Another Ha'penny's Worth (Not as Dreadful)
Henry was worried. The two white hairy caterpillars performed yet another push-up over his unripened strawberry nose as he frowned again.
He'd been taking the same shortcut from the pub home for most of his adult life, not once in almost sixty years of drinking had he took a wrong turn through the back alleys and entries of the area, no matter how many pints of brown, he'd never put a foot wrong, ever.
Maybe he was going batty in his old age? His uncle had gone loopy, poor fellow couldn't remember to put his pants on towards the end, doc said it was just old age, but mad uncle Billy could remember tales from his seafaring days down to individual planks on the deck....just not his pants for some reason.
The caterpillars clung on as Henry risked a look down, half expecting to see bare legs or pyjamas and slippers.
His sigh of relief was short-lived as he realised he was in his good suit (actually his only suit) and sporting his Tranmere Rovers scarf despite the lack of any chill in the air. Why would he wear his suit to the pub? Someone's wedding? A wake? Rovers making the Cup Final at last?
Caterpillars butted heads as he tried to recall. He had a dim sense he'd been on a long journey, had also had long wait somewhere as frustrating as a doctor's waiting room, but beyond that a blank.
Uncle Billy's trouserless legs once more popped into his head as he retraced his steps, mentally counting off the street names belonging to the alleyways, neighbours' names, colours of back doors that should come next.
No matter how perfect his recollection, each and every time he came to the corner of Ashville Road and Cavendish Street the caterpillars went into a frenzy.
Instead of the posh houses bordering the park – so posh there was a teacher and a doctor no less living there now – there was a flat black expanse of Tarmac gaudily lit by huge white street lights. Henry had never seen an area so big, so empty, not even the docks boasted such space.
He sat on the curb, slightly surprised it didn't feel cold or hard on his backside, and reached for his pipe. No such luck, a brief search of his suit pockets revealed no money, not a penny, no house key and no tobacco. Not even an old bus ticket. Nothing.
When he did get home he'd be in for a barney: no keys, so he'd have to wake the missus up. He glanced at his watch, which he discovered was also suspiciously awol. Maybe he'd lost everything in a drunken game of dominoes? But he wasn't drunk.
Finally, Henry creaked back up. Ah well, Uncle Billy seemed happy enough without trousers. So be it.
Dusting off imaginary dirt from his suit, he straightened his scarf and walked into the glare of the black nothingness.
Justin picked at his chipped black nail polish. He hated it when they peeled. Spoilt his look.
He flicked the debris off his black skintight jeans; he hated it when they got messy.
He leant back against the Costa sign, hating the feel of plastic groaning at his black-clad back.
God, he was bored with this! He hated being bored.
Hated the mall, hated waiting around.
He trudged towards the hatefully gaudy entrance, swinging his skyscraper-soled Demonia boot uselessly at the shutters, hating the imperious metal.
He really hated the people who would flood through the mall in a couple of hours: hated the mums chatting inanely over their hatefully expensive morning coffee, hated the stupid giggling kids outside the undies shops, hated the crinkly old dears out bargain hunting in the sales – really, really hated the self-important security guard, but equally, secretly, hated being alone and ignored in the crowds.
He'd spent years honing his look and hated it when people gave no reaction to his perfect gothic darkness.
Justin hated everything usually, but lately he was really, really hating being dead.
Barry had one more biscuit, checked the bank of CCTV screens and had just one last ginger nut before picking up his keys and maglight. 05.00 exactly, even after twenty years in the job he was minute perfect, God he was good. Making his way through the labyrinth corridors of the staff areas, Barry dutifully checked that each and every door was secure.
Cold air hit him as he began his exterior patrol. How did John McClane cope in just a vest? Checking the exterior was the worst part of the nightshift, that's why there were so many cameras for god's sake, still he nonetheless spent the next twenty minutes shining his torch into bushes and edging around the many corners, hoping to encounter Hans Gruber casually asking for a light.
Die Hard 4 awaited him in the rec room – he hadn't watched the movie for at least a month – and hurried back towards the main entrance.
Stopping mid-step he paused to identify the sound. Taking out the silver plated whistle, ready to summon back up if he needed it.
Barry wasn't quite sure the whistle would be as effective in an emergency as, say, his walking talkie or his mobile phone would be, but it came with the uniform and looked very cool, like a copper's whistle in the old movies.
Hitting the coffee sign with the powerful beam, he was assured it was just the Perspex expanding as the morning warmed.
Pocketing the whistle he blew imaginary smoke from the barrel of his torch, "Yippee ki yay!"
A further noise. Turning towards the huge shutters, flashlight locked and loaded, already the whistle going once more to his lips, Barry had the unmistakable impression that someone had just kicked the metal rollers.
Satisfied it must've been a random gust of wind, Barry double checked all was secure and undamaged before he swiped the entry door, happy he'd foiled another potential crime.
He stopped at the nearest storefront, putting on his best German accent he addressed his reflection in the glass, "You are most troublesome....for a security guard!"
Barry headed back to more biscuits and his Bruce Willis binge, totally unaware that behind him, Justin's head had appeared, pushing eerily through the brickwork, black lipstick sneering, "God, I hate that prat!"
Henry couldn't make his mind up which was stranger, the brightly lit megalith of the mall or the black clad figure who was apparently talking to one of the walls.
"Uncle Billy would be proud of you, mate," Henry muttered, "Shops a hundred times bigger than Woolies, and now some kind of iffy kid dressed like a bloody undertaker nattering away to the brickwork!"
The lad jumped as Henry tapped him on the shoulder, "'scuse me mate, any idea how I get to Bray Street from here son?"
Justin almost screamed. "You touched me!"
Henry tried not to screw up the caterpillars as the lad turned, bloody face looked like a negative of the black and white minstrels!
"Sorry mate, just need some directions, that's all"
"You touched me!" Justin wiggled his black, jewelled fingers, "Actually freakin' touched me!"
"Ok son, don't get wound up, only tapped you on the bloody shoulder!"
"No, I mean you actually touched me!"
Mad as Billy, must be , thought Henry. "Ok, I touched you, sorry, now if you could? Bray Street – any idea?"
Justin continued to wave his fingers around, "Never heard of it, not around here, but look man, you touch..."
Henry had had enough. Grabbing Justin by his lapels, he shouted, "Touch you, I'll bloody kill you if you don't shut it!"
Justin's gave him the weirdest grin he'd ever seen, "Now THAT would be a neat trick gramps!"
Henry was rapidly losing his patience with being mad. "Look son, Bray Street, off Laird Street, near the park?"
"Chill dude. Told you man, never heard of it" again the grin like a shark wearing makeup, "But this," he gestured theatrically behind him, "this is the Laird Mall!"
"Laird I understand son, but mall? Mal who? It was John Laird built this town, never heard of a Malcolm."
"Wow man, this must be where it happened for you! But just how long have you been away?"
Justin watched the caterpillars trying to roll over each other. "This mall, this shopping arcade, must've been built over the street you're looking for, don't you get it, pops?"
"Some people always come back to where it happened, others to where they were born, but most, yours truly included, are drawn back for some reason to where it took place, get it?"
"No, I don't get it, what the buggery is 'it'?"
God, he hated stupid old people!
Barry Anderson loved his job. After leaving school at 16 with very, very little in the way of qualifications, he'd resigned himself to a life on the dole. Three years of signing on and trawling the Job Centre and nothing. Barry spent his days hanging around the shopping centre video store, talking movies and searching the shelves for any VHS that he hadn't already rented more than twice.
On one such foray, Barry was given the bad news. The shop was closing its doors at the end of the week. The whole street was being bulldozed to make way for one of the new American-style shopping arcades.
Barry's ears perked at American style. In the months that followed he swapped hanging around the video aisles for hanging around the building site.
At six foot three, Barry tended to get in the way quite a lot. He was hard to miss. One person who totally failed to miss Barry on more than one occasion was the site security manager. Another film buff, they soon began swapping reviews and gossip.
Upon completion, Barry was offered a job, nights on the security team. The pay was poor but there were perks Barry may appreciate. Free uniform and, more importantly, use of the staff room and its impressive movie collection.
Barry took his job very seriously: the day time shift may have seen more action, detaining shoplifters and the occasional drunk, but Barry liked to think he kept the mall safe and secure during the hours of darkness. His in-depth daily reports to management sometimes ran to four or five pages. Nothing moved on site whilst Officer (as he insisted upon calling himself) Anderson patrolled the hallowed retail ground.
The night he was promoted was one of Barry's best memories ever – six years ago, but he remembered it like yesterday evening, he'd been patrolling the East stairwells and had come across a gang of punky looking kids smoking on the steps. The lads were troublemakers, always trying to make his work life a misery.
As he later told the local newspapers, "I wasn't looking for trouble, but sure as hell wasn't gonna run from it when it came!"
(The framed article and half page 'local hero' photo still hangs in the CCTV room, Barry's most prized possession).
"So I'm not mad – just dead?" Caterpillars arched in anticipation.
"Yup, probably for a good few years, judging by the outfit, too!"
Henry decided not to enter into a sartorial debate with the undertaker. "And you're dead too, son?"
"Yup, going on six years now" Justin held up six flaking black nails, "Bloody fags!"
"So it's true, smoking is actually bad for you?" Henry patted the pocket his missing pipe should've been in.
"Jeez man, duh, smoking kills, like the adverts? Anyway, it wasn't lung or heart disease or anything like that."
"Then why mention the ciggies?"
"Coz the bloody big daft superhero security man made us put them out, God I hated him, me and my mates used to come here just to wind him up, we all hated him, anyway I, er, went to stand on mine and erm," he lifted one impressively soled boot, "I tripped over my own bleedin' feet and fell down the stairs!"
"So you broke your neck or something?"
"No I only twisted my ankle" he caught the confused looking caterpillars, "so I'm laying there, bottom of the stairs right? So, Arnold Schwarzenegger comes running down. . . "
"Big muscly guy, anyway, the meathead gets carried away and starts trying to give me CPR."
"Kiss of life to you, granddad!"
"For a sprained ankle?"
"My point exactly! So Vin Diesel grabs my head..."
"Big muscly guy...no ...ok...forget it....security man grabs my head and starts blowing into my mouth, really smudged the lippy," he ignored the raised caterpillars and continued, "But I start choking..."
"So you choked to death on your own tongue? Yeauchh!"
"Not quite, Dwayne Johnson....oh come on!...anyway, he blew so hard my tongue piercing came out," to save time Justin poked out his tongue showing off a rather thick black barbell in the centre of his flesh. Ignoring Henry's shudder, he went on, "And I choked to death on that in the ambulance. God, I hate him, have I mentioned that? Hate him big time, wouldn't mind but the prat actually got a reward for trying to save me! Was in the papers and everything, no piccy of me but he's there beaming away like a big stupid...well something big and stupid, you wouldn't get it anyway, old timer!"
"But if you, er, passed away, how do you know about the papers?"
"Coz they're on the wall in his man cave, his office like, I've seen them!"
"So how did you get inside?"
"Do what any self-respecting ghost does" again that frightening grin,"......walk right through the front doors!"
Barry couldn't remember his grandad but, he was told, they were inseparable right up to the day he died.
On that fateful day the six month old Barry had been gurgling away to his doting grandparent, giggling away each time he manages to pull the unlit pipe from his granddad's mouth.
Each time he succeeded grandad made funny growling noises and popped the stem back in, sucking noisily and making silly faces to amuse the little boy.
Tiny hands reached again and again, never tiring of the game, grabbing at his pipe, delight on the baby's face as it tried to reach its real target – the two greying furry toys that were granddad's amazingly bushy eyebrows.
Henry Anderson actually left the pub before last orders on the night he died, his daughter staying with the baby for a few days, Henry had spent the morning playing with the little fella and now he was rushing home to see his grandson, maybe give him his nighttime bottle?
It was this rush that gave Henry a bad case of hiccups. He'd stopped at the local chippy for a steak and kidney pie and was hurrying along, chomping the hot pie as he went.
Every other bite, hiccup. Bloody annoying things, hiccups, especially went you're eating a nice hot crusty pie on the way home.
As he reached the junction of Ashville Road and Cavendish Street,he had but one or two bites left. Crossing the main road, Henry stuffed the remaining crusts into his mouth, throwing the greasy newspaper into the gutter.
Midway across Laird Street, in sight of his home, Henry's hiccups came again: a huge violent hiccup, a hiccup which made him take in masses amounts of air....and the last mouthful of pie.
The driver of the Ford Cortina which narrowly avoided hitting his prone body stopped and attempted the kiss of life, but sadly, it was too late to save poor Henry.
John McClane was apparently using a police car to bring down a helicopter when Henry and Justin walked, quite literally, through the rec room door.
"And here's Bruce Willis himself!" Justin waved his hands in front of Barry's rapt eyes.
"Bruce who?" Henry was quite startled to see Justin was now sitting on the big chap's lap, pierced tongue licking at his face. This ghost stuff was actually quite unnerving.
"Tough guy actor, like, er, Jim Wayne or somebody? Look, the guy in the bloody vest, ok?" Pointing to the screen.
"Looks nothing like him," muttered Henry.
Barry reached through Justin for a Hobnob.
Justin casually put his hand through Barry's skull and wiggled it around violently, "See, pops? It's totally and utterly empty!"
hat if he feels you doing that, son? That's just not nice."
"Can't see us, can't hear us, can't feel us, God knows how many times I've tried to push the idiot down stairs, just go right through him, go on have a go, give him a poke?"
Barry scoffed another biscuit as Washington descended into chaos. "Fire sale, baby, everything must go, John!" Shouting at the screen, spraying crumbs through Justin.
More out of curiosity than malice, Henry slowly threaded his hand through Barry's rib cage, tickling his insides but feeling nothing more than a faint presence, rather like bubbles bursting against your skin in the bath.
Whether Barry felt more, or by just unfortunate coincidence, Barry took that moment to hiccup violently, inhaling almost a whole chocolate Hobnob. Henry panicked as the man's face reddened and he tried to cough up the biscuit.
Justin looked on, grinning manically, shouting, "Nice one pops been trying to do that for years!"
Henry rushed to the choking guard, desperately trying to dislodge the blockage, hands passing uselessly through Barry's flesh..
"Time to die hard, you big stupid lump, Yippee ki yey cookie sucker! Ha ha ..fancy being killed by a..."
"Granddad?" Came the question from behind. Barry's ghostly eyes fixed on those unmistakable caterpillar brows.
"My little Baz?"
As he embraced Henry, and Henry hugged and kissed his beloved grandson, "My boy Barry! I feel just like Gordon MacRae in Carousel!"
"More like Demi in Ghost!"
And with that profound question hanging in the air, with one final look at the screen as McClane kicked the hot Asian chick down a lift shaft, hand in hand both Andersons simply vanished.
Justin knew with a sickening certainty that one thing was sure:
He really really, really hated stupid soppy endings!