Saturday, 26 October 2013

A stab at fiction - Northern Heroes - Part One (3176 words)

As he looked out through the Irish Sea, from the top of the Blackpool Tower (Britain's answer to the Eiffel), Sheldon Ledwidge smiled. He was a tall, rangy man with a large nose, startling eyes, one covered up by an eyepatch, silver-blond hair, a lollipop protruding out of his mouth towards one cheek and a hook-hand. He was once the Greatest Surgeon in Europe, and before that, he was "Blackpool's Favourite Son", the greatest Northern Soul DJ of his time, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the genre, only rivalled by his arch-enemy, Franklin Devine. He was currently trying not to think about Franklin or "Frigid Frank", as he was known. Frank was a huge bearded man, with an almost uncanny resemblance to the late actor/director/writer/producer Orson Welles, but had a high voice and a thick Lancashire accent. He was emotionally crippled by his obsession with Department X, a long-running science fiction television series that ran on BTV from 1968 to 1984, about the Ministry of Defence's Paranormal Defence Department, known as Department 'X'. He felt as if he was responsible for its cancellation, when its star Edmund Frazier was found drunk dancing to "Don't Leave Me This Way"  by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes in Devine's club, "The Blackpool Starlight Music Company" in 1977. Not even the addition of Gordon Jackson could save the series from a slowly impending doom.
Sheldon looked at another man who was following him up the Tower. It was Perry Lo, the owner of the local Chinese restaurant, in his mid-twenties, tall, handsome, tufts of dark hair rising out of his Burberry cap. He had just taken over the restaurant from his recently deceased father Desmond.
"What do you want?" Sheldon asked, in his slightly gruff Redditch accent.
Suddenly, Perry opened his mouth, revealing a ridiculously fruity English voice, as if he was possessed by a dead vicar. "Nothing much. Not very likely, my dear boy, business has been dead rotten, as usual. The typical audience, kiddies, drunken teenagers, alcoholic teenagers, drunken couples, alcoholic couples..."
"Is there a difference?" queried Sheldon.
"Yes, Sheldon, a drunk is poor and likely to be unemployed, while an alcoholic is a rich yuppie-type who has wasted his money on the local wine bar. And by the way, the Geordie is coming back!"
"The Geordie?" Sheldon asked, in a haunted tone of voice.
"Yes, the old man, Dad Desmond told me about him. He remembers him. Says he was the top bodyguard in the Northern Soul scene, then became a mercenary, one of the Wild Geese. Served in Arabia, in the private army of a sheikh with ninety wives, then was thrown out for having an affair with four of the wives. The women were all about to be stoned to death, their heads buried in the sand, but they were taken to Spain by their lover, who opened up a club in Marbella from 1989, and the women served as waitresses. Recently, he sold the club, and is back in Britain!" chirpily intoned Perry.
Sheldon gruffly replied, "Yes, I remember him, real name Frank Hastings, born in Redcar, 1950, moved to South Shields, aged two, left school aged 15, initially a boxer, then aged 18, became a bodyguard. We were mates initially, until that Saturday in June 1976, at the Mecca. There was a double booking."
"And?" Perry Lo halted Sheldon briefly.
Sheldon continued, "Both Devine and I were supposed to be playing, but there only room for one, so one of us had to be thrown out. I volunteered, but Franklin Devine was removed, fired, and he opened up his club the month after. Frank got so disillusioned with the job, that he screamed at me, told me to leave the job and join him as a merc. I refused, and off he went."
"I see." grumbled Perry, as his hands began to glow green, pulsating with energy. He lifted them up and shot a beam of red heat towards a lift shaft. The wood and wire lift clattered down instantly.
"How did you do that?" asked Sheldon, who was slightly overwhelmed by this sudden occurrence.
"They don't call me the "Blackpool Illumination" for nothing!" laughed Perry. "It is a special power I have. I can manipulate light, bounce light off myself, make myself light-intolerant and essentially invisible, can create lasers, can switch on and off lights without electricity. I can light anything."
"Is that why you came up here?" asked Sheldon. He seemed suspicious.
"What, that the Tower is the base of semi-legendary C-list superhero Captain Pennine, World War Two hero Joseph Rodd given powers via proto-botox injections? Yes!" Perry said, half-jokingly.
"Yeh, well superheroes don't really have secret identities. It is all for fame, so why pretend to be someone you're not? That's what I say." Sheldon noted, as he pulled out a spanner, and began trying to open the door to the lift.
"Yes, I agree. I'm Perry Lo, the Blackpool Illumination. I saw that the holographic shield to protect the base was showing off, so I realised that to protect it from vandals and the conspiracy theory nuts looking for Pennine's base, I'd use my power to repair it."
"Yeh, go on!" said a booming, semi-educated voice.
"It's him!" Sheldon said. "It's Captain Pennine."
A figure dropped down from the lift, tall, black-permed, wearing a low-cut shirt revealing chest-hair. He was seemingly in his early fifties, botox smoothening out the wrinkles to make his pink-lipped smile look suspciously fake.
"Hello," Captain Pennine said, ever so smarmy, "I am testing out a new cape. I say it fits"
"I thought you had superpowers." Perry Lo exclaimed, in a more authentically Chinese, more youthful voice, though with remnants of his fruiter tone.
"I do, but my technology strenghtens them. I've just finished some metallic fighting gloves. They need a polish. They have to be fire-resistant." cheerily intoned Captain Pennine. "Sheldon, have you done the tweaks to the P-9?"
"Yes," nodded Sheldon, "it can go 200 miles in an 'our. Perry, fix the holo-shield!"
Suddenly, Perry Lo began to concentrate and let out a huge spiral of laser twirling into Captain Pennine.
"Oh, that's neat!" Captain Pennine laughed at Perry.
"What's the P-9?" Perry wearily asked the heroic Captain, standing in front of him, hands on his hips, as the twirling went ever so near.
"It's my plane, my dear -" Captain Pennine stopped in mid-sentence, as Perry's lasers hit Pennine's heart. Pennine collapsed, his body buzzing, and the heart eventually rumbled on, quicker and quicker, until its beats slowed down, and soon enough, the heart was stopped completely.
 "Oh no, I've killed Captain Pennine!" Perry exclaimed.
"Thank God,you killed him! Joseph Rodd is dead!" exclaimed a relieved Sheldon.
"You not happy? Why are you happy" said a confused Perry Lo.  
"For twenty years, I was his Alfred. I was his supposed butler, mechanic, surgeon, a bloody slave. Now that I am free, I am in the knowledge that we will no longer be supposedly protected by an egocentric, xenophobic Nazi-hating bastard!"
Sheldon exclaimed. He was both terribly angry and yet could not be more relieved.
"But Sheldon," added Perry Lo, puzzled, "Joseph Rodd was a war hero."
"No, the true war heroes are dead. He was the last in his platoon, because he hid under a rug crying his eyes out, so people would think he was a f**k**g baby!" grimly laughed Sheldon.
"Who will protect us now? The police, are they strong enough?" asked Perry Lo.
"You will!" Sheldon exclaimed, as a wry smile fell across his face.
"But I do not have any experience. My name is Perry Lo, and though they call me the Blackpool Illumination, I do not think that I am just not confident for it, for the trials and tribulations of being a hero."
"Well, you think you are not able, but you seem confident to me," smiled Sheldon, "we could put a team together. The Geordie is a hero. I think the main threat in this world, it is Devine. He's a lot more dangerous than he comes across."
"What on Earth is the Geordie doing?" asked Perry Lo.
Sheldon eruditely answered, "Workin' for Dougie Quilter at the Club. Got Mixu Nieme, Finnish player for Bolton Wanderers, Chloe Bonaparte, some child singer off the telly,  a talent contest. Marian Edgar off the charity shop is the sponsor/judge."
"Oh, do they have that local drag queen, Fanny LeCoq?" joked Perry Lo.
"Yes!" Sheldon cried, pulling out a photo of the overweight, pink-beehived Cockney drag act.
"Who is the compere?" asked Perry.
"Oh, Royston Legbourne from Coronation Street, played Harry Heseltine for three years!" exclaimed Sheldon.
"I don't remember him, Sheldon. Who was he again?" Perry added.
"Must have been before you were born. He owned the corner shop briefly with Rita. Was married to Emily, but turned out to be a bigamist!" Sheldon laughed. "He's a cut-rate Roy Barraclough."
"Sounds like Ken Morley!" Perry laughed.
"Don't say that!" Sheldon angrily rumbled, as they went down the steps. "We  need to find  Devine."
At a Department X convention in the city of Blackpool, various guests, young and old were at the city hall. The series had recently been successfully revived, but Devine was having none of it. He wanted to make his own version of the series. He wanted to buy the rights off BTV, but they would not let him. He was now hosting a convention, luring its stars such as Edmund Frazier and the revival's sidekick, Declan Sean. Kids dressed as Crocodons (upright crocodile biped aliens) swarmed the queues, tunelessly pulling the guns of their plastic toy ray-guns. Devine was in  the main hall of the Convention Centre, with a microphone. He was interviewing the cast of Are You Being Served? (all notable stars had appeared in guest roles in Department X) when he felt some weird power. He could feel the assembly of something.
"Our Squadron is here!" Devine suddenly exclaimed.
"What is that, lovey?" the purple-haired Mollie Sugden cried. She seemed worried, and cared for Devine, whom she had known for many years.
Devine fell off the stage. He collapsed. He was unconscious. The fans who hated him were a great many. They cheered as he completed his fall from grace.
Flash - Devine opened his eyes. He was in a clinical room, entirely white. He could see the view of the city through the large window directly in front of him, in the back of the room. Shelley Ledwidge came in, with a bouquet of dead flowers.
"Sorry, I was late." Shelley gently spoke.
"It doesn't matter." Devine nodded.
"I know."
"Perry Lo." suddenly said Devine.
"What about him?" asked Shelley.
"He's one of them." Devine angrily muttered.
"One of what, Devine?" Shelley hid his knowledge.
"Eunice Curtis." Devine spat out.
"What do you mean exactly?" Shelley Ledwidge was confused, scratching his head.
"Eunice, Hotpot, you know, the fat one in Asda, short, dumpy, looks like Rose West!"
"I know who she is, Frank. Why her?"
Devine grinded his teeth. "She's pyrokinetic, like that film with diddy Drew Barrymore and Freddie Jones. I must call Fred actually for next year's convention, but that's another matter."
"She can control fire. I know." Shelley said, but he remained tight-lipped. "That's why they call her Hotpot."
"And Perry is an embodiment of light. He can control it, bend it, solidify it." Franklin Devine said, deluded with power.
"How do you know?" asked Shelley, clearly unsettled by Devine.
"How do I know, Shelley? I had a premonition. I could feel the death of Captain Pennine, a new team of heroes at his wake."
Shelley Ledwidge was most confused. "Do you not mean in his wake?"
"No," cried an angry Franklin Devine, "AT his wake, surrounding the coffin. His legacy, the legacy of a bastard."
"Who shall be their nemesis - Dougie Quilter," asked Shelley, "I did have aspirations of putting together such a gang."
"No, I shall be!" Franklin Devine laughed evilly, his brain clearly pulsating.
The Hotpot came in, dressed like a poor man's Su Pollard. She left flowers, torched almost to a crisp. "I'm sorry." She said.
"You bloody should be!" Franklin Devine was angry. Hotpot pulled her left hand out, her palm flattened in the air, placed vertically and out of it she released a flame, scorched Franklin's hair and beard. He was bald. His mouth was temporarily sealed and he was muted. His tongue was blown off.
Perry appeared, outside the window. He was flying, in Captain Pennine's cape. He froze Devine in a bed of solid light.
"Thanks for disabling him." Shelley Ledwidge said simply.
Perry simply said. "Where are the others?"
He was unaware that down below him in an ice cream van was the Geordie, trim, bearded, not unlike Jimmy Nail if he was an assassin like the Punisher or Charles Bronson's Paul Kersey in [i]Death Wish[/i], with a grenade disguised as a Flake '99. As he threw it upward, Perry used his powers to prematurely detonate the device in mid-air, and sucked up the explosion to gain more light-based energy. The Geordie smirked. He did not speak much, but he had clearly been under Devine's employ.
Then, he spoke. "That Devine promised be half a fookin' million!" It was clear that if there was half a million for joining R-Squadron, he'd take it.
"Frank Hastings, will you join a superteam for half a million pounds?" asked Shelley Ledwidge, his head peeping outside the window.
"No, I'd rather be back in Marbella with t'wife!" cried the Geordie, as he drove off in the ice cream van.
It looked like the Squadron was going to be a duo, or would it be? Stirring up in his muted head, Franklin Devine would plan his greatest project- World Domination.
Hotpot looked wearily at the disabled Franklin Devine. Hotpot was approaching her sixtieth birthday, but she was still extremely sprightly. She ran out of the window, riding on a fireball that she had moulded herself. "Hallelujah, praise the f**k**g lord!" she cried, both typically and uncharacteristically.
The Geordie jumped out of the Ice Cream Van, when it was still on the road. It trundled into a beach hut and exploded, killing one man, a David Agnew. Agnew was Devine's right hand man, a former writer on Department X and also on such television series as Doctor Who. He was a gloriously camp man in a gold lamé tracksuit. He'd had plastic surgery to look like his crush - Ian Ogilvy circa 1970, during his time in "Upstairs, Downstairs." His face melted away to reveal his true likeness, a more weathered self, like a gay Sid James, complete with neckerchief. The Geordie always cried a tear when he killed someone accidentally. He cried a tear of pure beer, pure John Smith. Only real men cried beer, either that or that the Geordie was an alcoholic who had drunk so much that he had gotten a sort of water on the brain that was 100 per cent alcohol. Hotpot came down on her fireball, having calmed the waves in order to stop them from torching her.
"Hello, Frank!" Hotpot screamed in a flirty manner at the initially bemused Geordie.
"Oh, not you, Eunice!" was the Geordie's shocked reaction. "It's been years since we were together."
"I know. You haven't been here in years. Anyway, I have a husband. You have four wives. There's no comparison."
The Geordie looked blunt. "I'm not looking for a fifth, Eun. Or a fourth. One walked out. I needed a rest from it."
"Which one was it? And by the way, they call me Hotpot."
"I know, Hotpot. But I am the Geordie, so I still call you Eunice. It was Rosa. I needed to let her go. Anyway, this super team, are you joining?"
"Oh yes, I am." Hotpot was enthusiastic. "You're too much of a loner."
"I am indeed. And the wife, sorry the three wives, they need me." coughed the Geordie. He walked off, rifle in hand. Hotpot looked at him. She was both sad and happy. She felt the deepest amount of regret, as it sunk into her heart.
Meanwhile, an undertaker's carriage, "U.R. De'ath" trundled along the Golden Mile to the hospital. Selby De'ath, the bowler-hatted Head Undertaker, grim, bald, face like a brick wall with food poisoning came up to Shelley Ledwidge, who was outside, smoking a pipe.
"What happened, Shelley? Is he dead yet?" grunted the Head Undertaker.
"Nothing, Selby, Devine's burnt, muted, partially disabled! He may as well be buried." Shelley Ledwidge hissed in an unusually sinister tone of voice.
"I'll tell Mayor Legbourne." Selby said, immediately dialling his 1989 cell phone. "Mr. Legbourne, is that you." There was a brief pause, then more chat from Selby. "Oh, Franklin Devine's dead, well not quite dead, but he's dead enough for us. He's disfigured, check, mute, check, disabled, check, bedridden, check, corrupt, check, pain in the arse, check, not much of a loss, check. He's eligible for us. Thanks, Royston."
Selby went in and entered the hospital room. Perry was there.
"What, he's not dead yet!" Perry exclaimed, stretching himself over the bed, billowing a cape of light.
"He's eligible for us. The throat is burnt. He is not breathing properly. He'll expire in time." Selby defiantly grunted, as he dragged the heavy body of Franklin Devine out of the room and down the stairs.
Ledwidge followed Selby out of the hospital and into the horse-drawn funeral carriage. "I think I need to perform some surgery on his face. I am a trained surgeon." Ledwidge boasted.
"I'm sure he said on Granada Reports that he wanted a cremation." Selby questioned Ledwidge.
"Maybe, maybe, Selby, but he's cremated enough." Ledwidge claimed, towering over Devine's horizontally mounted corpse, scalpel in his hook-hand.
The carriage went towards the De'Ath funeral complex, situated across the road from Blackpool Pleasure Beach. It was a combined mortuary/crematorium/funeral home/seaside cemetery which resembled an old church giving birth to a giant purple crystal placed precariously on the roof. Ledwidge went in, caked the burnt face of De'Ath with a kind of pale white face-mimicking plasticine and quickly went on. He believed that Ledwidge did not deserve the proper surgery. As he left, he saw a mysterious dwarfish figure in a trenchcoat - leaning on a lamppost, carrying a violin case.
"Is that George?" Ledwidge asked himself. "It can't be. He's been dead for almost fifty years." Ledwidge did a double-take and walked off into the fading sunset.
This mysterious figure entered the De'Ath funeral complex, by cleaning its windows, opening them up and jumping in. He took out of the violin case, a banjolele, not quite a ukulele, not quite a banjo. Had the ghost of the legendary King of Blackpool, Mr. George Formby come back from the grave in order to rescue the man he believed to be his heir - Franklin Devine? Yes.
In time did Formby restore Devine, giving him from beyond the grave a genuine World War Two gasmask coated in gold to restore his breathing, and a purple velvet cape, complete with Wurlitzer organ pipes to help him breathe and to act as a new endoskeleton. Devine had become the Oppressor, a camp Doctor Doom or Darth Vader, a cyborg destined to rule Blackpool as a fascist paradise against the muted Formby's wishes.Devine, reborn as the Oppressor thanks to George Formby's banjolele being whacked on his side, was now desperate to prove that he could make Department X better than BTV, so he went down in his Datsun Cherry down the road to Granada Studios in Manchester, punched Bill Roache in the face, and then took out a drill to "bore Ken Barlow!". The emergency alarm rang at Blackpool.
"Oh, Hotpot, Perry the Illumination, come here!" shouted Ledwidge, trying to signal the few members of R-Squadron.
Hotpot immediately flew into action on her fireball, still in her gingham blouse uniform from the supermarket checkout. She scorched the red letters at Granada TV and entered the set of Coronation Street's No. 1 public house, the Rovers Return, heating herself over another hotpot, Betty's famed dish, while Betty Driver sat in the background muttering to the ghostly, shimmery figure of Fred Feast. Hotpot came face to face with the Oppressor, immediately spraying his golden mask with flames. It was now copper, rusted but the Oppressor merely laughed her off in an electronic tone of voice that spouted incomprehensible gibberish. She ripped off his mask to see that his face had melted off. He was now completely faceless, no eyes or nose or mouth.
"How can one see?" asked Hotpot.
"Through the mind!" laughed the Oppressor, only to walk into a door, something that he hadn't seen.
A gunshot was heard. It was the Geordie, firing past the studios with a rocket launcher. He was in a taxicab back to the airport.
The Oppressor lifted a old copy of the TV Times from the archive, and tried to chant the listing of an episode of the Professionals shown during a weekend somewhen in 1978. "I hope to revive Gordon Jackson for my show!"
Hotpot used her powers to burn up the TV Times, scorching the Oppressor's hands.
Perry realised that he needed to get to Manchester, so he used his powers to build from solid light an ornithopter, a two-man flappy-winged flying machine for him and Ledwidge to man. As soon as they arrived at Granada, the Oppressor was dead.
"What happened?" asked Perry and Ledwidge at the same time.
"Oh, nothing! He got caught on fire!" laughed Hotpot, as the three laughed at each other like the cast of an American TV show as an episode closed. They needed to get back to Blackpool for a talent show. For now, Blackpool did not need them, but real heroes.  

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