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by Heckyspice 

Posted: 07 July 2005
Word Count: 2941
Summary: A young man travels to a northen mill town to learn more about the circumstances of his brother's death.

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My brother loved his nickname.

He was known as Skill. And he said we would be together forever.

His hands may have been as raw as shank of lamb but his fingers had soul. He could strip down a motorcycle and rebuild it with more care than anyone else I knew. As a young lad he was more adept at fixing BMX cycles than any dad on the street. No one can remember now when he was first called Skill, not that it matters. It was the name he was born into and my god; it was the right name for him.

For a time.

Until his fingers became adept at playing with a syringe.

He was driven by addition when he fled our home and joined the army of poor wretches that live outside the comforts we take for granted. At first he went to Manchester, I don’t know why, and then to Glasgow before arriving in a small Yorkshire town, where he almost pulled his life back together and reclaim his name for good.

Except he fell one more time. The methadone program was not enough and he became a victim to “Benzo’s”. Things like Diazepam or Tamazepam, little friends to make you sleep. I don’t see it as a comfort that he died peacefully. My Uncle Ronnie had to travel north to formally identify the body and make the arrangements to bring Skill home. That was a couple of weeks ago. There was one question I could not shake from my mind.

What about the person that sold Skill the drugs, knowing he was a recovering addict? How black is that person’s heart? Well that person is going to have to answer to me. Their answers had better be good, so help me god.


If you ignored the waste ground, the burnt cars and the shattered billboards, then it was easy to imagine the railway children visiting Parks the porter at this station. A chunky yellow stone Victorian place with red gables and red ironwork. Delightful hanging baskets worthy of an In Bloom award added the final touch making stepping off the train as comfortable as watching a classic Sunday tea time serial on the BBC. For a moment you could believe in England being a green and pleasant land.

That dream ended the moment I walked through the station car park and was greeted by even more decay. The street was a hideous collaboration of charity shops, newsagents, pizza parlours and cheap hairdressers. Like rotten teeth they lived under the faded glory of giant mills that once ruled the world. In 1882 this town was the supplier to three quarters of the global wool market. I had read that fact on the internet. The place was husk and I understood now why Skill had drifted here.

A United Reform church stood at the end of the street. The notice board by its gate was a faded blue marker on which gold letters had been scrubbed away by the years of neglect. I could make out the times for the Sunday services and the OAP coffee mornings. A pair of large green plant pots stood to attention before a set of blue doors atop the church steps. Clusters of confetti were spread over the steps, tracks showing where bride and groom had stood for photographs. I wondered if Skill had ever stopped to watch a wedding here during the lonely hours of a weekend.

Eventually I found the drop-in centre where I suspected Skill may have retreated to from the cold. It was next to a taxi rank, where a hedgerow of white saloon cars blocked one side of the street. The door to the centre was plain red painted board that looked as if it had been put up today. A handwritten sign was stuck fast with duck tape. “Open as usual” was written on the sign in large black felt tip pen.

There was no door lock.

I opened the door and stepped inside to a brown world of ancient Formica tables, lumpy sofas and piles of torn magazines. The walls of the centre were covered equally by health warnings and posters of cars, football teams or pop singers. A trestle table hosting a large metal tea urn and mismatched crockery was at the back of the room. The clatter of table football was competing with the music being played on a radio. Cigarette smoke was everywhere.

A young man in a purple and green polo shirt, who was similar to my age, walked over to meet me. He had cropped ginger hair and large ears. His smile was lopsided as he introduced himself. “Hello, I’m Ollie, how can I help you?”

“Pleased to meet you, I’m Dermot,” I said. “I tried to phone but I could not get through.”

“Sorry, the phone was pinched.” Ollie waved a hand in the direction of the trestle table, “It happens. Next time we are going to but a big bolt on to stop it being taken off the wall.”


“We try our best here but the funding is not very good, I am sure that you have seen this sort of thing before.” Ollie was gently guiding me through the room, he pointed to various people as he walked. “Mary is our best tea-maker, we get a good crowd whenever she is on shift.” He waved at Mary, a cheerful blond woman in a pink shift who was serving tea from the urn. Mary smiled back at Ollie and then she looked at me and said, “Would you like a cuppa dear?”

“That would be lovely, thank you Mary.” I knew the tea would have that peculiar metal taste that and be hotter than I normally cared for. Not that I would complain about what I received.

Tea in hand, I settled down onto a plastic chair in Ollie’s small office. A single fling cabinet, a first aid box and an old fashioned mahogany dining table took up the bulk of the room. Ollie sat next to me and choked when he saw the photograph that I had placed on the table.

“Oh I am so sorry. That is Skill,” Ollie said. I could see that he wanted to place a hand over mine, “I am sorry but he died a couple of weeks ago.”

“I know. Skill was my brother.”

Ollie looked as if someone had dared him to suck petrol. “I am so sorry. I did not know his real name.”

“Thank you, I know that you did care. His real name was Patrick.”

“You know, I thought it might have been Jimmy. He looked like a Jimmy to me.”

“I think he would have enjoyed being called Jimmy,” I was the one to place a hand over hand. “It doesn’t matter which name had, he preferred Skill. Our parents never took to it though.”

Ollie traced a finger of the photograph; it lingered over the lips of a rare smile that my brother had found. “I wish I could have done more for him,” Ollie was saying, somehow I felt he was talking to another person. “For people like your brother, we have case workers that come here but each person has to find it in themselves to beat addiction.”

“Do you think he was beating it?”

Ollie shrugged, “It’s hard to say, we try to give them a shelter for the day. We always say the power has to come from within.”

“I am not blaming you, I just want to try and bring some sense to my family, about his life here.” I moved the photograph away from Ollie. “Do you mind if I talk to some of the folk out there?”

“Please feel free.” Ollie tapped his finger where the photograph had been, as if he was trying to make one last attempt to talk to Skill.

Inside the centre were the people I expected to find. A rainbow of lives twisted into the white light of day to day survival. They knew Skill, they knew him as good mate, and they knew him as pallid frog hiding from the sun. But no one could tell me what I truly wanted to know. The answer was not here. I was surrounded by sad faces. Faces that seemed to float from body to body, there was no identity except the plight they all suffered and shared. I offered what consolation I could. I think they would have preferred cash from my wallet.

A whippet like Asian man tugged at my arm. He had been in the centre and had introduced himself as TazMan. His fingers clawed at elbow, each pinch in time with the words he spoke. “Hey guy, can you spare me some a pound.” His voice was as thin as his neck. “I only want to buy some food, guy” The voice was that of my brother and I knew each day he would have said these words.

I fumbled for a coin. “Here, that’s all I can give.”

TazMan snatched the coin from my hand. “Thanks guy, you are a good guy.” He then scampered off as if his mother had called him home for tea during the summer holidays. I knew at once that I would find the answers with TazMan. He was easy to follow, he never once looked back to see if I was behind him. Occasionally he stopped passers by for money. He was not always successful. Soon enough he had been joined by a lanky black man and tall woman whose skin was the colour of dishwater. Her hair was like a medusa, a wriggling mass of red curls, she looked like a matchstick.

TazMan’s friends had met him by a ‘Bargain Centre’ - goods exchanged for cash. I knew that they must have sold stolen phones or radios to the men in the shop. An image of Skill visiting this place like Oliver visiting Fagin was all too real. My parents would have scrubbed this idea from their world. They could understand his plight but they would not accept him being anything other than a victim. I was angry at how far Skill had been allowed himself to be pushed. I should have confronted the hyenas in that shop but I knew that the answer was not there.

The trio of addicts had made their way to a chemist. It was probably their time for their medication. The chemist was across the way from a small market place where various scaffold built stalls sold porkpies, Chinese batteries and second-hand books. I pretended to browse through the books while watching the chemist. An old woman in a blue anorak left the chemist as a young mother with a push chair struggled through the door. The trio pushed their way past the young mother as she was struggling to close the door. They nearly knocked over the push chair. The mother shouted something to them but they ignored her. They were walking down the street the same direction as the old woman.

“Anything you fancy sir?” The man running the book stall asked me, “Mind you maybe you have had enough of second things.”

“No, it’s alright thank you, I was just looking.” I wanted to catch up with the trio.

They were moving faster now, like hunting animals ready for the kill. They were transformed by purpose now. No longer debris scattered and limp, the scent of victory had made them hungry and eager. Human balloons filled with life. My god they were hunting, it was the old woman! She had turned down a small pathway between buildings and the trio had her trapped. I ran as fast as I could, hoping to catch and reason with them before the worse happened. I felt my chest burn like whiskey and the pavement shudder beneath my feet as I reached the entrance of the path.

The voice of a tormented wasp echoed between the buildings. “Hand over your money.” A woman’s voice, but it was not the voice of the matchstick girl.

It was the old woman speaking.

“Come on now, I haven’t got all day,” she snapped. “How much have you got?”

I looked down the pathway and saw that the hapless trio were fumbling in their pockets, trying pool their money. The old woman held a hand out. “Come on, Come on.” Slowly her hand was filled with coins and grubby notes. “How much is this, it’s only twenty pound.” She shoved the money into a pocket inside her coat. “You only get 20 of them today.”

“Just hand them over you old cow,” Matchstick girl said.

“Watch your feckin’ tongue,” the old woman said, “I don’t take lip from folk like you.”

“Just give us them.”

“Alright dearie, but if you insult me again the price goes up.” The old woman smiled.

“She won’t” butted in TazMan, “Can we have them now.”

“Feckin’ pathetic Paki,” the old woman said,” Here you go now.” She handed them a pack of pills, no doubt fresh of her prescription. I don’t know whether they were Tamazepam or whatever, I did not care. The answer I had been seeking was right before me. I felt the hot breath in my chest cool with the wintry spasm of insight and I stepped into view.

“What’s going on here?” I demanded.

The old woman was dumbstruck. The trio stared at me then raced past me like greyhounds chasing a rabbit. “Sorry guy,” blurted TazMan as he scrambled to escape from whatever he thought I might do. I only had eyes for the old woman.

“They robbed me,” she cried.

“How dare you, you unspeakable old witch,” I was close up to her now and she clutched her bag as if it would deflect the wrath of god. “I am disgusted with you.” I pulled the photograph of Skill out of my coat and shoved it at her face. “Do you know who this?”

“Please that’s not what you saw, they robbed me,” she protested.

“Don’t lie,” I shook the photograph at her, “Do you know who this man is?”

“I only do it because of my low pension,” she said.”

“Do you know who this man is?”

“I have to get money, from somewhere, where’s the harm.? It helps them sleep.”

“I said do you know who this man is?”

“There ain’t no harm, I am helping them. I need the money, I am alone, my husband died.”

I put the photograph in her hand and raised her arm so that she could not hide from the judgement I was passing.

“This is my brother and he died because of you. His name was Patrick, his friends called him Skill and you killed him.”

“I did not.”

“He was recovering and you fed him tranquilizers.” I let her arm drop.

“I need the money. It’s not my fault he was feckin’ junkie.” She had gone from family poodle to rottweiler in the space of seconds. I had no idea who she really was and I do not believe she did either. Everything about her was lies and loneliness. She was like the people she betrayed, trapped by an addiction to survive and not by a will to live and give thanks for living. I wanted to forgive her.

“Somebody like you does not need a waster like that in your family.” She threw the photograph on the floor.

Now there would be no forgiveness.

I pushed her so that she toppled over. It sounded like lightning as her head bounced against the floor. There was no shout or cry just a funny muffled choke escaping from her lips. That had to stop. I pulled a handkerchief from my trouser pocket and place it over mouth and nose. My hand held it tight in place. I am sure the sharpness of a headache from her injured head was all she could feel right now. And that pain was getting dull. Very dull.

Until there was nothing at all. Just a bloated foul body wrapped in a blue coat.

I am sure it only took a minute, perhaps a minute and half. The life had gone from her and I knew that it would not be going to heaven. She had not been forgiven for her sins. Unlike me, I had a lifetime to atone for this moment, I had been the deliverer. There was puddle on the floor next to the body of the old woman; I could not tell if it was from her last moments or early morning rain. It was now that I began to shake. I still had the resolve to pick up the photograph before scraping my knees as I stood u

I hurried back down the path and into the streets. No one had seen me go down or come out. I stumbled back toward the market place. Passing by shop, I looked at my reflection in the window. I needed to compose myself. I tugged on the sleeves of my jacket and straightened the lapels. My collar had been nudged slightly, so I turned it back so that it was the positive white stripe once more. If I was lucky I could catch an earlier train home and help out with tonight’s sermon, after all I was still in training and learning the wicked ways of the world.

The face that stared back at me was gaunt and withdrawn. The face of a person that had given upon life. It was the face of my brother.

We would be together forever.

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Comments by other Members

davedave at 05:59 on 08 July 2005  Report this post
Hello David,

There's a lot to like about the story, and about your writing. The start - up to 'reclaim his name for good' - is excellent.

I really like the descriptions of places, too - not overladen with detail, but enough to enable us to form a picture. Ditto the description of Ollie.

I guess because the start was so good, I was a little disappointed with what followed, though. Much of the dialogue didn't ring true, at least to me - I didn't get the feel that they were real people having real conversations. ('I am not', 'I did not know his real name' seem odd to me, too - I think most people would use contractions.)

A few typos - 'fling cabinet' (which conjures up a nice image, nevertheless!) - 'addition' instead of 'addiction'. A vicar would refer to God with a capital G, I would have thought.

About the narrator - I found it hard to believe in his actions at the end, to be honest, and also his reaction to what he'd done.

Overall, I feel that the set-up of the story is strong, and perhaps lends itself to more ambiguity and reflection and subtlety.

Well, feel free to take what you want from that, and disregard the rest.


Nell at 10:05 on 08 July 2005  Report this post
Hi David,

Dave has made some good points, so I won't repeat them. I think there's a hard-hitting story here, but it needs more depth and detail, less exposition. Maybe some research/direct observation would supply the story's needs. I like the brother's nickname, that could be developed more too. I'm a bit pushed for time at the moment - will return if anything else occurs. Good potential here!


lang-lad at 11:16 on 08 July 2005  Report this post
Hi, David,
My feelings are in line with David and Nell's ... there's a way to go with this one but it' s a good step so far. The dialogue (and the prose style to a certain extent as well)... would work perfectly well if you were after a specific speech style - if you've read and Alexander McCall-Smith you'll know the register I'm thinking of where he's replicating the cadence of the language in a clear, direct, specific precision of voice and language use. At times your piece has just that quality but from the names of the characters I'm thinking perhaps your people might not talk that way.

I felt at times you were very keen to get on with the story. Could you take your time, expand on it, draw it out a bit more ... add in a bit of suspense before we quite find out what the old woman is up to for example?

I wasn't quite convinced at the end about him. If he's really what you imply he is I'd accept a temptation to do harm rising in him but a moral struggle too before the Jekyll and Hyde moment. For a moment I wondered if this was actually the brother, Skill, impersonating his goody-two-shoes brother all the way through. Or am I too dumb to only just have got that? If that were the case, the moral ground of the story would shift nicely and percolate right the way through, but there would have to be one or two subtle signposts ... the clothes not fitting, something like that, but no reason given. I don't know. I'm rambling now so I'll stop.
Good start. Want to see where this one goes. Hope you'll let us see.


Myrtle at 12:17 on 09 July 2005  Report this post

A story with a lot of potential, I feel. My first thought was that I'd have liked you to keep back the information about Skill dying and in what manner and let it unravel slowly - your description of the centre he visits is so good that you could let us draw our own conclusions. I felt very spoon-fed throughout and this would be one way of letting the reader feel more involved.

The dialogue is definitely too stiff and I agree with Nell that there is too much exposition. I thought that post centre visit the story seemed rushed, with no 'inner struggle' from the narrator, which made his actions less believable, I felt. I think you need to set up his anger better. We need to know more about his relationship with his brother. Is he very intense and a bit loopy or simply a brother in mourning, hell bent on revenge? The fact that he didn't finch when killing the old lady makes me think he has a screw loose anyway.

I really think you've got some great ingredients here but this feels like an outline of something much bigger and better.


kat at 23:50 on 09 July 2005  Report this post
Hi David
I've gatecrashed from another group hope you don't mind. Very different to 'The Shire Fox.' I thought the story line worked well up to the point of "He was recovering..." Everything happened too fast leaving me behind. "It sounded like lightening" confused me and his turning his collar round didn't have the impact it might have done. I liked the story and his kid brother having a nickname it made him real to me. That's it hope it helps.

Becca at 09:41 on 10 July 2005  Report this post
Hi David, good points made above, and the things I picked up on were similar. To get good flow and pace to the story contractions would help, i.e. 'I didn't know' rather than 'I did not know his real name.' The use of the word 'that' also has the effect here of dragging on the story, so you could have 'I know you cared' rather than 'I know that you did care.'
There are typos stalking the story, a couple have been mentioned. Here are some more:
'going to but..'--> to put.
'that peculiar metal taste that and be..'?
'It doesn't matter which name had..' --> he had.
'passing by shop' --> a shop.
'u'--> up.
You made a great description of a rundown Northern town, but I felt that the para 'If you ignored..' took away from the intensity you build on in the first section a bit.
And as has been mentioned above the style of language does come over as stiffer than feels right in the context, for example 'I am disgusted with you' seems an odd remark in the context. I did though suddenly wonder if the MC was a Christian at 'she could not hide from the judgement I was passing.', - and that was cleverly subtle.
I think this is really worth working on, but somehow you need to get much deeper into your MC to make it vibrant.

Heckyspice at 08:35 on 11 July 2005  Report this post
Hi everyone.

Good comments and I have to admit that the story was rushed toward the end. Partly due to the fact that a) I wanted to get something posted and b) writing in my lunchtime.

I will rework the story to give a more rounded view of the world that narrator is exploring so that whatever actions he takes become more real. His killing of the old woman came out of letfield and perhaps it should have stayed there. To be honest I thought that I would be criticised for the character of the old woman being so vile and bigoted.

I agree the dialogue does falter and is clunky at times. That can be fixed.

The seed of this story began with a local newspaper report about how OAPs are selling their diazepam prescriptions to the local addicts on methadone programs. Thee addicts are spending up to £30 a day to buy the pills from the pensioners. The addict is in the same pattern as before (regardless of the type of drug) and the pensioner is morally as corrupt as the heroin pusher in that they do not care about the damage that is being done to the user. No doubt this idea wil crop in an episode of the Bill or Casualty one day.

BTW. The character of Skill was inspired by the book Finders Keepers by Marc Bowden, a terriric read but all too brief. It's the true story of a young man in Philadelphia who finds a million dollars.

Best Wishes and thank all for reading.


Becca at 11:33 on 11 July 2005  Report this post
the pensioners and addicts is a really good theme, I can imagine having read that and bursting to write about it. I know what you mean by coming out of left-field, killing someone off is one of the tried and tested ways of ending something, I've done it myself, or alluded to it. I don't think there's anything wrong with it as an ending, it's just that it means you have to make it credible by going back into the story and making depth.
Good luck with it.

Xena at 19:18 on 09 August 2005  Report this post
I'm obviously coming too late into this. Everything has been said. Just one point (and this has already been mentioned too). I think that the story will be entirely plausible, including your MC's lack of sympathy for the old woman and the lack of moral struggle, if you give more description of his relationship with his brother. I think here nothing short of very close ties would do. The phrase 'We would be together forever' seems to be suggestive of such connection. I personally would prefer this story to be about brotherly love rather than about social evils. But it's just my view.
I loved 'trapped by an addiction to survive and not by a will to live'.

Heckyspice at 09:10 on 10 August 2005  Report this post
Thanks Xena.

It's a bit of a conundrum either to take the story into the relationship or the situation. I am not sure which is the best way to go.


scoops at 11:04 on 05 September 2005  Report this post
Hello HS: I'm coming to this very late and what I'm saying has probably already been said, but I loved the way this began and there were some terrific lines in it. The pace, however, felt wrong. You cut to the chase too quickly and the sequence of events was too fast and easy without any sense of the characters as three-dimensional people, although the narrator's anger was palpable. What I particularly missed, and you could have fitted it into a story this length, was a sense of why Skill was precious. The first paragraphs are full of love but no insights and it raises one's curiousity. It'd be good to see you develop this:-) Shyama

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