‘The only thing certain about life is death.’ I’ve never liked that phrase. It’s bullshit. There are loads of ‘certain’ things in life. Everybody eats, drinks, sleeps, picks their nose, scratches their arse, hates their boss…shit things happen to everyone. No point pretending otherwise.
Take me, for example. I knew, without question, I’d end up writing the best film script ever and that I’d become rich and famous; I was in no doubt I’d move to America-Hollywood, most likely-and hobnob with fellow celebs. I was also 100% sure Sally Budgens would say ‘yes’ when I asked her to marry me. She loved me a lot. I could tell. Those were my ‘certains.’
But death…well, I didn’t see that coming at all.
It’d probably help to put things in context. Two months ago I was enjoying my twenty-third birthday party with my best mate, Pete. He’d brought his missus with him; I’d brought Sal, my soon-to-be-proposed-to girlfriend. We were at the Arcadia Club in the centre of town. It’s the only club in our town and it’s crap; your feet keep sticking to the ground as you move, but it’s a club and it only costs two quid to get into, so we went.
Anyways, I was there and Pete was smoking something funny and Sally was giving me daggers because she hates anyone smoking within a ten mile radius of her (like it’s my fault he was smoking) and then two bouncers came over.
“Can’t smoke in here mate,” one said. He looked a bit like a tubby Robert DeNiro-the Raging Bull one, not the Meet the Parents version. He had a mole on his right cheek, just like the man himself.
Pete took a massive drag and then pinched the end of his ciggi. “Sorry, mate. Forgot.”
The other body guard, the one who didn’t look like Robert DeNiro, held out his hand. “Hand it over, pal.”
I knew from Pete’s expression that there was going to be trouble. He smiled, but it was a bad ‘un, not a happy smile. I’d seen that smile before. Whenever it visits someone usually ends up getting hurt. Pete stared at not-Robert DeNiro. I could tell he was checking out his age, his size, anything that might indicate if he stood any chance in a fight. I’d say the odds were about even. Not DeNiro had an army sergeant look to him – short hair, square head, muscles everywhere, particularly between his ears.
The bouncer leaned forward to take the ciggi from Pete’s fingertips, but Pete pulled his hand away. “I don’t think so,” Pete said.
The smile had gone altogether now. A frown was the replacement. Beth started giggling, but Sal didn’t, and I didn’t either. We’d both known Pete a lot longer than Beth. She’d only been with him for three weeks. We knew what he was like.
I could see the bouncer’s fingertips flexing, like he was going to make a grab for Pete or, even worse, smack him one. Chubby DeNiro obviously spotted it too because he placed his hands on his partner’s shoulder and then whispered something into his ear. He was obviously a good judge of character, like me, because the two of them wandered off without saying another word.
The atmosphere got a bit funny after that. Pete retrieved a fag packet from his pocket and put the half-smoked tab inside. He started scowling at everyone and at everything. He’d sniffed a fight and the smell had stayed with him.
Luckily, there weren’t any takers, not that I was surprised. He’s a big bloke, Pete; a good four or five inches bigger than me and I’m six foot on a good day. He’s got forearms like Popeye. The girls love him-doesn’t matter what he wears or how he combs his hair-they come flocking. He’s got a presence to him, Pete. A dangerous edge. The girls like it. Well, they like it to begin with. He gets through a lot of them.
I tried my best to talk him round, though he wasn’t having any of it. “Not happy, mate, not happy,” was about all I could get him to say. Sal tried getting me to dance with her, but I couldn’t leave him. He was already on a police caution, or two. Sal dragged Beth off with her, which was a God send, all things considered.
“‘Nother beer, Pete?” I asked. He’d been clutching the same bottle for about half an hour. It was probably empty. Mine had been for a while.
“Sure,” Pete said, scowling at someone on the dance floor. He wasn’t looking at the girls-they were over the far side. Some blokes were dancing behind them, nob-head blokes. I could see them nodding at one another and then in the direction of Sal and Beth. If Pete saw them he’d batter them for sure, but I trusted Sal. She’d probably batter them herself if they got too close.
I bought four beers at the bar. It cost me eighteen quid-robbing bastards-but at least it’d save me queuing again twenty minutes later. I checked out the girls. Sal and Beth had danced away from the muppets, who were now closing in on a hen party. Sal caught me looking at her and nodded three or four times towards Pete. Shit, was my first thought, betting he was in a fight. I was wrong – he was fucking smoking again.
I glanced back at Sal and she shrugged her shoulders like it wasn’t a big deal, like Pete was just some kid who’d scoffed a chocolate cake before dinner. She didn’t have a clue. It was a big deal; a great big fuck-off deal. I knew exactly what he was doing. No-one had accepted the challenge. The scowls, the growls, the dirty looks, they’d all been ignored. No-one fancied taking on the murderous looking psycho, the guy with the smashed bottle scar just above his right eye, the guy with three lions tattooed on his neck. Now, though, he was smoking them out; he was drawing them in.
I tried moving through the crowds as fast as I could. Everyone seemed to be deliberately getting in my way. “Watch it, mate,” a voice said. “Take it steady, geezer,” another piped up. Idiots – they didn’t understand. They didn’t know what was coming.
The first time I came into contact with DeNiro again he was on top of me. Pete had smacked him and he’d got him good. He literally flew into me. If I hadn’t broken his fall he’d have hurt himself even more. I pushed him off. It wasn’t easy because he weighed a tonne. He didn’t look like DeNiro anymore; he looked more like something from the Evil Dead. His nose had been well busted. It looked like it’d been deflated. It was hanging funny and pissing blood everywhere, though DeNiro wasn’t doing anything to stop it. He was out for the count. Pete had actually knocked him out. I’d never seen anyone knocked out before, not off one punch anyway.
New bouncers came out of nowhere, multiplying like bacteria. I don’t know whether all of the people laying into Pete were bouncers or whether some where just along for the ride, but there were plenty prepared to attack him now that he’d thrown the first blow.
They pinned him to the floor, five or six of them, and one, the one from earlier, the not-DeNiro guy, starting punching him in the face. I jumped on his back. It was an instinct thing.
“Stop it, you’re going to fucking kill him,” I said.
And those were the last real words I ever said. Not very poetic, are they?
Pete spotted me on the bouncer’s back. I saw him grinning. Despite the damage to his face and the blood trickling over his teeth, I knew he was genuinely happy. He’d exorcised his frustrations and, what’s more, his buddy had tried to save him. We’d talk about what’d happened the next day. We’d be nursing our injuries together. Maybe we’d get arrested, maybe we wouldn’t. What did it matter? Pals, united in a fight – now, that made life seem good.
The pain I felt when the bouncer’s elbow smashed my right eye socket apart was almost indescribable. I’d nothing I could compare it to. I just knew that it hurt more than anything else ever had. When I’d broken my leg in a footy game a couple of years back, I’d thought I was in agony. Now I know that pain was mild. Having your eye socket broken is to breaking your leg what breaking your leg is to stubbing your toe: another level altogether.
He straightened up to a sitting position and I squealed as I slid off his back onto the tiled floor. The back of my head hitting the mottled surface made me squeal for a second time. It felt like shards of glass were being dragged through my brain pulled on strips of barbed wire. I know now that it was shattered pieces of skull.
I screamed. It was a scream that only dipped each time I was forced to gulp for a new breath. I remember looking up, but not at the ceiling – that seemed a million miles away. My right eye, I was pretty sure was gone. It felt like a giant plug hole. Water, or, more likely, blood kept sloshing into it. My eyelids kept blinking. I could see shapes, people, not really faces. I swore I heard Sal. I think it was her. She was screaming too, a different type of scream to me, one driven from panic rather than pain.
I tried staring out. Most of the faces were still blurred, but then, weirdly, almost angelically, one came into view. It was him: the fat Robert DeNiro. He’d got back up. Amazing really. I’d assumed he’d be out for hours the way he’d looked when I shoved him off me. Now he’d recovered. He was still wearing his red beard but he was standing. In true DeNiro fashion he’d come back fighting.
The last thing I remember was him lifting his leg. A darkness thrust its way towards me, which I’m assuming was the underneath of his boot. I could have got this totally wrong, but I’m pretty sure he stamped on my head.
The odd thing is: after that, the pain went away. There was nothing – no pain at all.
I can’t really describe to you what I am now. I’m not a ghost – well, not like the kind you see in that Patrick Swayze film. I can’t flick coins, walk through walls or possess Whoopi Goldberg. I’m kind of nothing, but I’m still here. My memory’s stayed with me. I can remember almost everything about my life-what I did, how I felt, who I liked and so on-but I don’t feel anything much now. I don’t have real feelings anymore. Feelings sit in the heart, or the pit of the stomach, and I don’t have either.
Pete’s the same. He died the same night as me. I can’t see him, but he’s around. He’s like I am. I can’t see myself, though I know I’m here. I can hear Pete, not so much these days, not like when he and I first died. We chatted quite a lot then.
He told me that when I saw him grinning he knew he was already dead. He’d stopped feeling pain after six or seven whacks to the head, at the same point he realised he could no longer move. Maybe that’s the sign: not a white light but an absence of pain when you should really be suffering like crazy. Pete said that’d he’d died happy. He’d died a good death.
Died a good death? That’s another phrase I don’t like. You can’t die a good death. There’s nothing good about death…though, I suppose I’m looking at it from a personal view point. It’s almost ironic that I met my end at the boot of a guy who looked like Robert DeNiro. It’s a pity that’s as close to Hollywood as I ever got.
Mike loves writing. He loves reading. He’s always been the same. There’s something magical about fiction. To Mike, there’s nothing better than getting lost in a book, finding that he’s caught up in a world that he doesn’t want to leave. He loves books that he can’t put down, books that insists he read just one more chapter.
Children’s fiction is what he loves writing the most. He couldn’t read enough as a kid and now, at the grand old age of 35, he still can’t. The fact that he can now read my own stories to his three children is a real thrill.
Writing is an obsession. He’s passionate about it and it’ll always be a part of him.
If you do take the time to read anything I’ve written: thank you.