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The Fabulous Spirit World of Justin Orchard

by buffyfan70 

Posted: 25 January 2009
Word Count: 2632
Summary: Matt aged 14 inherits a spirit guide when a local medium clairvoyant is run over outside his house. Criticisms have been that is doesn't sound like a teenage boy and it's too slow paced. Positives are that is is imaginitive and original. Has been described as Adrian Mole meets Derek Acorah which I like. How radical should a rewrite be? Is it too slow?

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Justin, the mobile hairdresser, came round once every six weeks for Mum’s roots.
Justin always had a scruffy brown zip up bag with him that was clogged up with other people’s hair and greasy bottles of lotion and a plastic sprayer like Mum used for wetting the plants. Mum would push back the kitchen table and pull out a chair and we’d take it in turns to sit and have our hair cut.
I always had a number two clip but Justin used to pretend he was going to style my hair with his scissors. Every time, like it was a hilarious joke.
“Just a little off the top?” he’d say and he’d do that hissing laugh snipping into the air.
I’d just frown.
“Hasn’t he grown, Julie?” he’d say.
“Hasn’t he got a girlfriend yet?”
“Look at his feet! They’re huge!”
My little sister, Jinny, thought he was great. Well, she was only four when he started coming round. She’s seven now but she still thought he was great. She would giggle at all his jokes. One time I even caught her hissing like him. “Sss sss sss!” in front of the telly. I hade to beat her up to make her stop. Gently, obviously.
He’d do my mum’s roots first, piling a load of stinky gunk onto her head, then Jinny, then me and then back to my mum.
“Right then, lady, let’s finish you off,” he’d say. Mum and Justin would have a cig in the back garden together when they were done.
He wasn’t very tall – he was only a bit taller than Mum. He had bright blue eyes and a bit of a wrinkly neck. I think he sometimes wore fake tan because I once noticed a big streak of white on his arm where he’d missed a bit. He had silver grey hair that was cut short and smart. Sometimes he’d wear a trendy t-shirt and a pair of jeans and immaculate trainers. They didn’t go with his grey hair somehow. And then other times he would wear a grey stripy shirt and a dark suit. That was if he had one of his ‘nights’ to go to after he’d been at ours.
He would leave the jacket in the car; a beaten up Mercedes that might have been a Merc but looked like it was a hundred years old and had been driven to China and back. He would wear an apron if he was bleaching mum’s hair so it didn’t wreck his clothes. Once he wore one of those comedy aprons that made him look like he was wearing women’s underwear. My dad nearly choked when he saw that.
Dad refused to let Justin cut his hair. He’d hide behind the newspaper or go upstairs and fiddle about on the computer in the attic.
“Alright, then, Dave?” Justin would call out, if my dad happened to put his head round the kitchen door, or, only in the most dire emergencies, (like needing his credit card to buy something off Ebay) he actually came into the room.
Dad would just mutter and hurry off.
Dad was scared of Justin. Not because he was a hairdresser. Not because he was a bit camp. He was frightened of Justin because he thought Justin could read his mind. With him being a professional psychic.
Justin made a good living from standing up in scout huts and church halls and communicating with the dead. He sometimes went round to peoples’ houses and did ‘reading’s there, too, as he called them. It was if he had a band of spooky old relatives following him around wherever he went, telling him a load of pointless stuff like where they’d left the shed keys or who in the family had had food poisoning lately.
That was what my mum loved about him, I reckon. She’d always tip him if Aunty Linda came through, although why mum wanted to keep up with her was a mystery to me. I always remembered her as a grumpy old lady who would have fitted well into a Roald Dahl story, with her brown teeth and her knobbly walking stick that she used to prod me with when she thought mum and dad weren’t looking.
“Head down, Matthew,” he’d say. “Now then, Julie, you know I love the hairdressing, I really do. But my first calling is the world of spirit… isn’t he getting tall…and one of these days the spirits might just tell me to put away the scissors and work for them full time. And that’s what I’ll do. They’re the boss!”
I had to listen to all his latest news from the land of spirit as he buzzed away at me with his clippers, tutting if I tried to move my head or if I sneezed.
“We had a lovely night at the Working Men’s. And now they’ve banned the smoking, I set up a few joss sticks, you know, just to give it a bit of an atmosphere. I’m sure I was a hippy in a former life! Ssss sss!”
I suspected he was actually old enough to have been a hippy in this life, the fibber, but I didn’t say anything.
“Do you remember that old boy who was trying to come through for me a couple of months ago? Kept banging on about the knick knacks. Do you remember? The knick knacks? That was all he would give me! Ssss.”
My mum was laughing and nodding her head.
“And I kept calling out does anyone know anything about me knick-knacks? Sss sss! And all the old dears not sure whether I’m passing on a message or just being rude!”
I swear my mum was crying now with laughter. I just hoped the hilarity wouldn’t cause him to take half an ear off.
“Well, I thought the old bugger was just having me on. But, do you know, that message came though in the end!”
“No!” my mum giggled.
“Well, I did my usual does anyone know anything about me knick knacks and I just about had to pinch myself when a lady put her hand up! ‘My Bert always called his medals his knick knacks’. But they weren’t knick knacks. They were the medals what he’d earned in the war. He’d been dead brave apparently, but he didn’t like to blow his own trumpet. So he’d called them his knick knacks.”
“Ahh,” said Mum.
“I know,” said Justin. “Ahh.”
“Can I go now?” I asked.
“Ohh, he’s always in such a hurry, Julie, your lad. Go on, off you go. Come on Jinny, darling, up you jump. Is it just your fringe, sweety pie? Isn’t she gorgeous? Ahhh. Do you know, a little girl came through for me, Julie?”
“That’s sad. Matthew, can you do the washing up please?”
“It’s only those plates. It’s your turn. Just be glad we’ve only had fish and chips. Sorry, Justin. That’s ever so sad, that? How can you bear it, talking to little ones like that?”
“But they don’t see it like that over there. They really don’t. She were as happy as Larry. And her mum was pleased to hear from her. Little Bear had brought her through.”
“She’s lovely like that, isn’t she?”
“She’s magnificent, Julie. I’m blessed with her.”
“Stop it, you.”
Mum was talking to me then. I’d broken out into a coughing fit.
“I’m sorry, Justin. He’s so rude.”
Little Bear was Justin’s spirit guide. A lot of the messages that Justin received came through her. I didn’t know whether she lived in his head or she just hung about in the air next to him maybe attached to him by some kind of ghostly string like a floaty balloon. Justin said she was a Red Indian wise woman. I told him you had to call them Native Americans now, but he just ignored me.
I imagined her with leathery brown skin and long black hair, wearing moccasins and carrying a tomahawk. Sort of like Pocahontas but not as fit and about a hundred years old. Sometimes he would ask Little Bear questions and stare at the ceiling while she answered him. He and my mum would frown expectantly. The answers were usually pretty vague.
“She says it’s still in the house, love.”
“He’s sending you his love. And don’t worry about the leg. It’s all healed now he’s crossed.”
Little Bear often ‘came through’ when Justin seemed a bit stuck for words. It always made me a bit suspicious. And who would want a spirit guide, anyway? Hanging around, watching you all the time, muttering away in your ear? Not that I knew much about it, as I later found out.
So Justin trimmed Jinny’s fringe, Dad sidled in for his wallet and made a quick exit muttering something about auctions and deadlines, and Mum and Justin wound up in the garden, leaving me to hoover up the hairs. Great. I had already done the washing up and now I was wrestling with the Dyson. I’d become the family skivy for the night it seemed. I was hefting it about when I happened to glance out of the window.
Jonathan from across the road was out with his new stunt bike. He was wheeling it up and down on the patch of grass on the corner. He was always getting new stuff. Part of me hated him for it but another part of me had to go and have a look anyway.
I dropped the hoover and darted through the back door and out onto the street.
The cars were parked all the way along both sides and the lights were just flickering on as the night drew in.
Justin was unlocking his car boot and chatting away to Mum.
“Jonathan!” I called and crossed out into the street.
I think Jonathan looked round, but it was Justin’s voice that I heard.
Now what? I remember thinking. And then I felt an almighty jolt as something rammed into my back and sent me sprawling. The next thing I heard was a screech of brakes followed by a thud. I looked round in time just to see Justin’s body land on the ground in front of the car that had hit him and thrown him up into the air. There was a puddle of blood already forming around his head.
Then I heard mum screaming.

Justin had lain on the road in a patch of greasy oil without moving a muscle. His eyes were shut and his head looked all matted and red on one side. His arm was at a funny angle and his legs were sprawled. His skin looked as grey as his hair.
I had done some first aid training at cadets, but faced with a real live body I froze. What if I hurt him? I just crouched next to him with my arm round my mum and answered the questions as the neighbours came out one by one. Eventually the ambulance arrived and they put him on a stretcher and carried him away. Nobody went with him.
It was a young girl who was driving the car. Only a year or two older than I was. She was the same height as me, slim and blonde, with her hair tied back in a ponytail. She was wearing tight black jeans and trainers and a purple t-shirt with stars on it.
She’d been crouched down next to me sobbing “He just ran out! He just ran out into the road!” Her eye makeup started to run and she had black lines streaking down her pale cheeks. Jonathan’s mum gave her a tissue.
The police made her take a breath test but she was too hysterical to breathe into the bag and it took her ages. I told the police it was my fault because he had been running after me to push me out of the way and they said they’d get a statement from me.
The radios were chattering away on their shoulders. They wouldn’t let any more cars come down the road and they spent ages looking at the blood and the brake marks.
“It was an accident,” everyone said, over and over again. But I caught that girl’s eye as she tried to breath into that horrible little bag between sobs and I could see she felt as terrible as I did.
“How old are you, love?” My mum asked.
“I’m eighteen next week. I only passed my test last Thursday. I wasn’t going fast!”
“We know you weren’t,” Mum said and she gave her a hug.
The police let us all go inside and they sat on our settee and wrote down what had happened.
It was weirdly exciting, I’ve got to admit. I was a bit sad to see them go, actually. The cars drove off and they left us some cards with their details on. One of them had a quick look at my dad’s CD collection on his way out!
The girl was called Amy. Her dad came round and picked her up. He looked a bit stern but he shook my dad’s hand and said thanks for looking after her.
“That’s alright,” my dad said, although it was mum who had done all the looking after. Amy climbed into the passenger seat and gave us a little wave as they drove off. She looked really miserable.
I stared out of the bedroom window, standing behind the curtains in the dark. I couldn’t stop looking at the spot where Justin had been knocked over. That could have been my blood on the tarmac down there.
Justin’s Merc was still parked down there, of course. It looked odd. Abandoned. Lonely even, although I know that sounds stupid. It looked like Justin was still here, somewhere in the house.
Mum and dad had gone to bed ages ago but I still couldn’t sleep at all. Eventually I got dressed and tiptoed downstairs. The police had brought Justin’s things into the house for safe keeping while they contacted relatives. His hairy holdall was sitting on the kitchen table. I opened it up and poked around at the towels and cloths and combs and cans of spray and tubs of gel. His jacket was hanging on the back of the chair. I reached into the pocket and pulled out the car keys.
I opened the front door, wincing at every squeak and click. The night air was cool and the road was silent. I left the door unlocked and walked over to Justin’s car. It didn’t have an alarm so I just stuck the keys in the lock, opened the door and slipped into the huge leather seats. The dashboard was made of polished wood. The steering wheel was covered with some kind of webbed material. A cross hung from the rear view mirror.
I moved over to the driver’s seat and turned the wheel a little. It was so low slung and roomy. The seats were cracked and dusty and the radio said LW and MW rather than FM and there were dog eared magazines and half drunk bottles of water on the back seat. I could smell Justin’s aftershave too.
A movement caught my eye and I looked up.
“Eurgh!” I jumped in shock.
A face looked at me in the mirror.
I blinked and looked again.
Like a bad horror film, it had gone.
I spun round in my seat (quite bravely I thought). But there was no-one there. Maybe Justin had left me some kind of psychic booby trap. Git.
I jumped out of the car and ran back into the house. Suddenly I felt an overwhelming desire to be back in bed.

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Comments by other Members

Freebird at 12:48 on 26 January 2009  Report this post
I really like your lightness of touch, and the realistic dialogue - you could be sitting in someone's kitchen listening to them chatting. This is a real strength of your writing. And it is amusing, highly visual and entertaining.... to an adult.
I'm not 100% sure whether a teen would find it so. There'a lot of dialogue between middle-aged ladies, which is amusing and explains what happens at the 'readings', but I wonder if it might be better to actually have Matthew going to a reading and seeing it for himself. I've just started reading a book called 'Solutions for Novelists' by Sol Stein, and he says that it's important that the reader can see and experience every scene with the protagonist.

Another way to make it more punchy would be to start with some action - maybe spooky - rather than quite a long introductory section about the hairdresser. Could you start with Justin getting killed? Or some dialogue? e.g

"He just ran out into the road!" The girl's eye make-up started to run.....etc (give her a name if she warrant a description about her clothing).
Then you can fill in about who Justin was.

Mind you, there are some nicely observed bits, such as when Justin is asking all those cringy questions about having a girlfriend and big feet etc, and Matthew's just sitting there frowning.

Very interesting idea though! I can see it being popular


NMott at 16:36 on 26 January 2009  Report this post
I thought this was very well written and I enjoyed Justin and the mum's dialogue, especally chatting about the spirit world (a little more in the wy of small actions, etc, could be added to break up the dialogue), but I had great difficulty imagining this was all being told from the point of view of a boy. It just didn't seem something that a boy would want to think about, or dwell upon.
Maybe it would work coming from a different main character such as an old lady - one of Justin's spirit guides maybe?
Otherwise, if you want to keep the boy, I certainly think the spirit world part of it could be kept, but make the Justin character far less camp and give him a different job from that of a mobile hairdresser.
All the best with it,

- NaomiM

Issy at 09:54 on 28 January 2009  Report this post
I was certainly immersed in this story and entertained. Beautifully written, with glimpses into the mcs world just slotted in so that we know loads about it without actually being told. Such as Dad and ebay, Mum's way of being friendly - both warm and delightful characters, totally in keeping with the way Mum looked after Amy. Also Jinny, and the relationship with her big brother. Even snippets about Amy's dad, serious, how he thanked Matthew's dad.Like they do.

And so much about the mind of the mc and the character of Justin, his touches of humour are great - the way he is left with the washing up and the hoovering.

I was fine with Justin as he was, excellently drawn, I could see and hear him - I know exactly how he talks.

In fact the characters are so real I already feel that I know them, or people like them, well

My only points would be that the way it starts suggests that it was being written as a memory from years and years ago, so that it was a surprise when the three years is (very cleverly) popped in.

I've had another look to see if I could see why that was and thought maybe it is the tense in which it is written ie "used to" and "had" "would", and turn to a more immediate past tense. Sorry, not sure of the name of the tense used, is it the past conditional? Maybe "always"should be deleted.

After the beginning, it does get more immediate.

Looking at it from the point of view of a YA, and with a view to the other comments too, I did wonder if there was a way of getting a stronger beginning in - but my choice would be to go for something about the mc - something short and pithy and original perhaps ironic or dramatic about this being the day his life changed.

I wouldn't say it was too slow,for me, as there are lots of delightful detail in the build-up of Justin's character, but for the YA market, I thought this chapter could be edited a bit to make it quicker to get to the action. A tall order - wouldn't know what to reduce - maybe the bits about the knick-knacks and the working man's club could be cut down a bit.

It is certainly original, and I am looking forward to reading what happens next.

buffyfan70 at 21:24 on 30 January 2009  Report this post
Hey-thanks so much for your supportive comments- I have done some snipping but feel very encouraged and glad that you enjoyed it. I have taken out some of the dialogue and added a kind of prologue-I know the opening sentence could be more dramatic but the car crash/flash back seems a bit too obvious. Isn't it funny how the first sentence is often the easiest! Not this time. Thanks again.

Steerpike`s sister at 20:57 on 19 February 2009  Report this post
I enjoyed this, and would certainly want to read on if I picked it up in a bookshop. OK, as you say, the voice is not immediately obviously that of a teenage boy (though the hairdresser and Mum are fantastic!) BUT I think it's important to remember that you don't have to always be trying to sound like the stereotype of what a teenager is. Sometimes they just want to read a story, not have their own voice reflected back at them, and I think readers accept that a 'story voice' is not always the same as a real voice, and they can like that too. It's all about variety.
I think that the voice gets more believable as a teenage boy's as the piece goes on - starting it with the hairdresser, he takes over the story at first. I'd like to see the narrator having a bit more of a central role right at the start. Throwing a strop about getting his hair cut, maybe? Or something else just to bring him more to our attention.

Steerpike`s sister at 21:02 on 19 February 2009  Report this post
It just didn't seem something that a boy would want to think about, or dwell upon.

I kind of disagree. Boys are sensitive too, even if they don't show it, and I can imagine a highly camp character like Justin would make a huge impression on a teenage boy just discovering his own identity and sexuality. I don't mean that he would talk about it to his friends, just that he would feel in some way affected by this guy coming to his house, taking his mum's attention, slightly destabilising his ideas of 'normal', when he's in the ambiguity of teenagerhood anyway.

mafunyane at 21:30 on 19 February 2009  Report this post
Sorry it has taken so long to comment on this. You've had lots of constructive feedback already!

For what it's worth, I thought the voice sounded more like a teenage girl than a boy - though I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's some of the details that he notices which I don't think your average boy would take in (but I take the point above about not having to have a MC who conforms to the 'average' stereotype).

I also agree that you have some entertaining dialogue that seems very real. But I really wanted to get into the action (from the MC's point of view) much earlier and I think most teen readers would too. I wasn't sure you needed all the scene-setting at the start about who Justin was, how often he visited, the fact that the little sister loved him, the dad didn't like him etc. Why not tell it more from the MC's point of view as, for instance, he comes downstairs to find Justin, gets forced to have his haircut and maybe has to listen to his Mum and Justin talking about the spirit stuff?

I like a lot of this though - just think for chapter 1 you could get into things a bit quicker.


Steerpike`s sister at 09:34 on 20 February 2009  Report this post
Yes, POV is the thing here, I think. Get closer to his point of view, and it will all feel more immediate. Talk more about his feelings, less about his relatives'.

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