The first time Charlie Gillespie found himself in the past, he blamed it on the drugs. A curious mix of Bell's whiskey, the red and yellow caplets prescribed for anxiety by Dr Clarke, and a couple of slightly less legal party favours purchased from his old acquaintance Twig in the pub. Of all the possible side effects, travelling through space and time was not one he had been particularly prepared for.
It started on a Thursday morning. Like a lot of mornings recently, Charlie woke up hungover, in a bed that was not his own, next to a girl he only vaguely recognised.
“Morning,” she whispered in his ear.
“Morning…” he mumbled back, trying to decide if he needed to be sick or not. Her name was... Shit, what was her name? He wanted to say Jor-El, but he knew that was the name of Marlon Brando’s character in Superman. Janelle. That was it.
“…Janelle. Morning, Janelle.”
She was a good looking girl. A damn sight prettier than some of the women he’d found himself waking up with in the last six months. As she got up from the bed and covered herself with a robe, Charlie spotted a rose tattoo on her left shoulderblade. Was that why he’d gone home with her last night? Because that tattoo had been visible in her revealing dress? Her dark skin and hair were a factor too, he supposed. Not forgetting those gold hoop earrings. Little things that might have made her look enough like Alicia to fool him in the hazy stupor of karaoke night at The Crown.
Alicia. The one and only girl Charlie had ever loved. Not that he ever told her, mind. He’d thought himself exempt from that kind of sappy gesture, even when it really counted. And now it was too late. Alicia was gone, and here he was, trying to get high enough to fashion a decent simulacrum out of some random girl in a bar.
“Breakfast?” Janelle asked from the bedroom door. Charlie shook his head and tumbled from the bed, reaching blindly on the floor for his clothes. A look of understanding formed in Janelle’s eyes. She was disappointed, but far from surprised.
“I have to get to work,” Charlie offered, lamely. She didn’t even need to believe the lie if she didn’t want to. He dressed quickly and was soon out of there.
The morning that greeted him as he left the building was bright and unforgiving. Charlie pulled up the collar of his jacket and retrieved his iPod from the pocket. One of these days he was going to lose or break that thing, and he dreaded to think what the walk of shame would be like without it.
Charlie lit a cigarette and put the player on shuffle, hoping to blast away some of the cobwebs before he got home. He could feel the ill effects of everything he had taken last night waiting for him just out of sight, like an albatross. Biding their time to hit him when he least expected it.
A song came on that he didn't remember adding: "I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor". Old enough now to qualify as a classic, which meant it belonged on an entirely different playlist. Charlie couldn't hear this song without thinking of uni, of how he had gone from loving it to hating it as the DJs played it to death. And of course, like everything else at the moment, it made him think of Alicia.
The moment her name entered his head, the moment he began to picture her face, Charlie felt the albatross swoop in. The cigarette dropped from his fingers. The Arctic Monkeys suddenly sounded very far away. The edge of his vision frayed into darkness, as if he were about to faint, and then it happened. Charlie felt a jolt, a pang in the pit of his stomach, and the world around him vanished.
For a split second, he was terrified. He thought he was dead. Then, in the blink of an eye, he felt something solid under his feet, and the world came rushing back in a surge of colour and sound. Charlie promptly dropped to his knees and vomited. He felt hammered. It took him a few moments to scramble to his feet and realise that the pounding he could feel wasn't in his head - it was the rhythmic thump thump thump of a nightclub. He looked around. The walls weren't closing in on him like he'd first feared; he was simply in a toilet cubicle, standing next to a small puddle of sick. With aching, trembling fingers, Charlie slid back the bolt on the cubicle door and stepped out into the room
The sight of urinals filled him with relief; he hadn’t blindly stumbled into that sacred territory marked “Ladies”. It looked like any gents lavatory in any club. He could be anywhere. Charlie couldn't remember the last time he'd blacked out so completely. It was a small miracle that any bouncer in their right mind had let him come in, the state he was in. Charlie rinsed out his mouth at one of the sinks, then stumbled out of the toilets and into a red, tunnel-like hallway.
An oft-cited cliché tried to form on his tongue, but he struggled to get the words out.
"Toto," he rasped. "Kansas."
He was dreaming. He had to be. The garish pop art on the walls, the sticky floor, the smell of aniseed and cigarette smoke... There was no mistaking it; he was in Yoko's.
"Impossible," he said, clearing his throat.
"You what, mate?" A young man leaning against the wall looked up from his phone.
"Is this Yoko's?" Charlie asked. The man laughed.
"Had a bit too much have we?" He finished texting, then met Charlie's eye again. "Yeah, we're in Yoko's."
A dream, Charlie decided. Definitely a dream. Because Yoko's never opened in the day. Yoko’s was miles from here. Yoko’s closed its doors for good almost two years ago. And yet… He couldn’t recall ever having a dream this vivid. The smells, the sounds. Most of them quite unpleasant. Charlie wandered further down the red corridor, towards the music. Déjà vu did not even begin to describe what he was feeling. Already seen? Already lived, more like. He had spent longer than he cared to mention in this smoky corner of Carrow, off his head when he should have been working to achieve something other than a third class degree. It had been a second home to him… and her. Always her.
Charlie emerged into the club itself, where the Arctic Monkeys were blearing from the sound system, almost as if to greet him. “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor.”
He needed a drink. Or a dose of anti-psychotics. But he’d settle for a drink. Charlie made his way through the sparse crowd to the bar, and ordered a double whiskey. He knocked it back before realising he didn’t have any money.
“Fuck,” he muttered, patting his jacket and jeans knowing full well he would find nothing there. He smiled uselessly at the barmaid, a skinny blonde with a hard, thin mouth, while trying to think up some excuse or platitude. Before he could come out with anything, he saw a slender hand push a ten pound note across the bar in the direction of the blonde girl.
Charlie knew that hand. He knew those polished red nails, the white gold pinkie ring, and the tiny scar on the thumb (from an incident involving lots of wine and a noble attempt at making bacon sandwiches). Charlie looked up at the owner of the hand. She smiled, and then she slapped him.
“Where the hell have you been?” She asked furiously. “I’ve been waiting here like an idiot for over an hour.”
His cheek burned where she had struck him. Definitely not a dream, then.
“Alicia,” he said, “I don’t understand.”
“What’s not to understand?” She asked. “We arranged to meet here at nine and you didn’t show up. Again.” She signalled to the barmaid for another shot and then necked it, wincing slightly. Neat spirits had never agreed with Alicia; she was a rosé girl at heart. She slammed the glass down on the bar, as if to punish it for the vile taste of the whiskey, and then returned her glare to its rightful recipient: him.
Charlie remembered this row. He remembered this whole evening. It was the last night of university. Tomorrow, they would both leave Carrow; Alicia would go home to London and Charlie would go back to Bristol, and they would never see each other again.
“Alicia,” Charlie whispered, and then he said something that could not be heard under the din of the club.
“What?” She asked, leaning in. Charlie repeated himself, but she shook her head and held her hand up to her ear, sidling ever closer.
“You’re dead,” Charlie shouted into her ear.
The beat stopped. The bar that Charlie was leaning on vanished, and Alicia disappeared along with it. Charlie fell into darkness, grappling for a hold on something, anything, before colliding with something hard and flat. It might have knocked him out cold, or he might have awoken straight away – he couldn’t be sure. All he knew was that when he opened his eyes, he was lying face-down on the living room floor in his flat.
To Be Continued
Read Part Two
Read Part Two