By Gary Budden

Somewhere near the Hoo Peninsula, back in 98. It’s like I’m still right there and I never really left.

After the gig in Gravesend, we were cornered on the bus. It was one of those Stagecoach buses with the seventies-style orange and black seats that smelled of dust and dead skin and gave you friction burns. A bunch of boneheads out looking for blood. It was a shithole then and it’s a shithole now.

My mate Andy, with his post-punk t-shirt and what they considered ‘poof’ hair (on that day dyed cobalt blue) came off badly. It never helped that he was a mouthy bastard, and smart with it, which made it worse, but he didn’t deserve what happened to him. If I close my eyes and think of it, even now, I see a burst bag of bruised purple fruit, swollen flesh engorged, and a tooth laying on a dusty bus seat. Still I think: what was the point?

You know that metal bar bit on the bus seats? I don’t even know if it has a name. They took Andy’s head and thrust in down like they were dunking him into a big bucket of water, like he was being forced to bob for apples. Pushed his teeth straight into that nameless metal bar. I tried to help him but they’d already blackened my eye and knocked the wind out of me. I hadn’t felt like that since I was a kid and my brother planted a tennis ball straight into my solar plexus while we mucked around in the back garden. So I lay there on floor of the top deck of the bus, gasping like a freshly caught bream, surrounded by dried-out gum and empty crisp packets. I heard a crack that was part gunshot, part breaking branch. I learned the sound of splintering enamel. A few small hard objects clattered onto the floor.

It was so bad he was fitted with falsies. All I could do was lay  there on the floor, the life knocked out of me. I know I couldn’t have done jack, but still. This is what people talk about when they say they’re haunted. I’m stuck there, down on the bus floor.

The Gravesend lot, they got off at the next stop with their grins, their shit tattoos and Skrewdriver shirts fading into the night. I guess the driver was too scared to even try and hold them before the police turned up. Who can blame him?

I have this recurring image of a little old lady on that top deck of the bus, frozen and trying to make herself invisible, fingers white-knuckled and gripped to her handbag. She didn’t deserve to see that.

In the hospital, I visited my friend Andy, the guy who I’d sit with in pubs listing our top ten Pacino films, who’d speak passionately of the International Brigades, the guy who planned on making Konnie Huq from Blue Peter his bride in some imagined future. My friend Andy, his face like a burst bag of overripe plums with a gummy grimace. What do you say to such things? Other than, ‘Sorry mate’.

We never really had the words to say what was going on inside. And when we did find them, it was too embarrassing to dig up the past, or perhaps it was simply too late. Words only go so far, don’t they?

‘When she came to see me,’ Andy said, talking about his mum Linda, ‘she burst into fucking tears.’ And with this statement he’d tap his falsies, swill his drink, rub a hand over hair now cut-back and neutral.

These days, I don’t see him much. He left the scene, to all intents and purposes, about a year after Gravesend. You can’t blame him.

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Gary Budden is co-director of indie publisher Influx Press.

He writes fiction and creative non-fiction about the intersections of British sub-culture, landscape, psychogeography, hidden history, nature, horror, weird fiction and more. A lot of it falls under the banner ‘landscape punk’. His work has appeared in numerous magazines and journals. A full list can be found here.

His debut collection, Hollow Shores, will be published by Dead Ink Books in October 2017.

He reads at the Open Pen Summer Party this Wednesday, August 16th, at the Jamboree in Limehouse, East London.

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