Have you ever felt so alone that you feel there is only empty space inside you? A hollow place that nothing could fill and left you aching with longing for something you’ve never had?
That was how Rigel felt as he trudged home from school that day.
That was how Rigel felt as he trudged home from school every day.
The sea fret had washed over the town and blew in cold draughts through the rusting railings of the sea front, swirling around him and then on to the buildings beyond. The padding of his coat had long since matted and worn through, leaving him with something that did not work and looked bad too.
… as if the other children did not already have enough to laugh at.
Passing an old factory he heard a tapping, metal clinking on metal, as the wind whistled through the empty building, blowing pieces of the old, broken, abandoned machinery against one another. The monstrously huge buildings had been abandoned in the eighties when they were found to no longer be profitable. Their empty iron shells scarred the landscape, looming over the edge of the sea, large enough to put off potential developers from knocking them all down and rebuilding the town … although in Rigel’s opinion Brackness-on-Sea was dead in the water.
Maybe it would be better if it just burnt to the ground.
Maybe it would be better if it just burnt to the ground and he did too.
Now he had passed the factories, he arrived at Brackness’s only commercial points – a small row of seaside shops, candy floss, hot dogs, rock, chips, arcade, repeated twice, standing like the last bastion against ruin, although the shutters were closed on all of them today. The only thing open was a McDonalds in the distance, the M-shaped logo raised into the sky, shining like a neon yellow beacon.
Passing a tall plastic ice cream, he walked past the shops and around the corner to the next line of factories. Slabs of concrete, thirty feet long and slickly smooth, formed the pavement beside them; this was where he walked now. He found himself wishing, as he always did, that he had a bike or a scooter so that he could whizz along and get home in half the time.
Not that he could afford to fix his broken scooter.
Not that there was anything he had to rush home to.
The open doors of the factories gaped like hungry creatures of the night, the blackness within promising things best left uncontemplated.
Trying not to look inside in case he should glimpse something he did not want to see, Rigel looked out over the sea instead. The grey churning mass was visible just between breaths of the fog. Today’s tide was particularly high, causing waves to occasionally slosh over the edge of the sea front and slide over the concrete, slipping back a moment later, as fleeting as a waking dream. Spray from the waves flew over and brushed Rigel, beading him with freezing cold moisture. Shivering as he hurried on his way, he did his best to keep huddled in the coat for what sparse heat it would offer.
Arriving at the end of the sea front, Rigel crossed the road and moved along the alley-way, out across the other road and then through the fields. His house was set a long way from the others in the town, although for what reason he could not divine.
Reaching the garden he paused to examine the gate, which was broken. Pushing it open he decided he would have to fix it … before realising he had no idea how. Pulling it up, he then pushed it against the post and wedged it straight. Walking down the garden path, he stayed on the cracked paving stones, avoiding the waist-high grass.
At the back door he reached into his pocket and pulled out a large ring of keys. Missing his mark he knocked off more of the peeling paint, exposing the worn grey wood beneath. Aiming again, Rigel slotted the key into the lock and twisted. The rusty lock resisted for a moment before turning with a loud clank. Moving down the door, he turned the seven other remaining locks and knocked the door open with his shoulder. It scraped on the floor.
The musty smell of the kitchen overwhelmed him for a moment, but he quickly grew accustomed to it – he had lived there long enough after all. Knocking the backdoor shut he relocked it behind him. Only when all eight separate locks were engaged did he feel slightly more relaxed.
Although not happy.
Turning on the single, shadeless bulb, Rigel peered around the dimly lit kitchen. Stacks of dirty plates lined the work surfaces and the table. Cups ringed with mould were balanced precariously on top. He would wash everything … he had tried to wash everything, but there was no hot water after the boiler broke and the washing-up liquid was all gone. After that he just tried his best to scrape everything off and rinse it.
He realised that he was still wearing his wet coat so stood up and shook it off. Picking up several thick blankets from the floor he wrapped himself in them.
Walking out of the kitchen he went to the front door and was dismayed to see another pile of letters resting on the door mat. The usual feeling of panicked helplessness rose in his chest as he looked down at the envelopes.
He did not understand what they were saying or what he could do to stop them. The boiler had broken last year so he could hardly be expected to pay the gas bill and as for the other things … well, what could he do? He didn’t have any money, unless you counted The Account. This was a hole in the wall in the front room that had several small piles of 20 and 50 pence coins. The piles would mysteriously replenish themselves and he had just enough to buy some food but that was as far as they stretched. He did not have enough to pay the bills and the idea of being able to afford something nice for himself was laughable. He had no idea where the coins came from and the money was almost useless.
Brought out of his thoughts, he found his lip was trembling as he looked down at the letters again before opening the drawer on the telephone table and shoving them inside. It was hard work as several years’ worth of letters were stored there. Perhaps it was time for a new drawer … or a bonfire.
Returning to the kitchen, he sat down and waited for the clock to crawl to five. At least he could start making tea then.
There was nothing else for him to do at his house. The television did not work anymore. It had fallen off the rickety old cabinet, smashing the screen. The fire it had caused scorched half of the carpet. There was no radio or any books, really. Well, there were books, but he did not understand them.
There were his photo albums and cassette player but he preferred to listen to his cassettes just before bed. Always before bed and only before bed.
So he sat and waited, watching the clock go around as it grew darker outside.
When the clock struck five he opened the cupboard and pulled out a tin of tomato soup. Dragging a semi-clean saucepan over, he cracked the lid of the tin and poured it in before placing it on top of the stove. Now came the tricky part: lighting the cooker. The gas worked fine but the button that caused a little spark on each gas ring to ignite it was broken. This meant he had to hold the gas on whilst trying to light a match at the same time. Fortunately he had had much practice over the years so managed it relatively easily. Whilst the soup heated he tried rinsing another bowl out under the cold tap so he would have something to eat out of but only managed to clear the thick of it. A greasy remnant remained at the bottom.
Realising the soup was boiling (spoilt again) he turned off the gas and poured it straight into the bowl.
Sitting down at the table he spooned the food into his mouth, too overcome with hunger to notice how much he was burning himself. Sitting back with a sigh, he looked down only to realise that he had spilt quite a lot on his jumper. More washing then. He had tried to hand-wash his clothes before, ever since the washing machine broke, but it only seemed to make them look worse.
What was he going to do?
It was this, the soup on his shirt, that finally broke him. He had been broken before, wearing down a little each time. He welled with bitter frustration and the deep well of sadness and loneliness, which was always present, overflowed and spilt. Racked with sobs he threw himself down on the table and howled. Grief tore at his heart and the reality of his miserable situation hit him with the force of a train.
He was alone. He had no-one and there was nothing he could do.
No parents. No friends. Alone.
How long he cried for, he did not know. Only when he arose from the depths of his crushing sadness did he try to reassess his situation. But with another wave of grief he realised that there was nothing to change and no-one to help him. The realities of being a starving, freezing, dirty, helpless thirteen-year-old orphan crashed over him.
Then the first meteor flared in the sky.
This is the first chapter of Appointments on Plum Street: Rigel. Bookmark Steampunk Journal to keep up to date with the latest news, reviews, articles and previews.
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