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Clockworld


Copyright 2018 Will Perks

Published by Will Perks at Smashwords

Cover Artwork by Rob McCue


Will Perks can be found at http://www.gab.ai/willperks



Smashwords Edition License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to Smashwords.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.





Table of Contents

Josie and War

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four


Lies, Lies, Lies

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four


Clockworld

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six


What Happened to Xiaoping Hathaway

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four


Josie and War

Chapter One

The phone call with his dad is awkward. It’s always awkward. It’s not the words themselves but the silences, which seem to stretch on forever.

“I haven’t quit the weed yet.”

Silence.

“I didn’t get any As this year.”

Silence.

“Yes, I’m still talking to Partington-Hale. He’s cleaned up his act, honest...”

Silence.

If there is a god, Josie thinks, if there is a heaven and a hell, then limbo is his father’s silence, his judgement, the sound of him breathing on the other end of the phone, a million-and-something miles away across the Milky Way. And despite the pain, Josie still longs for him, longs for him desperately. His father’s approval is bound up inextricably in his homesickness, because home for Josie Cooper is his father’s hand on his shoulder. China, America, even bloody planet Clockworld, it doesn’t matter—Josie doesn’t feel connected to places, just to people. Just to that hand, solid and heavy as a rock, and the simple, wordless commune of father and son.

“I’m still pretty queer, dad. I don’t think my counsellor is going to cure that.”

His father says, “I don’t want her to cure you of all men, Jocelyn. Just that one.”

After they say their goodbyes, Josie goes for a walk in the grounds. Everything in Blackhall is bright and sweet; the air is redolent with the smells of fresh-blooming vanilla and lilac and jasmine, and the sun is high and warm. Clockworld is ripe with the raw potentiality of its second Spring. Students play frisbee and cricket in the sunshine, or sunbathe on towels in the shade. A fat boy with straight, dark hair is waiting for Josie under a big willow tree, reading a dog-eared book—The Prince.

Machiavelli, of course it’s Machiavelli. What else could possibly entertain Aubrey Partington-Hale?

Aubrey watches Josie and there’s nothing said, no invitation laid out there in the seamy Spring sunlight, but Josie knows what Aubrey’s feeling the same way he knows his father’s hand. Almost everything important that he says to Aubrey is said through silence. He lies back in the grass beside Aubrey and watches the clouds scudding past, quick and intangible as he imagines thoughts must be.

My problems are insignificant in comparison to the problems of the rest of the world, he tells himself, fiercely blinking back tears. I am just one person out of ninety billion. Nothing I will do or say will change the course of the universe.

He’s heard that it’s a tall-person thing, this: to feel better only when you feel small.




Chapter Two


On the bleachers, Thursday afternoon, with dusk creeping in quickly around the corners of the sky. Thirty metres below the boys of Blackhall’s uni-prep football team are jogging around the college oval, their skinny legs bouncing through an obstacle course of orange witches-hats. White wisps of air steam from their noses and mouths; sweat makes their skin gleam and their hair fall flat and lank across their foreheads. They make Josie think of horses, fine thoroughbred horses, proud and handsome. He’s always fancied athletic types. It’s not about their bodies but about the way they move, easily, effortlessly, like they aren’t bound by the rules of physics the way everyone else is. Like the limber little bastards could practically fly if they wanted to.

He leans back against the sharp wooden bench behind him and clicks his fingers impatiently until dippy, hippy Ping Hathaway, who’s sitting beside him, finally passes on the joint. Josie takes a long drag and holds it until his eyes start to water. Weed always makes him so mellow, which is a good thing out here. There’s nothing like checking out cute guys and being totally down with the universe at the same time.

“You’ve dated one of them, haven’t you, Aubrey?” he says. “Years ago, I remember you saying.”

“The Slovak. We sort of didn’t-date for about three months.” Aubrey, sitting on Josie’s left, pulls a face. “Lots of clandestine meetings in ditches and bushes and even round the back of the Farmstead, because there was no way in piss he’d ruin his reputation by bringing me back to his dorm. Spent most of those three months picking twigs out of my hair and wishing I was with a guy who’d—oh look, he’s waving.”

Josie looks down at the oval. The Slovak, a strikingly handsome youth with very black eyebrows, is flipping Aubrey the bird.

“What a sweetheart,” says Aubrey, unfazed, taking the joint and tucking it in the corner of his mouth. Aubrey smokes joints like he smokes cigarettes, with a sort of casual hunger—he doesn’t savour the high. “It’s my uncle’s money that pays for his bloody sports scholarship, you know. If the little prick doesn’t change his attitude I’ll have it taken off him. Get him sent back to Eastern Europe. My uncle’ll probably like that, he’s a lifelong member of the BNP.”

“Bit harsh, don’t you think, Aubrey?” Josie says.

Aubrey inspects the joint. “Better than the rubbish Hathaway got us last month.”

“That’s not what I meant—” Josie begins, but Aubrey’s smug grin tells him he shouldn’t bother. Aubrey is such a prat, an absolutely incorrigible prat, and his prattiness is starting to do the unthinkable: it’s killing Josie’s buzz. He takes back the joint and gives it one great big old huff, trying to suck all the mellow out of it in a single hit.

It’s a shame that Aubrey’s a prat, he reflects, because Josie finds him stupidly sexy. Aubrey is good-looking in an impish, wicked sort of way, and has amazing skin—he’s bronze-coloured, like he just flew over from Ibiza—but he’s also got a serious belly, which has been getting more and more serious the longer he spends at Blackhall. Actually, most of it dates from the time Aubrey and the Slovak broke up. Baggage, Josie thinks, looking at Aubrey out of the corner of his eyes. Major baggage.

“What about you, Hathaway?” he asks. “Any seedy affairs with jocks?”

Hathaway, who’s a year and a half younger and impossibly shy, turns bright red. “N-no. Maybe. A hockey player… I liked her. But nothing, nothing really happened.”

“You’re wonderfully virginal,” says Aubrey, not exactly sarcastically, and stares at his fingernails like he’s just sooo bored right now—but it’s not real, it’s just an act, because for a second, somewhere between Hathaway and his plump golden hands, Aubrey’s gaze drifts wistfully sideways, out across the bleachers and onto the oval, where the handsome Slovak is dribbling the ball between the legs of his team members. Josie notices it; Hathaway, too consumed by his own embarrassment, doesn’t.

“We were just friends,” says Hathaway. “It was never meant to, um, be. So we didn’t… I didn’t want to force it…”

In normal circumstances Josie would probably hang around to listen to Hathaway’s hard-luck love story—tight-lipped Josie is the kind of guy that guys like to confide in. But all of a sudden the weed wriggles its way into the movement parts of Josie’s brain, and Josie stands up obligingly and walks away, toward the aisle—and a few seconds later he finds himself on the edge of the oval. There’s a blank stretch of time there, missing dope-time, only a few seconds but it unbalances him. He leans against the metal railings and watches the team punt the ball back and forth. The ball is fascinating, those pretty checkerboard coloured hexagons like a 1950s kitchen floor and also the way it sort of blurs through the air like a comet. Dope-tastic. Josie feels a surge of nausea and wishes he hadn’t hit the joint quite so hard.

“Cooper. Hey, Cooper.”

It’s the Slovak, walking towards him with a thumb hooked casually under the elastic of his shorts. Josie straightens himself up as best he can, knowing he still reeks of dope and wondering if the Slovak will care. The Slovak is a big guy, all shoulders like a wrestler or a swimmer, and pretty intimidating up close. It’s hard to picture fat, bitchy Aubrey with a guy like this—the physical geometry of it is just plain wrong.

But then they always say that opposites attract.

“Hey, Vladistov,” says Josie.

“What the hell is that fat git doing here?” says the Slovak, wiping perspiration from the back of his neck with a rolled up towel. “He’s putting me off my game.”

“He’s just getting high and watching you,” says Josie in his most reassuring voice. “No harm in—Actually it is kind of creepy now you mention it.”

“Hah.” The Slovak gives Aubrey the finger again, his thick black eyebrows furrowing into a single angry line. He looks back at Josie, shaking his head. “You shouldn’t hang around with him, Cooper. He’s a brat. He’s useless. He’ll get you into trouble, one of these days. No morals. No sense of ethics.”

“Crazy-sexy, though,” says Josie wistfully—all that mellow-ness has loosened his tongue.

“Yeah, well,” says the Slovak.

They stand there uncomfortably; the Slovak watches Aubrey and Josie watches the Slovak. The Slovak’s t-shirt is stained down the front with a V of sweat, its axis at his navel, and Josie follows its outline up and down and up and down. He can’t stop himself, it’s stupid but he’s compelled to do it, and he remembers—the way he always remembers, after the fact—how much being stoned sucks. The mellow-stage is fine, but the getting-obsessed-with-stupid-stuff-like-footballs-and-sweat-patches-stage is so… well, it’s a waste. I’m wasting my life, Josie thinks, and wants to giggle. His father, his teachers, even bloody Aubrey is always accusing him of that—like if only he’d start taking his studies seriously he’d have the cure for cancer by lunchtime.

“Do you play basketball?” the Slovak asks.

Josie raises an eyebrow. “You’re asking because I’m black?”

“That and you’re American and fit and probably have at least four inches on me, if you didn’t slouch. I figure that if you didn’t play basketball, it’d only be out of spite.”

“I do, yeah,” Josie admits. “Used to. Not since…” Not since he started hanging around with Aubrey and Hathaway, in fact. “Not since second year.”

“You should try out for the school team. I’m not in it, of course—wrong build—but I could put in a good word for you with the Captain. How about Tuesday afternoon?”

“I’m not really into team sport these days,” says Josie. “I get the feeling I make guys uncomfortable. You know, like they think I’m checking them out. Maybe if there was a mixed team. Or like an all-queer—”

The Slovak looks bored. “You smell like puke and dope,” he says, walking away. “You should probably fix that before Tuesday.”

Chapter Three


Josie Cooper has never actually come out—like, he’s never had to say it or prove it or admit it. People just seem to know. How, Josie doesn’t know; he’s never dated anyone, ever, although he kissed one of the other uni-preps once on the bleachers at last year’s New Years Eve party. Quickly, though, no tongue, just the peck of chapped lips and the smell of expensive cologne. You could kiss anyone like that.

Maybe, he thinks, it’s the fact that he doesn’t date or kiss that’s the tell. You can infer a lot from what people don’t do. But you can also infer a lot from people’s friends—and Josie is friends with Aubrey. Close friends, maybe even best friends. Inseparable, Hathaway sometimes calls them, his voice pinched with third-wheel jealousy.

A bad idea, Josie’s father calls them.

Josie Cooper meets Aubrey Partington-Hale in second year. It isn’t a particularly auspicious meeting—they just happen to go to the bogs for a cry at the same time. Two kids choking down tears in side-by-side stalls. Josie’s crying because he’s just heard from his form leader that his grandmother’s taken a turn for the worse (she dies eight months later, just before Christmas). He feels awful, deeply homesick, and although he wouldn’t wish this feeling on anyone else, somehow it’s better that there’s someone out there crying with him.

“You got paper? I ran out of paper.”

The voice from the other stall is hoarse, the accent British. Josie bundles up a handful of toilet paper and shoves it under the stall.

“Ta, love.”

“Are you okay?” Josie asks, wiping away his tears on the back of his sleeve.

“Um. Honestly? No. I think my arm’s broken.”

“Shit, really?”

“Yeah, really.”

“How’d it happen?”

“Oh, the usual way.”

Josie boggles, his grandmother momentarily forgotten. “What’s the usual way?”

“Can you help me?” the kid asks. “It’s sort of frozen. My arm, I mean. I don’t think I can unlock the stall.”

“Give me a second.”

Josie stands on the toilet seat and hoists himself up onto the thin wall of the stall, swinging both legs over and sliding down slowly so he doesn’t hit the injured kid below. His feet hit the ground before he has to let go—at thirteen, he’s taller than most of the fifth years, and still growing. Josie’s dad is six-eight, his mum six-two.

“Oh. Jocelyn, isn’t it? I should’ve figured from the accent.”

Josie turns around. The kid is bruised and bloody and puffy around the face but Josie recognises him instantly—already Aubrey has a reputation at Blackhall, mainly for being a prick. (There’s a rumour going round that his file in the school counsellors office has the word SOCIOPATH stamped on it.) Josie feels sorry for him for getting beaten up and all but there’s part of him that’s thinking, Let’s face it, the guy probably deserved it. Aubrey’s holding one arm across his chest like you’d cradle a baby and Josie can clearly see the break through his sleeve—and it’s a bad break, a really bad break, maybe right through the bone.

“We’ve got to get you to a doctor,” he says.

“Nnnnno,” says Aubrey.

“Your arm’s broken. Aren’t you in pain?”

“It felt bad when it happened, but now I can’t feel anything below my shoulder.”

Josie unlocks the stall door and steps out.

“Come on,” he says.

“Is there anyone around? I don’t want people to see.”

“Look, mate, I can lock the door and leave you here…”

“So pushy,” Aubrey says, with a lisp, and Josie winces.

He takes Aubrey to the infirmary. The doctor on duty lets out a shriek when she sees Aubrey’s arm. She pumps Aubrey full of sedatives and painkillers, and then Aubrey’s off to surgery—he needs metal pins in his arm and some other things that Josie only half hears. Josie waits in the infirmary’s foyer, amongst posters about sexual transmitted diseases and the evils of drugs and smoking. Guiltily he picks up a booklet on sexual orientation—and then puts it down real fast when the doctor returns to tell him that his ‘little friend’ is out of surgery.

Aubrey is sitting up in bed. He looks cheerful for someone with a broken arm—Josie guesses it’s the drugs.

“My hero,” says Aubrey.

“Um,” says Josie.

“I’m surprised you stayed. Or maybe I’m not. What classes were you getting out of?”

“I just thought there should be someone waiting for you.”

“How romantic,” says Aubrey. “Do you fall for every guy you meet in a public toilet?”

Josie thinks about that. Then he leaves. Not because he’s offended or upset or angry but because he’s done his bit, now; he’s no longer got any moral obligation—however misguided—to stay, and it’s clear that Aubrey doesn’t want him there anyway. He leaves the infirmary and goes back to the class he’s missing (maths, advanced). The teacher asks him where he’s been; he says helping a sick kid; the lesson resumes and Josie slips into his desk and learns about algebra and how many x-es y equals today.

Except. Halfway through solving an equation, somewhere between carrying the two and dividing by six, Josie realises he’s forgotten about his sick gran. Like, completely.

And he loves his gran and it makes no sense that he’d forget about her at a time like this; really, what kind of bastard grandson would forget about his sick gran just because he met some guy in a toilet, especially a chubby unlikeable shit like Aubrey Partington-Hale, and what kind of bastard grandson would still be thinking about some guy he met in a toilet even now, when he’s supposed to be remembering about his gran…

Josie sucks on the end of his pen so hard the ink leaks into his mouth.

A few days later he sees Aubrey in the corridor with a cast on his arm and Josie says, “Hi, how’s your arm, I heard—” and Aubrey says, “I’m going to cut Biology and smoke pot with that queer Chinese shit from 1D,” and Josie says, “Oh,” and Aubrey says, “We’ll cut you in for two credits,” and Josie says, “Okay.”

And then that’s it. Inseparable. More or lessly from that point on.


Chapter Four


“War,” sings Aubrey Partington-Hale. “What is he good for? Messing with my fucking mind, is what.”

“Oh Aubrey,” says Josie.

“War is a sniping little bitch.” Aubrey licks salt off his fingers and rolls his eyes. “I can’t believe he’s so petty about this shit.”

The Slovak’s first name is War. War Vladistov. Josie doesn’t know if War means anything particular in Slovakian—but he doubts it. He imagines Aubrey writing that name in the margins of his notebooks, doodling hearts around it. War. Is it an awful name, or a fantastic one? Most people call the Slovak the Slovak, anyway, even though he’s not the only Slovakian at Blackhall. It’s like how Josie is always The American.

Josie and Aubrey are hanging out in the courtyard outside the Kruger-Wei science complex, drinking coke and eating their way through a platter of chips that Aubrey’s charmed off a lunch lady. It’s eleven o’clock and Hathaway is back at the dorm—the sixth form kids have a curfew of ten-thirty, poor dears. The Clockworld moons are out and gleaming yellow-red in the night sky, bigger than Earth’s moons, but maybe that’s just the perspective.

“He said you were crazy-sexy,” Josie offers, playing peace-maker.

“Bullshit.”

“Okay, he didn’t say it, but he kind of agreed with me about it.”

“You said I was crazy-sexy?”

Josie is so glad it’s dark and he’s black and there’s no chance Aubrey will see him blush. He’s usually good at keeping his mouth shut but apparently not today—he’d blame the weed but there’s nothing left of it in his head any more save a low-grade headache and an itchiness behind his eyes. It could be Freudian—Hathaway the paranoid thinks everything is Freudian. Like your subconscious acts on things all by itself. Like you’re never really in control of your own body.

“Let’s go back to talking about Vladistov,” he says.

“We were.”

“Well. Anyway.”

“Anyway.”

“Anyway, I think I might try out for the team. It’s not going to hurt, is it? Either I get in or I don’t. And I reckon they’d take me even if I’m not crash-hot—I’ve got to be one of the tallest guys at school. I can dunk a ball, no sweat. Or I could, like, a few years back.”

“You’ll have to quit the dope. And start eating right.” Aubrey’s tone suggests that this is the most horrific thing imaginable.

“Maybe we could go healthy together,” Josie suggests optimistically. “You know. Make a pact to get in shape by next year. We could go jogging in the morning—”

He’s trying to be subtle but apparently he’s not being subtle enough, because Aubrey throws the platter at Josie’s face and stalks off into the darkness. Josie sits there dumbly, hot chips on his lap and the platter clattering on the cobbles. He touches his forehead; it comes away with a faint line of blood, which is funny because it doesn’t hurt at all.

“Aubrey,” he says, standing up. There’s no response so he tries again, shouting: “Aubrey.”

Aubrey starts cursing and Josie follows the curses, Hansel and Gretel style, along the neat pathways of the grounds. But then, just as he reaches the dormitory, the curses stop. Josie stands there uncertainly, beneath the great arch of the entrance, the stones over-crept with the funny, white-leafed Clockworld ivy. No more Aubrey; Aubrey’s gone.


*


He goes to the Farmstead instead of back to the dorms. The Farmstead is a ranch they built for the rich kid's horses, except all the horses died on the intergalactic flight from Earth, so now the Farmstead is a kind of unofficial common room for jocks and uni-preps. A place to socialise and drink—now they're over eighteen, Blackhall's staff can't really stop them—and buy drugs from Hathaway, whose professional calling means he gets a free pass into all Blackhall's social circles.

There’s a gang of uni-prep kids loitering outside the Farmstead when Josie gets there, smoking and listening to an antique jukebox. They look at him as he walks up to the porch—no smiles of welcome, but no fuck-off glares either. Josie squeezes his way past and through the lounge and into the back room, where the jock types hang out drinking sugar-water and sports drinks and watching old football games projected on the wallscreens.

There are twenty of them in there now, standing around a bench where two girls from the hockey team are arm-wrestling. It’s like an underground boxing club: they’re cheering and screaming the girls on, and some of them have their wallets out, wads of cash fanning the air. The place smells sweaty and also like old socks. Josie stands in the doorway and watches them at it, feeling more of an outsider than he ever has before.

The Slovak, suddenly beside him, says, “It’s not Tuesday yet.”

“Tuesday?” says Josie. “Oh, I'm not here about that. I was just wandering about. Uh. It's kind of mad in here, isn't it?”

War smirks. “This isn't mad. I know mad. I've seen your little dealer friend Hathaway talking to himself. Fighting with himself. That's mad.”

“Mate, Hathaway is high about ninety percent of the time.”

“People go crazy here all the time, you know. Because we're so far from Earth. It's the pull of the moons or some werewolf shit.” War shrugs. “Want to grab a beer and go out the back? It's quieter there.”

He puts a hand on Josie's shoulder, companionably. It's a big hand, heavy, and the gesture—so caught up in Josie's preoccupation with fathers and men and friendships—makes him feel instantly vulnerable. Also: pliable. He follows War to a bar fridge, and then out 'round the back of the Farmstead, where the land slopes suddenly downward to the river and the school conservatory, its glass walls turned to silver in the moons' light.

There's some people making out on the grass, most of them boy-girl couples but at least two combinations of boy-girl-girl and one girl-girl which has attracted an audience of silently drinking boys. War waves hello to a few people as they pass—well, not really a wave, more of a tip of his bottle in their direction, like he's toasting them long-distance. War is pretty fucking cool, Josie thinks.

He's still thinking how pretty fucking cool War is when they sit down and War starts kissing him in a clumsy, slow way, not on the mouth but on the neck and the side of Josie's face. It's so weird that Josie doesn't really get what's going on at first.


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