Copyright © 2017 Nicky Blue. All rights reserved.
This is a taster of my new novella ‘Escape From Samsara’. It’s a dark comedy fantasy adventure about a man who thinks he’s a deadly ninja. But He’s not. He’s Barry Harris and he still lives with his mum. I hope you enjoy!
Chapter 1. THE NIGHTMARE
‘The best ninja has no smell, leaves no name, and makes everyone wonder if he ever existed.’ — Master Tanba
Barry Harris unhooked his back support as he reached down to pick up his secateurs. On his way up, he made that strangled grunting noise that men in their fifties tend to make. He looked at the time and grumbled, ‘Three more bloody hours.’
He took off his beanie hat and used it to mop up the estuaries of sweat running from his armpits. Mrs Sharrod appeared at her back door.
‘How’s it going out here? Fancy a cuppa?’
‘Oh, I’d love one! I’ve got a throat like a rusty bagpipe.’
‘Have you got time to do my hedge and apple tree today too?’
Barry turned away, pretending to look for something as he gritted his teeth. ‘I should think so.’ This is no life for a ninja, he thought. I’m a shadow warrior, I should be training for special missions and hunting down terrorists, not doing this bullshit.
As Barry was hacking away at the hedge, he had the distinct feeling he was being watched — a ninja’s highly attuned sixth sense is very rarely mistaken about these things. He looked round and couldn’t see anyone but, as he continued, he realised there was a large pair of owl-like eyes staring at him from deep within the hedge.
‘Who the hell are you?’ asked Barry.
‘I’m Terry Watkins, better known as “Terry the Hedge”. Pleased to make your acquaintance, squire,’ came the reply.
‘I mean, what the hell are you doing in the middle of Mrs Sharrod’s hedge?’
‘Don’t get your Alan Whickers in a twist, me ol’ mucker. I’m not a real person, see. I’m an ethereal being from the other side. Basically, I’m yer all-singing, all-dancing cockney spiritual guide. I serve gardeners across the south of England and occasionally East Anglia when “Garry the Wheelbarrow” goes on the sick. Don’t get me started on that muppet though. He’s been mugging me off for centuries!’
‘Er… right. How come you just appeared like that?’
‘Whenever a gardener needs a bit of me wisdom, he cuts a hole in a hedge, and that’s me cue. Bosh! You are then looking at my boat race. You got me for three minutes, then I do one.’ Terry waggled his eyebrows up and down.
‘But I don’t have any problems,’ Barry replied cautiously as he stepped back from the hedge, wondering if too many fish fingers could cause hallucinations.
‘Everyone has at least one problem, and most people…put it like this: most people would kill to have just one problem.’
‘Maybe so, but I can solve my own problems, thanks very much.’
‘I hate to tell you this, mate, but solving your problems may take… how do I put it? A bit of lateral thinking. You may need to step outside of the conventional patterns and boundaries that normally govern your life,’ said Terry, sagely.
‘What, like getting self-help advice from a hedge, you mean?’
‘You may not realise it yet, mate, but one day you will consider talking to me a very good idea.’
‘Really? Until that day, I’ve got a great idea, why don’t you fuck off?’
A flash of green light ricocheted through the hedge as Terry’s big eyes vanished.
Mrs Sharrod reappeared holding a cup of tea and looking perplexed. ‘Who are you talking to, Barry?’
‘Oh, no one. I was just thinking aloud. Wonderful, a cuppa!’
‘Would you like a chocolate biscuit?’
‘No thanks. I just had a flare up of my irritable bowel. It’s wreaking havoc in the downstairs department. My mum’s told me to buy her a gas mask.’
‘Sounds like my husband,’ said Mrs Sharrod. ‘How’s your mum doing?’
‘She’s still getting her maudlin moments unfortunately. Been spending a lot of her time just staring out of our back window. I’m a bit worried about her, to be honest.’
‘Bless her. Is she still going to those heavy metal concerts?’
‘Yeah, that’s her one remaining joy in life really. It was Mindy, my sister, who used to play it all the time when we were growing up. I think it’s a way Mum can remember her. She went to see a band called Cradle Of Filth last month and has just bought tickets for Cannibal Corpse playing at the Brighton Dome soon. She spends most of her time hunting out obscure death metal bands on YouTube. For years, she’s tried to get me into it but it tends to make me a bit anxious. I prefer country music.’
Barry shared a cramped one-bedroom flat with his eighty-two-year-old mum, Molly, above the Astral Waves Hair Salon on Portslade High Street. Portslade was a small seaside town on the south coast of England where people lived if they couldn’t afford to be in the nearby city of Brighton. The proprietor of the hair salon was a delightful man by the name of Robbie Jarvis. Robbie, a 60s throwback, looked a bit like a wizard who had grown up in a septic tank: very groovy but best kept at arm’s length. It was very well known in Portslade that he had a penchant for the older woman, and I do mean older woman. If you hadn’t had at least one hip replaced, he simply wasn’t interested.
When Barry got back from work, Molly was sat at the kitchen table listening to Napalm Death at ear-splitting volume, doing a crossword puzzle, and picking her nose. A seamless display in the art of multi-tasking.
‘Hello, dear. Are you still learning Japanese?’
‘Yeah, I’ve got this app on my phone and I listen to it at work. I’m getting pretty good now.’
‘Your dad would be so proud.’ Molly got up and walked over to turn the music down. ‘Shall I put some fish fingers on for you?’
‘Thanks, Mum. I’m going out with Tom tonight to see a new ninja film.’ Barry ambled into the front room and slumped on the sofa. He and his mum got on pretty well considering the cramped living conditions. Due to the lack of space, Barry was forced to sleep on a 1980s sofa-bed which was an absolute ball ache to set up, especially after a long day’s gardening. He would have liked to leave it unfolded all the time but Molly didn’t have anywhere else to practice her yoga in the afternoons. She had rented an OAP yoga workout DVD from the library and had been trying to master the Tree and Locust poses over the past six months. She found the advantages of thirty minutes of exercise a day were less backache, improved hip flexibility, and clearer nasal passages. The downside was that it made her fart like a baboon on a forty-eight-hour banana bender.
Every morning at 6.30 on the button, Molly woke up in a cold sweat, screaming obscenities that would make Ozzy Osbourne blush. This had been happening since New Year’s Eve 1993, when she had seen an episode of Emmerdale where a plane had crashed into the village of Beckindale, killing four of Molly’s favourite characters. Life had become devoid of value from that point onwards. Incidentally, it was also the same day her husband and daughter had nipped out for a pint of milk and never returned.
Molly came into the front room with Barry’s fish fingers and sat down next to him.
‘Do you know what day it is today, Barry?’
‘It would have been your dad’s seventy-sixth birthday. It’s twenty-five years since they went missing, but feels like forever.’
Barry put his arm around his mum and pulled her towards him.
‘I know, Mum. I think about them all the time.’
‘The first time I laid eyes on your father it was love at first sight. I’d never even met a Japanese person before but I knew I had to be with him.’
‘Why did Dad come to England?’
‘He said he was sightseeing.’
‘How come he was in Portslade then?’
The police investigation into the disappearance of Mindy and Yamochi Harris found a picture of a Japanese glamour model amongst his possessions. The police believed the most likely scenario was that he had eloped with her and taken his daughter with him. The case was closed but something never sat right about it for Barry. Even the most plausible and rational of explanations can turn out to be wrong. Secretly, part of Barry blamed himself for his dad’s disappearance. He felt there must be something wrong with him that had caused his dad to leave.
Barry always tried his best, but he did not really have the emotional resilience to cope with being around his mum when she was in one of her moods. He feared they might be contagious in some way, and that he might catch some kind of an emotional or mental meltdown. This was one of the reasons he spent his weekends up at his allotment. It was the only time he felt free, undisturbed by the pressures of everyday life, unaffected by the stupidity of other human beings.
Barry had had quite a difficult relationship with his sister Mindy when they were growing up. As the self-proclaimed black sheep of the family, she had left home at sixteen in a fit of dramatic hormonal rage. To announce her newfound independence she had the words “Born Free” tattooed on her neck. Her dream was to start a death metal band and tour the world. She was always highly critical of the fact that Barry had been a loner, and would often pretend they weren’t related if they were seen in public together. This had confused and upset Barry deeply for years. He did, however, take some solace from the fact that she had never got a band together, and ended up on the checkout at Pound-Universe, selling cheap novelty crap to apathetic teenagers.
Yamochi began teaching Barry the sacred art of ninjutsu on his sixth birthday. At the time, Barry thought this was because he was being bullied at school, but his father would always tell him he had a much higher purpose in life that one day he would come to realise.
From that moment on, Barry had tried to model himself on the archetype of an elite ninja warrior. Mysterious, sleek, dressed in a black kimono, gracefully moving in the shadows, like a cat waiting to pounce.
There were, however, a few minor physical incongruities that Barry had to work with. For example, Barry’s left leg was one inch shorter than his right. When he was having a good day he liked to joke that if he didn’t lean at a twenty-three degree angle to his right, he would be walking in circles. It was not a very good joke and he didn’t tell it very often. He managed to address this height discrepancy with a robust pair of custom-made Cuban-heeled boots. There was also the fact that Barry weighed sixteen stone. Apart from these very minor details, Barry was the absolute doppelganger of a badass ninja.
One of the benefits of living above a hairdresser’s was that you got twenty percent off on Wednesday mornings before eleven.
‘Why don’t you get a long plaited ponytail extension like they have in the martial arts films, Barry?’ Robbie’s eyes sparkled with creativity.
‘I haven’t got enough hair for that, have I?’
‘Don’t you worry about that. They don’t call me the wizard for nothing. I’ll weave it into your squirrel and do a bit of backcombing. It will look totally natural.’
‘Cool.’ Barry sat back, picturing the transformation about to unfold.
Robbie scratched his flaky chin through his wiry goatee beard and bent down to whisper in Barry’s ear. ‘Here, you know your mum’s mate Merril? She came over last night. We were going at it till four. I could hardly get out of bed this morning.’
‘She’s eighty-four, you animal!’
‘Easy, tiger. I don’t dig the numbers game. I can’t help it if a purple rinse drives me wild. Doing the job I do doesn’t help. I’m in hog heaven.’
Barry’s best and only friend was a man called Tom Carter, a retired Australian gentleman who had a big cosy ginger beard and demonic halitosis. Barry had met him at the annual Ninja Film Festival in 1994. They could spend hours waxing lyrical on every aspect of ninjutsu. I say ‘could’ as Barry had to virtually hold his breath to have a conversation with him. On this occasion, they had met up to see Ninja Hell Inferno Apocalypse 4 and had ended up down the pub afterwards for some crucial post-flick analysis.
Tom sat down and put his pint of cider in front of him. ‘I can’t believe there were only three other people in there tonight. I think most people are scared of seeing ninja unleashing their raw power like that.’
‘Too right,’ said Barry. ‘My dad told me what the big ninja battles used to be like and it was just like in that movie. No other martial art comes close to ninjutsu — it blows them all out of the water.’
‘I hear what you’re saying but some of the other martial arts can be tasty too. What about kickboxing? That can be deadly. What would you do if two guys trained in that came running at you?’
‘Easy. I’d jump up, and hang in mid air in the praying mantis pose so they couldn’t kick me. When they got close enough I’d kick them in the teeth.’
‘Sounds like something out of The Matrix.’ Tom supped on his cider. ‘What about if three guys trained in kung fu came at you with axes and whip chains?’
‘No bother, I’d take two out straight away with ninja stars between the eyes. Then I’d read the mind of the last one and work out exactly what he was going to do and prevent every move he came up with. After a while, he would work out I was psychic, shit himself, and run away.’
‘Okay, right… So what if ten guys trained in jujitsu with swords and axes trapped you in a lift?’
‘Piece of piss. I’d turn myself invisible, kneel on the floor and let them slice each other to bits. When they were all dead, I’d stand up, wipe all the body parts off me, and then press the button for the floor I wanted.’
‘You’ve got it worked out then. It’s a shame that all the ninjas were wiped out by the samurai isn’t it,’ replied Tom, opening a packet of cheese Wotsits.
‘Allegedly, but how does anyone really know? The very hallmark of a ninja is invisibility. They are off-grid stealth warriors dancing in and out of the shadows, teaching their skills to the chosen few. Like my dad teaching me, for instance.’
‘But how do you know he definitely knew the ninja arts — he could have just learned it from a book?’
‘No way, he was the real deal. Authenticity is not something you can pretend to have.’
Tom looked deeply into his pint of cider, as if trying to get his head around what that was supposed to mean.
‘Some of his skills were incredible. He told me he could see into the past and future, and even change the shape of reality itself if he wanted to.’
‘But you’re not really a ninja, are you?’ Tom leant in close to Barry to make eye contact, in a bid for an honest response.
‘Of course I am. My dad trained me for years.’ Barry slowly recoiled as his eyes started watering.
‘Can you shape change?’
‘I haven’t tried yet.’
‘Can you read minds then?’
‘I’m still working on that.’ Barry fiddled with his ponytail. ‘I’ve been meditating more lately though so I think I’ll get there soon.’
‘Can you make yourself invisible?’
‘All right, smart arse. Being a ninja isn’t all like it is in the movies you know.’
‘You just said it was!’
Copyright © 2017 Nicky Blue. All rights reserved.
THANK YOU for reading my taster! If you would like to buy the full book it is available on Amazon