When They Whisper

Suddenly a hundred, a thousand voices were about me, whispering his name. They sounded urgent, rushed, longing. I was afraid, I’m not going to deny, as Matt and I were the only people on the entire street.

It was clear by this stage that I was hearing the voices. They were high, low, loud and quiet, but all saying Matt’s name and all with that hungry whisper. I started hitting the side of my head with my fist, breathing heavily. I didn’t know what else to do and my insides were clenching.

They didn’t go, and if anything, grew. Next thing I knew, I had my head in my hands and was yelling, doubled over.

Suddenly, one voice broke over the crazy noise: mine.

“Matt!” I yelled, my voice cracking, “Matt!”

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1. Frankenstein's Monster

“Oliver, I think you rather misunderstood the assignment. Come back here at break time and we can go through it in detail.”

Miss Boston smiled regretfully up at me and whooshed away from my desk. I glanced down at my half formed scrap of an essay. She hadn’t even bothered to give it a mark or even a rough grade. The prevailing red marker pen had made a nest over the helpless black ink. I let the corners of my mouth turn as the image of a bloody and violent battle stumbled into my head, with Miss Boston at the head of one savage army and me at the other.

“Let’s see,” Greg murmured, shoving his folder back so he could reach across to my side of the table and grab the bloodstained sheets of paper. “What’s so funny?”

“I wasn’t laughing.”

“Whatever.”

Greg let out a snort.

“Did you even write this about Shelley? Or did you get mixed up with Shakespeare?”

“Frankenstein will come and rip your head off your shoulders if you’re not careful.”

“Well, I wouldn’t be surprised if he came for you first, you’ve dishonoured him so much in this blasphemy of an essay.”

“Oh, and I bet you got full marks and all?” I glanced across to his beautifully stapled sheets. All I could see were sickening ticks and a large number circled at the bottom. “Shut up,” I groaned, dismissing my genius of a friend by chucking a pen in his general direction.

“I can help you if you like?” he giggled, picking up my pen and mock snapping it in half.

“I’d rather have another miracle, if you don’t mind.”

“Sure thing, miracle boy.”

“Genius freak.”

We both realised at that point that Miss Boston was calling over the hubbub of our class.

“Discussion groups, please. Can we go back to the character of the monster and I want an A3 mind map in the next ten minutes.”

I let out a loud yawn as everyone in the class started throwing things in the air, moving tables around and converging in their little groups of four. Greg and I stayed exactly where we were as Anna and Matt fought their way over and slouched into two chairs waiting, forming a little circle. Matt, the faithful one, already had out a sharpie and a sheet of pristine paper. Greg and I carried on our conversation none the wiser and Anna took out her phone, looking immensely bored and hiding in her mop of hair as per usual.

Anna had the curliest hair I’d ever seen, blonde and in a bob around her head. Everything else about her seemed proportionally small in comparison. She wasn’t what would be classified as pretty, but she was pretty decent. She wasn’t annoying like most girls, plastering themselves with spray tans and foundation, and she spent most of her time reading or working. Still, she wasn’t boring and you could just about have a normal conversation with her without her giggling or flirting.

Matt, after realising he was the only one interested in completing the assigned task, tried to get our attention.

“So guys, how do you think the monster’s physical appearance affects the way he thinks of himself and others?”

Greg raised an eyebrow and held a hand up to me as I was mid sentence.

“Sorry, Ollie, I’ll just be two secs.”

With a disapproving glare, he snatched the sharpie from Matt’s hand and started drawing about ten lines from the central bubble Matt had carefully drawn on. A few scribbles later Greg threw the pen back to Matt, who almost dropped it in general clumsiness.

“What’s that? Loneliness? Aspirations? Tr - ” stumbled Matt as he tried to read Greg’s scribbles out loud.

“Yes, you can read, well done.  Those are the basic points, expand on them. Anna?”

Anna looked up and surveyed the scene before her.

“It’s not exactly difficult,” she remarked, “and we have done this a million times before.”

I did feel a bit for poor old Matt, but I think he knew we were just joking around. Then wasn’t the moment to destroy the atmosphere. I returned to my previous conversation with Greg until the ten minutes were up and Matt had done a pretty good job of filling up the page with empty nonsense about some fictional monster. I pretty much dozed through the rest of the lesson: I could catch up later. Or just borrow Greg the Genius’ notes.

I’m not stupid. I’m just average. Like my appearance: I have mousy brown hair, average height, average weight and average habits. I was on the school rugby team, liked gaming, partying and mucking about with my mates. Those mainly consisted of Greg the Genius, Harry the Ginger Ninja, Boring Ben and his girlfriend Melissa, faithful old Matt and his cousin Ginny, who went to the other local school, but was a massive laugh and tried to pretend Matt didn’t exist. We liked him really, he was just an awkward person with his heart in the right place. I’m Oliver the Miracle Boy. That’s what the papers nicknamed me all those years ago.

OK, so I was lying. Maybe I’m not completely average. For one thing I have a slightly messed up family. But in a good way. My mum died when I was a baby. She killed herself: post natal depression or something stupid like that: apparently she was ill anyway. So I was stuck with my old dad and his girlfriend of some ten years, Becky. Becky was cool, she was pretty much a mum to me, but when I was flying the nest, she was just a great mate. My dad was a bit of a loser: he was just so boring and quiet. He would never talk to me: he didn’t feel the need to. Heart to heart’s didn’t happen in my household. He didn’t ask about my personal life. That’s my life and he wouldn’t want to interfere. I didn’t have much of a relationship with him. But he’s my dad and I liked him really: our holidays were a ball when we were just sitting playing chess for hours on end.

And the final part of my family was my uncle, my mum’s brother, Maxwell. He was more like my big brother, really. When my mum died he sort of didn’t have anything better to do other than stick around, so he had been a part of the household for my whole life. I can hardly believe he was my uncle.

But my unusual family set up isn’t quite why my life was a little messed up. No, the main reason is that I’m meant to be dead. But I’m not. Hello, yes, you over there, I’m looking at you. I’m standing (sitting) right here, alive as hell and kicking. And that’s why I was called Miracle Boy. The media thought it was a miracle that I’m alive, hell it was. What was it they said? Two crushed vertebrae and a skull cracked in three different places. Massive impact to the head and spinal chord and somehow I still managed to stay alive. Therapy and physio for years after (and I still haven’t quite recovered my full ability to jump and run) when that accident should have killed me at just eight years old.

But in this story I’m eighteen. For the me I’m telling you about, that’s in the past. I had to count on my friends to constantly remind me of quite how messed up I am.

“The hole?”

I looked up at Greg.

“Why not. Bring your iPod and we can listen to the usual trash. Ginny coming?”

“I’ve texted her: waiting for a reply. Everyone else is.”

“Good, and we can grab some pizzas.”

“Tonight is definitely Star Wars night,” added Matt as he scooped up his bag to follow us. The lesson was long finished. We’d just been chatting and weren’t keen to get to lunch.

“Which episode are we on?”

“Five I think.”

“But we’ve only seen three,” butted in Greg.

Both Matt and I turned in exasperation.

“We don’t mention episode one,” I growled as Matt nodded threateningly behind me.

“Oh, so we didn’t watch it?”

Matt and I rolled our eyes in unison. Greg wasn’t very good at keeping up with these things. He didn’t care much for Star Wars. Only Lord of the Rings touched his heart.

I felt someone brush past me in a whirl of dazzling hair. Anna. I felt a little rude. The three of us had sort of run head long into a private conversation whilst completely ignoring her. Oh well, that’s what guys do. She should have been used to us by that point.

 

Ben and Melissa made a belated excuse to go out that evening, so it was Greg, Harry, Matt, Ginny and I who gathered in Harry’s garage with several pizzas, beanbags and DVDs. It was our usual Friday night stint of geekiness, laughs and food. We forgot all A-Level stress and personal problems and immersed ourselves into the world of someone else. We tried to act like a normal gang of mates, but we were all, in fact, nerds who were addicted to work and getting into Russel Group Universities. We didn’t smoke, experiment with drugs or loiter around terrorising old ladies. We rarely left the neighbourhood and were pretty well respected not as a gang, but as a polite group of friends.

Greg the Genius needs little introduction. He was a tall, charming bloke, incredibly intelligent and with a killer sense of humour. He was the perfect guy: dark hair, smoking eyes and a constant babble of admirers, both male and female. He kept himself to himself, though, didn’t participate in sport and only had a few good friends.

Harry the Ginger Ninja wasn’t even that ginger. His mother would call him strawberry blonde, but his mum wasn’t around much at that time. Harry actually lived with his two elder brothers who’d bunched together to buy this little house. Harry took over the garage for himself and for us. We didn’t see much of his brothers or dad. His overprotective mother moved to Canada quite a few years back, but still insisted on calling him every day without fail. But because of his brothers’ influence and independence, Harry was very chilled and down to earth. He knew where he was going in life.

Matt, as I said, was a boring, awkward guy, but he adapted to our strange ways and was nice enough. I didn’t mind him at all. One thing he was very good at is listening. Like me, we’re both listeners. Not that my friends would ever have said that I shut up, but I’ve never been very good at talking about me. He was the same. I suppose that’s why I liked him. But as a result I knew virtually nothing about him. He was short, blonde and had two sisters. I’ve never met them or his parents. Strange guy.

Ginny was the complete opposite of Matt. She had dark skin and hair, and apparently her dad was Greek: she was definitely fiery enough. She lived at the other end of town and we met her through Matt, but that’s the only link she held with him. She was a popular girl at her school, had a long term boyfriend and a perfect life, but for some strange reason still loved hanging about with us. The good thing about Ginny was that she’d turn up and talk nothing of her school or other friends. It’s like she led a double life. I didn’t mind.

We watched episode five with our own running commentary, stuffed our faces with pizza then blasted music out of Harry’s improvised stereo system. Harry wasn’t the best academic achiever, but sure he was damn creative. The evening ended with Ginny passing round a bottle of whisky so that we were all just a little bit warm and fuzzy.

Standard Friday night. Why bother going to a night club when you can have just as much fun with George Lucas?

 

I remember that night so clearly because when I got home, having had a lift from Greg, my Dad, Becky and Maxwell were huddled in the kitchen clutching lagers and laughing raucously. It must have been just after midnight but they all pulled apart on hearing the front door slam as I kicked it energetically closed. This wasn’t quite the desired effect as usually they were all in bed or on their way by this time but that night it was as though they were waiting for me.

“Through here, Ollie!” my Dad called as I paused inside the door, not bothering to slide off my shoes.

I shuffled curiously through the hallway and into the kitchen, seeing the litter of bottles and crumbs. It looked like they’d been celebrating something. Becky had obviously dressed herself up and my Dad never seemed so awake and springy.

“Hey,” I allowed myself to announce on seeing their sickeningly beaming faces.

“How was your day?” asked Becky, sweeping her arm across the counter to grab another bottle and pass it to me.

“Good, thanks.” I mumbled, cracking it open and still eyeing suspiciously around, trying to work out what was going on. “What’s the party?”

This seemed to grab an immediate reaction from all three. Maxwell who had been slapping me on the arm in welcome took a sudden step back to let my Dad through. He took me by the hands and shook them greatly. He’d obviously had quite a lot to drink.

“Ollie, this is a big day. I would have spoken to you about this before, but tonight just seemed like the right time. You see, I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently. Now you’re old enough and I’m getting on, there’s a time when things to settle back down again, right? You’ll be gone soon and then what do I do? You find your own life and I need mine and I need to keep hold of it. I know I’ve never been keen on this sort of thing, but you know with your Mum and all that. This doesn’t mean I love her any less, but right now is the time when I need to start my life again properly rather than keeping it ticking over.”

“What he means,” cried Becky, butting him off of me and gently touching my arm, “is that your Dad and I have just a made a big decision. We’re getting married.”

It was like they expected some massive reaction from me. Maybe a cheer or a tantrum? Maybe they expected me to burst into tears because Becky wasn’t my mum or leap upon her with gratitude.  It’s not like it was a surprise. It’s not like it would drastically change my life.

Instead, I plopped down my beer, took Becky and kissed her politely on the cheek.

“Congratulations,” I laughed, following this by taking my Dad’s hands and shaking it vigorously. “About time too.”

“Oh,” he spluttered, “you’re OK with it?”

“What did I tell you, Craig?” giggled Becky passing me my drink back with a playful twirl.

“Becky,” I said, raising my voice over hers, “you’ve always been a part of this family and always will be. Right, Max?”

Maxwell nodded and slapped me on the back.

“Well, this really is a day to celebrate!”

“When were you thinking of?” I tried to direct the question at my Dad who had bounced into the cupboard to find more crisps.

“Spring sometime,” sang Becky, enclosing her right hand affectionately around the sparkling ring on her left. “We want a nice little church and lots of flowers. We can have the reception back here, but it won’t be big or anything. Just a few close family and friends.”

I internally laughed at this. Neither my Dad nor Becky were religious, but nothing would stop Becky from having her perfect, picturesque wedding. Becky was very idealistic. Ironic, seeing as the family she now belonged to was so messed up.

So that was that. Some random Friday in the autumn of my eighteenth year my Dad and Becky got engaged. He was in his fifties and she about the same. I would even go as far as to say it was cute. The next day I told my friends the news, a couple of them passed good wishes onto my Dad and the fuss was gone. My life carried on. That had been the most exciting thing to happen to me in quite a while. But don’t worry; it just got better after that.

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