? How could he win her attention away from that accursed phone?Did he expect her to be polite?


    “That's good. Ihave something to tell you. For nigh on three months now I havewanted to speak to you. Every morning I've been trying to. But I feltreally nervous. Stupid I know...”


    Holly shook herhead vigorously. “It's quite creepy you know.” She chastised, andshe turned to face him, waiting for his response. The contempt on herround, flawless face boded ill for him.


    “I'm notcreepy.” He said, angrily. “I think you're really attractive.”


    At that, shesoftened. “Well it is kind of you to say so. But if you've beenlooking at me for three months, you have to admit that it's prettymuch that you're following me.” And with that, she returned to herphone again, flicking a lock of her blonde hair over her shoulder.


    Thatwas not even the half of it, Ethan thought, shamefully. He kept aconstant vigil on all of her stories on social media and everyphotograph she uploaded. In truth, he did not need to get the bus touniversity, his friend had offered to drive him countless times. Hisexcuse was that he liked the walk to the bus stop in the morningbecause it was about the only time he experienced any peace andquiet. Holly could well be right about this... maybe he wasbeing creepy.


    “I'mnot creepy and that's the end of it. Ok...Holly?Iwanted to speak to you because I think you are really attractive, butif that's creepy...then fuck it.” He rolled off and took refuge afew yards from the bus shelter. There, he lit a cigarette, cuppingthe lighter flame with his hand, shielding it from the wind and rain.He drew from it and was not a third of the way through his dose ofcyanide when the bus turned into view. A yellow, green and beigeshuttle bound for Newcastle.


    Heglanced over to Holly, who had apparently not took her eyes off him.She shook her head again before boarding. Ethan took one last drag ofhis cigarette before following her. He didn't want to follow tooclosely.Not after that fiasco. He dashed on board quickly before the drivertook to the road again.


    Passengers of allages occupied the seats, including Holly's usual turnout of friendson the back row.


    “We are such acolourful group of misfits!” Holly had said one morning. She hadsounded hysterical, and the driver had told her to be quiet. Theother passengers on the bus always resented their presence. That wasthe kicker for them, Ethan supposed.


    “Ohhhereshe is.” They hooted, as she made her way down the aisle. A baldfather sitting in the window seat next to his young son eyed herlustily as she made her way past him. She wasgracefulin the way she moved. Ethan took the seat immediately behind thedriver. It was the only single seat on the bus, and he figured thatthat was exactly where he ought to sit.


    “That's my newboyfriend over there, apparently.” Holly said loudly. Her friendsalong the back row were all men, or at least male, but for one girlwho was prone to looking sullen all of the time. Very beautiful, butsullen. They began talking amongst each other in hushed tones. Atense atmosphere claimed the bus, and Ethan felt as though he shouldspeak, but he did not.


    Holly had justteased him, and that was a good sign. Women rarely ever acted crueltowards men for no reason whatsoever. Perhaps his anger had intriguedher somewhat? He did not know Holly from Eve, except as the girl atthe bus shelter every morning, and an avid user of social media.With that being said, he felt excitement swelling in his stomach. Hekept still.


    “Insolitude...where we are least alone.” One of her friends said.


    “You shouldnever mistake loneliness for being lonely.” Said another.


    “This is very,very deep. However, I don't even know this guy.” Holly declared.


    “I don't.” Thesullen girl said with a tut.


    In truth, he hadthe entire back row memorized. There were five seats. Two for thegirls and three for the boys. Ethan sometimes chanced to sit on therows immediately in front of them, to better eavesdrop on theirconversation. He couldn't do this everyday, however, it would raisesuspicion. He doubted that he could ever do so again, now that he hadfinally approached Holly. He cursed himself silently that he didn'thandle the conversation better. Why did he have to tell her that he'dbeen stalking her for three months? Her group would definitely abhorsuch behaviour.


    “Monica Mac justuploaded a photograph of all of her birthday presents. Look. Must beworth more than a shiny penny.” One of them shouted excitedly.


    “Yeah. She's alaw graduate now, she was on the same course as Rach. Can youremember that guy that didn't like her?” The sullen girl said. “Heshouted at her in the middle of Perdu smoking area. He said that shewas a stuck up bitch with a rich father, and so thought of herself asroyalty.” She said, laughing. “Bless him.”


    “I remember. Hesaid that he was the younger brother of some guy she met inNewcastle.” Holly said.


    “Aha. And Ibet she slept with him.” The sullen girl scolded.


    “You shouldn'tjudge people who succumb to the throws of passion, Leanne.” One ladsaid, somewhat defensively.


    So the sullen girlwas called Leanne. Most mornings she said very little, but wouldoften defend Holly when she argued with the others. The guys jokedthat she was Holly's little sister. Anything Ethan could learn aboutthese friends of Holly's was of value. This was the bread and butterof all of their conversations, however. Gossip they had all gatheredfrom university, from work, from nights out and their outer circle,as they liked to call it.


    “Liv posted anew dance video. She looks so hot in this one.”


    “She alwaysdoes.” Holly said.


    “The caption aswell...'how do you like me now? Do I turn you on'”?


    “It's not acaption. That's from a song.” Holly said breathlessly.


    “Rachael Lockeposted a photograph of herself and her boyfriend kissing. They're ina Dubai hotel suite.”


    “It's tacky.”


    “It'sa fyiforher ex.” One of them said, knowledgeably.


    “It's stilltacky. I hate people that deliberately incite their ex's.” Hollysaid damningly.


    They went on atlength about various people they knew, people they used to know andpeople they hoped to meet in the future. He found himself standingup, and walking quickly through the aisle towards the group. Hollywas sat in the centre with one of her long legs crossed over theother. She did look rather impressive, sitting there being thestunning woman that she was. The matriarch surrounded by her loyaland colourful crew of friends.


    “So which campare you in?” A tall, thin lad asked of him immediately. He almostthrew the question at him as if throwing a rock. He was wearing blackskinny jeans, white plimsolls and a black wet-look blazer. There wasa white t-shirt underneath, with a picture of a female supermodelposing sultrily. Ethan fell into the aisle seat away from him.


    “Beg yourpardon?” Ethan replied.


    “Rachael Lockeis now with Jason, and he is the ex-boyfriend of Monica Mac.” Thelad said, as if Ethan was stupid.


    “I don't knowany of these people.” Ethan informed him. The lad, who was sat bythe window, looked down the row to Holly, unimpressed.


    “I don't knowhim, Nathan. He just decided to talk to me this morning. Apparentlyhe's been stalking me for several weeks.” Holly said, somewhathurt.


    “No, I am notstalking this lady of yours. I spoke to her this morning because Iwanted to. Simple as that.” Ethan declared, and he held Nathan'seyes for a second, which was all it took. Nathan raised his hands up,as if shielding himself from an attack.


    “Oh I got thesame feisty reaction out of him as well. Did you wake up on the wrongside of the bed this morning...uh...Ethan? Why are you so grumpy?”Holly teased, looking immensely pleased with herself.


    “You know,Rachael Locke doesn't like our Holly. Monica Mac doesn't either.However, Damien here posted a meme on his own page about how Rachaelis a boyfriend stealer. He wrote the hashtag 'TeamMonica.'”The lad between Holly and Leanne said gently. He was dressed indouble-denim and a black baseball cap, and he had a fixed smile onhis face


    “Will thisRachael not be angry at you?” Ethan asked.


    “He deleted itwithin one hour.” Nathan said immediately.


    “I told Damianto delete it. I'm not sure if Monica saw it or not. But my boys herelove to fight my corner. Love it.” Holly said, laughing.


    “She deservedit.” The lad called Damien said, looking disappointed.


    "Ethan...whatdo you think of this? You slip into the direct messages of our lovelyfriend Rachael Locke and accuse her of being a boyfriend stealer.Then declare yourself for Team Monica. You don't know Holly...so whatdoes it matter?” Nathan said, and Ethan flinched at the way he wassmiling.


    “There is no wayI am going to do that. Sorry.” Ethan said in a tone that brooked noargument.


    “He couldn'tjust send her a direct message, she would have to grant him afollow-back.” Holly said.


    “Do you usesocial media?” Damien asked, innocently.

    “Yes I do.Although not in such a fashion. I use it for business and not muchelse.”



    "A realboyfriend calls you, texts you, says he loves you, he is jealous andhe should be over-protective." Holly said with certainty. Thechange of trajectory was welcome with Ethan, he was suddenly feelingvery strange and very stupid. They plowed on with their gossping.


    "Did Amy'sboyfriend do any of these things?" Asked Leanne, whose eyesEthan could feel on him throughout most of this.


    "No."They all said in unison.


    "I rest mycase." Holly said.


    The entire groupfell silent, as if in waiting. Holly glanced at Ethan several timesbefore letting her impatience show. She turned to Nathan to whispersomething to him, and he laughed loudly.


    "I knowriiiiggghhhtttt." He shouted, getting to his feet before Damienpulled him back down again. The two of them began bickering. Severalof the other passengers on the bus were shaking their heads orlooking around in disgust, as did frequently happen to this groupduring their morning commute.


    Soon after, thebus came to a halt. Ethan fell in behind the people lining up to getoff. It was Holly who fell in behind him, with her friends in tow.


    Holly and herfriends would make way to the university campus that was a short walkfrom the stop. That was where Ethan would be going, but not until theafternoon. He had the morning to himself. When he was preparing toleave the house this morning, he wasn't that optimistic thathe would be walking Holly to university.


    “Don't youusually go that way?” Ethan asked, as he realised that Holly wasstill following him. Her friends had sat on the bench by the busstop, waiting for her. Only one of them was looking over.


    “Yeah. But Iwanted to ask you something.” Holly said, somewhat sad.


    “What?”


    Holly stood still.Agitated, she shifted her weight from one leg to the other. Shelooked around to see her friends waiting for her. It was there he hadthe epiphany that perhaps she didn't want to speak, with them soclose by. Or perhaps that was just his own preference?


    “I'll be at thebus stop earlier tomorrow, Holly.” He told her.


    “Why?” Shesaid, laughing again.


    “Why not?” Hesaid mysteriously. She looked at him wide-eyed for a moment beforeturning around and walking back towards her friends. They hooted ather return, and the Nathan leapt up and walked with Holly arm-in-arm.The two of them lead the group away around the corner.


    He knew then thathe would have to deal with her friends before he could win Holly ontoa date. He also knew that women like Holly could, at times, playgames with men. That wasn't going to be him, though. He wondered ifperhaps that was the state of the crew around her? Were they allwhipped sycophants who cherished the presence of a beautiful woman?


    Ethan set off fromwhere Holly left him, at a brisk pace that was spurred by therelative success of the morning so far. He made his way through thethriving metropolis that was Newcastle. It was only a short busjourney here from his home town of Middlesbrough, but the distancefelt far greater.


    The rows ofbuildings on either side of the busy road were clothing stores,restaurants and bars. Students, professionals and shoppers walked toand fro with plastic cups of franchised coffee, shopping bags or withphones to ear. Many had their eyes to the ground and earphones in,keeping the world at bay. Newcastle was a trove of attractive women,also. These women were ranked the most attractive in the UnitedKingdom, according to surveys. It did occur to him how difficult itwould be to approach one of them here on the street, though.


    He made for theSacred Heart church, and that was where he always made his offeringto the Lord. He would always ask the Lord for a bountiful harvest.Ethan, however, was no farmer. His trade was photography, and he haddesigns to become his own master and start his own business. Theallure of working for oneself was something Ethan felt when he hadsized up the job prospects that Middlesbrough offered. Working in acall centre, behind a till or behind a bar did not tempt him verymuch.


    The aged greystone building of Sacred Heart rose above him. Above the entrance wasa mosaic of the Lord Jesus joining his hands in prayer, further abovestill was a large round window and upon the apex of the roof was astone crucifix. This front section of the building was flanked by twobell towers of equal height, although one practitioner had told himthat there were no bells, and that Roman Catholic churches were notallowed to use them even if they had them.


    One of the twolarge oaken front doors was open. The flock were welcome to come andpray if they wished. He made his way and enjoyed the tranquil silenceof the empty house. The walls of the foyer were teeming withleaflets, notices and photographs. Some photographs he had takenhimself. The nave of the church was empty but for wooden benches andthe resplendent statues and mosaics of saints, he paused to make thesign of the cross.


    Ethan reached intohis leather jacket and drew out his offering from the inside pocket,before walking briskly down the centre aisle toward the altar. Asingle candle burned peacefully in the iron stand. The offering platewas just below the dias of the altar, a round silver piece polishedto a mirror sheen, with burgundy felt in the centre. He let hisoffering fall onto it. It was the only offering of the day so far,but it was not uncommon to find the plate piled with coins, notes andall manner of trinkets. It was only the morning.


    He never, everattended mass. It made him feel in thrall to the priest and thegospel readers. They who held the attention of the congregation. Thecongregation had to sit, stand or kneel to receive the word of theLord. He felt as though it drained his soul, if anything. Hewent to his knees on the front bench and prayed.


    Almighty LordGod, You keep on giving abundance to men in the dew of heaven, andfood out of the richness of the soil. We give thanks to Your mostgracious majesty for the fruits of the field which we have gathered.We beg of You, in Your mercy, to bless our harvest, which we havereceived from Your generosity. Preserve it, and keep it from allharm. Grant, too, that all those whose desires You have filled withthese good things may be happy in Your protection. May they praiseYour mercies forever, and make use of the good things that do notlast in such a way that they may not lose those goods that areeverlasting, through Christ our Lord. R. Amen.


    Once Ethan hadsaid his prayer and allowed himself a few moments to mull over theevents of the morning, he made his way back out onto the streets. Hisnext port of call was Glenamara House, a student accommodation blockwhere Sophie lived. There also would be Tori, Ciara, Joe, Jacob andHarry. He considered all of them his friends, but he knew themthrough Sophie, who he had known since childhood. She had become evermore strange and quirky since she moved into Glenamara, he had noted,but she was dear to him no matter what.


    A short walkthrough the university campus brought him to the road leading toGlenamara. Three separate blocks rising seven storeys high, builtfrom orange brick and guarded by key fob entry and twenty four hoursecurity. Although, the security were primarily for the in-houseincidents rather than intrusion.

    When hereached the glass front doors he hesitated. There was no one aroundexcept for for two students leaving the building across the street.He called Sophie to let her know he was outside. She didn't answer.He tried again another two times, and by the third time, the callwent to voicemail immediately.



    That struck Ethanas strange. Sophie was well aware of the days that Ethan visited. Sheknew his university timetable. He tried sending messages on hissmartphone applications, but to no avail. He tried the intercom.


    “Hello?” Agirl's voice answered. It was Tori.


    “Tori...it'sEthan.” He said, feeling a little stupid.


    “Oh...oh I'lllet you in.” She said, and a moment later the automatic door giveway to the foyer. He bid good morning to the security guard, whowatched over the foyer through a hatch in the office wall, beforemaking his way to Flat 7.


    Tori was stood inthe doorway looking somewhat anxious. She was tall for a girl. Herlong blonde hair was tousled about her shoulders and she wasbarefoot. She was wearing a short wool dressing gown and she hadslept wearing her make-up.


    “I have to say Ididn't think you would be here today.”


    “I always visiton a Wednesday, Tori.” He said, feigning hurt.


    “I know. ButSophie isn't here.” She said, sounding somewhat worried. “Ithought she might have told you.”


    “No she didn't.Where is she?”


    “She went backto her parents house in Yarm. Howay, I'll make you a brew and tellyou the story.” She beckoned him through the door and waddleddaintily through the passageway, either side of her were the closedbedroom doors of her flatmates. The kitchen and dining room wereadjoined, and covered with mess. Take-away boxes, stained plates andcutlery were strewn across the kitchen units and the bin wasoverflowing. If Tori was ashamed, she did not show it. None of theothers were here, so Ethan figured they must be at university.


    Ethan and Toriwere soon sat with mugs of tea in front of them. The wallssurrounding the dining table were covered with flyers for clubnights, parties and concerts. There was a white board covered withrude remarks and images. Apart from that, there was no dιcor. Asimple living space with table, chairs and lots of mess.


    “We're movingout next year. I don't want to live in a place like this again. I'mthinking a studio flat to myself should do nicely. Sophie doesn'twant to live with the boys, but I bet she'd find a house share withall of the new friends she's been making.” Tori informed him. Shehad swept all of the stationary and the various devices and laptopsto one end of the table. Ethan was about to stress his concern aboutSophie when Tori began her telling of what happened.


    “It was onSaturday, during the early hours. Me, Sophie and Ciara had been outdrinking. We didn't drink that much, but Sophie came over allfunny.”


    “Funny how?”


    “She startedcomplaining that the guy she was seeing was a complete tosser. He waswith a different girl one night, and deliberately ignored her at TheAlchemist. She went on and on for a few hours, and then begancomplaining that her family had betrayed her. Later on, Harry triedto calm her down, but she slapped him. They've not talked since. Sherang in sick for uni on Monday, then Tuesday and then left for homeon Tuesday night, without saying anything. She wouldn't speakto any of us, and she hasn't been answering her phone.” Torifinished.


    The Alchemist wasa Newcastle nightclub, and it was the place to go. Newcastle itselfwas better than Middlesbrough in terms of its nightlife and partyscene, but The Alchemist was a cut above. Sophie had always been asocialite, and if she had been stood up by a man in front of all ofher friends, then she would've taken it hard.


    “Well...I willtry and call her.” Ethan stood up, and drew out his mobile phone,but Tori shook her head quickly.


    “No...don't yet.There's more.” Tori said, and took a drink of tea. “The girl sheargued with that night was Zahida. She's the one who is trying to geton TV, trying to become a model and trying to get with everyoneelse's boyfriend. That's according to Sophie. She is a client ofyours, we know that.” Tori said quicky.

    “Zahida.Yeah, yeah she is. I met her when I was a nightlife photographer incollege. She's a year older than I am. She spent about one hourtalking to me, then every night I saw her she insisted that I takeher photograph. She was extremely demanding and fussy.” Ethan said,thoughtfully.



    “How?” Toriasked, intrigued.


    “Well most womenjust ask for their photograph to be taken, and that's that. ButZahida would insist I follow her around all night. She would've hadme take hundreds of photographs I reckon...if I'd let her. She wouldtry various backdrops and poses, and she would insist I stand byuntil she was satisfied that I had taken a good one.” Ethan said.He was shamed a little by the memory of Zahida boot-strapping himaround the club, but he was two years the wiser now, and Zahida hadbeen one of his first real clients.


    “Well, Sophiedoesn't like her. She raged that you should refuse her your servicesif she ever comes knocking again.” Tori told him.


    “I couldn't dothat. It's unprofessional. I don't particularly like the girl, butshe is a paying customer and I'm trying to launch a business.”


    “Have you evergotten with her?” Tori asked innocently.


    “No.” Ethansaid, and he shuddered a little. He had text Zahida once, confessinghis attraction to her, but she had gracefully declined his advance.The second time she ordered a photoshoot, he had slashed his rates asrestitution for the mishap.


    “Have you gottenwith any of her friends? They're quite famous here in this city, youknow. In The Alchemist they walk straight into VIP every night. Theyknow the security guards. Her friend is Rachael Locke. That's a girlwho was crowned Miss Newcastle during her final year of university.”Tori said, sounding impressed.


    “I haven'tgotten with anyone. Not really. You know I don'treally...partake...very much.” He could feel his cheeks burning ashe cursed himself. Tori let out a laugh. She flashed him a feral smile and herteeth clenched. Ethan felt dizzy.


    “Well anyway,Sophie did what you asked. She got you a date with that guy.” Torisaid, teasingly. “She said he's called Sam?”


    Ethan felt asearing pain in his chest at the taunt, but he felt excited also. Hehad asked Sophie to help him make a connection with a prolificphotographer who had connections in Newcastle. Sophie had not toldhim that she'd pulled it off. Perhaps she'd spoken to Sam during thisfiasco night out?


    “Yeah that'shim, and it's not a date. It's business. He's up and running and he'spublished internationally. I knew that he would be in the city atleast now and again. One girl who worked for The Alchemist as a clubhostess, she's called Nina, she paid him for a test shoot, and it wasliterally one shot one kill. She's published and she gained theattention of a magazine straight away.


    “Yeahwell...that sounds impressive. He asked you to meet him at TheAlchemist as it goes.” She paused for a moment. “But he did saythat you must meet him in the VIP, otherwise...don't bother.”


    “The Alchemist,of course. I used to work there as a photographer, and back then Icould obviously get in...but now...” Ethan rubbed his head.Typically, somebody who was already in VIP had to invite you in, andthey would only do that if there was some value on offer.


    “So you thinkyou won't be able to get in?” Tori asked accusingly.


    “Not a problem.”He said, boldly.

  2. #2
    Your lack of spacing between words is distracting. I don't immediately understand the function of this stylistic choice.

    Ethan's isolation and lack of natural social grace juxtaposes nicely with the confidence, false or not, that he displays later in the text.

    The narrative is a little clunky. Where are you taking us?

  3. #3
    This looks decent, but the spacing issues make it hard to read. I'm guessing that you cut and pasted from Word? That can create these problems. You need to use the icon with the little W on it, fourth icon from the left on the top row. Then you can paste straight in.

    HJC
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