The people of the lost English-Welsh border town Goregree are losers and weirdos, sometimes pathetic, sometimes terrible. They all long for something more, but are trapped by poverty, disease, and addiction to a unique local drug. Inspired by the author’s hometown of Bridgend, Bad Ideas \ Chemicals follows a group of 20-somethings on a bad night out in a depressed, strange little town.
|Product dimensions:||8.00(w) x 5.00(h) x 0.40(d)|
About the Author
28-year-old Lloyd Markham was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, moving to and settling in Bridgend, south Wales when he was thirteen. He spent the rest of his teenage years in Bridgend being miserable and strange and having bad nights out before undertaking a BA in Writing at Glamorgan followed by an MPhil.
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SPACE CRUISER ARMS\ORANGE SPACESUIT SCABS
Through the visor of her space helmet Cassandra Fish sees the mouldy, off-white ceiling of her bathroom.
Her parents haven't come to pick her up.
As she lifts herself out of the tub, tepid bathwater sloshes on to the lime green tiles below. Unfazed, she sits on the edge of the bath and takes off her spacesuit. It is orange and although it resembles a crap film prop it can withstand long journeys through the void. Her space boots are similarly well-equipped.
Throwing her pants and bra into the laundry, Cassandra notices another blue bump like a small burrowing creature emerging from the sparse blonde grass on her thigh. This brings the total count of scratches, cuts, and bruises up to twenty-six — five more than the number of years she has been trapped on Earth. The bruises are unavoidable. The suit is not made for sleeping in. Neither is the bath. Or the boots. But these have to be endured if she is to get back home.
She eases off her helmet, wincing as hairs gummed to the inside with blood peel from her scalp. Then she lurches to the sink.
Cassandra's cheeks have sunk deeper. Her hair, which is thin and brittle, is almost down to her eyebrows and will need to be shaved soon. The planet's atmosphere is damaging her. She brushes her teeth. Then, taking a sponge and a bottle of special cleaning fluid, she sets about scrubbing the spacesuit with meticulous care.
She has a feeling that tonight will be the night her parents finally come to pick her up.
As she smooths the cleaning fluid between the fingers of her gloves, Cassandra envisions the cruiser hovering over Earth; its green lights blink, its warm engines glide towards her like gentle arms seeking to scoop, to lift, to carry —
But first a night out with her human friends.
A BAD START\CAREERS, LIFESTYLES & ATTITUDES
I am struggling to choose between three long-term career goals — killing myself, killing my dad, or killing the both of us ...
Louie Jones, lying on his bed, eyes on his laptop, holds down the backspace key to obliterate the truth. Part of him wants to leave it in, if just to see his Careers, Lifestyles & Attitudes coordinator's face when she reads it. But this would only cause trouble. He mustn't cause trouble. You have to tell them what they want to hear. This is the purpose of these exercises. Envision, Articulate & Realise Training. That's what they call them. Because 'Busywork & Bullying' would make them feel bad.
Louie grimaces. Somehow a part of him still doesn't want his coordinator to feel bad. She's only doing her job after all.
He lets out a long, deep breath and starts over on his Actualisation Confessional.
I am struggling to make compromises between my long-term ambitions and my short-term needs. I have to work on my poor attitude. I have to understand that my poor attitude is why I have failed to find adequate employment ...
Better. Though he will probably need to swap out 'ambition' with 'aspiration'. Ambition is something for people with means and contacts and appreciating assets. Aspiration is more appropriate, 'realistic' his CLA Coordinator would say, for a young man of his class. Though she wouldn't say 'class' — that was too charged. She would say 'background'. For someone of his 'background' having ambitions was unrealistic — a bad idea. 'Ambition' suggests something forceful. Better he lays claim to aspiration — a word which rolls off the tongue in a weary gasp.
I am struggling to make compromises between breathing and ...
Louie holds backspace again, destroys the black text, and rolls over onto his side — away from the laptop screen. It is eight in the morning. Soon he will have to climb downstairs and open up his father's failing shop. Louie works in this craphole ten hours a day but still has to claim income and underemployment support because his dad hasn't come downstairs in over a month and the angry letters from the bank are stacking up and the stock is beginning to spoil and Social Services folded their arms and will not do anything about anything about anything — Louie feels like someone has stabbed fingers into his temples and is rooting around in his skull, scraping behind his eyes and nose.
He stands up and opens the curtains.
Perfect, he thinks. Let it rain. May it never cease. Tip the entire ocean upon us and let the whole of Goregree sink into the sea like the stubborn, soggy log of shit that it is.
His phone buzzes. Text from the CLA:
Placement Notification. Mercy Clinic. 21:00.
He doesn't reply. Isn't necessary. Attendance is mandatory but the CLA will be thrilled if he misses the text and doesn't pitch. They can hit him with a sanction then and he will be off their books for a year at least.
Louie is only nineteen years old but he feels like a cold, sweaty corpse. His brown hair sticks to his forehead and a blue glimmer bruise throbs as it heals in the gutter of his left eye — the result of another futile one-sided shouting match with his mad father three weeks prior.
Louie remembers going to Social Services after that incident. The taste of blood in his mouth. His heart full of grim hope that surely this time they would do something. How that hope so quickly crumbled as they found yet more technicalities that prevented intervention and passed him along to another sub department. He can't recall which one. Department of Excuses perhaps? Either way, it was halfway through filling the fifth form — a purple one — that something deep within him gave up and he went home, his face numb but thankfully no longer bleeding.
The last three years, since his mother had enough and left, have aged Louie a thousand fold. He feels like someone else's cursed painting — as if, in the night, some Dorian-esque twat had slipped into his room and stolen his youth away.
There is a clanking, groaning sound.
Christ, Louie thinks. Roaches in the vents again?
It is a bad start to the day.
SPACESUIT CIDER VISOR\TAXI BONNET MIRACLE
Cassandra is on her way to meet her friends in town when a nearly-empty can rebounds off her forehead, splashing tepid cider down the visor of her space helmet. Through the dribble she sees a teenage human leaning by the wall of the Jones' shop, yelling something inaudible to her. She reaches into her pocket and pauses her MP3 player.
'Hey!' says the boy. 'What the fuck you wearing that for?'
Cassandra initially wonders what he is referring to but then she remembers the spacesuit. The boy, being from Earth, has likely never seen one. She picks up the can in her gloved hands, crosses the street, and places it in a bin by the shop door.
The boy eyes her up and down, fidgets with his ear piercing. 'Aw, sorry, thought you were a bloke. Bit hard to tell with that stupid getup.' He produces a cigarette from the front pocket of his red polo shirt. 'Got a light?'
Cassandra shakes her head. 'No, sorry. I don't smoke.'
'Come on now, don't be a bitch. Give us a light.'
'No, really, I don't have one.'
'Aw, be difficult then.' The boy scowls, puts the cigarette back in his pocket and storms off, disappearing into the Goregree lower housing estate.
The Jones' shop is the only general store for miles in this part of the town. Once part of a cluster of five small businesses, all four of its neighbours have since been boarded up. It now stands alone — a mass of near-identical terraced houses at its back, an impenetrable green-grey forest at its front.
Cassandra checks her mobile: 18.00. Six hours until the window of lunar transfer opens. She puts her phone away and steps through the shop door to where Louie Jones is standing behind the till nursing a head full of bad ideas.
'Er, hello, Cass,' he says, looking down at his feet.
'Hi Louie!' She points to her damp visor. 'Could I use the bathroom —?'
An unintelligible bellow sounds from the second floor.
Louie winces and turns his gaze to the gloomy stairs by the entrance of the shop.
Cassandra hasn't seen Mr Jones, Louie's father, in over a month, but evidence of his continued existence is all around the store in the faded smell of GOTE and other bad chemicals. On the wall, above the cigarettes and painkillers, a rifle is mounted on a display. In a previous life, in another country, Mr Jones had been an avid hunter. He often used to joke that the rifle was still loaded. Just in case. In case of what? Cassandra isn't sure. He had probably intended this comment as a joke. This was back when Mr Jones was still a human who told jokes.
Louie lets out a sigh. 'It's probably best if you use the staff loo.' Cassandra nods. 'I understand. Thanks. And do you think you could call me a taxi to The Divers? I'm low on credit.'
Cassandra walks to the back of the store. The chequered floor tiles are alternately clear and grimy — as if someone has repeatedly started then abandoned cleaning them. Finding the staff loo, she pushes aside the sticky door and steps into a windowless room no bigger than a cupboard with a toilet, sink and mirror rammed together like misplaced Tetris blocks. As she pulls the dangling light switch string, Cassandra hears the familiar skittering of roaches. She just about catches sight of one the size of a shoe fleeing into a vent, squeezing its black reflective thorax through the loose grate.
'Roach' is the colloquial term for the species of large light-hating bugs which infest the woods of Goregree and the houses nearby. The name is inaccurate, it is unlikely they have any actual relation to the common cockroach and they look more like beetles, if anything. But once humans latch on to an idea they are loathe to let go of it. So the nickname 'roach' has stuck.
There are many stories about the insects and how they came to live in Goregree. Some say that they are a rare Amazonian breed escaped from an entomologist's collection. Others that they are an indigenous species that has been altered in a lab. No one in the town is truly certain. What is known about them is that they can grow to enormous sizes, they rarely venture beyond the woods, and, despite their fearsome appearance, they don't normally attack humans. They do, however, harm them indirectly. When the insects flap their wings, they shed thousands of tiny, poisonous, exoskeleton fragments. Over time this has polluted the air and the soil around the forest and some local people have developed a horrible illness like The Cough. Yet because the insects are essential to the production of GOTE, no one can be motivated to exterminate them.
Cassandra turns on the tap and scoops some water onto the soiled visor of her space helmet. She tries to wear her full spacesuit at all times in case she is beamed up at an unexpected moment.
Cassandra is an alien. She knows this because of a secret message coded into a film she'd seen as a child. One day her people will come to save her but in the meantime she needs to remain patient and prepared.
She wipes dry her visor with a square of toilet paper.
A knock on the door. Louie's voice:
'Coming now.' Cassandra steps out of the bathroom. 'Say, are you coming to the Enterprise later tonight? Billy and Fox are going to be there. And Alice too I think.'
'Nah. I got a placement tonight.' Louie absently runs a finger across his bruise.
A loud honking sounds outside, along with the revving of engines.
'I better go. See you later, Louie.'
Cassandra runs out of the shop into the middle of the road only to see the taxi already rounding the corner — about to leave. Panic wells up in her gut. If she misses this ride she is going to be late for Billy's gig, late getting into the Enterprise, late getting back to her house. She'll miss the Lunar Window. She'll never get home.
The taxi reverses towards her rapidly.
She tries to move out of the way but it is as if her legs are cemented to the road.
Cassandra rolls over the back of the vehicle, over the roof, over the bonnet.
When she opens her eyes she is on her back looking at the grey-blue Goregree sky. She inspects her hands, arms, cheeks, feet, chest, hips, shoulders.
Intact. As far she can tell.
Stunned, she sits up and looks around. The taxi has come to a halt a few feet down the road. Its driver is on his knees next to her, holding her hand, skin pale, eyes wide satellite dishes.
'Fucking hell, woman, are you okay?' he says, trembling.
Cassandra considers the question for a moment.
'My bum hurts,' she concludes.
He adjusts his baseball cap, then says, 'I should drive you to the hospital.'
'No. No, that's fine. Please don't.'
'You sure? No broken bones?'
'Woman, that is so fucked up. It's a message. It's a message! You're, like, blessed or something! At the speed I was driving a scrawny little thing like you should have just been, like, splat!' He does a motion with his hands to illustrate.
'But, shit, I am so sorry. What can I do to make it up to you?'
'Could you drive me to The Divers pub down by Orchard Street?'
'Sure I could. It's the least I could do for running your ass over.'
As Cassandra climbs into the taxi, her nostrils are greeted by the warm, musty smell of GOTE and other bad chemicals emanating from an ornate pipe on the dashboard. Carved into the shape of a naked human woman, it has one eye and a singular, massive, drooping breast.
'Could you pass me that?' asks the driver.
Cassandra complies, shifting uncomfortably as the passenger seat wobbles and slides beneath her bruised backside. The seat has clearly been wrenched out at some point and never properly fastened back in. The carpeting has peeled off the floor and the rear view mirror is cracked. From it, a collection of knick-knacks hang from a string. Fuzzy dice. A playing card with another naked woman on it — this one with the typical number of breasts. A keyring which asserts that 'God Made Grass'.
The taxi driver widens a coffee-stained grin and pops the pipe between his teeth. 'Suppose we better get going then,' he says and starts the ignition.
The car lurches and splutters for a moment but is soon moving at a respectable clip down the narrow road snaking around the edge of the forest into the town centre. Out of the window, in the murk of early evening, amid the mass of green-grey tree trunks, Cassandra sees the yellow eyes of the roaches — sees the light of the rising moon shimmering off their shelled backs.
'I tell you,' says the driver, 'that was some insane stuff back there. I mean, thank Jesus you're okay. I tell you that motherfucker's put me through trials from time to time but he was on my side today.'
Cassandra looks through a gap in the clouds to the sky beyond and thinks about the journey she will make later — when the moon is full and lunar resonance is at its peak and the scanners of passing spaceships will penetrate much deeper into the Earth's atmosphere than normal. She thinks about those invisible alien sinewaves passing through her, enveloping her, acknowledging her. She is sure it will be tonight. This time it will happen. She just needs to get home in time. Synchronise everything perfectly.
'You're probably wondering about the accent?' says the driver. 'I've lived in Goregree a couple of years, but I ain't from around here. I'm from the States. I was a baseball player. Best damn game in the universe, I tell you. But yeah, I needed a break from all that. Thought I might come to the UK for some peace and quiet. That was a dumb idea. You from around here?'
'No,' she replies.
'Yeah, that's what they all say. No one seems to be from around here. Haven't encountered a single, genuine Goregree native. But I suppose it is a fake town. To be expected I guess.'
Cassandra gathers he is alluding to the popular local story about the founding of Goregree. The story goes something like this:
Once upon a time a rich and powerful man had a bad idea. The man's name was Dean Fritz and he was descended from a long line of successful business-humans. In his youth, in Kentucky, he'd worked as a stockbroker and hedge fund manager — growing the already sizeable fortune he'd inherited through a series of ruthless hostile takeovers. However, as he entered his forties, he began to feel doubts about his life. 'I have come to believe that I am a lesser man than my grandfather,' he said once in an interview. 'Men like my grandad made a killing building bridges, trains, houses and factories, while I've made a killing tearing all those things down. I am certain that he looks down on me from Heaven with contempt.'
His peers in the business world tried to cure him of these thoughts. They told him that he was a greater man than his grandfather. That making money by building things was unreliable and risky — an archaic, primitive business best left to Asians, Africans, South Americans, etc. Conversely, making money by destroying things was sophisticated, modern, new economy. He was making the world a better, more efficient place.
Excerpted from "Bad Ideas\Chemicals"
Copyright © 2017 Lloyd Markham.
Excerpted by permission of Parthian.
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