David Whelan

Elsewhere, Somewhere Else

Look at this little scamp, Peewee to his pals, at his momma’s computer when she’s out working for his dinner. He don’t know what he up to, not particularly, just browsing and scrolling and clicking and re-clicking through an endless gallery of websites. Look here ! – A young man is shot dead in Harlem! And now, big DC is taxing the air! What say you, little Peewee, to that? Not all fine reading of sports and computer games here. Sometimes the sad old real world gets in. What? Not for you? Why? Oh, just an old-fashioned spam filter reconfigured to block what you want. Set up to hide what you don’t like and you’re good to go. It’s user-controlled, of course. Content dictated by observer.

Little Peewee has cut school again. That’s what he does when his momma is out working. He’s a scamp, is all. Gets on bus, waves to momma (never kisses on the check, the bigger kids laughed at him for that and he got nuggies for a whole week), plugs in his music player, watches the city flash by, talks to no one, bus arrives, he stays on and rides it all the way back home. Takes about an hour in total. Not bad, not much time wasted. He’s a smart kid, so uses his time to browse the online world from his phone. It’s amazing what technology can do! Recently he’s got to talking to some old English guy in an anonymous chat room he visits. Updates him about the state of the economy and the weather over there. Little Peewee doesn’t quite understand all that high-brow nonsense, but he clued up enough to keep the old fart pip-pipping away!

The Internet is slow today. Little Peewee, he hates that. The worst day is when you wake up and the news hasn’t changed from last night. Today is one of those days. How’s a kid supposed to get his information fill when all you got is a replay? Has the world stopped spinning, or summat? His momma ain’t home for at least another 6 hours, so it’s fine: he can wait. And so he does. Peewee takes his coffee black, like he’s seen on the cop shows. It gets his body all hot and electric. One time he got Annie to drink a whole jug, telling her it flat Coca-Cola. She pissed herself in the classroom, and everyone was laughing, Peewee the most. Annie didn’t come back the next week. Teach sez it because her parents want to put her into boarding school. Peewee has read about these schools. He doesn’t like the sound of being plugged into them for most of the year. He’d miss his momma and his freedom. He thinks that maybe, possible, Uncle Ralph went to one because he’s old and weird, and momma calls him a queer.

Look here – the Internet is starting to pick up! He’s got an email. Good, that’s some points. He was worried he’d get no achievements for the day. He’s not gone a day without an email for at least a year. His average is 13 a day. It’s unlucky, or so he hears. He’s been trying to up it to 14. Currently 13.33333. Ah, it’s from the English guy. Wonder what the crumpet it could be about. Opens it up. It’s got an attachment. Peewee’s momma always sez, don’t go downloading no attachments. She sez, why else do people ask if there are any strings attached? Nothing is as simple as an email. They always lead somewhere. Peewee thinks his mother is a crazy. She works in a factory. He’s not sure what. Probably rolling up string into balls. He wants to click the attachment – it’s a video, the best kind – but he waits. His stomach is grumbling and that’s because he chucked his breakfast away. It was a banana chopped into some corn flakes. He hates bananas.

It’s a hot day outside so maybe he can just use that to dash over to the little market on the corner. They’ll probably just think he’s sick. If it’s the girl working maybe he’ll get something free. So, little Peewee goes rushing out of the house and out into the small garden out front, and is hit by the huge wave of heat-nausea that he gets on hot days like these. That’s how this all started, this obsession of his. He got to a certain age and realized he wasn’t like the other boys. He wasn’t tall or fast or thin or coordinated. He wasn’t even bad at catching or throwing. He just couldn’t stand the sunshine. He takes a little moment now, hands on knees, breathing heavily like he sees the athletes do on the television, half keeled over, but not quite, to compose himself. Then, he runs at 50% to the corner shop.

Inside, the man is working. He’s never given much attention to Little Peewee but he does now. His big white eyes light up like he’s never seen a kid before and he shrieks, like a cartoon, ‘Hellooooo, Mr. Devlin, no school today on this fine day?’ Peewee has learnt how to deal with these sorts of people. ‘Not for me, sir. I’ve come down with something awful.’ He coughs for the extra points. The man looks pleased with what he’s seen and says, ‘Very good, young man.’ His accent is rich and not from around here. Peewee wishes he wasn’t such a squirt and could talk like that. Peewee scuttles off into the cool back area and picks out a large chocolate bar and vanilla shake. It don’t come to much, and he’s relieved to see he’s got enough spare change to come back late for seconds. When he exits the shop he’s careful not to run, and this time the sunshine goes easy on him.

He sees Mr. Carmichael working on his lawn. He goes round and round the garden every morning behind his lawnmower. He starts on the outside and gradually spirals his way in. Little Peewee used to watch him from his roof in the spring. Every time Mr. Carmichael got into the center of the circle, he’d look around for a way to escape the boundaries he’d drawn out for himself in the grass. Peewee liked to imagine he was on an island, miles away from home. Eventually, always, Mr. Carmichael would pick the big lawnmower up – his muscles shaking with the effort – over his head and carry it out behind the house. He’d then come back some minutes later and sit down on the outer ring, and drink a glass of lemonade or some other clear liquid. Then come the next morning he’d do it all again.

Inside now, back at the computer, it’s cool and the coffee is cold. The chocolate bar is already gone, and the milkshake is halfway down. He’s a smart kid so the attachment had been set to download. Now it’s ready. He opens up VLC Media player and commands it to play the video. Maybe it’s a clip show from London. He’s heard all about London from the television. The video loads up and he’s waiting.

After it finishes, Little Peewee knows what to do. He goes online and uploads it again, and shares it back across the Internet. It’s an impulse, but it comes from somewhere deeper. He knows that other people will want to see this and the first rule of the Internet is that when you come across original content, you must share it. He begins to get lightheaded when the first comments come in. By the end of the morning he’s seen another 5 versions of the video uploaded. He knows he’s onto something. Eventually he replies to the English guy and tells him he did a good job with the video. He liked it very much.

Later, much later, his momma comes home and spanks Little Peewee red-raw. He’s banned from her computer for a week. That night he hears her typing on it. Then he hears her sobering or something or maybe laughing, he can’t be sure. He’s locked in upstairs in his room. He’s got a radio, which he never uses, but it’s on regardless and tuned to a station that plays music for old people. When he hears his momma dial on the phone, he turns it way up. He hears her saying stuff like suicide and scare tactics and he knows what’s coming: he’s gonna be sent to boarding school, like Annie. This is his momma’s last straw. He falls asleep listening to country rock music. The sky outside is a dark blue. Many of the house lights don’t go off all night.

The next day the police arrive.

*

Little Peewee’s dada, ya see, well he ran out on them when his kid was jez three years old. It was the fashionable sort-of thing to do in them days. It was even considered gentlemanly, depending on who you were talking to. If a man can’t care for his family, well there ain’t no point in him being around, sucking up his wife’s money and wiping his babies’ ass. You know the deal. So he ran, that was what he did. Ran far away, out into another State where the lines were more blurred and he could hide behind a tall glass of whiskey and some cigar smoke.

Little Peewee had never met his pop. Not since he came out of him. So it kinda odd to him why these big ole policemen are asking these funny questions about, ‘Have you seen Mr. Pewtersmith recently, young man?’ or ‘Where is your daddy these days?’ Peewee tells them what he knows. Which is about as much as a donkey’s backside.  One of the policemen laughs at that, the youngish one, but he shuts up when his boss sends him an awful glance. ‘Your mother is very scared,’ they say to him. ‘She thinks you’re talking to your daddy on the internet.’ Then he goes off and rattles off big words and phrases that he doesn’t get, like restraining and public disobedience. He tells them as much as he can that it ain’t his daddy that he been talking to, no sir, but a strange queer fella from England.

‘England?’ Everyone seems to find this the funniest word in the world and they all fall back laughing. Little Peewee doesn’t feel very funny. ‘No, boy, we traced that IP. That guy is nowhere near your Engerland.’ Again, they laugh but this time it hurts Peewee, because he knows that it’s directed at him and he doesn’t think that’s very polite, no not polite at all. Before he knows what he is doing, he’s up on his feet and he knocks the older policeman straight in the gonads with his elbow and runs out into the lawn, where the sun is out and the smell of cut grass is in the air. ‘Little whippersnappingshit-‘ he hears from inside. But they don’t follow him. They got his momma locked up in the kitchen and they asking her now all sorts of questions.

And look who is coming down the road! None other than Sammy Saxophone, that tall Negro with the lung capacity of an elephant and the eyes of tar. How many times the people round here have talked about his musical prowess, and his length, but Peewee wouldn’t know nothing about that. The kids at school they been saying that big Sammy been fooling around with his momma, playing cards in Julie’s, but Little Peewee knows for sure that ain’t the case, because he installed one of those webcams in her room just to be sure and there ain’t been no one in there but her. ‘Hey, boyo,’ Sammy sez. ‘Why all the tears?’ He comes over and takes out a small handkerchief and mops the wet patches under Peewee’s eyes. ‘What’s up, little man?’ He asks.

‘The cops in my house. They saying bad things about my daddy and they all gone and laughed at me like I had no feelings.’ Big Sammy coos him back up to health and Peewee smells his skin, which smells like coconuts and the sea.

‘Well, I sure the cops wouldn’t be harassing you if they weren’t there for a good reason,’ he says. ‘You got any idea why they here?’

Little Peewee shakes his head. Right now, he just wants to be held. Sammy is a nice guy but he ain’t too used to holding kids other than his own so eventually wriggles free and sez he is off to check on Peewee’s momma. As he’s about to enter the house, the cops come out looking all pleased with themselves. They stop and talk to Sammy for a bit and then walk on out the garden. The younger one tilts his hat in Peewee’s direction, who sticks up his middle finger in return. ‘Spritely kid,’ one sez to the other, who nods and looks at the sun. ‘They all are, around these parts.’

Inside, Sammy is chatting to Peewee’s momma, Meg, who has just told the cops about the strange calls she’s been getting late at night.

‘You think it’s him?’ Sammy asks. Meg nods her head, slowly.

‘I can’t think of no one else.’ This is true. She can’t. Since she kicked that guy’s butt to the curve she ain’t heard or seen no other man in her sheets.

‘What do you think he wants?’

‘His boy. His money. His house. Who knows what’s going on inside that man’s skull.’ Meg bursts into tears just as Peewee had done and for the second time in a day, Sammy finds himself consoling a White person. He’s good like that. Then, he thinks that a beer will do just the trick so cracks two out from the fridge and hands one to Meg and keeps one for himself. She pretends to, you know, be offended that it’s too early for a beer, but takes one anyway and is the first to be drinking.

‘I just can’t believe, after all this time, he’s back.’

‘Hell. Men get bored. They get lonely. He might be sayin’ sorry.’

‘What? By leaving blank voice messages on my machine? By talking to his son on the internet? That’s not reaching out, Sammy. That’s pure A-Grade stalking.’

She had him there. He hardly knew the father, and to be frank he didn’t really want to. White people’s problems were always too crazy. They had a way with making life unsimple. He only knew one thing about it: he was damn sure that if the father tried to come near the family, he’d be there to help. He told Meg as much, who smiled and kissed him on the cheek. Inside, he prayed to God that the old dried up father never set foot back here again.

‘You, sir, are a bonafide American hero.’

‘Just doing my duty, ma’am.’

What a lot of people didn’t know, and didn’t care to know, was that Sammy wasn’t from America at all. He was up from Ghana, through first France and second Britain. It was just easier to blend in, rather than stick out. Eventually, even the accent didn’t seem forced, it was almost his mother slant. He’d told everyone in this town – everyone who’d listen, mind – that he was a vet. Not the one with the animals, but the good kind. The one who had spilt blood for his country. Played the sax for his regiment band. Killed three turbanheads with his bare hands one night when he’d caught them creeping into camp. No one had ever asked him why he didn’t use a gun. They liked the phrase, he guessed. Killed with his bare hands. Made them think of bears and climbing and the great outdoors. The story had always made Sammy sad when he told it. His own father believed in all that and had put him up with some friends in Bow when he were in London and, blimey, if they weren’t the kindest and simplest and most loving people he’d ever… And that Mosque! Rows and rows of people all kneeling and praying and singing. It was beautiful, is what it was.

There weren’t much beauty out here, ‘cept in the form of Meg. The town folk had been whispering that she was a niggershagger but Sammy had never touched her, not once. He had his kids to think about and what they might think if he replaced their mother. She was long gone to the grave, true, but still a man can have his sentiments and she, that princess, she was the one he would take with forever after. He liked hanging about Meg and her little scamp because it put him at ease, not because he was thirsty for something carnal. People round here didn’t really understand that type of love. They all about the sweat and motion, things outside of feeling. It was sad. Some strangers, tourists most like, had come around last month and seen Sammy playing with Little Peewee. He could hear them whispering, ‘But he doesn’t even look black…’

Later, when the moon had just peaked its rose tinted face over the horizon and the town had all but settled in for the night, he came. Quietly at first, ghosting along the hedgerows that connected garden to garden, ducking behind cars and crawling beneath their suspensions, he moved silent as anything he could think of to compare it to. The brave and wronged daddy, coming back to make amends and maybe take a few bob whilst he at it. Get that nice bottle of Rock and Rye he had been so awfully robbed of. Maybe make a night of it. Surely the little runt and cunt would be in bed by now. Such were the thoughts that traveled through Mess Pewtersmith’s cavernous mind as he slugged his way toward his old resting place.

Mess had been terribly framed. He didn’t know by who, but he suspected it was that nigger. He’d seen the way he looked at Meg, eyes alive with lust. Such things would have made the face of God weep. Got smacked on the back o’the head one day and wake up feeling half the man you were before and lying red handed in the middle of the bar with the cash register. He can’t for the life of him (or the half-life, yez see) understand what happened or remember the face of the perpetrator, but all the force on the back of the head in the world couldn’t stop his suspicions. Big Ole Sammy. Never trust them types. All he knows is that he woke up in the floor of the bar, with blood on his face, and not a thought in his head. Lost the ability to function in society, the doc had said. A mental break, happens to the weak. He’d become a reprobate, a member of the criminal classes. Couldn’t even work back at the farm, such were his jitters.

Britney, a kind young woman who poured a good measure, well she told him that there had been a black out the night it had happened. ‘Was it Sammy?’ he’d asked, his head atwitter. She looked at him like he’d run over her cat and then told him that she meant there was no electricity. ‘Couldn’t see who hit you. But I don’t remember seeing Sam around that night at all.’ She offered. Women, as Mess knew full well, chose to see what they chose to see. Well, days went by and slowly that became months and a year and still he hadn’t recovered and the little sack of potatoes was getting bigger and crying and weeping and he didn’t know the first thing about being a dada and the little bag wriggle out of his hands and fell to the floor so fast so he up that night and decided to run. By the time he’d got over to the next state he’d been told that Meg had put out an order on him. He didn’t understand what was going on, such was his brain malaise, but he felt the pain of seeing his kid crying on the cold ground.

Before he knows it he’s in the garden and standing up. He catches himself feeling happy to be home. It ain’t changed a bit, ‘cept some new plants in the garden and don’t Meg remember that he’s got allergies? A-Choo-A-choo! He can’t stop himself sneezing and snotting everywhere. His body is all out of control, tingling with some horrible natural repulsion to nature. A-Choo! And then the front door opens and it’s Sammy coming at him, looking all mean and ex-Army.

‘Who out there?’ he bellows into the darkness and it is only then that Mess realizes how big this bastard is.

‘It only me,’ Mess answers, pulling out the knife he’d been saving all this time from his pant’s pocket.

‘Don’t you come around here, Mess. The police are after you.’

The police? How they know anything about this? He asks as much. Sammy just shrugs and makes a whistling noise. Mess takes in the scene. There will be no way around Sammy and in, so he’s gotta figure another way up into the old storage room where he left the dough. Well, what? Sammy about six foot something, and the roof comes down to about … yeah, so maybe if he gets him up on the porch steps, he could…

Mess goes and runs at Sammy who quivers a little and moves back onto the first porch step. Mess swings that knife in the air like someone scattering ashes and Sammy again, the coward, steps back and then Mess is on and climbing up him and jumping off his shoulders and up onto the roof. He makes a crude gesture to Sammy from the rooftop but just then, as he does it, Little Peewee, who for all this time has been on the internet looking at that video he’d been sent again and again, decides to get some fresh air in his room and opens up his window, which hits his dada unaware and plumb knocks him off balance, sending the slightly bigger scamp a’rolling down the roof and back into the willing arms of Sammy Saxophone…

And the father falls right down from the roof and this is when it becomes obvious that Sammy has never been in a fight in his life and has little to no idea how to throw a punch. He just cradles the criminal in his arms like a momma would do to a sow and Mess, being all evil and desperation, takes his knife and cuts it right across Sammy’s throat. It’s like a red waterfall, Little Peewee thinks, as he watches from above. Such beautiful colours and that’s inside of us? And who is this little fella trying to get in my house? Is this dada? ‘Dada’, Little Peewee cries from the rooftop and Mess looks up, his eyes wild and inhuman, and for the briefest of seconds they share a moment of connection. Then the sirens come on loud and clear and two cop cars park come screeching around the corner and stop right in front of the garden. Mess, knowing what an awful mess he in, flops to the ground alongside Sammy and goes to cut his own throat but the big man from Ghana, well, he’s using all his last strength here, grabs Mess’s arm to stop him right until the moment the police arrive and handcuff the little monster…

Well, the odd thing about all this was what happened to ole Mr. Pewtermsith when the cops got his ass into the police station for questioning and registering. Turned out the man was illiterate. Down and straight blind to the written word. Could hardly sign his own name. Kept on complaining about how his own daddy had set him to work on the land almost as soon as he could walk and that it wasn’t his fault he’d been deprived a basic human need. Then moaned about the time Sammy had smacked him over the head. ‘Twas the big man’s fault he dead,’ he moaned. ‘His fault I tell you. It’s all karma.’

This, of course, got the whole department scratching their heads and wondering who had Little Peewee been talking to all those nights. Surely not his daddy, unless he was some sort of genius and was tricking them all. ‘Unlikely,’ said the Head of Department. ‘The man struggles with his own shoelaces. Plum retarded. Most likely he was just looking for a petty theft. Couldn’t organize a drink in a whiskey brewery.’

So, they went back and they checked the records and the IPs and the locations and any use of proxies but they found nothing. Sure as day, the records still said that the man on the chat servers was from whereabouts Little Peewee’s dad was hanging. When they questioned him on it, he looked white as a sheet but had no clue at all what they were talking about. Kept asking if someone was threatening his son and if they were, that he’d ‘cut their fingers off myself, one by one. All nine of them.’

The chats themselves weren’t particularly dangerous, the concluded. They just talked about some weird things. Like Russian names and soccer and city living and what it’s like to be young and full of hope. Head just concluded it was some sad, retired old man, trying to get back his youth. ‘No threat there,’ he said to Dirk, who’d been worrying about it all night. ‘Just tell the Mother and the Kid what they want to know. It was the daddy. He’s locked up now. It’s over.’ So Dirk did and they went back to their normal life and the police station closed the case of the Murder of Sammy Saxophone and Little Peewee grew up to be a farmer and forgot all about his time with Johnny from England.

Well, that’s what the records say anyway, and who don’t trust them records. ‘Cept, there were some rumors going around, you know, whispers and such, that Little Peewee was still talking to that guy from England long after the police gave up on it. The guy told him things they said, taught him the ways of the Other World. Spiritual stuff, that the here governments want to keep quiet. How to live forever or how to fake your own death. How to learn the ancient languages. It was all creepy kinda stuff, the sort of thing you heard every day if you took a drive out into Nevada, but stuff that stuck around nonetheless. We all saw the video he’d been sent a few months after he got old enough to know what it meant. Some man in front of a camera with a gun to his head and then there was the wire attached to the trigger which went to the door and then someone opened the door and the boy died.

[BIO]: David is a fiction writer and journalist, based in London.

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