In a March of Madness

By Jason Chadwick All Rights Reserved ©

Action / Drama


After a near death experience as a child, Carl Manning always saw things a little differently than most. He felt like a stranger in his world, with feelings that others couldn’t understand. He saw ghosts, visions and demons from his past, which seemed real, but he questioned if his life and these visions were.A lost soul caught between the worlds of light and dark. And it is there, within the depths of darkness and madness that the Devil will find you. Life in 1982 is tough and the mean streets offer little salvation. He longs to see his estranged son and sees the army as a way out and a torch to enkindle that lost relationship. But when all that comforts you from the past, are the wrong choices, a misguided direction, and past demons. Where would you run too, when there’s nowhere to hide? Where would you turn, when you can’t see a way out? Within the horrors of the Falkland’s war, he witnesses loss and destruction and a mysterious presence from his past comes to torment him once more. Can he solve the puzzle which is existence? Can he find the light through the maze of darkness? Will the love and salvation he longs, find him? Or in the march of madness is there only the darkness?


Each and every one of us has a story to tell, but this is my story, and it is like no other. We’re all just characters, in the theatre of life; a game of chance, choices, and decisions. I was stood at the crossroads, of my existence, just lost with no direction, wondering which road to choose; wondering which path to walk; but these journeys and those decisions, tell our stories; and all of them are so special, and all are just waiting to be told. This is what I am, and this is all of me.

Like a piece of driftwood; lost and alone, I flowed along the river of life; never really taking control; just going with the flow; just waiting to see, where it would take me. Now, where shall I begin? Well, I suppose a good place to start, would be the beginning; but to tell you the truth, I don’t know where it all began. I just felt so lost and totally confused, and sometimes it all felt like a bad dream; but then, the grim reality of my life, savaged me like a dog, ripping at my flesh; hounding me like a banshee, wailing through the dead of midnight. And all those wrong decisions, and the path which I chose to walk, always tormented me; and it would never leave me alone. And the more, I tried to escape, the more the past would drag me back. It seemed, it wouldn’t let go; always so near and never that far away.

The story of my life, unfolded throughout the years, as though I wasn’t always in control; a story of discovery; and a story which would show me, who I really am, forever driftwood.

That brings me to the here and now. The year is 1982; the age of the Skin-Heads, Punks, and Mods. The age of rebellion, and anarchy were the streets are mean, and the people even meaner. The trouble is, I don’t feel much like a rebel, as I sit here in this cold and damp bus shelter; just looking out over the road, at the house where I used to live. I look up into the night sky as the rain falls relentlessly down through the darkness. The dim streetlights, cast an eerie glow onto the street, as still, the rain falls down and down; washing over my troubled face as a cruel, cold wind, swirls around the bus-shelter; traffic passes by every now and then, obscuring the house from view. Sirens scream through the dead of the night, reminding me that I live in a dirty old town. With deep regret in all that I am, I look into the gutter as a river of muddy water, wash down into the sewer; the place where now, I feel I live. Just then, a piece of driftwood, in the form of a broken twig, flows down the river of grime. I just watch it, mesmerised by the wood as it floats; just free to wonder with the flow of the water; on its journey till eventually, it washes upon an unfamiliar land; and there it will wait, till the next water washes it away and its journey will begin again. So amusing really, how something so simple can take your mind away from the problems, which hold and control it. All of a sudden, the stick washes away down the drain. I sigh deeply with pain, as I feel that stick is my life and that is the place, where I’ll end up; if I don’t escape my present life; with a deep sigh I rub my aching head and the pain of not knowing which way to turn; not knowing what is waiting for me out there; not knowing what my life means and what purpose I have to fulfil, overwhelms me. I feel so empty inside, so misguided by the choices which I’ve made.

With a deep ache in my heart, I look back across the street at number thirty-five. God…How I hate that fuckin’ number, I think as now I fade from the conscious present, into a memory of times gone by; a memory, which only torments and haunts me. How I met my ex-wife, well that’s a simple story really, one drunken night at a party. I had just been released from the foster home, where I’d stayed since I was a young boy (that story, I’ll share with you later.) Johnny my so called bestmate introduced us. I hadn’t had sex for four weeks, and that to a young lad was a hell of a long time. So as the night raged on and the drink flowed freely, our inhibitions went through the window. Of course, we used no protection, as stupid naive teenagers, we saw no need too. The night passed into oblivion and then faded into a forgotten memory; a lost memory blared by alcohol, madness, and stupidity.

Three months went by; three months of boring normality, where I never saw anything of her and then this one day, she shows up outside of the shit-hole, where I used to work. Then, she dropped the biggest bombshell ever; she was pregnant. My head was so confused, up my arse, is the saying that we use around here. What the fuck was I going to do? Well, the noble thing was to marry her and that’s exactly what we did. At seventeen years of age; not much older than kids ourselves, we tied the noose; the noose, which would strangle the life from us. People told me ‘don’t be stupid…It won’t last…It won’t work. You’re too young to marry,’ they said.

Of course, I brushed their thoughts aside and then I let everybody watch, as I made a fool of myself and her. We acted out the most perfect, false relationship for everybody to watch; as false as the promises from a Politician. The marriage lasted, all but five months and now my six-year-old Son, will never know his true Dad. She won’t forgive me and she won’t let me anywhere near him. I’ve tried so many times, but all I get is abuse and shit. I can’t blame her really, for what I did to her; I can’t forgive myself, for leaving her to bring up a kid on her own around this place. It’s a hard neighbourhood where I live and you have to be street-wise, just to survive. Everybody is out for themselves, all trying to scratch a pitiful living, from these mean streets, trying to survive by the best means, they know how.

My minds all made up now, what is there here for me? Wednesday, I’m off to join the Army; the fucking Army I tell you; who’d have thought it, me in the Army; I didn’t even take the teachers on at school; all I did was give them shit and fuck about; acting the prick and trying to be one of the in-gang.

A wagon splashes water all over me; drenching me and bringing me back into the grim reality of my existence; the here and now; my life living in a town, which offers nothing but despair. Suddenly, the light to number thirty-five goes dark; and now the lonely night, is all I have to look forward too; hours thinking about all the mistakes, which I’ve made and all the wrong choices that have defined, what I am now.

‘Goodnight, Joe!’ I whisper into the still of the night; hoping that those words, will find him somehow; hoping that maybe, he can be a part of my life; but hope is something, which always seems to allude me; and hope is a misguided value, which I always seem to hang onto.

I’ve done this ritual, for the last four months and I’m sure, that she can see me, as I see her silhouette pass by at the top window. I sigh, with deep regret and anguish as I slowly, and with the pain of my life stand to my feet. I look deep into the rainy night air with despair on my face. The rain washes over my troubled face; a face, that is showing the signs of strains, and a plight that shouldn’t be felt by a twenty-three-year-old kid. I wipe the rain away from my eyes, wishing, that it would wash away the sins and troubles of my being. Now I think, I can’t wait to be gone from this northern town. I fuckin’ hope, that whatever is out there, it’s gotta’ to be better…than this...Fuck me, It can’t be any worse!

Slowly, I turn away and walk along the soulless streets towards my lonely flat; just a ten-minute walk from the house of my Son. These alien streets in the hours of darkness come alive with a vibe of their own. Gone are the daily rituals, which frequent them and in their place, come the creatures of the night; the ones who make the night-time, their time. On the street corner, on the other side of the road, under the dimness of the street-light, stands a prostitute, waiting for her next customer. She turns and looks in my direction, urging me to join her for some pleasure time. My head aches from the day’s boredom, and so I carry on with a weary step and an even wearier heart. She turns away as a car pulls up beside her, and the window opens, and her next customer beckons. Further, on down the street, two youths stand in fellowship, both exchange cash for drugs. Sirens scream and wail through the dead of the night, like an animal wailing through the darkness. The two youths shuffle and vanish into the shadows of the streets; just like animals avoiding being hunted down. You have to have your wits about you, to wonder these streets at night; and you have to have your wits, just to survive in this place; a place which offers nothing but survival each day.

Ten minutes later, I reach home. Home, that’s a fuckin’ joke! With a huge sigh and a longing for tomorrow, I open the door and walk inside. I hate returning home at night; for now, I know, that the lost hours, have crept slowly on in; and now all that I have for company, is the memories, which haunt and taunt me. I turn and take one last look into the rainy night; before I step into the squalor of my flat and close the door on the world outside. At least it’s fuckin’ dry, I think as I look around the bare walls, with disgust on my face; as the wallpaper clings for its life, as it falls from the walls. The carpet reeks of damp. Why, should I care? Why, should I fuckin’ bother about this place? After all, I’ll be gone in a few days.

Down the hallway stands my living-room. I reach out and open the door. This place is even more depressing; for what should be a room of relaxation and warmth, stands a room with no carpet to walk upon; just a bare-floor, full of beer stains and strewn with cans from parties gone by. It’s an absolute squalor of a flat, where all my friends come and join me to pass the hours of darkness and boredom, numbed by drugs and alcohol; where we all sit and joke, till another day of boredom beckons; another day, which we’ll do the same old shit as we did the day before; life just goes on and on, like a circle of madness, which never seems to stop. When I say my friends; they aren’t really that, as this flat is just a place, where they can escape from the cold and rain, and the boredom of this shitty little estate.

In the far corner of the room, stands my old black and white television; this is all, that I can afford on the dole. I haven’t worked for the last four months, what’s the fuckin’ point, I’ll be gone soon. Never mind all that now, I have a friend, that’ll ease me through the night pain, Weed, Slipth, a Joint; whatever the fuck you call it; it helps numb my pain and blares my thoughts, and my memories, and succumbs me into a false sense of happiness and hope. And so now I sit upon my dirt ridden and ripped couch, and I reach down for my tin of sin. ‘This is my last smoke!’ I say to myself. If I’m gonna’ join the Army to escape this fuckin’ place, I have to be clean. I have to be focused...Hope there’s a better life for me there? Ah, Who gives a shit, I think as I roll my joint and turn on the television. Not much good on that channel; and so I flick, flick, flick, late-night music that’ll do. I light up my joint and take a huge drag, exhaling the smoke into large smoke-rings as I sit back and relax into the sofa.

Now, I fade from this world and enter mine. But all that it seems, that’ll visit me is the memories of years gone by; but these memories tell the story of my youth. When I was a young lad, not much older than eight years of age, I always enjoyed fishing, with my best mate Ronny on a Sunday morning. It was our way of escaping the boredom of our life in this dirty old town. We used to rise, with the song-birds in the small hours and walk down the path, towards the farmer's gate; from there we crossed over a stream, which ran under a bridge. With our fishing rods in our hands, we clambered up the steep banking and walked through the fields of gold, towards the black pond. It was quite an adventure on a summer’s dawn, and we used to love walking along those fields, me, Ronny, his Dad, and his Uncle. I was only small as a boy and Ronny, always looked out for me; he was my best mate, but the drugs have taken him now; he died last year from an overdose.

God, how we loved those long summer’s days, which seemed to never end; one adventure after another; mucking around, playing toy soldiers in the overgrown ferns and trees, hiding from each other and jumping out and scaring the shit out of each other; they were good days, with not a care in the world, just us and the day ahead, just us and all that we were; with no troubles of adulthood to fuck us up. We used to spend most of our youth outside, camping over the old derelict railway lines. Our old tents were shit, but they give us some good times; yeah, we had some good laughs camping and scaring the shit out of each other telling stories about a local ghost called, Old Red Clogs. We would even see wild hares and foxes rummaging around in the breaking dawn of a new day. I remember just stood there once, lost for words as I watched a Fox hunt a Hare; it was a sickening show; but in a strange way, it was a magical experience, the survival of the wild.

To get to the Black Pond, where we used to enjoy fishing the most, you had to cross another stream, which ran into a narrow channel; this was so memorable, so beautiful, like it was in a different place, another time, away from all the shit, which surrounded this old mining town. You could even see the fish as they swam around in the shallows; as the water was as clear as a crystal and huge Jack-Pike would roam around in the weed beds, looking for their prey; whilst huge Golden Carp showed in a display of brilliance, underneath the cover of the trees. When the Sun mirrored across the channel, the water would sparkle and shimmer like diamonds; and in this brief moment, I would forget my troubled youth; and in that brief moment, life seemed worth living.

I remember, Ronny and I, even tried to catch one of those Carp this one day; but of course, they were just too clever for us. Anyway, that morning, things were slow on the pond. I spent most of the morning, just gazing outwards, towards the huge slag-heaps, which rose in mounds all around. There was no mistaking that an old mining pit was once here, but this had been flooded a long time ago. Only Ronny caught that morning; and so we decided that we’d go and fish on the canal, by Hooker’s Bridge. My fishing tackle was a bit basic, to say the least; it was all that I could afford. I had to buy it myself, by stealing fifty pence pieces out of my drunken Mother’s purse, whilst she lay comatose, from her indulgence on the sofa. All I could obtain was an old, rickety, wicker basket and a flimsy, old rod; no wonder I never caught anything.

I remember what happened next, was the strangest experience, which I would ever encounter in the days of my troubled youth. Have you ever had that feeling, when you’re not sure if you’re dreaming or awake? What happened next was exactly like that to me. There we were all fishing on the canal banking. Ronny’s Dad and his Uncle had decided to fish further up the bank; whilst Ronny and me, had chosen a spot underneath the bridge. I don’t know how it really happened like I said it was such a strange morning. The air was still and everything around fell into an uncomfortable silence; even the birds, which gathered in the trees, sang no more. Just then, from out of nowhere an anomalous light flickered and shimmered over the murky water, on the canal. The light spread out in ripples to the other side, like a stone had broken the surface. Curiosity overcame me, as I leant forward to take a closer look, and the next thing, that I knew; was that I’d fell head first into the canal. Everything was so eerie; and it was as though I was caught in a waking dream. I went under the dark water, but my eyes were wide open, and I could see everything from under the dark surface. Ronny was up above on the banking, screaming for his Dad to come and help me. I came back up for air, gasping for my very breath of life.

‘Grab the edge…grab the edge!’ he screamed frantically.

I tried my best as I clawed at the walls, but they were full of algae and were just too slimy. Under I went again; but this time deeper and deeper down I sank. I splashed my arms in vain, trying to swim; but I’d never been taught how too. I remember that I felt, something grab at my leg, and it felt like a hand; but when I looked down it was a tree branch, that my pants were snagged on. I panicked and desperately I tried to free myself; the branch tore at my pants and I was free of its hold on me. A few moments later, I resurfaced and in the distance, through the panic of my eyes; I could see Ronny’s Dad running towards me, with his landing net in his hand. Under, I went again and there in the depths of the water, I could see the branch; but it seemed like it was alive and its hand was coming towards me; like it was reaching out for me; as though it was trying to drag me under; as though it wanted me. I flapped my arms in a desperate attempt to swim, and as I looked up through the depths of the water; there I could see a bright light; as bright as anything, which I’d seen in my entire life. The flickering light shone over the water like a beacon of hope. Now I was still, was I dead? I thought as I floated about so strangely. Suddenly, the light came towards me and broke the surface in the form of a hand and it dragged me up; but when I came up, I was hold of a metal pole. Ronny’s Dad reached down and dragged me around the bridge, to the shallow end of the canal; so it was easier for me to escape from the clutches of death.

My head was numbed into silence as I laid prostrate on the banking, with water vomiting out from my mouth. I turned over and looked at the face of my saviour; he just smiled at me in silence. Thoughts of the life, which I’d nearly lost, comforted me as I sat on that banking, with only a coat wrapped around my cold and wet body. From that day on, my fear of water would remain with me, like a reminder of the life, which I nearly lost; like a ghost in the shadows of my mind and past, always haunting me.

I gazed up at my clothes as they blew dry in the trees, as the breeze blew hard through the day. I remember gazing upwards at the sky, as white clouds had started to gather, just looking at them as they formed into different shapes and patterns. The noise of the birds came alive once more, as they sung their haunting songs. I turned and looked over at Ronny’s Dad and he just smiled at me. I remember seeing the Sun, shining behind him, which cast a halo of light around him. I looked back down at the dark waters of the canal, and the waters that were nearly my tomb sent a shiver down my spine. Things from that day on always seemed a little strange to me. I can’t explain what that was, but somehow I felt different. I had a sense, that sometimes I’d experienced things before, a kind of déjà vu. I don’t know what it was, but life felt altered somehow, my life from that moment on changed, in ways I would never be able to understand and explain.

The day drew slowly on into the afternoon and we packed up our tackle, and I dressed in my damp clothes. No words, I said for the remainder of that day, for that morning still haunted me; and I had a feeling, it would for the rest of my days. Later, I arrived home, prepared to tell my parents all about the morning’s event. When I say parents, now that is a joke, as they spent most of their time squabbling over stupid things, and this day was no exception. They were arguing about why one of them hadn’t been out to get some milk. I stood there as a tiny figure at the doorway, just listening to them as they cursed each other. I wanted to tell them; I so wanted to tell them; just a cuddle would’ve helped to take the pain away; and I would’ve felt comforted, but they couldn’t even do that. The tears of pain flowed from my eyes as my Mum looked at me and slammed the door shut in my face. I couldn’t bare it any longer, and so off I ran into the salvation of my room and there I stayed for the rest of the day; just locked away with just my thoughts for company. It was from that moment onwards, that I started to write all my thoughts and my life, within a diary, which my Auntie Rose gave to me on my birthday. I don’t know why I keep that book, but it’s still with me to this day. And that secret at the canal, I would keep with me and as far as I was aware they never knew; things like that you couldn’t share with them; they were just too selfish.

It was miserable growing up in that house. I felt like an unwanted mistake, just getting in the way of their lives. My childhood with my parents was a really pitiful and pathetic affair; and only once do I remember a day, which we spent together as a family. It was such a special day, my seventh birthday; my Dad had come up trumps on the horses and so he decided to treat us all, to a day at the Zoo. It was brilliant and I’d never been to the Zoo before. All the animals amazed me; but the birds astounded me even more, especially the Eagles. I just stood there outside their pens, just watching as those beguiling eyes looked down on me. The colours of their feathers amazed me so and I remember, that day ever so clearly as I smile in my semi-dream like state. I take another drag of my Joint, just so I can go deeper into my memories. I even made a wish that day, a wish that I was an Eagle and that I could fly away across the lands and the ocean, to escape the pain of my youth. But when my eyes opened, there I was back in the grim reality of my life.

That was the last time, which we would spend as a family together. The years passed quickly on by and the drink flowed for my Mum. It was two years later, after that morning at the canal, when my Mum dead. The years of drink had taken their toll. It was I who found her, my Dad was busy down the bookies as he was on a lucky streak. It was like a scene from a murder, as I walked into the flat, returning home from school. You could tell where it all began. It started in the bathroom and ended in the bedroom, and there she was my dead Mum slumped on the floor. There was blood everywhere and the smell was unbearable; the stench of rotting flesh was putrid and the stench of death itself could be felt in the air. I had to turn away and couldn’t stop myself from puking up. At the time, I thought that she’d actually been murdered; but years later I discovered that her insides had just rotted away and she had vomited them all up; that’s the true nature of the beast if you don’t control it and let it take you, into the darkness.

Her funeral was a sad and lonely affair. There we were, only me, my Dad and her Sister, to send her on her way into the great unknown. Later, that day we scattered her ashes over the river Mersey. She so loved that place as a child; my Dad had once told me, that she had dreams of being a singer; but like so many dreams, these faded with the enemy of time; like water washing away down the sink; that dream was gone and never to return; everybody’s dream gets washed away in the dirty old town. My Dad did his best to look after me, but the horses weren’t lucky to him of late; and so this one morning he left the house, with no word to where he was going. I stayed off school, as usual, waiting for him to return; but he never did. I don’t know how long, I was left alone in that house; but it felt like weeks, which I spent alone, wandering the streets, looking for food and sleeping in our dark and dreary house; with only ghosts of my past, to keep me company. Eventually, my Auntie turned up with the police at the door and I was informed that my Dad was in jail. He’d been caught attempting an armed robbery, at the local post office, which made us the laughing stock of the neighbourhood. He didn’t even bother to tell the police, that he had a child at home. My Auntie said that she couldn’t take care of me, after all, she did have five kids of her own; so I was taken into care and it was there, in those foster homes, that I grew into who I am now.

Those days, of being past from pillar to post, were the worst of times, but also the best of times. It was there, within those institutions that I grew into a street-wise kid, who knew every single scam in the book; ducking and diving, weaving and dodging my way out of any trouble that came my way. Those days turned me into an adult well before my time; teaching me how to be strong and how to look out for myself, after all, no one else would; I was alone in this world, with no family and not many people, who I could call real friends. Of course, we had our good times and strong friendships were bonded; but the bad times were all too frequent, in those homes and friendships would break like a fragile statue, that wasn’t cared for properly; some out of mutual arguments and some by the force of nature. The years of my youth, past by with a blink of an eye; that’s how it felt, gone before I knew it. I myself was never fostered, after all, who would want to foster a little weed like me, so scrawny and scruffy, that it looked like I’ve never been fed, and that no one had cared for me. So the years rolled on by, children came and children went; friendships lost and new ones made. The bonds of togetherness, through the mishaps of youth, were so easily broken in those care homes.

It was on my sixteenth birthday when I was released back into society. Social services had found me a flat; the same shit hole where I now live. It wasn’t much, but it was my home, the only home I really knew. They also found me a dead-end job in a local bakery, doing the graveyard shift. It was dire and so boring but it helped me to pay my way and provided me with the beer money, for the weekend, that we all lived for.

Now times moved along and I was invited to a party to celebrate someone’s birthday, whose, I can’t remember; you didn’t need an excuse for a party, anything to numb the hours of life away. It was there, that I met Sue; the rest you know, how we met and the day, that she told me she was pregnant. We moved in together and at first things were fine; only because I spent most of my time either at work or down the pub; I would use any excuse, to get out of the house. I was enjoying my usual poison when I got at phone call that she’d been taken to the hospital. Shit, I even had the nerve to finish my pint and order another; I was and I am a really fucked-up person; but this life that I live as done that to me.

I remember the day when Joe was born, so clearly. I watched him come into this world as a newborn baby; still stained with the blood of a new life. I remember being overcome by panic, though, as he wouldn’t breathe. Tears of madness, flooded from my eyes as I watched the doctors, frantically trying to make him, take his first breath. I remember asking God in that moment, not to take him from me; and then in a moment, which I’ll never forget; he took his first breathe. Tears of joy and relief, flooded from my eyes as the midwife brought him over to me. I just stood there in amazement, relief and ecstasy all rolled into one, as I held onto his tiny hand; just looking down at those fingers, so mesmerised by the size of them. Words weren’t needed for this was one of life’s precious moments, when they were useless and they would mean nothing.

The birth of my Son was an experience, which was so overwhelming; one of hope and one of Joy; but when the adrenaline subsided, it was one of fear and confusion. I remember looking down at him and a feeling, which I was responsible for this soul, was so overpowering. I was frightened and confused; how was I going to be a Dad to him? After all, I was never shown how to, they were too busy arguing amongst themselves and that was all I ever knew.

We took Joe home and at first, everything was fine, like the so-called honeymoon period; but it wasn’t long before the arguments started; days, not weeks, at first they came slowly and then the fists started to fly. I couldn’t let my Son, grow up and see all this, fights were all that I’d witnessed in my life. So I left without a word or a note; I remember standing at the door for a moment before I left and closed the door too, and I think that she never forgave me for that. In a way I ran away from my problems, not wanting to face, my responsibilities and not wanting to face what the future had installed for me. I just couldn’t cope, with all the pressure, which I felt I was burdened with. I suppose, that’s what I’m doing now running away to join the Army.

The rest of my sad and sorrowful story you know and now that brings me back to the here and now. My reddened eyes open as I stir around the bare room; they're a couple of old pictures hanging, but not much else. I can feel the weed kicking in now and I feel drained from the day; my eyes feel so heavy and I feel so sleepy. I turn to the side of me and thereupon an old wooden box is the only photograph that I have of Joe. It was when he was born and my eyes were the first set of eyes, which he saw as he came into this world, screaming and crying. I remember it so clearly as though it was only yesterday, his eyes were dark as coal and they were wide open. I was once told by someone, I can’t remember who, that the eyes are the windows to the soul and if that is true, then his soul was forged with mine forever at that precious moment in time. This thought always pleases me and this thought is the last, which I want of this night. I reach over and draw the photo close towards my heart and there I hold it as tight as I can; hoping that Joe will dwell in that place forever; hoping that these two beating hearts will become as one, as that is the nearest, that I could ever be with him, at this moment in time. I can’t hold back any longer as tears bleed from my tired eyes. I close my eyes tight, hoping that sleep is near and a new day will soon dawn.

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