THE TROLL at Christmas: Post 2
My apologies, folks. I had promised to post this yesterday and ended up out with friends for most of the day and all evening. So here it is now. Chapter 1 of the the first novella in my TROLL series. Chapter 2 will be up early evening today. Enjoy… The book is currently available on amazon here for free in the UK, but only for another 24 hours or so, so get on it.
THE TROLL, book 1, The Boy with a Sliver of Ice in his Heart.
Extract (first chapter)
It is delicious cake. You must eat it.
It was packed in town with Christmas shoppers, people rushing round trying to find the right presents, or anything they could at this stage. Kelly could feel the desperation coming off them, seeping out of their pores. She’d done all her shopping online and her gifts were neatly wrapped under her tree at home. She’d got cashback to spend in the sales from doing it that way. The thing is that Capitalism is a game, and Kelly knew how to play it. She made it her business to and she was #winning.
Kelly walked into Monsoon, even though the place was not exactly her style. Still, it was fine to browse. She’d parked at the shopping centre so it would be rude not to have a little look as she walked through. She wasn’t expecting to buy anything yet, though. Maybe when she was down that street with all the designer shops on it, then she would start flexing the plastic.
She headed out into the bright light of day. She screwed up her eyes and curved a hand over her forehead as she walked. A woman coming the other way nodded towards her and she smiled in return. She didn’t think she knew the other woman; maybe someone who recognized her from the pics online at the radio station, or her Twitter avatar. She got that sometimes, strangers staring, believing they knew her but not sure why.
She walked through the pedestrian area, past McDonald’s and several coffee houses, then finally on to her favourite street. It wasn’t as hectic here, although it was still busy. Lots of people were rushing past on their way elsewhere. Kelly stopped as a pair of shoes caught her eyes. She gazed for a moment, then slipped past the shoe shop and into the boutique next door. She luxuriated through a rail of fitted tops, touching the fabrics, letting them slip through her fingers. The way she was about clothes was fetish, the enjoyment sensual and fulfilling.
Kelly focused on the task in hand. She needed the right outfits for Christmas. Three days, she had planned, in a cottage in Derbyshire with four other single women. A grown-up Christmas. One of those things that sounded good in theory but that was feeling emptier by the second. #fucksake. She wasn’t about to jump on that bandwagon either, the one where you needed a marriage and kids and all that shit to be happy. Still…
/focus on the task at hand.
What she needed was new outfits; glamorous, empty promises that *this* life was better. She often wondered if her married, familied friends had doubts about their choices. Did they live task to task, day by day, keeping themselves busy to drown out the doubts? She suspected they felt the same emptiness but didn’t want to ask, fearing looks of bland sympathy.
Distraction was the answer, there was no doubt about that. A whole silky, lacy rail of distraction. Kelly pulled tops and skirts from their racks and hung them over her arms. The things she would try on. She didn’t look at the prices. She was lucky, not to have to.
The sales assistant smiled at her as she headed to the fitting rooms and waved her through. She was known here, shopped here often. She flicked the curtain across then closed her eyes. She hung the clothes from the hooks on the wall and undressed. Then she pulled the smallest top from its hanger and rubbed her fingers in circles on the silk and lace.
It was security tagged, of course. If there had been a qualification in opening these things without ripping the material, Kelly would have several advanced degrees in it. #strangesubjectforadegree but no matter. It was her field of expertise, just like fairy tales and other stories were her best friend Louisa’s, who had so many degrees you sometimes thought she ought to share them out a bit with her mates. It was such a long time since Kelly had been that person, the girl who walked out of shops with stuff she hadn’t paid for and made the little money she did have by babysitting for her mum’s dodgy ‘colleagues’. But she remembered that little girl. She could feel her there still, deep inside the radio star she’d become. She stared at that radio star; at the long, straightened, expensively highlighted hair that framed her brown eyes so neatly. It was hard to believe this was the same person. It felt like she was wearing a disguise.
Kelly held the top and felt the security tag. The harsh lump of plastic through the soft fabric made her gag a little. She closed her eyes. She remembered her mother’s face. Her smile, its cat stretch across her face, when she knew that the luxury item Kelly had managed to lift would fetch a few quid. Enough for a rock, maybe two, or some brown to cook up. Kelly had lived for those drug induced smiles. She put the top down with a sigh. It was good to have money. It was good not to have to worry about feeding the habit of a selfish fucking junkie who only ever let you down.
Life was good, now. #nailedit
One thing you had to be able to do, presenting radio, was multitask. Kelly read the news clips that she’d memorised earlier, and clicked through the text messages coming in from far and wide about their phone-in topic, which was George Osborne. The phrase phone-in had dated fast, the way stuff did, and didn’t really sum it up now that people tended to text or tweet, but no one had come up with anything better yet. Maybe they should call it #PhoneIn, that might work.
Plenty of Kelly’s listeners did still use the phone, like that creepy old man. He’d been ringing regularly for about a year now. Only on Kelly’s show, always to talk to her. She wondered if other people noticed, or if he was a secret she had kept to herself. He could be anyone. It could be someone she knew, or a bloke who watched her house from across the road. Or an ex.
He might be sitting there on the phone completely naked for all she knew. She needed to stop thinking about this troll before she creeped herself out too much to eat her lunch when the show finished. Or to drink it, since she was seeing Adam, and a liquid lunch was far more likely. He needed cheering up, poor sod. That Caroline woman he’d just broken up with had shattered his heart.
Ryan popped his head around the door. ‘More tea, Kels?’
‘Yes please, Ry. You’re the best.’ She smiled that hundred dollar smile at him. She wouldn’t swap her producer for any number of dollars, not even millions. #OKmaybemillions. Kelly leaned into her microphone and introduced the next record then sat back in her chair. It was a Simply Red track. #easylistening #WhatSheSignedUpToSheGuessed
Maybe she should invite her troll into the station. She could at least put a face to a name that way. Sometimes not knowing was the worst thing. Pinning something down, capturing it, that made it less frightening. Like the difference between a mouse you chose to keep in a cage and one you’d not met before running around on your living room floor.
But, nah, she wasn’t about to do that. You don’t feed the trolls and you definitely don’t invite them to spend time with you. Not even in a studio with other people around. Not even with a police officer sitting in between the two of you. #NotThatFuckingStupid
The door swung open again. It was Ryan, with the tea. ‘Cheers, hun,’ she said, as he placed it down on her desk.
‘Right,’ he said. ‘We’ve got the feature on street lighting at eleven and, then, at eleven thirty, that artist fella again. Adam?’
Kelly grinned at him. ‘You pretending not to know his name?’ She winked. ‘We all know damn well you know his name, lovely.’
Ryan feigned innocence, and walked towards the door. But he turned as he went out and winked at her. Kelly was looking forward to seeing Adam. It had been a few weeks, and he was always good company.
Kelly sat back and sighed. She closed her eyes and thought about Adam. What it might be like if she got together with him. She took a moment to fantasise about that. Not that she needed a boyfriend. Nah, she loved the single life. But sometimes it did you good to imagine certain things, rehearse them in your head. #50shadesofsomething
The room fell very silent. Kelly realised that it was her turn to talk. She snapped out of her daydream and switched her mic to live. Seamlessly, she told the air waves what to look forward to on the rest of the show and then cut to the weather.
Kelly leaned into the microphone as she spoke. ‘Now, a very special song to remind you of Last Christmas,’ she said, hitting the button so the track she’d queued earlier would play. She heard her voice go deep and scratched at the edges. She was being even more cheesy.com than usual, to make Adam laugh.
Adam sat across from her, grinning, as she cut the mics from the studio. ‘That was so Tony Blackburn,’ he said. His smile made the corners of his eyes crinkle up in an attractive way and she couldn’t help but smile back.
‘That’s why they pay me the big bucks,’ she said, cocking her head.
‘This must hurt Mr Fulforth. Hearing you on here every day.’ He leaned back, running fingers through his dark blond hair which, as usual, looked tastefully messed up.
This sent Kelly’s grin wider. ‘What were his exact words?’ she said. She put on a voice, posh, middle class, an approximation of what she could remember her teacher sounding like, though it was a *very* long time ago. ‘No one’s going to pay you to talk your head off all day, Kelly Gordon.’
Adam snorted. ‘He must eat them words for breakfast.’
Kelly looked away then, at her screen, and held her hand up in that practised way she had of showing a guest that she needed to concentrate on something else for a moment. She read the news, again, those same memorised words. Then she put on the next record and pulled her headphones down around her neck with a flourish. ‘I should get him in to talk on air about it,’ she said.
They shared a lingering smile as the music faded out. Kelly often got to know her regular guests on the show, the Monday people they would swap and change to talk about the weekend’s news, but it was different with Adam. They’d known each other for as long as she could remember. Played together, toddlers, while their mums drank tea and talked about what was happening in Coronation Street. Happy times, before life turned dark with Kelly’s mother.
Kelly still had a note she’d written to Adam when she was about five, that her eldest sister had found and thought was cute, so had saved for her for years. Kelly had sworn her undying love. ‘Even when we don’t see each other, I’ve known you for a long time. You will always be my friend.’ It had turned out prophetic. #heartfelt
She pulled her headphones back on and Adam did too, well trained after quite a few appearances. ‘So,’ she said, ‘what do you make of all this fuss about Fifty Shades of Grey?’ She narrowed her eyes at him. ‘Have you ever been a bit fifty shades?’
‘Not that I would admit to on air,’ Adam said. ‘Obviously, I’m a rich millionaire from my work as an artist and have a helipad on top of my studio, but apart from that.’
Kelly could hear Ryan laughing, through her headphones. She felt like she might melt into giggles. She couldn’t look through the window to the producer’s booth; it would all go wrong. She refused to make eye contact with Adam too. Something about his presence was sending her all teenaged and silly, regressing her back to earlier in their friendship. It was the light in the blue-green of his eyes, the way they crinkled at the edges when he smiled.
She pulled herself together and straightened her face, keeping her eyes focused on the studio control screen. ‘Your latest exhibition’s at the Attic Gallery until 14th January?’ she said.
‘Yes,’ Adam said, turning professional, a mode of operation in him that always surprised her, even after all these years of being grown-ups together. ‘It’s reflections on the recession, portraits and landscapes of the dispossessed.’
‘Sounds really cheery,’ she said.
Adam didn’t laugh and Kelly filled the silence with a nervous cough. She had forgotten how seriously Adam took his work, how driven he was on this particular subject.
‘I’m sure it will be as brilliant as ever,’ she said, trying to recover it. ‘People, I can’t recommend this highly enough. If you’ve seen Adam Hall’s work before, you’ll know exactly what I mean.’
Adam gave her a tight smile, looking slightly embarrassed. ‘Thank you,’ he said.
‘Are you working on anything new?’ #changethesubject #quick
Adam hesitated, his eyes narrowed. A few moments passed, and Kelly was shot through with something. Panic, she thought, at first, then she realised it was not that. Lust, more like. A shot of fancying the arse off this bloke again. Would she ever get over that?
‘I’ve started a new project,’ he said. His voice was close to a whisper. ‘I can’t say much about it but it’s internet related.’ He cleared his throat. ‘Watch this space,’ he said.
‘Well that sounds fascinating, as ever, Adam. Ladies and gentleman, Adam Hall. Thanks for joining us today.’
The headphones were off again. Kelly was smiling but the edges of her mouth felt strained.
‘Thanks for that cheery comment!’ Adam said. He sounded amused, though, and Kelly was relieved.
‘I’m not the one taking Portraits of the Dispossessed!’ Her voice was playful, and she coloured the title of his exhibition with a commentary kind of sound. She was multitasking again, and her eyes flicked to her Twitter feed on the screen beside her.
SickMan followed you.
SickMan retweeted you.
SickMan retweeted you.
SickMan favorited your tweet.
Who the #hell was SickMan?
Kelly clicked onto his profile. It didn’t say much, which was always a worry. Maybe it was the troll who rang up the radio a lot. The timing made sense. ‘Fighting the good fight,’ his profile said, and not a word more. It sounded like some conspiracy theorist or 911 truther, which was a bit scary. Her mouse pointer hovered over block but she couldn’t quite click it.
She looked up from the screen and across at Adam. He seemed to be waiting for something. ‘Eh?’ Her voice had gone back to the estate, to their childhood.
‘I was asking if you still wanted to go out when you’re done. I’m not in a rush. I can wait for you.’
‘Yeah, sure,’ she said, still staring at SickMan’s profile. He hadn’t tweeted yet, just retweeted and favorited tweets that she’d posted. He was following only her, which made her strongly suspect he was someone she knew, although she couldn’t be sure, having such a public facing job. God, maybe he was even the phone-in troll. She moved the mouse from block, to follow. Why not? #KeepYourFriendsCloseETC
‘Sorry,’ she said, ‘slight technical hitch.’ She had no idea why she was lying to Adam. She looked up and smiled at him, and then he got up and left the studio. She saw him, a bear hug for Ryan, then walking through the other door of the producer’s booth to wait for her on the guests’ settee.
She clicked again into SickMan’s profile. The photo was of a single eye in a neat, black frame. Big Brother Is Watching You. She shivered. Of course he wasn’t watching her. And yet she looked over her shoulder, towards the blacked out window. She glanced around the room looking for places someone could hide a camera.
Why was she letting this get to her? It was someone on Twitter, behind a computer, the other side of a screen and far, far away. If SickMan turned out to actually be sick, she could block him. He wasn’t real. He wasn’t someone in her life.
Kelly couldn’t quite get her mind off the stranger who’d followed her on Twitter as she waited for Adam to come back with the drinks. The world wide web was far scarier than any of the deep, dark, tangled woods in Louisa’s stories. It was easy to feel detached. To say things you didn’t mean and get involved with people you wouldn’t give the time of day if you passed them in the street.
Adam arrived back with a pint of lager and one of those very large glasses of white wine that held about half a bottle. He plonked both glasses down, and sat opposite Kelly. He leaned over, spreading his arms across the table in a lazy, casual way. The lights glinted in his eyes like a scene from an advert.
‘What are we supposed to ask each other now? Are we ready for Christmas, that kind of thing? Can you bear it?’ Adam looked across at the bar as he spoke, and Kelly turned, following his eyes. There was a gaggle of young, pretty girls on stools. They were glancing back, and eyelashes were being fluttered all over the place. Girls had always liked Adam. Kelly turned back to her glass of wine and tried to ignore them.
‘No.’ Kelly took another drink, trying to drown something, she had no idea what. ‘I can hardly bear it at all.’
Adam took a big swig of his beer, then breathed out loudly to express his satisfaction. ‘Drink more. Care less,’ he said. He made it sound like a marketing campaign. Kelly did as she was told, downing a good inch of wine. She swallowed hard, her throat contracting against its acidic suck. Then she took another drink. Already, she was lightheaded, although she wasn’t sure if it was the alcohol or what Adam’s company did to her head.
‘Listen, just to warn you, I have to get off to the ma and pa’s tomorrow morning. So I’ll be like Cinderella running out of here come midnight.’
‘Course,’ Kelly said. She tried for a smile, but it felt fake from the inside. Her stomach was doing loops as she thought about the fact that she was never invited to the Halls’ for Christmas and a small voice told her she never would be. She tried to breathe. You couldn’t go listening to every little voice in your head, could you?
‘You got to do the dutiful family thing?’ Adam said. His eyes narrowed. He made it sound like the most boring thing in the world.
‘I thought we weren’t doing this?’ Kelly said.
Adam laughed. Kelly loved the sound of Adam’s laughter. ‘God, it’s hard not to get caught up in the crap, though, isn’t it?’ He was shaking his head. ‘Gawd damn.’
‘Well, for what it’s worth, I’m having a grown up Christmas. No Santa, no nonsense, lots of alcohol and sophisticated conversation.’ Kelly took a bigger gulp from her wine than she’d meant to and nearly choked on it.
Adam smiled. That lazy, sexy smile of his. ‘Sophisticated conversation, eh?’ The grin widened. ‘Who are you, and what did you do with Kelly Fiona Gordon?’
‘Oi!’ Kelly smacked Adam’s arm, but playfully. ‘Nob.’ But she was laughing. Adam always made her laugh. She wished he would be making her laugh this Christmas. She wished she didn’t wish that. Fucking wishing, got you nowhere. #NotThatFuckingStupid
The beer and wine had flowed until long after the sun melted red across the sky. Kelly was feeling drunk. Stupid drunk, where you can hear yourself slurring, and have to concentrate to focus your eyes, and anything could happen if you picked up your phone and opened twitter. Adam was at the bar getting more ‘lunch’. She watched him, leaning to the left against the counter as he waited, looking #ohsocasual. Maybe it would be this Christmas that everything would change between the two of them. They were two young(ish), attractive individuals who got on brilliantly, so didn’t it make sense for them to get together? She tried to remind herself that he was hardly in the right place to start a relationship this close to a bad break up, and that it was never a good idea to go out with a close friend. But the alcohol whispered other things to her. Terrible, tempting things.
Adam was back with the drinks. Kelly could feel her eyes closing. She wasn’t far from dissolving point, that moment of drunkenness when your consciousness shrinks and hides, and lets the rest of you carry on without it. Kelly had no idea who took over in these moments but just hoped that this other woman could hold it together enough to get her home safely. The glass of wine in front of her looked ridiculously large. Like a goldfish bowl. It looked like a joke you’d make about wine. Adam sat down and they chinked glasses. *cheers*
‘A grown up Christmas is a shit idea,’ Kelly said. This amount of alcohol inside her was a truth drug. ‘I should’ve gone to my sister’s. I’ll probably be bored shitless.’
‘Not as bored as I’ll be, having family times,’ Adam said. ‘Christmas is bad and you should feel bad,’ he added, in a mechanical voice, making air quotes with two fingers from each hand.
Kelly smiled, letting the meme hang in the air between them for a moment. She thought about coming out and telling Adam how she felt. Suggesting that she might be able to help cheer up his Christmas. She would make it less boring, that she could promise him. She wasn’t quite drunk enough to say anything like that, not yet. That would only happen after checking her permissions with God, talking to him about it on the great white telephone.
Changing the subject was the way forward. She scrambled for something to talk about. #anything
‘Something weird happened to me earlier today,’ she said. ‘Something really fucking creepy.’
‘Oh yeah,’ Adam said. It sounded like an invitation to continue.
‘Yeah. I started getting followed by someone on Twitter called SickMan. But he was only following me.’ She shivered, even though the pub was very warm. She took another drink to guard against the shivering. ‘Then he added me on Facebook and I saw that you were friends with him already. And a sprinkling of other people from school were on his friends list too.’
Adam looked thoughtful as he took a pull on his pint. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I wondered who the fuck that was. Someone from school, obviously. Maybe it’ll make sense when he starts posting stuff.’
The thought that had been dancing in Kelly’s head all day came back again. She had to say it out loud. ‘Do you think it might be Gary Bukowski?’
Adam looked up sharply. His eyes noticeably widened. ‘Surely not?’ But it was a question, not a statement. There was no certainty there at all. ‘After all this time?’
They sat and stared at each other. Gary’s name lingered in the space between them and made Kelly’s head spin. Well, the wine was no doubt helping with the spinning.
‘I dunno,’ Kelly said, ‘We’ll see.’
Adam turned back to the drinking, grabbing hold of his pint as if it was some kind of medicine. Kelly took the largest gulp from the largest glass of wine in the world. She felt sick. She didn’t know if it was the drink, or the talk, or the feelings evoked by saying that name out loud. Bukowski, Bukowski, Bukowski, like something chanted in front of a mirror, with a candle, to make the devil appear.
Kelly tried to stand up, but she missed the floor and landed on her arse. The room was spinning like a fairground ride. She lay back giggling, staring up at the decorations on the ceiling. The fairy lights winked and glittered through her drunken haze. Then Adam loomed over her, trying to pull her back to standing. She pulled him too, and then they were both on the floor, laughing their heads off. You had to laugh, that was the thing. It was the only important thing.
Kelly was waking up, the light shining on her face and turning her vision a pinkish red. It felt like waking from oblivion. Like waking for the first time. She let her eyes flutter open and took in the room. Her bedroom. Her head throbbed with the promise of a killer hangover.
Fragments of memory came back to her in waves, together with a deep sense of unease. She was still drunk. How had she managed to get so utterly destroyed? Of course; she’d been with Adam, a Christmas drink. She let out a small, pained sound as she remembered she’d been on the internet when she got in. An intake of breath as she grabbed for her phone. She screwed up her eyes as she tried to focus on the screen, which was coming to life, slowly. There were words floating around her head, controversial things. Had she actually tweeted those things or dreamt it? #shit.
They ought to make phones that wouldn’t let you text people, or post on social media, based on your blood alcohol level. It must be possible, or it would be soon. She searched through her tweets but couldn’t see anything dodgy. If she had written things and deleted them, people might have got notifications. They might have screengrabbed bizarre comments she’d made to keep as evidence against her. She pulled up her Facebook profile and there was nothing crazy there, either. So why was her stomach doing flips? #NeverDrinkingAgain
Kelly lay back in bed and closed her eyes. It was just morning paranoia after too much to drink. She could smell her own breath and it wasn’t good. She opened her eyes again and scrolled through her Facebook newsfeed. The friend request from SickMan still hung there, only visible when she clicked the icon of queuing people at the top of her Blackberry’s screen. Who was this bloke? She browsed his profile and there were no clues. She looked at his list of friends, who were all people from her secondary school. He must be too, then. Someone who had to be careful, perhaps, whose work was strict about these things, hence the pseudonym. She had no reason to assume this was Gary Bukowski, or anyone else with a grudge to bear, but there was only one way to find out for sure. She accepted his request.
It came to her then that she’d been talking to Adam the night before when she was drunk, running off at the mouth. She tried to remember the things she’d said but only fragments came back. She’d had a moan about Louisa. She’d had quite a rant about Christmas. But what else? She tried hard to pull back the memory but it was like looking at a picture through mist. She hoped she hadn’t made an idiot of herself. #fucksake
Kelly stared at herself in the mirror. The perfectly threaded eyebrows, the plumped lips. The tasteful fake tan and her wide, brown eyes framed by dyed lashes that never stained her face when she cried. #Dorothy was a fucking long way from #home. Her ‘look’ cost more to maintain than Kelly’s entire family’s food budget when she’d been a kid. But even with the Botox she’d had jabbed into her forehead just a few days before, she looked sad. Infinitely so. It was supposed to hide the way you felt and it wasn’t fucking working properly.
Kelly looked at herself and felt so alone. Not ready for half of her life to be over and no idea how to approach the next chapter. Uncertain to the core and still half in love with Adam fucking Hall, possibly having told him exactly that the night before. #ohgod #NEVERdrinkingagain
You grew up, got wrinkles, got Botox, learned some lessons about life but did you ever get wise to men like Adam? Not in Kelly’s experience you didn’t. Not with this particular man like him. #MaybeThatFuckingStupidAfterAll