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When the pilot light goe.., p.1
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       When the Pilot Light Goes Out, p.1

           Daniel Stone
 
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When the Pilot Light Goes Out
WHEN THE PILOT LIGHT GOES OUT

  By Daniel Stone

  ***

  Published by:

  Copyright (c) 2013 by Daniel Stone

  ****

  All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

 

  Who’s Crying?

  Fly away, like a bird pirouetting in the sky,

  Break free, life’s twisted, who wants to die?

  I want to live forever, a memory, tear drops in her eye.

  I want to be loved; whose love is not a lie?

  I want to cry on shoulders, I want my problems heard.

  I want my best friend right now to tell me I’m absurd,

  I want to be that very bird pirouetting in the sky,

  I don’t want to live forever,

  But I don’t want to die,

  I want to be that bird,

  That bird will never cry.

  Pilot light ’96

  1 – The World’s End

  Using one hand and a knee, I once again raised the anchor and was reunited with Mason’s head and body. The plastic bags were slimy and muddy on the outside but they had kept him dry on the inside, which was good. I fetched my fishing tackle bag and took out my maggot box; I didn’t feel like fishing so I poured the contents, a pint of mixed grubs all different colours, into Mason’s bag. His head and body came alive in a wriggling orgy. I sealed the bag again as best as I could and stored it under the bowels of the boat. I should have thought of doing that last night.

  It was mid-morning, as light as it was going to get today: not very light at all. It was cloudy and grey and drizzly; even the starlings looked bored with the gloominess. Although I was shivering and yet burning-up, it was neither hot nor cold. It was England’s temperate climate personified.

  I was pleased to be leaving London, but totally numb and devoid of all other feelings and emotion. I guess that must have been the coke working. I’d been paranoid now I just felt free, liberated even. As I headed west, passing a large housing estate that backed onto the canal itself, I could have been in any number of countries and in any time over the last hundred years; only the discarded blue bags floating in the canal like man-made jelly fish gave away the year and country in which we were living. People’s shit from expensive corner shops thrown away and now choking any hope of urban wildlife. I hated people I didn’t even know; it was them, not me, and that was the problem. Angry head, possibly still the coke. I never purposely littered anything that wasn’t biodegradable. I was a lot of things but I wasn’t a litter bug.

  As I silently cursed the world and its inhabitants my eyes checked the fuel gauge for the thousandth time. There was plenty; there always was, nothing changed – I just couldn’t stop checking. I really didn’t want to stop and refuel; too many questions, far too many people, and by keeping my eyes in the boat I ignored any pedestrians on the bank. Maybe I needed more drugs. I stopped as I noticed I was running alongside the eerie Kensal Green cemetery. There were so many dead people. Would we one day cover the earth with coffins and graveyards? I wondered if any of my relations were in there; maybe they’d be turning in their graves to say hello or turn their backs on me in disgust.

  My eyes were then drawn to the West Way Road that jutted over the canal like a giant concrete Scaletrix track. I imagined an old JPS Lotus racing car flying off the road and crashing into the canal and then a big kid’s hand swooping out of the sky, putting the car back onto the road and sending it on its way. As I chugged on I could make out the towers of Wormwood Scrubs. I was close enough already; I certainly didn’t want to be any closer.

  Acton Lane Power station straddles the hell holes know as Harlesden and Willesden. Why I hated them I don’t know, but I didn’t like them at all; an irrational hatred, a bit like my feelings towards tomatoes, Robbie Williams, Tottenham and people picking their nose in public. The canal crossed the North Circular Road on a large aqueduct; I marvelled at the strange contrast between the million-miles-an-hour Sunday rat race, the constant stream of people in their cars, and the chilled-out four-miles-per-hour canal way of life, just drifting along almost at nature’s pace. There was a traffic jam and my four mile per hour was currently getting me home quicker than those stuck on the road. I laughed uncontrollably until I cried. I don’t know why I laughed or cried, perhaps I died.

  The canal continued west through Alperton and Greenford. I only knew this because I was looking at the Grand Union Canal route planner I was using as a guide that was open in front of me on the boat’s cockpit. Occasionally my eyes shuddered, I guessed due to fatigue. The surrounding area was mostly flat, but Horesden Hill and Perivale Wood provided a long stretch of beautiful hilly parkland and then the Greenford golf courses adjoined the canal. Posh sods cursing their kids and other halves whilst daydreaming of the young office totty and looking forward to a beer.

  Soon afterwards the canal turned south into suburban Middlesex. I drifted through the industrial estates; the Paddington Arm soon reached the junction with the main line of the Grand Union Canal at Bull’s Bridge. Cowley Lock marked the twenty-seven-mile run: nearly home. Not long now until the Colne Valley and Chiltern Hills. Uxbridge to the north; I’d woken up there a few times dazed, confused and hungover having fallen asleep on the train. London’s claws were retracting. Uxbridge Lock had an attractive setting with its lock cottage. I wished more of England had retained its style. Too much had been destroyed and replaced by uglier, modern new builds. I stared at the turn-over bridge and beautiful, tall, modern flower mill standing nearby in grounds that were immaculately landscaped down to the water’s edge. If I could have used both hands I would have applauded what I was appreciating.

  Instead, I thanked whoever was responsible for redeeming a fraction of my faith in humanity. Perhaps in my madness I wouldn’t feel obliged to press the fire button on the nuclear bombs just yet; ending it all for everyone and everything was a bit extreme.

  I remembered the Paddington Packet mentioned in my guide book. It was a boat famous for doing the run daily from Paddington to Cowley, one of the few passenger boats that did that stretch of the Grand Union Canal. It was pulled by four horses and had precedence over all other boats so it was capable of covering the fifteen-mile lock-free run in a time that was remarkable at the beginning of the nineteenth century. I wondered who would have used it daily and whether they had felt the same about the journey as those stuffed on the jammed Metropolitan lines today, struggling to have enough room to even read their books or papers, fed up with sniffing other passengers’ scents from long-digested meals of the night before.

  The canal continued to meander northwards, gradually taking me closer to home. I passed the villages of Denham and across Harefield Moor. There, I slowed the boat, pulling up next to the reeds. This stretch of Common Land was of considerable interest to naturalists, and now me. I dropped the anchor and got Mason’s bag out.

  First I looked at his body. Most of the maggots had disappeared into his flesh although a few fell onto the floor o
f the boat. I would have liked to have just thrown him into the reeds, but I wasn’t entirely convinced I could get him deep enough into the thicket and away from the water’s edge for him to be invisible. I didn’t want anything washing him into the water either, so I’d have to go in again and make sure he was well hidden out of sight. I didn’t want to disturb the reeds too much as it was a site of interest and if it looked like someone had been wading around destroying the reeds that would soon be noticed. I could see some small runs, I guessed made by coots, moorhens or even a bittern or perhaps rats or desperate foxes. God knows, at least it was a way in.

  I put the body back in the bag with the head – did I mention the two were separated? – and got undressed again, but this time I put my shoes back on. Getting on and off the boat would be a little easier due to the steps at the back of the boat, but stopping by the reeds was sure to raise suspicion, so I had to be as quick as possible and hope no one nosy came cruising by. At least the boat would provide some shelter once inside the water and on my way to the reeds.

  I got in the freezing water again, which came up to my neck. With the body in the bag over my right shoulder, I waded until I reached the reeds’ roots which gave a firmer footing. I was soon waist deep, and when I got to the small animal run I was crawling using my good elbow and legs and feet to push me on. Scrambling, I used every ounce of energy and physical strength I had left to get as deep into the reeds as possible. I had to close my eyes as putrid black swamp water burnt them and filled my nose with noxious gases whilst sharp reeds stabbed and scratched at my neck and face. I wriggled on until I felt like the reeds were closing in on me and I no longer had the strength to push any further into the reeds. I lay panting in the wet for a second.

  The bag on my back felt so heavy and I felt stuck. I tried to turn one way to look behind me but couldn’t move. I wanted to see if I could catch sight of the boat but I couldn’t see behind me. It felt like someone was sitting on my back. I let go of the bag but it didn’t move and I tried to pull my arm back in front of me but it was stuck behind me. I felt like I was trapped in a spider’s web. I tried to move my wounded arm but it had no feeling at all. I was fucked: I had no strength left, the reeds had impaled me and I couldn’t reverse. I felt tears in my eyes. I saw Chloe’s face in my mind and relaxed. I closed my eyes.

  2 – Casual

  The boy in front of me looked into their faces, trying his best to not look scared. These lads were big, much bigger than the ones who’d whacked me in my last school. I’d learnt my lesson then; these kids were over a foot taller than me and had my entire attention.

  ‘Mod or casual?’ they sneered.

  ‘Mod,’ the little lad said, visibly shaking. I had to try to not look scared.

  Whack: a punch in his guts for all his troubles and down he went in a snivelling, snotty-nosed bundle. Given the same choice I opted for the ‘Casual’ option. I stood as defiant as possible, trying not to laugh through my fear, knees feeling weak. I got away with a shove and was told, ‘You don’t look much like a casual!’

  Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me... unless they suggest I don’t look right.

  So the next weekend I returned from a shopping trip to Basildon with my mum with a new spiked haircut with a slightly long bit at the back (she got a perm) and I was kitted out in the latest imitation gear, or ‘imo’ as it was better known in Essex. I went for a Gino Capelli black, white and grey striped jumper, a pair of fairly tight drain-pipe jeans with little lines running through them and a shiny new pair of ‘check me out I’m mega wicked cool’ Nike Jammer trainers. I had never known love for shoes quite like it. Thanks to my mum I might not have been a proper casual but Bas Vegas didn’t care: to Basildon, the land of the shellsuit, genuine gold-plated jewellery and family cars with go-faster stripes, I looked proper casual and mega wicked and a cool dude, especially if anyone ever bothered asking me again – and they could ask the bloke on the market stall who kitted me out if they didn’t believe me.

  I was nearly nine years old and fashion conscious.

  3 – Is It Wrong?

  Thankfully my fishing chair stopped my bum getting wet. I’m not sure that I would have felt it any way. Even my maggots were too cold to wriggle. My hands looked like red, bloated gloves, and even clapping them together and rubbing them and blowing on them seemed to help little, and it gave me a headache. Why was I here? The sun was bright and blinding to look at yet absent of any heat. I had woken up at four in the morning to sit here in the pissing cold trying to catch frigging fish and hadn’t caught a flipping thing yet. I’d seen and heard the noisy green parrots flying through the trees; even these foreign invaders were more likely to catch a glimpse of the illusive barbel than me. It seemed funny seeing a parrot and yet never catching a native fish. Was that a racist thought? Perhaps they’d all swum off to warmer, exotic waters like the sparrows had.

  Was it wrong to worry about being remembered when you were dead, buried and long gone? Was it a bit weird? I often worried no one would know I liked fishing or looking at pretty ladies or even what my favourite music was or where I had travelled and what I had seen.

  I wondered if either of my granddads had liked fishing or looking at ladies. I guessed they both had to a certain extent, as I wouldn’t have existed had they not had the inclination. I remembered fishing with both of them and I supposed fishing and looking at girls was quite similar in a strange sort of way. I wouldn’t have wanted to snog a seven-pound chub mind, nor catch a fourteen-stone Geordie.

  I could have sat there for hours and not caught a thing. I don’t suppose anyone would get very far in life if they never saw anyone that caught their eye, and neither set of my grandparents would have ever met either.

  When I died would people know who my friends were?

  4 – Kid Warfare

  I loved growing up in a house that backed onto woods. Directly behind our garden were two ponds full of newts, fish, frogs, dragonflies and monstrous tadpole-eating larvae and great diving beetles, pond skimmers and skaters, water boatman and every other weird creature little boys would love to keep as pets that sisters and mums just didn’t and never would.

  I guarded and loved those ponds and could quite easily have committed murder protecting them. One lad made the mistake of taking a bucketload of frogspawn and spilling some onto the gravel path as I watched. The thought of hundreds of little tadpoles dying, frying in the sun, was just too much for me and I saw red. My sister later heard through the school grapevine that I’d chucked Jimmy Taylor in the pond. You don’t mess with the frogspawn on my watch. She said his dad was going to get me and I was in trouble. I was prepared to chuck the tadpole murderer’s father in the pond as well. Those ponds were excellent.

  The banks of the pond were also the scene for numerous, vicious clay wars, fought from either side. Two teams, we’d lob pieces of clay at each other; the only rule being ‘no stones’, unless you wrapped them in mud; that was my interpretation of the rules anyway. It was a bit like grenade fighting in trenches, minus the guns and uniforms.

  We saw some odd sights there as well. I guess I was in one of the last generations of kids that were allowed to be kids and, to a certain extent, run wild –when summers lasted six weeks and were always hot, and the winters, snowy. It was before the media was filled with stories of child rapists, murderers and the like. In fact as a kid the first lesson I got on not talking to strangers was from a strange talking cat which somewhat ironically became massive on the rave scene when he and I got a little older.

  One day, whilst playing by the ponds, my friends and I noticed a six-foot frog jump out of some bushes about fifty metres away and casually stroll off up a woodland path. At the time I was massively concerned about what it would eat as I’d not seen many three-foot worms on my travels and would be absolutely bricking it if I saw a fly big enough to satisfy a six-foot frog’s appetite. It didn’t occur to any of us that it was a strange man dressed in a costume
creeping around the woods. We discussed firing a few arrows at it but didn’t want it to chase us; a frog that big would be capable of leaping mega fast and over a massive distance for sure.

  We would regularly search the streets and front gardens for newly planted shrubs and plants, ideally hunting those with the small green bamboo supports as these made the best arrows. We’d then select a nice branch, hack it from the tree, strip its bark, bend it and, using heavy duty fishing line, complete a bow. At a young age a few of us became very good at archery.

  It wasn’t only the ponds in the woods that my mates and I felt a collective protective responsibility towards; it was also a badger set – a fairly famous one, having been included in the Bayern Tapestry. We would often search for fresh tracks and signs of poachers.

  On one occasion Minesh vanished from sight like in a magic trick Paul Daniels could only have dreamed of recreating. One minute a group of us were rummaging around and the next second whoosh, he vanished into thin air. We went to the hole nearest where he was standing last, absolutely flabbergasted. We looked all around the area. No one had ever vanished before our eyes and it felt terrible. It was well out of order, having a mega skill like that and not telling your friends first. We all started calling out for him whilst looking around the undergrowth, trees and branches, waiting for him to stroll out laughing, but nothing. He was right there then vamoose, gone.

  Then we saw his hands scrambling in the depths of the darkness of the badgers’ hole. It was a big dark hole, excavated into finest Essex clay, and he had slid right down and completely out of sight. His hands, arms, fingers, nails were clawing like a mole in a microwave. We watched them fighting the darkness, spellbound. He came tearing out from mother earth’s depths like a geyser, half crying, half screaming. He went straight into full pelt and we had to leg it all the way to his house before he believed the badgers were no longer chasing him. He reckoned they were going for his ankles. I didn’t understand why he didn’t just vanish again using his special powers.

 
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