First Person Perspective
Chapter One: Setting the Scene
With my best disapproving sneer, I looked at the book my friend Kate held in her hands for our inspection. "You have got to be kidding me," I stated flatly.
Kate pouted, seemingly unperturbed by my lack of enthusiasm – or more probably used to my bouts of sullenness considering she'd been my friend since playgroup. Still as unnervingly cheerful as that first day when I'd sat down beside her in the sandbox and pulled on her pigtails to get her to notice me. Her hazel eyes glinting with amusement, she shook her head disapprovingly, causing the now much shorter braids to swing in front of her face. "Ah, come on Blake," she tried in her most persuasive voice. "This was your idea after all."
I sighed and folded my arms firmly across my chest, refusing to give in. "My idea was to pick a trashy sci-fi or horror novel, preferably involving lesbian vampires," I informed her before leaning slightly closer to regard the cover of the book Kate held with distain. "That is quite clearly not featuring any scantily clad young females. I mean 'The Killer Wore Black' … even the title sucks."
From my left another sigh informed me that Keiran had chosen to enter the debate. "That's the whole point, remember?" he said with a roll of his grey eyes. "Pick a really trashy book for this assignment and see how long it takes for Sikes to realise we're taking the piss. And wouldn't lesbian vampires be giving the game away a little ahead of schedule?" The teenager shook his head and ran a hand through the short bleached spikes before throwing a wink at me that made his eyebrow stud catch the light. "Plus not everyone is a raging pervert like you. Let's show a bit of consideration to the girls, eh?"
I gave a snort of laughter. "You're kidding right? The girls are far bigger perverts than a mere mortal like myself could ever hope to match." I was promptly pummelled from behind and yelped, bringing my hands up to protect my head. "Not the hair! Not the hair!"
"You know," Carly's voice spoke from right behind my ear and was accompanied by a pair of long arms that snaked loosely about my neck. "For someone who likes to pretend to be so macho, you're awfully vain." One of the arms raised in front of my face, the many bangles and bracelets clanking together at the movement as she ruffled a hand through my dark hair.
I scowled and turned to face Kate's evil twin. "Don't mess with the hair," I grumbled, trying to sort the slightly too long strands back into some semblance of order. Seeing the blonde about to giggle, I stuck my tongue out at her. "I'll have you know the mysterious and brooding image works pretty fucking well on the girls. They all drool over me during lessons."
Carly laughed and flipped her chin-length blonde hair from out of her face. "They might all think you're pretty, but it's not girls they're pairing you up with in their heads."
Keiran cleared his throat, cutting off yet another argument on vanity versus sexuality. "Anyway, all those in favour of the trashy murder book?" He and the twins promptly raised their hands. "And the lesbian vampire book?"
I defiantly placed my hand in the air, but it was more for show than anything else. It was pretty clear I'd lost this round and on reflection, things could have been much worse. I could have failed to convince the others of my brilliant idea for one and we would now be facing a weekend of reading something by Dickens or some equally dreary writer. This should at least be a good deal more amusing. Even if there weren't any scantily clad female couples sucking face.
Kate skipped off with her library card to rent out the book for the weekend while the rest of us slowly made our way back to the entrance foyer to wait for her. In truth, my friends were often a lot more studious than this, especially considering we were now in our last year of sixth form and university was really starting to loom. So when Professor Sikes had passed out worksheets, telling us to work together in groups and apply the analysis to any work of fiction in the library, I had been expecting to be caught in the middle of a furious debate on Bronte versus Austen. But the upcoming Christmas holidays must have persuaded my friends to just relax for once and this assignment could turn out to be a lot of fun … and dear God I'm getting as bad as they are.
Carly snapped her fingers under my nose and I blinked to find her waving my car keys beneath my nose. "Are we getting a lift or do you really expect to make your poor friends walk to your house in the cold and dark? All alone and vulnerable to dodgy men lurking in bushes?"
"Now, now, I'm sure Keiran can use the toilets here," I started, dissolving into laughter when Keiran jumped on me with a mock growl.
Kate chose that moment to reappear, with the previously missing final member of our small group. "I can't leave you alone for five minutes!" she exclaimed while the quiet boy at her side looked on with amusement in his blue eyes.
Keiran and I separated and I took my car keys from Carly. "Matt! Where were you when I needed you?" I demanded. "They completely stomped on my choice of book and there was no one to stand up for me!"
The brunet looked at me calmly as Kate took a possessive hold of his hand. "And what makes you think I would have stood up for you?"
"Well that's just great. So much for male solidarity. Just go along with your girlfriend," I muttered in mock anger as the five of us filed out of the building and towards the side road where I hadn't so much parked as abandoned my car earlier that morning. A lot of Sixth Formers chose to drive to school and as a result, the car park only gave out a limited number of parking permits. Being neither organised enough to apply for one before I took my driving test, nor rich enough to consider shelling out ₤80 a term just to park close enough to have my windscreen cracked by malicious tennis balls, I declined. Okay, so maybe karma had a little to do with my decision.
Anyway, I chose instead to park along a very wide dirt track that was cunningly concealed by the railway bridge. Most students chose to do exactly the same and so the place did become an ideal spot to practise your parallel parking. The main downside was of course the fact that the residents of said road liked to relieve their irritation with us no-good students by driving their four-wheeled jeeps past at high speeds and covering one side of the car in mud. Or, if you thought ahead like me and took care to alternate parking directions, the entire thing. I didn't really mind though, the mud would probably help hold the rust together.
We all piled into my car, Carly sliding into the passenger seat and promptly rummaging through the cassettes that littered every available surface. "God Blake, would it kill you to label some of these once in a while?"
I grinned at her expression. "And spoil the fun? Never. The look on your face when you hear something you don't like makes it all worthwhile."
Carly sniffed and selected a random choice, sliding it into the radio and cranking up the volume without even waiting to hear what her selection was. "One day I'll find the cheesy pop tape you're hiding amongst all this indie rock and then you won't be the one who's laughing anymore."
I signalled to turn onto the main road and waved my hand at her dismissively. "First you'll have to give it back, sweetie."
"Children, children," Keiran called from the back. "No bickering in the car or you'll be made to walk."
"Oi! Who happens to be driving this car?" I demanded, glaring at the grinning blond in the rearview mirror. "And whose house are we all spending the weekend at anyway?"
Kate leaned forwards and patted me sympathetically on the shoulder. "There, there," she cooed. "You're a kind and generous person and we all take horrible, horrible advantage of you."
"Damn straight," I grumbled.
Beside me Kate's sister began to bounce in her seat as she saw something that caught her eye. "Hey! Let's get drive-through! Quick, Blake, pull in here."
"Nuh-uh," I refused. "There's no way I'm going to let you all munch away on hot junk food while I have to concentrate on getting us back to my house."
"It'll shut us up for the journey," Matt pointed out.
I pulled in without another word.
Once suitably sprawled out in my lounge, complete with a selection of pizzas and snacks, thoughts eventually turned back to the flimsy excuse we'd used to get together. "So," I commented from my spot by the fireplace, "How are we going to go about this?" I turned my head from admiring the ceiling to glance towards the rest of the group, all of whom appeared to be in a similar state of motivation.
Kate lifted her head from where it was resting on Matt's shoulder and looked thoughtful. "You have a point. None of us have actually read this book, right?" She paused and waited for the answering round of snorts. "Well, it'll probably get a bit boring if we all sit around and wait for one person to read it at a time."
"You're right," I agreed. "Why don't you read it and fill us all in once you're done? We can keep ourselves busy by playing on the PS2 or something."
A cushion flew from the sofa to hit me in the face. "Hey! That doesn't sound like a very even distribution of the workload!" Kate objected. "Plus why should I be the one made to suffer my way through that book. Share the pain!"
"So what do you want to do, then?" Keiran asked. "Each take it in turn to read a chapter aloud?"
"No way, I've got a much better idea," Carly said, leaning forwards to grab some pizza. "We should all assign roles and read it like a performance. That way we can all get into it and it won't seem so boring."
"That'll work for dialogue, but this is a novel and not a play," Matt pointed out. "Someone will have to read as the narrator and the rest of us can double up or whatever according to however many characters this thing has."
"You sound like you're going along with the idea," I cautioned Matt.
The brunet shrugged. "It means we're all involved and each taking on a character will probably help when we have to analyse them later."
"Fantastic, so we're agreed," Carly exclaimed. She eyed the room around her mouthful of pizza. "Who's going to be the narrator?"
I sighed and pulled myself into a seated position. "I'll do it," I offered. "After that we can just go round in a circle with each of you guys taking on a character as he or she is mentioned. That keeps it completely random so you can't bicker over who gets the lead. Sound fair?"
A collection of shrugs and nods met my suggestion, probably the most enthusiasm I could hope for at 9pm on a Friday night without the further temptations of my parent's alcohol cabinet. But I was keeping that in reserve for the early hours of the morning when spirits would begin to flag. See? Forward planning is not beyond my capabilities. I held my hand out for the book and it was tossed in my direction to land cover up at my feet. The artwork depicted a young and clean-cut looking blond, one arm wrapped around a bimbo who I assumed was the love interest while a sinister knife-wielding shadow loomed over the unsuspecting couple. With a sigh, I picked the book up and raised my eyebrows at the group. "Want me to whet your appetites and read the blurb or do you just want to plunge straight in?"
"Blurb!" Carly called, clapping her hands with a giggle. I swear I've never met anyone able to get to hyped without sugar or caffeine. "It'll help me find my motivation," she added with theatrical emphasis.
I felt my mouth curve up into a grin despite myself and rolled my eyes. "Your wish is my command." Clearing my throat, I made my voice as deep as possible, striving for that movie trailer sound. "Young, handsome and a successful businessman, everything seemed to be going right for William Norrington. Yet behind the back of this heir to a business empire, dark forces were gathering." I managed to squeeze a drawn out 'ooooooooh' of anticipation from my friends before continuing. "Dark forces which were plotting to bring him down. Now his devastated bride-to-be must unmask the cruel murderer and avenge the death of her fiancé." I grinned at the others. "Well, at least it doesn't sound like it's going to have a happy ending."
Keiran snorted. "You kidding? The guy'll turn out to have a twin or something that's even better looking and will sweep the girl off her feet."
"Only after revealing that the hero was really a cheating bastard," Kate added. "Who was cheating on her with the maid."
"No! Her mother!" Carly broke in and we all dissolved into laughter again.
Finally quieting down, I opened the book. "Are we all sitting comfortably?" I intoned in the manner of an infant school teacher. A chorus of 'yes' reached my ears and I wriggled about a bit for emphasis. "Then I shall begin:
"The large, spacious office looked out through a wall of immaculate, glass windows over the city. Striding to the window, William Norrington gazed at the view with a contemplative air. Faintly he could see his reflection in the glass, a young man of twenty-five with smoothed back blond hair and dazzling blue eyes. Those eyes now were slightly clouded as his thoughts turned to the mass of preparations that lay ahead of him. With an elaborate wedding to plan as well as the proposed takeover of his long-standing rival firm 'Harker and Sons', life was going to be far from relaxed for the heir of Norrington Enterprises. But for the moment at least, he could enjoy the peace.
A soft knock on the door signalled his return to the real world and William turned around, a charming smile already in place to welcome his visitor." I paused and with a smirk of pure evil, passed the book to Carly, who was sitting marginally closer to me than Keiran.
Carly accepted the book with a long suffering sigh and roll of her eyes before skimming down the page to the first line of dialogue. Adopting a ridiculous American accent, she spoke in the lowest voice she could manage. "Good afternoon, may I help you?" Unable to keep her voice at that pitch, it cracked on the last word and she dissolved into a fit of coughing.
Kate eyed her twin with a faint air of resignation. "Don't bother with the silly voice if you can't sustain it," she commented. "And what's with that accent anyway?"
"Come on, the guy has got to be American!" Carly protested. "It's got that whole set up to it."
"That may be, but what accent were you trying?" I remarked with a laugh.
Carly narrowed her eyes and whacked me on the head with the book as she passed it back. "I'd like to see you do better."
I winked and continued to read. "Instead of the suited businessman William had been expecting, a woman in a light summer dress slipped inside. Her auburn curls cascaded around her perfect face and she approached with a warm smile and a sexy swing of her hips that drew attention to a pair of tanned and toned legs." I glanced at Matt, who was sitting between the twins with an air of resignation. "You little flirt," I teased.
Matt stuck his legs in the air and pretended to admire them. "Can I help it if I'm every man's walking wet dream? Now pass me the bloody book so we can get on with this." Book duly passed, Carly helped him find his place and gestured me over to help speed up the proceeding dialogue.
"Surprise!" the woman teased, a laugh escaping from her lips.
William smiled. "Darling, how wonderful to see you," he exclaimed as he caught his fiancée about the waist and pulled her close for a kiss. "I thought you were still in London visiting your family?"
"I missed you so much, I simply had to come back early," she confessed, lowering her brown eyes as a blush rose on her cheeks. "How are the wedding preparations coming along?"
William released his love and moved to sit behind the desk with a heavy sigh. "If only they were going so well at this end as they were with your parents, Naomi," he confessed.
Immediately becoming more seriously, Naomi moved to sit opposite William and reached across the desk to take his hands. "Is it Callum?" she asked in a concerned voice. "Is he still getting in trouble?"
With a nod William averted his eyes. "I still don't think he's gotten over being cut off from the family inheritance after that drugs scandal. We barely see him at all now, only when we're having to clean up the various messes he gets himself into."
"Darling, he is your only brother," Naomi pointed out gently. "Try and have a little sympathy for him, he's obviously having problems."
William gazed at his fiancée with wondering eyes. "How can you always be so kind?" he asked in gentle amazement. "Sometimes I swear you're a saint."
A smile that was far from saintly spread across Naomi lips as she leaned over the desk to bring their mouths together. "Only sometimes," she murmured.
"Oh no way," I exclaimed, getting up from my spot by Carly and Matt and stalking over to the table to pour myself a Coke. "I refuse to read cheap porn like that."
Kate sniggered. "I'd never have pictured you for a prude, Blake. You always seemed so cool, calm and collected."
I gestured towards the book that Carly and Matt were reading with much raucous laughter and moaning noises. "Come on, we're only a few pages in and already they're going at it like rabbits. Where's the bloody integrity?"
Keiran nodded and scribbled in the large notepad we'd bought for the assignment. "Your comment is duly noted. Now be a man and get back to it."
"Look at it this way," Carly pointed out. "If her fiancé gets killed off fairly soon, they've got to get the shagging out of the way now. If they had it later it would be a whole different kind of novel."
We all winced at the images her comment provoked. "Thank you for that," I grimaced. "Now you've managed to mentally traumatise us all, shall we get back to the plot?" The book was thrown in my face as a response and I sighed. After a mercifully quick bout of office-room sex, Naomi and William appeared to be prepared to progress with the story and the action moved accordingly to William's huge familial mansion.
As William parked the silver BMW, he noticed the dirt-splattered motorbike with a sinking heart. "It looks like Callum's back," he announced.
Namoi squeezed his hand before climbing out of the car. "Don't worry," she reassured him. "There isn't anything he can do to spoil this wedding." She watched as her fiancé nodded and tried to smile, before offering her his arm as they entered the house.
The entrance hall was light and airy, with its marble floor and arching chandelier-decorated ceiling. However, Naomi and William's attention was first drawn to the black-clad form that sat hunched at the base of the stairs, no doubt in wait for them.
Swinging himself to his feet with lazy grace, Callum studied the couple with a vague sneer on his pale face. "Well if it isn't the lovebirds," he remarked in what was clearly meant to be an insulting manner.
Naomi raised her head defiantly, refusing to be intimidated by the black-eyed, black-haired youth that glared at her. "Good afternoon Callum," she said politely. "Did college finish early?" Beside her, William squeezed her arm in support and the redhead took strength from her handsome fiancé.
Callum snorted and flicked his hair back, pulling it into a loose ponytail that hung just below his shoulders. "Not exactly," he replied.
William frowned, obviously wary of the youth's overly casual attitude. "What happened this time? Have you been suspended again?"
"Not exactly," his younger brother repeated, defiance on every sullen feature. At William's intense gaze, Callum looked away and scuffed his toe on the marble, leaving black streaks across the polished floor. "They kicked me out."
"What?" William gasped in shock and Naomi could clearly see his mortification at having the Norrington named disgraced in such a fashion. "What on earth for? Have you been messing around with drugs again?"
Callum glared at his older brother with such malice that Naomi felt the need to step closer to her blond boyfriend. "I was in a fight," he confessed with obvious reluctance.
William inspected his brother closely. "You don't look as if you were."
An insolent smirk spread across the teenager's features. "I never said I lost, did I?"
Anxious to avoid another confrontation, Naomi tugged at William's arm. "Leave this for your father to deal with," she urged. "We still have lots to organise for the wedding."
With a curt nod, William allowed himself to be led away by the redhead as Callum turned to watch them go. Feeling the youth's eyes on her, Naomi suppressed a shudder. How could William and Callum be brothers when they seemed so different, she mused not for the first time. Catching her train of thought with a firm shake of the head, Naomi pushed her unkind thoughts of Callum to the back of her mind. It was hardly suitable to think such things about her future brother-in-law, and the boy obviously had problems. All she could do was offer him help should he ever see the error of his ways.
I finished off the chapter with yet more boring drivel about the upcoming wedding and took a break, looking around the group expectantly. "Anyone not think the kid's going to off his big brother?"
Kate pulled a doubtful face. "It's a bit obvious, isn't it?"
"It's a trashy book," Keiran observed. "I'm guessing that's exactly what happens, but they'll waste half the book chasing down random drug dealers and the like."
"Yeah, because that Naomi bint is obviously way too sappy to just open her eyes and realise she's got a piece of shit for a brother-in-law," Matt added, seemingly not enamoured with his character.
Kate laughed. "Your playing the heroine, you should be a bit more supportive of her. As for Callum, with the insight that comes from playing him for a few pages I have to state now, the boy is just misunderstood."
Keiran raised an eyebrow as he paused in his note taking of our observations. "Really?"
"Nah, I just felt another cliché wouldn't hurt."
We managed to muddle through another chapter of overblown descriptions and badly written sex before calling it quits for the evening. Keiran, Matt and I dragged a load of duvets and pillows down and we all managed to make a big nest-type thing in the middle of the living room floor. Boy, was I glad my parents were up in Scotland for the weekend. Flopping down onto the construction with little ceremony, I stretched out and yawned. "Think you'll be able to get some rest despite the tension of the book?"
"Definitely not," Matt responded completely deadpan. "I'm going to be tossing and turning all night in absolute suspense."
"That's not going to be the reason for you tossing and turning," Keiran leered and got hit with a pillow for his efforts.
Kate just rose above the laughter and settled down next to Matt without a word. The warning glance her twin shot us spoke volumes though. We left the lovebirds alone.
I woke slowly, in stages. Something was irritating me, but I wasn't awake enough to work out what was wrong. Grunting, I turned over and burrowed further into the bed. The mattress springs creaked under the redistribution of my weight and I muttered sleepy curses at the cheap bed. Then my brain informed me that I was supposed to be asleep on a mountain of duvets and cushions with my four closest friends. Confused, I cracked open an eye to examine my surroundings.
Sunlight speared my eyes from where it lanced through the gap in the cheap curtains that couldn't quite cover the full width of the window. The material was a rather nasty collection of oranges, which just made the brown of the carpet appear even more revolting. Between the window and I was another bed in which I could see the tips of Keiran's distinctive spikes. He still seemed fast asleep, if the soft snores were anything to go by. Of the others there was no sign.
Understandably alarmed, I sat up and pushed at the white sheets and blankets that covered me (and I mean, sheets? What the hell?) The room we were in resembled nothing as much as a cheap hotel room, but damned if we all managed to sleepwalk and book ourselves into one. And what the hell was I doing sharing a room with Keiran anyway? Where were Matt and the twins? Had we been abducted or something?
"Keiran" I hissed, unwilling to speak too loudly in case our captors were listening in on us. "Oi, Keiran. Wake up now."
Keiran groaned and rolled over, muttering something that sounded suspiciously like "not today, I've got a headache."
I rolled my eyes and slipped out of bed, crossing over to Keiran and giving the useless lump a bloody good shaking. "Keiran, I really think you need to wake up now."
Opening his eyes, Keiran jerked back in surprise to find me leaning over him. Groaning, he weakly punched my arm. "Shit, Blake. The last thing a guy wants to see in the morning is your ugly mug staring down at him."
I growled and threw a return mock punch, in no mood to deal with sarcastic humour. "Well better get up because we don't appear to be in my house anymore."
"Huh? You what?" Was Keiran's stunningly eloquent reply as he began to take in his surroundings. His eyes opened comically wide and he turned to me with an expression of complete shock on his face. "Where the fuck are we? And where are the others?"
I shrugged, but my response was cut off by an urgent hammering at the door and a familiar voice calling out "Keiran? Blake? Are you guys in there?"
Leaping from the bed, I swung open the door to find Kate, Carly and Matt blinking at me with equal expressions of confusion on their faces. Seeing me and Keiran over my shoulder, Carly sagged in relief and pushed past to enter the room. "You're both okay. Thank god. Now who can tell me exactly how we ended up in a motel?"
Keiran blinked. "A motel?"
Matt nodded as he and Kate entered, closing the door behind them. "We've been up for a while," he supplied. "We appear to be the only guests in the Norrington Hills Motel. Apart from that, all our stuff is gone."
"The Norrington Hills Motel?" I echoed. "Where the heck is that supposed to be? I've never heard of it."
Collapsing onto the bed at Keiran's feet, Carly frowned pensively at the ceiling. "I'm not so sure," she mused. "It sounds kind of familiar, but the only Norrington I can think of is that stupid family from that trashy book last night. So unless we're all still asleep and having some sort of mass interactive dream…"
"I guess the best thing to do is to head out and wander around," I concluded. "We might not have any idea where we are, but there's got to be some way of finding out." The others nodded in agreement and I felt a brief burst of pride. Just a brief one though, this situation was still creeping me out far too much for my ego to start getting the better of me.
We were all ready to head out amazingly quickly considering we were a group of teenagers before nine on a Saturday morning. Nothing like waking up in a strange hotel room to get you out of bed in the morning. We wandered out past an unmanned reception desk onto a street bathed in sunlight that was far too warm and bright to be normal. In addition to that, the pavement we were standing on was abnormally wide with a distinct lack of litter and cigarette stubs. A line of unnaturally wholesome and modern looking shops and restaurants lined each side of the road. With a growing sense of disquiet I noticed that the while some of the makes of cars that were parked along the road were indeed familiar, there were also cars that weren't normally available in the U.K. Cars like the Cadillac or the Chevy or the Mustang. Plus all these cars appeared to have the steering wheel on the opposite side to what I was used to. I turned to face the others and noted from their expression that they seemed to coming to a similar conclusion. "Can anyone tell me how we managed to wind up in America without any fricking passports?" I asked, trying to keep my voice calm and steady.
"You think we're in America?" Carly repeated, her eyebrows raised. She waited for my nod and then bit her lip. "Oh good. I thought I was the only one going mad here."
"What the fuck is going on," muttered Keiran. I, for one, wished I had an answer.