It’s been a while.
Music reviewing, the day-job, life… all of these factors have conspired to halt any ‘creative’ writing for some time now. The novel and sort story I had been working on ground to a halt, and a certain torpor set in, while I found myself running just to stand still during practically every waking hour. But I decided I needed to get my shit back together and resume writing. It wasn’t easy at first, but I did. Resuming work on the dystopian short story, with the working title ‘Retail Island’, it soon began to expand toward novella territory. In the space of three weeks, 3,000 words has expanded to almost 10,000: it’s a fair way off being finished, and it’s still very much a work in progress in every sense.
To give too much context at this juncture would likely to be to spoil it, and even the plot is still evolving. However, the structure – yes, there is one this time – is something of a return to the episodic form of my work before things shot off the rails in 2008 when I ‘assembled’ THE PLAGIARIST. So, the bare bones: Robert Ashton is hired as a consultant to work on a project at a pharmaceutical company whose office is located on the edge of a large out-of-town retail park. He soon becomes suspicious of the nature of the project and the company’s practices, and things swiftly turn strange and ugly.
Saturday, the immense Primark store that had been under wraps and swarming with construction workers and fitters when Robert had landed at the retail park opened its doors to the public. The event was distinguished by queues not only at the checkouts, but in the aisles, on the forecourt as eager shoppers crowded and jostled to gain entry to the vast warehouse packed with sweatshop-manufactured clothing, and in the car parks as shoppers arrived in droves. Long before midday, the retail park’s parking spaces were all occupied, as were those of the neighbouring Asda and Sainsbury’s superstores, and many had simply abandoned their vehicles on the access roads, pavements and verges in and around the development. Robert had only ventured out to WH Smith to purchase a magazine and newspaper in order to sequester himself away in his hotel room for a day of rest, but even this brief excursion swiftly evolved into a major operation as he was forced to navigate by a wildly circuitous route and battle his way through the crowd which had spilled out to occupy a large area of the park.
“Hey!” a large woman in grey sweatpants and a voluminous T-shirt bearing the slogan ‘Whatchoo Lookin at…. Bitch?’ barked as Robert tried to inch his way through a conglomeration of milling shoppers. He glanced up automatically. She seemed to be staring straight at him, but assuming she must have been trying to get the attention of someone behind him, Robert glanced over his shoulder. “Yeah, you,” she said gruffly. “Where d’you fink you’re goin’?”
“I’m sorry?” Robert blinked.
“Yer will be,” she growled in response. “We been ‘ere fuckin’ ages waitin’ t’gerrin, so instead o’ pushin’ frough y’need t’wait yer turn.”
“Oh, right, I see,” Robert said. “In there?” he pointed toward Primark.
“Yeh. We was ‘ere first.”
“Of course. I was just trying to get through to get to WS Smith, I’m not going in there, so…”
“Yeah, fuckin’ right. I’ve ‘eard all kinds of excuses to push frough. ‘Meetin’ a family member. Lost kids. Member o’ staff. One guy even said ‘ee were a fuckin’ medic attendin’ a ‘mergency ‘cause someone’d passed out. As if! Cheeky fucker. So y’reckon I’m gunna buy that you wanna go to Smiffs?”
“But I do,” Robert protested.
“Yeah, fuck off out of it,” the woman snarled, bearing her teeth and revealing numerous gaps.
A burly man wearing similar attire – an England football shirt stretched over his gut – tattoos and shaven head stepped up, bristling. “You ‘eard the lady. Get the fuck out, you cunt.” Robert wasn’t so sure about the status of his antagonist as a lady, but didn’t have time to dwell on that as the thug stepped forward and shoved him hard in the chest. Robert stumbled back and was just able to keep his footing, but knocked into a woman who was trying to steer a pushchair through the dense forest of bodies.
“Excuse me!” she shouted coarsely in a 40-a-day voice.
“You will be,” she snapped. “You need to look where you’re going!”
Robert tried to explain, but had merely stammered a few unintelligible syllables before another man stepped up beside the woman and began berating him for being a ‘posho cunt’. Before he knew what was happening, Robert found himself knocked to the ground, and a tempest of fists and trainer-toed feet rained blows about his body. He curled himself tightly into a ball, and before long, following a foot to the skull, lost consciousness. The sound of the crowd faded as everything faded to black.