With as little introduction as possible, here is my first and only (so far!) novella for you, Helpful Leddy. Enjoy!
“Okay, erm, how about that one? It looks like an octopus being chased by a mutant snail, what do you think?”
Sandy sighed morosely. She was unimpressed with Leddy’s attempts at making the situation less comfortable than it already was.
“Yeah, a bit I guess. Not really sure though.” She sat up from the grass where she lay, her precious golden hair bouncing eagerly as she rubbed the loose blades of grass off from it. “Maybe we should get going; the others will be waiting for us.”
She rose to her feet, and Leddy stayed where he was for a moment, watching her ascend. The cold sky, filled only with wispy layers of grey cloud, seemed to blend in with the thin, natural pinkness in her cheeks. She looked about her awkwardly, waiting for Leddy to join her. In the end, Leddy let out his own sigh of defeat and the two of them made their way down the hill.
But then, Leddy brightened slightly, and he spread his arms out casually, as if he were stretching, but Sandy plunged her hands into her pockets and he saw there was no chance for any contact.
“I’m sorry, Sandy,” said Leddy forlornly, “I just thought you and me could spend some time together before we meet the other two, maybe talk about Uni next year, and how we’re going to sort out the washing up rota or something? Or where we could meet for studying?”
Sandy stopped in her tracks and turned to him, rubbing his arm tenderly. Leddy enjoyed the feeling of her warm hand against his bare and cold arm.
“Leddy, don’t you think things are still a bit weird between us? I thought it would be awkward enough even with Fiona and Gary.”
“Gary’s awkward enough in any situation.” Leddy quickly answered with a chortle, which Sandy joined in with.
“We’ve already sorted out all we need for Uni,” she continued, “and we’re all doing different courses anyway. You said yourself that your psychology course takes up a lot of time, and my arts and design studies only takes up a third of the week.”
She removed her hand from his arm and carried on walking, while Leddy released a melancholy sigh. His messy, brown hair and faded t-shirt blew wildly in the wind as he almost ran after her.
As they came into the village, the silence had reached an all time high, not helped by the village itself at all. The buildings all lay in disarray, windows without glass and walls without bricks. Moss and weed grew all across the structures of every building they passed. Inside, Leddy and Sandy could make out plastering slowly peeling itself off the walls, chairs and tables with rotten legs and ceilings damper than a used towel. And these were the houses that were lived in. The dust kicked itself up into their noses, smelling thick and dirty, like a bustling quarry or a rumbling scrap yard.
Leaving the houses behind, they walked past several businesses, once a bright, vibrant world in its own way, but now looking as similar as the next one thanks to all the boards nailed up around them. The garage, the butcher, the chippy, they were all lifeless outside and inside. At least the houses had things growing on them; these buildings did not even have those pleasures.
The only businesses still standing with pride, however dejectedly, were the pub, the shop and the cafe, which Leddy and Sandy turned into. As they walked up to the door, Leddy dived forward, opening the door for Sandy. She smiled meekly, not saying a word.
“Well, that’s something, at least.” Leddy muttered, under his breath.
Neither of them seemed particularly taken with the sleek, black Rolls Royce parked outside. Inside, the cafe looked more like the abandoned makeshift headquarters of a resistance movement that had lost many years ago, and had left the coffee and cakes to mould. Indeed, as Fiona tucked into her buttered scone, she let the item rest on her tongue for a few moments, just to see if the moistness in her mouth would make any difference to the scone. It didn’t. She spat it out, landing neatly on her plate.
“At least we know where all the bricks from the houses have been going.” she said sarcastically, wiping her mouth with a nearby napkin.
Gary, who sat next to her on the eroding sofa, beamed at the slightly damp scone sitting on the plate.
“That looks awesome!” he said, ecstatically, “Can I have a go?”
“Sure, whatever,” said Fiona lazily, placing her feet on the table in front if them and sipping her drink. “There are enough of them around.”
As Leddy and Sandy walked over, Gary waved to them eagerly, his mouth too full to greet them. Sandy waved back, but her smile turned to a boisterous laugh as the table collapsed in a heap under the weight of Fiona’s feet.
“Is this how you’re going to say hello from now on?” enquired Leddy, dryly, sitting down on the other, less colourful sofa opposite the table. As he did so, he felt a sharp pointed object dig into his leg. He shuffled briskly, sending several springs piercing through the sofa with a resounding ping.
Fiona ignored him, more taken by the stern gaze of the proprietor behind the counter.
“Oh crap!” she moaned. She then got on her knees and began attempting to put the table back together, constantly brushing back her dark brown hair across her shoulders as it fell forward, blocking her view. “Where’s that scone gone?” she asked.
“What scone?” Sandy asked, kneeling down to help her.
“The scone that was on that plate there!” she pointed feverishly to the empty plate, and then she noticed a pair of pale, wobbly legs, with thin layers of short, black hair running down them, protruding from a pair of grey shorts. She gave them a whack. “Gary, c’mon, give us a hand!”
Suddenly, a moist, half eaten scone shot out seemingly from nowhere and crashed-landed into Leddy’s lap, greeted with a cry from him and more laughing from the girls. As they chortled away however, the table legs which they held in their hands crumbled to dust, having been eaten away as the years had gone by.
“Aw, missed by an inch!” Gary sat back into the sofa with a sulky expression.
“What the hell were you aiming for?” asked Leddy furiously, scraping away at the damp remains on his jeans.
“The plate of course! Fiona managed to do it and I wanted to give it a try!”
“I meant you can try it with a different scone, not the one I had!”
A raucous cry of repulsion emanated from the other three at the exact same time. The cries soon died away, leaving the cafe filled with an uneasy silence. The only other sounds came from the one other customer, who sat at the back of the cafe in a darkened corner, hunched over a cold cup of coffee, which he slipped from time to time, and fumblingly reading a newspaper. At last, Sandy got up from her seat, and Leddy was quick to join her.
“Can I get you anything, some pie maybe? You do love your pie!” he asked her eagerly.
“Yeah, my kind of pie.” began Sandy, slightly exasperated. “If you order it you’ll just get a chicken or beef one or something. You know I only like the pudding kind of pie.” An awkward silence came after this, until Fiona spoke, attempting to lighten the mood.
“So,” she began, but stopped as she rapidly thought how exactly the subject could be changed, “what do you want to do today?
“Not much to do,” answered Leddy, settling back down into the sofa, “I can’t really take my mind off anything other than our A-Level results.”
Fiona’s face contorted itself into a smug grin.
“I know I’ve done great, that final exam was a piece of piss.”
“Is that why you had us all round your place every five minutes, for almost the entire exam period, just so you could have some help?” asked Sandy, cheekily, returning Fiona’s smirk with a mischievous smile.
“Your toilet could’ve done with some help as well!” Leddy added, “The nerves you had during the exams will go down in legend!”
Both Leddy and Sandy chortled heartily at this prediction, but Fiona let it slide, glad that the two of them were managing to laugh with each other again.
“What about you Gary?” Sandy enquired, “How do you think you’ve done?”
“Well you guys, I don’t think I’ve done too badly at all, if I say so myself.” Gary smiled a toothy grin, letting his satisfaction with his exams shine forth.
“You got lost on your way to the exam room, twice.” Fiona chipped in.
Gary’s smile died in a flash.
“Only the first couple of times,” he argued, “anyway, how did you know?”
“I was the one who went looking for you.” Fiona answered sympathetically, yet with a hint of sarcasm in her voice as she patted Gary on the shoulder.
Gary looked blank for a second, and then his smile returned to his lips.
“It’ll be great with us all living together next year, who would’ve thought we’d all choose the same Uni?”
“Hell yeah!” said Leddy excitedly, turning to Sandy to get some kind of response, but here she avoided his eye and rose once more to her feet.
“Maybe I should get going; I’ve got work to get to.” She hastily made for the door, with Leddy tagging along close behind. “Bye guys.”
“But, hang on, we’ve only just got here!” protested Leddy.
As the two of them reached the door, it opened from the outside by a tall, thin man, who let them go past him first.
“Well, that was fun.” Fiona got up as well. “Want to get out of here?” she asked Gary, looking down on him.
“Where are we going?” he asked, firmly.
“I don’t know, anywhere you want.”
“I want to go,” Gary looked about him, “that way!” he said at last, pointing to the left.
“Right, c’mon then!”
As the two of them left, the man walked past them slowly, noticing them out of the corner of his eye. He wore a bright blue suit that crumpled against his frail-looking body. His hands twitched every few seconds, as did his eyes.
Yet he kept a calm composure, like he had done this sort of thing a million time before. The proprietor was engaged in filling up a rusty looking coffee maker with milk. She heard his cold footsteps on the concrete floor as he walked up to the counter.
“Be with you in a minute.” she said.
“No matter, I’m in no rush.” The man spoke with a faraway wistfulness that seemed detached from reality.
The proprietor spun round as soon as that soft voice came to her. To anyone who didn’t know this man, it would have been like feathers caressing their ears. But to the cafe owner, it felt like her particular ears were being smashed in with bricks. She slowly turned round, still holding the milk carton in one hand, and the man the other side of the counter beamed at her with a twitching smile.
“A-Arthur!” she spluttered.
“Hello there, Muriel, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, i-it is. Gosh, um, it’s so good to see you!”
“And you too, my dear. I was just out for a walk and I thought I’d stop by some places, just to make sure you’re all ready for tonight.”
“Oh yeah,” Muriel attempted a brightened face, but she was barely able to cover the fear that had already taken over, “we’re all raring to go!”
“Excellent,” said Arthur, even more wistfully than before, “do you know who those children were, who’ve just left?”
“Oh yeah, that’s just Fiona and Gary. Can I get you a cup of coffee, or perhaps something stronger, we may have some brandy in the back.”
But Arthur had his hand stroking his chin in deep thought.
“And what about the other boy and girl I passed?”
“Leddy and Sandy, lovely kids the lot of them!”
“I see. And do they live here?”
“Oh yes, they’ve lived here all their lives!” Muriel examined Arthur’s stern, thoughtful complexion. “Oh Arthur, you’re not thinking of getting those kids involved in the production are you? You promised no-one under 17 was allowed to be part of the whole thing!”
“Yes, that I did.” said Arthur, gently folding his arms, the suit revealing more creases and crumples as he did so. He stood, rooted to the spot, for a few moments in silence, during which Muriel had to keep kicking herself to stop herself from shaking so much. “But even so,” he said at last,” it’s always something to bear in mind.” He turned on his heel and strode towards the door. “See you tonight, my dear.”
Leaving the cafe in peace and Muriel in an exhausted flush, Arthur spied down the road, looking to see if any of the four friends were still in view. His hair, almost as thin as he was, seemed to flutter pathetically in the cold wind that came from the outside. Not being able to see anyone, he opened the driver’s door of the Rolls Royce, and lowered himself in.
Plunging the key into the ignition, the beast purred into life and, slipping it into 1st gear, Arthur slowly drove away. As he steered, he deliberately refrained from going any gear higher, feeling as though this decaying, long-forgotten village would collapse into a thousand pieces if he made any sudden loud noise.
With this fear in mind, Arthur crept along the pothole-laden road, leaving the village behind him. He soon left any traces of human life behind him as well and came upon a frail forest. In the centre was a small valley, protected by the outer ring of trees that made up the woodland.
“What a sorry little place,” said Arthur to himself, looking in his rear-view mirror where the village could still just be made out, “they really are a lucky bunch to have come across me.”
The forest and the valley swallowed him up whole, the soft purring of the Rolls Royce fading away into the darkness.
Chapter 2 published next week!