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  • Noodling home, home was only ten minutes from the bus stop, Gary Greaves would murmur and hum to himself as he plodded each step towards the purple front gate and his flat beyond with its television, internet and takeaway menus. Exhausted from incubating in a cubicle all day in the office doing the bidding of his mathematical overlords, and from fending off the proletariats on a precarious crusade through heavily-wooded terrain on the iron steeds of British Rail, he relished each night his three hours as the reigning monarch of slobdom from his reclining, upholstered throne in the realm of Greaves, attended to by his three nubile courtiers all named Stella. After kicking his shoes off and doing things that all lazy single men who live alone do with their evenings, he went to bed at ten to be sure of his eight hours and was back at the accountants' offices in the morning at nine.
    Despite this concrete adherence to routine Gary fancied himself a creative man, one who loved films and books even though most of what he read and watched came impersonally Recommended For You by computer algorithms. Winning three successive years’ quiz tournaments at Maths Club in school was his finest moment because it made his father proud, and his earliest memory was seeing a meteorite pass overhead as he sat in their Ford Cortina on a lay-by through the New Forest where he’d been left alone to wait – this he’d remembered acutely not by age but because it was the first time he forgot the words to a song, one his mother had taught him which he’d been singing to amuse himself while he waited for his parents to return from a walk in the woods. Ever since, he’d racked his brains to remember what the song had been, and he would have grown resigned to never knowing if he wasn’t beset by a feeling of certainty, as if the song were tightly twisted around his neck like a noose or scarf, the lyrics fluttering on the fringes of his frayed, lethargic lexicon. His creativity, he thought, lay in never being bored, always satisfied with any spare moment to turn his mind towards that errant little mystery.
    An only child who grew up without a mother and whose meticulous, physicist father had passed away when Gary was 25, in the interests of a social life he played darts in the local pub on Friday nights and usually his crowd of old schoolchums would buzz him to come out for a few bevvies on a Saturday. Sometimes he’d kip on a mate’s couch afterwards and wake up on Sunday morning, upon which it was decided that only the sacrifice of a cow would sate the vicious hangover demon’s thirst for blood, and after pacifying it with bacon and berrocca, they’d wangle an invitation to a Sunday dinner or else settle for a carvery pub with roast beef and more pints of lager before trundling home to sprawl across the couch again. But the crowd and invitations to dinner were dwindling, and now only four lads continued to meet up for a drink each week, down from nine due to relationships and other obstacles in the way of the bachelor lifestyle. Unattractive to women, with no other family, Greaves spent holidays on his own and it had been three months since he sat down to eat at a kitchen table. No one ever remembered his birthday.
    Podgy as a kid, then lanky and weak despite retaining a round girth, Gary was a tall man and gravity tapered the fat on his frame, leaving him looking as though his flesh had been dripped on like candlewax. Close-cropped fair hair on a bead of a head, blobs ran from puny shoulders down to flabby hands. The crap he ate each night had taken a toll; he had dimpled stubs of legs from burgers and chips, the kebabs and taco fries were seeping through in greasy globules to glisten on his pallid skin and stubble. Plopped on last was the pendulous plastic paunch, named “Ploddy’s pisspouch!” by his boozy mates, which hung incongruously from his frame, like a belly implant done for some obscure pasty porn.

    “Well I’m not like that anymore!” Gary grits his teeth as twin plumes of air stream from his flared nostrils and he’s right, he’s not, in fact right now Gary Greaves is like nothing he’s ever been before. There will be no more greasy kebabs, he vows. He’s running. He’s pounding the pavement, his body punching each micrometre of air as if it’s held a lifelong grudge against the stuff. A rhythm has been set, his synapses are firing, neurotransmitters blipping their messages to keep going almost at lightspeed. The turn down his lane to the purple gate passed almost a half mile away; he spurts ahead. That’s not his life. It can’t be. The realm of Greaves? How fucking pathetic.

    Gary Greaves would have said life was good, secure in his job, well-fed and blessed with a modicum of good company of his own choosing. How then, as a man of 32 who is three years into a fifteen-year mortgage of the purple-gated flat, has he gone from his usual impatient waddle to get home, to this spectacle currently haring back towards town and the high street? Gary’s feet are starting to hurt but he’s not even close to getting tired. His fists are swiping into his field of vision as steadily as windscreen wipers as his legs piston down, pounding a wake-up call to Mother Earth. He feels reborn, nascent, exhilarated by this newfound energy and strength, as if he’s been reactivated, reset and turned on after a life spent on standby.
    Just as Gary realises that the arms pumping into his vision are sleek and smooth instead of rippled with lard, he feels a jolt of alarm, a klaxon whoop in the craw. He realises that this new body is powering out of control, driving itself onwards with deep flaring breaths and steps that fall like pickaxe blows. He feels each forceful footfall but cannot give commands, he no longer even knows where his own control panel is located, and the klaxon begins to blat at full whoop. Unable to stop, the road is leading to a junction ahead, the tacky manmade glint of traffic lights twinkling as the evening darkens. Right leads the way back to town and the early evening pedestrians making their way into pubs and restaurants, left heads out into hayfields and pasture hemmed back by trees. Flying full-pelt in a suit and tie at 7pm on a Tuesday is not the done thing in Hythe town and someone is sure to report him to the police. ‘Police please. Police, please, please,’ pleads Gary from his cell as his legs thunder onwards.

    ‘What if I never stop, if I just run and run until my pulpy heart gives out and I drop dead?’ For the first time in his life, Gary considers his death. His body falling will sound like the splat of curry chips thrown to the ground in anger during a weekend brawl. Despite this unsavory image, there’s a curious dignity about such a demise but Gary does not feel ready to self-destruct just yet. ‘What am I running from,' he wonders, 'what’s so awful back there? Why have I gone completely nuts?’
    Only the takeaways will miss him when he's gone, he mourns. The old Gary was lonely. He must have been, realises the new Gary, because he feels so unlonely, so ready for life now. 'If I make it through this human steamroller phase alive,' he thinks, 'that’s it. No more junk.'
    “I’ll make a real place for myself in the world.” His feet are really hurting now. He fancies he can feel the concrete paving slabs shattering as the spike of each heel thuds down and ploughs a tract with each downward thrusting foot. He's hitting the pavement so hard, his bones dragging a trail of deep furrows behind him, but he doesn't look back to check. Yet his body feels lighter; in amazement Gary realises that he's already burnt off every reserve of energy and the the limbs before him are lithe and lean, his stomach as flat and tight as a drum.
    Those sodding kebabs. The comfort eating. It was the waddle, he realises. The mincing, repetetitive toddle as he rushed home to safety; the pitter-patter, that subconcious singing that accompanied the body’s natural rhythm. His hankering for a lamb shawarama, his utter blankness of being. The total emptiness of his life.
    Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake. One foot after another, push piston thrust, pat-a-cake, soft, warm pitta bread, pattacake, lamb off the spit. Gary Greaves listens remotely as his foremind gabbles. Baker’s man, bake me a cake as fast as you can. Hurry up Mummy, it’s dark and here’s Daddy back now but where are you?

    He’s in the hayfield without even realising, it, having taken the left before the junction. Ahead lies the forest, but the red and green lights remain steadfastly fixed in his field of sight, hovering above the treetops. That sense of burgeoning excitement is back, and the dread has gone, consumed by beaming warmth suffusing his body as he pulls closer to the dark and to the truth. That was no meteorite, he realises, and heads towards the forest, the lights and the mother who’d disappeared in the woods one night and never come back: until now.
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