This is the end and a beginning
The first chapter from a fiction released one chapter at a time across 2024
I’m releasing a novel called Futuredebt across 2024, letting it go one chapter at a time.
Here’s a quick outline:
How long do you stay when you know it isn't going to last? This is the decision Kerry has to face when a message broadcast back across time inadvertently reveals that the man she loves today will not be the one she marries in the future. Meanwhile, at the other end of society, Fi finds herself struggling with a world that seems to be working against her, pushing her into the heart of a revolution plotting to bring the system crashing to its knees. Futuredebt is a story of free will, self-determination and how small acts of kindness can be a catalyst for change.
While I’ll be releasing chapters here on Substack (as well as Wattpad), you’ll be able to get early access to new chapters by becoming a Patreon supporter.
I know I could do this through Substack with a paid tier, but I’ve been a little concerned with some of Substack’s moderation policies as of late so I’ve decided to keep my paid supporters separate from the platform should I ever decide to step away.
You can sign up to follow me on Patreon for free, where’ll you’ll receive occasional updates on Kingdom and other projects and there are paid supporter options over there from as little as £1 - though you’ll have to sign up for the £3 tier to get early access to Futuredebt chapters. There’s a new one up over there already.
So here it is: the first chapter of Futuredebt. I hope you like it.
I am not there when you die, being dead myself, but this is how I imagine it happens.
You will be on the roof of the Cyan Incorporated building, standing on one of those brutalist steel beams that pokes out from the concrete like bones from skin. Everyone else will have left, scattering like leaves in the wind. You will be up there alone, aside from me. But I don’t count. I am already dead by this point.
But that’s not important. You know this isn't my story. I think you understand that now.
You stare down at the car park a hundred feet below. There’s enough air between you and the concrete to make it terminal so you won’t have to worry about surviving with broken bones to spend the rest of your life in a wheelchair or in some hospice like the one you worked at before. If you step forward, it all ends. But if you step forward, you know in a really weird way that it also begins. This is stupid and oxymoronic and you know all that but you are in that sort of mood where it doesn’t matter. Besides, your mood doesn’t change the world. The only thing that matters is what you do.
You are almost ready.
What you need now is a witness.
There’s one person down there, crossing the car park towards the main entrance. They are important. You don’t know who they are but they are important. The rest of this story is their story. But you don’t know anything about her yet.
You wait for her to look up.
When she does, I like to think you smile.
Maybe you don't.
Either way, she sees you right there - crystallised on that rooftop.
And that is when you step out.
The air is too thin to hold you. Your dress will flail like a failed parachute and your hair will be whipped to a medusa-like frenzy, your reflection mirrored in the building’s glass as you tumble side by side like lovers.
Afterwards, though not long afterwards, the woman who saw you fall will cover the mash of your head with her coat. It will be a nice coat. A Danny Mansmith original. The sort of thing you might have stood coveting in shop windows. Every stitch is a different shade, all the colours of sunrise. She will stand by your body, watching your blood creep into the fabric, changing colour as it dries. Crimson. Carmine. The dull darkness of sepia.
Seeing something like that can stain you.
Like wine on silk.
The employees from the bank will keep their distance, hovering by the glass doors like flies, making phone calls and shepherding clients away without letting on about what just landed on their doorstep. When the police arrive, they will pass a blanket to the woman who saw you fall and lead her away to a safe distance.
They do not return the coat.
One of them might hand her a coffee.
Let us imagine this officer is young and beautiful. Tall. Or we could imagine she is a little short. I don't mind. Maybe should could be a touch androgenous. Maybe her uniform is so fresh it looks like it’s still to be washed.
Maybe this is her first day.
Maybe she keeps her outfit clean to prove herself worthy.
Maybe she just loves her job.
It doesn't matter. The officer is not important.
The woman who saw you fall takes a sip. The coffee is white and watery and unpleasantly cool.
The officer asks if she can get home on her own.
The woman says she is waiting to be picked up.
Someone on their way?
She thinks so. Her phone is dead so she doesn’t know how long he will be.
My phone’s dead. The battery. Went while I was talking to him.
I’m just going to wait until he gets here or he won’t know what’s going on.
The other officers will put up a white tent around your body. Two officers stand at opposite corners to hold the thing down as the wind attacks against the tarpaulin.
The woman takes another reluctant sip from the cup, wondering if she has to drink the entire thing for the sake of politeness.
I thought there’d be press, she says, swallowing hard. Photographers or something.
The officer’s expression changes. Creases appear around her eyes. It’s probably not a good idea to talk to the press, she says. Having your name connected to a traumatic experience like this in the papers. It wouldn’t be nice.
The woman who saw you fall nods and brushes the windswept hair from her eyes.
And it would be sensationalised, the officer continues. Tends to happen with suicides. All romance and tragedy. Your boss might get a bit funny about it as well.
You work at Cyan, right? It is a bank, isn’t it? One of those FDF things? Messages from the future and all that.
I don’t know, says the woman. I think so.
You don’t work for them?
Oh, sorry. I just assumed you worked here.
No, she says. They invited me in.
Now it will be the officer’s turn to be surprised. Invited in? To an FDF company?
The woman who saw you fall will nod.
Impressive, mutters the officer. Even so, best be careful who we talk to, you know?
They stand there for an awkward moment until the officer makes an excuse to head over to her colleagues who are still struggling with the white tarpaulin writhing against them. The woman will watch. As she watched you fall. She will stand there and wait because she has nothing else to do. If her phone was working, she could call a taxi and be done with it. She knows what her sister would say: no point hanging around waiting for a man to come and rescue you. Fuck him, she would say. Don’t let a man define you. You’re strong enough to stand on your own two feet. Big strong girl. Independent woman. All grown up. Rah rah rah.
She could go inside the bank and ask them to order a taxi but the glass entrance has taken on another meaning now. That’s the place where you died. That’s where the blood pooled in impossible quantities, the gravel around the building’s edge saturated with it. The thought of crossing that threshold doesn’t carry the same delight for her as it had before. Yesterday she will have been giddy about it. People get so excited by the FDF. Having it reach out to her directly must have been intoxicating; the future noticing her, little old her, up to her elbows in paints and canvas, seeing something in her that the rest of the world couldn’t or wouldn’t see. It will have stirred a hope that somewhere out there in the vast landscape of all that time-yet-to-come there was someone who felt she was worth something. You can imagine how John will have encouraged her.
This could be your moment, he will have told her, swallowing hard on a kale and blueberry shake or some such nonsense. You’ve got to go find out what they want, he will say.
It will set her thinking. Maybe they want her artwork. Maybe this could be the first sale that would lead her on to bigger and brighter things. Maybe someone out there in the future wants to invest early, before the rest of the world gets to know just how good she is. By the time he drops her off on his way to work she will be giddy with imagined futures.
But you stopped her from going inside. You broke the link between that and this. You became an ellipsis and now she can’t shake it, that moment when your body leaned out too far from the edge and gravity began to take hold. Her attention coagulates around it, slowing it, stretching it out until the moment lasts forever, hanging there suspended outside of time. She could paint you like that, pinched between life and death, the beginning and the end. You are there forever, looking back at her. She tries to look away but gravity catches up with her imagination and you spill from the rooftop like water.
Why was there no one there to stop you?
She doesn’t go inside and order a taxi. Instead, she stays where she is and draws the blanket up around her shoulders to muffle a shiver. She’s cold. Or the shock from seeing you fall is making her cold. One or the other.
A woman in a flowered headscarf stands over by the road that loops around the outside of the estate, staring in at the spectacle with the white tent, a lead straining in her hand, the dog hidden somewhere behind the little hedge. Behind her a blue Citroen estate will be humped roughly up onto the curb, a telephoto lens pointing out of its passenger window. Maybe the press is taking an interest after all.
The lens flashes in the sunlight and the woman who saw you fall hides her face, thinking of the officer’s warning. Maybe it’s an overreaction but nobody wants to gamble when the dice are loaded. The house always wins.
By now it is time for them to move your body. A van the colour of brandy wine backs up towards the tent, the discord of its reversing alarm diluted in the wind so it comes in uneven waves. The words John Heath & Sons Funeral Home are printed on its side in tasteful, practical lettering but the high curb and ornamental grass bank restrict its access to the tent and they have to leave a gap between the openings like two mouths parting to kiss.
There was no scream when you fell.
She will find it difficult to think of you as being truly dead, though she doesn’t recall ever meeting you before today, doesn’t know your name, barely saw your face for a second before you fell. But the imagination abhors a vacuum. When you fall, she imagines you growing bigger, stretching out to fill the sky above her. When they bring you out - bagged, tagged and strapped to a trolly - you seem so much smaller, as though the impact has shrunk you down to more manageable proportions, packaged away within the body bag like a Ross Mueck miniature wrapped and ready for sale. But some part of you still feels alive within the bag. Maybe it is the soul, she will think. Maybe you are just asleep. Maybe the movement of the trolly will stir you as though you were being shaken gently from a dream. She will imagine your fingers twitching, reaching out, slowly at first as though heavy with sleep and then faster until they become frantic like a pianist playing at full tilt, your nails straining at the thick plastic slick with condensation.
Some part of us stays on, even if others have to imagine it.
Her name is called over the white noise of the wind and it brings her back to reality. A man is striding across the car park: white shirt, plain blue tie, suit jacket flapping around his trim waist like a little cape.
This will be John.
Kerry, he says, a look of concern carving itself into his features. You OK?
His face will be pale but his cheeks will be flushed ruddy. He has rushed to get there. He will be the sort of man who hates to be late, even for the unexpected. As he approaches, she will ready herself for his arms to open and draw her in and make everything better. But where is the fun in that? Let’s have a little tension. Instead, let us have him just stand there with his hands plunged into his trouser pockets, puffing out his cheeks like the image of the western wind.
You didn’t pick up, he will say.
She holds up the husk of her phone. No battery, she says.
She steps closer to him, prompting him, pinching his collar between her thumb and forefinger. She will mean it to be affectionate, but she rolls the fabric like someone rolling fresh orzo: tired, the novelty lost before the meal is complete.
You see? Much better.
I want to go, she says.
OK, he says. Do you need to speak to anyone or can we just go now?
We can just go, she says.
The undertaker’s doors clang shut. The woman who saw you fall and her man who came to get her cross the car park together, an arm’s reach from each other. They have to stand back and wait while the vehicle drives out in front of them to join the main road. When it gets there, the photographer’s car stutters to life and follows behind and in a moment they are both lost in traffic.
We’re this way, says the man, nodding to a path that runs around the side of the Cyan building.
Before she leaves, she takes the blanket from her shoulders and drops it on the bonnet of a police car near the tent, trying not to look for signs of blood leaking from beneath the white tarpaulin. The man lays a hand on the small of her back and she can feel him craning to see inside.
John, she says. Don’t.
Did you find out what they wanted?
No. It all happened before I went inside. I’ll call them tomorrow. I’m not going in now.
You don’t want to put them off, he says, pouting his lips playfully and nudging her in the right direction.
Someone died John, she says.
He grunts his disapproval but leaves it there.
He has parked the car in the next unit along, outside the Careforce Insurance building, squeezed in between an Audi and a huge four-by-four. She slides in the passenger side and pulls the door shut. It doesn’t catch. She pushes it open and tries again. It will click into place the second time.
You want to talk about it, he will ask, slotting in beside her. We could go somewhere, get a drink, sit down. High street’s not far...
She gives him her best icy stare and his words will patter to a stop, damp like washing left on the line overnight. Yeah, he croaks. OK.
They sit staring through the glass doors of the insurance offices to the lobby beyond. He starts to talk again, saying every helpful thing that comes into his head, clattering his empathy like knives in the cutlery drawer.
I don’t want to talk about it, she says.
The grey shard of the Cyan building glitters briefly in the wing mirror. Somewhere between heaven and earth there must have been a point where your heart pulsed for the final time. She scans its length, searching for the right moment.
The future did nothing to stop you. Not even when you landed on its doorstep.
She presses her forehead against the glass and lets the cold spread across her skin. John is counting to ten, patiently waiting to speak. He is swollen with good intentions.
It wasn’t your fault, he says.
Give it time.
His hand is on her leg. Rough skin catches at her tights like Velcro.
For a moment she is there on the rooftop with you, pulling you back from the edge.
But that is not real. She was not there on the rooftop with you. There was no one to pull you back from the edge.
She blinks and is back in the car.
She was the wrong side of the barrier, she says.
Maybe she was drunk, he shrugs.
you weren’t drunk
She was looking straight at me. Like, right at me. She knew where she was. She knew what she was doing. She hadn’t been drinking.
OK, he says.
She waved at me.
Just a small wave. Like this, you know?
She imitates your gesture, her fingertips fanning the air.
That’s weird, he says.
I know. The thing is...
Go on, he says. Because he has to.
I waved back, she says. I waved like when you see someone on the street.
He nods, frowning, and traces patterns on the back of her hand in invisible henna.
She realises he is waiting for her to finish so they can leave. He has things to do, you see. He is a busy man. Coming back here to pick her up less than an hour after he dropped her off wasn’t part of the plan. Any disruption, no matter how justified, is an inconvenience we all have to suffer.But he is a good man. When the world steps out of line he will grit his teeth and grins and bear it.
She loves him for it, she tells herself. The sense that he knows where he is going. He has momentum. It draws her along. She will tell herself that sometimes she just forgets to appreciate it. And she should appreciate it. It’s easy to see the bad in the ones we love most. We are closer to them. We see them under a macro lens. Every imperfection becomes a mountain top. Sometimes at home, under the harsher glare of artificial lighting, his skin turns translucent, weak and fleshy like undercooked fish.
She shrugs the thought away.
He looks better in the daylight, she tells herself, lifting a hand to tickle the almost-stubble on his cheek.
It wasn’t your fault, he says again, the cool mint of his breath frosting the back of her hand.
I know, she says. It was just strange.
Of course, he says. But it’s OK now. It’s over.
The sun slips behind the clouds again and the glitter of the Cyan building in the wing mirror fades to the darkened shades of oil on water.
The thing is, she says, when I saw her there…
Her words fade.
Go on, he says.
She takes a deep breath before she speaks.
I think she was waiting for me.