Gothic Switch, a short story by Richard A. Ridley. Date added: 2011-01-24. Times viewed: 27670.
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- Intro: Culture shock. Twice. - Unlike several of my stories, and most of my first novel Wait Until You Die, this story is not in any way autobiographical. P.S. My second novel, which features a truly evil, old-school vampire, is now available on Kindle. It's entitled 'The Gilded Vampire' and I'd describe the book as a modern Gothic-horror rom-com.
Gothic Switch by Richard A. Ridley
It’s easy to drift into things. A lot of people do it, they try some new fad or other, they go along to an amateur dramatics meeting with a friend and end up a year later cast in the lead role as some swashbuckling pirate or a gangster on the run. Some people find religion by much the same means by accident I mean, not looking for it in any way. I even knew a feller once, an ice-hockey fan through and through, who went to work at Wembley Stadium as a plumber and ended up as a fanatical football fan. I’d never really fallen into any kind of enthusiasm myself, not until I met Sharona anyway.
I lived in a suburb of London, a backwater almost, a small town where entertainment was sparse and the population, when it wanted such things as a good night out, got onto the underground system and travelled up to the west end, Leicester Square or Covent Garden, even Watford was probably more exciting. There were four public houses in the town, the Bald-Faced Stag, the Broadway, the Prince of Wales and The Jolly Hangman. I suppose it was only natural that the Gothic brigade used the Jolly Hangman to meet up in. And the Jolly Hangman was also the place I used to frequent.
he first time I saw Sharona she was wearing a little black miniskirt with black lolita stockings a pair of leather boots with three rows huge silver buckles. She had loads of thick black eyeliner and black hair although her eyes were dark blue and sort of sparkling. I don’t believe in love at first sight or anything like that, but I was attracted to her right away. I was interested. I don’t know why. Of course she was pretty, but there were a lot of pretty girls about. It was something more than that.
She didn’t take much notice of me but there’s nothing unusual in that, I like to stay out of the way; I stand in the shadows, a wallflower; I always like to see people before they see me. I like to sum people up, to guess their personality from the way they dress or their demeanour. I think I’m pretty good at that sort of thing and my assumptions are often borne out. I’m not saying you can judge a book by its cover, but there are things you can deduce from the way a person carries themselves, the way they speak and all that. I’m not talking about accent, but the tone, the words used, manners and mannerisms. To some people a nuance is a nuisance, take poker players, for example, or second-hand car dealers; they hide their little ‘tells’ and suppress them, for at least as long as it takes to win a bluffing hand or sell a dodgy vehicle. But most people don’t bother, why should they? Especially when they’re relaxing and amongst friends; and so in those circumstances you can tell quite a lot about somebody if you know what to look for and you don’t mind the actual effort of taking mental notes. So I watched Sharona for a while; ‘worshipped her from afar’ you might say if you wanted to put it in a nutshell; I watched her and I liked what I saw.
The Jolly Hangman never really got packed to the rafters. It was a sort of backwater within a backwater. The place would have closed years ago if the pub landlord had been forced to run it as a profit-making enterprise, but the fact was that old man Thompson had a very lucrative building firm which had set him up for life; he’d bought the Jolly Hangman as a plaything, a social enterprise which afforded him personal contact whenever he wanted it. After hours the doors were locked and barred and the place became an after-hours drinking club for old man Thompson’s cronies. Often he’d stand everyone in the place a round of drinks; a generous act but lessened somewhat by the fact that there were usually only five or six customers when he made the gesture. I mean he was old and he was generous, but he wasn’t an idiot.
Anyway, old man Thompson’s visits began to wane as he became very old man Thompson, and although he never worried the manager about it, the place gradually went downhill. I suppose the Gothic revival was also the Jolly Hangman’s revival because since they’d chosen the place to hang out in, it was busier than I’d ever known it to be. It eventually became so busy that I was thinking of finding a different watering hole. Until that day when Sharona walked in.
I didn’t know her name until I heard one of the Goths call her Sharona. We hadn’t been introduced or anything and nor were we likely to be. I mean, I was what was known as a ‘casual’ back then; the clothes I wore were the sort you could purchase in any high street store, any catalogue might stock them, you know, fashionable but in a mainstream kind of way. In those days I didn’t attach much importance to sartorial matters and in any case, I didn’t want to stand out from any crowd. Fame, after all, is fleeting; obscurity lasts forever.
Over a few weeks I watched her. Surreptitiously of course, out of the corner of my eye, in the mirror-reflection between bottles of liqueurs. She didn’t notice me and neither did any of her crowd, but gradually I noticed things about her, the way she always said ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to the bar staff; the sparkle in her eyes when she laughed; the way she held her cigarette between her thumb and her index finger. Mostly I noticed that she didn’t seem to have a boyfriend.
I’d read Dracula and I’d read Frankenstein; I’d even read some of Anne Rice’s work, like Interview With The Vampire. I knew a bit about Gothic culture, or should I say sub-culture. I’d seen a few Hammer horror films and a couple of the early vampire films but I couldn’t say I was ever tempted to dress like any of the characters. Like I say, I’d never drifted into any sort of clique or fad, but I decided I’d give this Gothic business a go, mainly because of Sharona.
Now there’ll be a lot of people who think I’m a bit of a poseur, a bit of a dilettante, a psuedo; and to an extent, especially back then, they’d be sort of correct. But I’ve seen plenty of blokes out on the pull who come out with all sorts of crap when they want to make some girl. I once overheard a mate of mine in a pub, desperately trying to impress a girl, saying with a totally straight face ‘Of course, on a motorway, a fast car is essential’, He didn’t even own a car, let alone a fast one. I’ve known people who’ve pretended to be doctors or lawyers, plumbers even, in order to get a girl interested in them. I always thought they were stupid. I always considered them inferior. Maybe you do to. But experience changes viewpoints, and that’s all I can say; it’s the only justification I can give for my actions.
It's not all that hard to find basic Gothic gear. If in doubt just buy anything black. The more unusual, specialist stuff has to be hunted out; it’s not high street material, not mainstream. So I bought some basic stuff, black jeans and a black T-shirt with the Bauhaus logo on it, a pair of Cuban-heeled pointed-toe black leather shoes, a black leather belt with chromed studs all over it. Luckily I didn’t have to dye my hair black because nature had done that for me.
Anyway I walked into the Jolly Hangman one night dressed in my Gothic gear and pretty soon afterwards I got talking to Sharona. We got along really well from the start and it wasn’t long before we were on a firm footing. Eventually I got to know the whole crowd and I felt a sort of bond; the sort of affinity that was based on far more than just attending the same school together or working at the same place. It was an affinity based on an outlook; a world-view; a philosophy almost. And I liked it. I felt better than I’d ever felt when I was just hanging out as a ‘casual’ with no direction except for the false and shallow leadings of mainstream blandness. I really felt a sense of belonging.
Sharona was deep and interesting, she was beautiful and intelligent, she was so different from the sort of girl I’d been involved with before. Sometimes we stayed up all night, whizzing and talking, speed jive mostly but sometimes we really touched souls; that sort of spiritual congress which makes the physical stuff so much more intense. We talked about Bauhaus. We talked about the Damned. We talked about Dracula and Frankenstein. We talked about Anne Rice’s literature and humanistic vampires. We drank absinthe and snorted speed in the toilets of the Jolly Hangman, We talked about life and death, We went to live gigs by local Goth bands and came home shouting at each other, not from any anger or disagreement, but because our ears were ringing from the damage that the P.A. system had done to our hearing. We packed a wide range of activities and an awful lot of deep conversation into a very short period of time. I felt I knew Sharona really well. All the summer we were calmly running wild, burning the candle at both ends, living like there was no tomorrow. But there always is a tomorrow. Always.
I suppose it’s naiveté which leads you to believe that the affair you’re currently in will last forever; wishful thinking, a positive mental attitude, blind optimism maybe. In any case it didn’t last forever. It didn’t even last all summer. There was a sudden change in Sharona’s behaviour, in her outlook; and the way it happened was extremely unnerving. Sharona phoned me one day and said she’d got a job with an insurance company. She was gushing on the phone, excited like an eighteenth century cockney before a public execution. She’d had to dress ‘sensibly’ and tone down her make-up, but the job was ‘a real opportunity to succeed’ in ‘a really fast-paced, dynamic environment’. Sharona was full of this stuff, awash with management-speak phrases like ‘advancement prospects’ and get this! ‘A non-contributory pension plan’. It was like something out of ‘the body-snatchers’. At first I thought she was winding me up. At any moment I expected her to say ‘Not really. Had you going there didn’t I?’ but she never did, She just kept on about this fucking insurance company as if it were God and Satan rolled into one, as if it were the absolute height of anyone’s life work to be asked to clean the fucking toilets there.
I met her the next day in a local café. She was dressed totally straight, not casual but sort of businesslike. She had really bland make-up which made her look just as beautiful as ever but not in any way Gothic. I mean she could have been modelling for Marks and Spencer or something. I’d never seen such a sudden change in someone and I was shocked. She looked so weirdly normal, so terrifyingly non-threatening. I knew it was over between us as soon as I saw her. No more wild gigs; no more speed; no more white face-powder or bright red lipstick. I could sense a change in her that was more than just a change of image; I mean personas come and go in minutes. This was more a change of character; a change of heart.
‘It’s a bit sudden isn’t it? I mean you could have given me some sort of warning.’
‘I didn’t think I’d get it – the job I mean’ She stared at the floor as if there was some sort of ciphered message written on it; some sort of cryptic explanation, but the only patterns I could see were in the random swirls of dust on the grey vinyl tiles and I suppose she saw roughly the same. ‘I’m going to drop out of the Gothic scene for a while.’ She said softly.
We both knew she was actually going to drop out of the Gothic scene forever. There was a sort of taciturn understanding between us, a sort of telepathically shared knowledge that the final credits were rolling on our movie, our short film, and that the audience were heading for the exits. Somewhere in the distance a fat lady was singing; Peter Cushing was driving a stake into a vampire; Frankenstein’s daemon was slipping overboard and escaping into a mountainous, icy landscape. I gave her a hug and a peck on the cheek, I felt the sudden distance between us, the distance between events of the past and the relative circumstances of the present. The screen faded to black because the film was over.
That night I went out with the rest of the Goths. Everyone was amazed at the news of Sharona’s sudden transformation. They consoled warmly me but strangely, I didn’t feel all that miserable; I’m not saying I was happy, but I was reconciled, I felt at ease about it. I realised that my own transformation must have shocked a few of my friends at the time, my former friends I should say. I suppose it’s all part of the diversity of modern existence, and although life appears to be weird at times I don’t suppose death will be any more predictable.
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