I found this old short story on a hard drive when searching for an old painting of Hastings Pier on fire.
As far as I remember, I wrote this story straight after waking up and this was an attempt to write a dream sequence down as a short story rather than a rambling dream narrative.
What strikes me about this story (and this is the reason I am posting this here) is the amount of ideas and themes in this short piece of writing that permeate my visual work.
Without spoiling any surprises, this story is loaded with apocalypse humor and dream logic but the important thing to know before reading is that, although there are waves in the English Channel there is absolutely nowhere to surf in Hastings.
It was a hot day in Hastings. Everything was either too bright or too dark as if someone had been fucking about with the contrast dials on the telly after stumbling home from the pub late at night. The shadows were etched into the pavement, harsh and hard, the copper plate of the world having been left in the acid bath just a few hours too long.
The sky sparkled and fragmented like a low-rez .jpg.
On the promenade people stood about staring out to sea, eating ice-cream, walking dogs and dragging kids, carrying spades and buckets and deckchairs, all looking as if they’d had been cut straight from picture postcards.
Two people crashed the scene. Between them they had a bicycle and two surfboards. The pair had inexpertly strapped the boards to the bicycle and, what had earlier seemed like a genius haulage solution was now a slow progress marred by swearing and bruises.
The pair wore wetsuits which, in the heat, was akin to wearing an extra skin made entirely of pins and needles.
‘Simon, this isn’t working.’ One of them said, staring down the bicycle as if it were to blame for the heat and sweat and bruises. Simon pushed on, heedless.
On the promenade overlooking the beach, rows of deckchairs housed old men who sat holding binoculars to their eyes, fedoras on their laps as they slowly masturbated to the harvest of young female flesh that sunbathed below them. In the distance a yellow bus rounded onto the seafront with all the finesse of a dying bumble bee.
‘The bus! Simon, the bus!’
Simon looked up from the handlebars, a grin breaking across his sunburnt face. Deftly Simon pulled at the straps that held the boards to the bicycle and within seconds the whole thing fell apart. The bicycle lay discarded as the pair ran, surfboards tucked under their arms, heads bowed, bare feet slapping against the melted tarmac that would keep an imprint of their toes for hours to come.
As they ran the cue of people getting onto the bus, all colour smudges and liquefied faces, got shorter. Still the pair ran. They ran as greyhounds after a stuffed toy rabbit. They ran as if Running for a Bus Carrying Surfboards was an Olympic sport.
Simon reached the bus just as the doors were hissing closed and he shoved the nose of his board between them.
‘Wait!’ The other called and the doors reluctantly opened to reveal a porcine driver trussed in blue sat sweltering inside a plastic cage.
‘Two returns to White Rock, please.’ The Other smiled, turning on the charm as Simon, unable to believe they had actually caught the bus, panted bedsides him.
‘You’ll have to pay for the boards too.’ The driver said, his light blue shirt running with rivers of aquamarine sweat.
‘They’re under sixteen.’
‘The surfboards, they’re under sixteen. So they get kids fares?’
‘Ok.’ The driver said, wiping his forehead as he poked the numbers into the ticket machine. ‘That’ll be 8 pound forty.’
The Other smiled. Simon smiled. They looked at each other. Up and down. Surfboards. Leashes trailing on the sun-baked pavement. Wetsuits. They patted themselves; vainly searching for pockets they knew weren’t there.
‘Er… we don’t have any money.’ The Other said, his charm school smile curling up and crawling away.
‘Well, fuck off then.’ The driver replied, closing the double doors and driving off, up the seafront towards where the waves were.
‘Simon, you ok?’
Simon looked crestfallen, holding his board close like a shield; he was a Saxon warrior, standing over the body of his fallen king. He just couldn’t fathom that they had both won golds in the Running for a Bus Carrying Surfboards race only to have the medals cruelly snatched from their hands.
‘We’ll walk, Simon. It’s not that far, it’s just past the…’
The Other looked down seafront to where a red and black scar tore at the fabric of the universe.
In the distance the white stilted mass of Hastings Pier seemed to be on fire. Simon looked. Black and red with streaks of yellow curling into the blue like some macabre Spanish dance. The matador fighting the bull in an orgy of blood and soot. Hastings Pier was on fire.
The tower of smoke seemed to turn down the too bright sun and even though people continued to stroll with their kids and dogs and buckets and spades, and even though the old men carried on wanking over the sun bathers, the general seaside idyll had taken a turn for the worse.
‘Oh, I do like to be besides the apocalypse.’
‘Simon, your camera…’ The Other said, knowing full well Simon had left the camera, along with his wallet, back at the flat. He had just wanted to say something, to use his voice to prove, if not to himself then to the universe, that he was real and that physics was still in effect.
Hastings Pier had been a constant in his life. He had kissed his first girl in its shadow, projectile vomited on its deck, danced the night away in its manky ball room, dived off of the railings into the shallow waters below and slept under its decking more nights than he cared to remember. And now the pier was going up, the flames spreading faster as they consumed his memories, memories that were as dry and flammable as Victorian kindling.
‘Simon, your camera…’ He said again but Simon was walking off up the seafront. Simon couldn’t give a fuck about the pier or penny arcade nostalgia.
Simon only cared about the waves.