:: Article

The Jungle Banshee

By Jim Gibson.

It was called home and I lived there and I didn’t really go out much. I’d go to the shop in the morning and buy some cans of energy drinks and take them home to sit on my X-Box, breaking only for oven chips and oven fish and to feel bad when I looked at the mess of an oven. I could ignore the rest of the house, walking around with screen eyes you can do things while still having the game running behind the surface so that the scum in the toilet could be ignored, the heaps of dust, the food splattered up the walls, all of that, apart from the oven. The oven was thick with grot and whenever you opened it to get your food, it would flood the room with smoke. I’d long ago taken the battery out of the fire alarm to stop that fucker going off whenever I made anything. And then it was back up to my room, to my games.

I don’t get depressed at home, I get depressed when I have to leave; when I have to go and sign on at the Job Centre or when I have to go and visit people. I mean, I don’t visit people that often but I do have to go to the Job Centre a bit and it’s a ball ache. It’s a waste of time, me going all the way up there for them to keep me waiting. If I’m ever late, that’s it: SANCTIONED. If they’re late then that’s fine; I have to wait. And, you see people in there being like teachers’ pets, asking about jobs or if they can get onto courses and bragging to their advisors about interviews they’d been to.

On this day, I walked back from the Job Centre instead of getting the bus to save a bit of money. They’d pointed out a few jobs for me to apply for when I got home and I said I would and they looked me up and down and asked Have you got any nice clothes for an interview? I shouldn’t have been offended cos I know I look a mess. Since I put all the weight on, I haven’t bought any proper clothes like jeans or anything, I just have this one pair of navy blue trackies and a few baggy t-shirts with, like, No Fear or Lonsdale on them so I just said Yeah, course I have and they waved me off. But, walking home, I was really down. Looking at everything going past me, cars, birds, people, buildings, they all seemed to have a purpose and I was panting with a bag full of Monster. I got to looking at the floor all the way home, the rough tarmac and pavement potholes, the litter everywhere, the fly tipping on street corners where people live. I started to realise that it wasn’t just my house that was like this, it was the whole town and as people went to and from work they must have had screen eyes but filled with jobs and work and they couldn’t see it all. It was a fucking state. I crushed the can in my hand and dropped it down to join a condom, a needle and a nappy. No one said anything.

When I got home it was dark inside so I opened the blinds as they shook dust from themselves. I saw the X-Box, then I saw all the mess and decided it was time for a clean-up. Head, house and soul. I gave the whole house as deep a clean as I could and it took hours but I was pretty happy with it when I’d finished and I sat on the settee with a chip sandwich and looked around. It seemed bigger but it was still quiet. I still felt, I dunno… alone. I turned on my laptop and went to put some music on YouTube and found this live, sorta, radio channel that just played song after song of this weird like almost lift music with like rapping and stuff. The music was weird but they also had, like, Simpsons videos behind them, only all purple and like it was played on an old scratched VHS. I looked to the top right and there was a little box where people could talk and they were all being really friendly and giving advice and stuff so I typed, my heart racing from the caffeine and the worry, I AM LONELY. It had my gamer tag, JungleBanshee111, and I wanted to delete what I’d written as soon as I had written it but there was no way to. Then the responses came, THAT’S SHITTY JUNGLEBASHEE, I KNOW THE FEELING and NO WORRIES, YOU’RE WITH FRIENDS HERE. I don’t know why but it was comforting. I chatted with them about all sorts while the music was nice and soothing, I sorta forgot it was even playing. On here, it was like I could actually be seen. Not for what I looked like or how I was. Everyone on here had their own problems and I was just one of many. It was kinda liberating to know. I went on it more and more over the next few days and kept the house tidy. I’d got my gaming down to a couple of hours a day and I wasn’t even really trying, to tell you the truth, I just wanted to listen to this strange music and talk to some people.

It was probably about a week in when I realised it and it changed it all a bit for me. Someone asked everyone how they got through school cos they were finding it really hard. Then, when people replied, it turned out that they were all 13 or 14. I’d been talking to children and it never once crossed my mind that they could be so young. Then they asked: HOW OLD ARE YOU JUNGLE? I was the only one that hadn’t answered and under the pressure I put: 14. In my head I didn’t know whether or not I’d be able to stay talking to them, I mean, I knew I shouldn’t but it was the first time I wasn’t lonely in so long, so the 14 idea seemed to keep my options open for a little bit longer. And, I knew I shouldn’t but I kept talking to them. I thought back about my time at school and just said it as if it was happening now, it was like I wasn’t lying, just getting the tenses wrong. No one was harming anyone. But when I went to bed each night it just wasn’t as satisfying as it was before I knew I was talking to kids. Commenting on their dreams. I had to stop.

I was surprised when I got an email saying that I’d got an interview for a job that I’d applied for. It was only picking and packing at a warehouse but for some reason, I felt really good about getting a job. I had never felt good about going for a job before but I was ready. I headed up to the Job Centre and told my advisor that I needed some clothes for an interview and he smiled, saying I thought you had smart clothes? For the first time I was straight up with him, None that fit me anymore. He gave me a voucher for Matalan and I got a suit and everything and went home ready for the big interview.

The interview was basic, just one fella in a room telling me it was informal and not to be nervous and my suit chafed and he smiled and asked me about myself and I said What do you mean? And he said, You know, I want to know about the real you. It was daft but straight away I thought of JungleBanshee111. I shrugged my shoulders, I’m into gaming, I like spending time with family. Then, I dunno, I just turned into someone else again, Actually, I’m really into finding out how things work, I like to communicate with people, I think that I’m good at… I went on and on and I’d never heard myself be like this. I walked out the door feeling like a new person. A smile was on my face. A genuine smile. A proper joy.

At home it was different. I put the kettle on and rang my mum. She didn’t believe it. The next day at the Job Centre was the same. After a week I still hadn’t heard anything back so I decided, fuck it, I’ll ring em. So I did. I asked for the fella that had seen me and they put him on and he said that he was sorry but they chose someone else for the job.

………  That was it.

………………………… .Back

………………………………………………      .floating

………………………………………      in empty

………………………………………………..    space.

The house was big again. I put the radio station back on and they cheered to see me back online. I made up some shit about having not been chosen for the school play and made up an aunt dying and they all gave me their wishes. 5 days later I headed to the oven with screen eyes and tripped on the boxes on the floor. I fell to the ground and was stuck staring at a ketchup stain on the wall. It had little bits of mould sprouting from it. It was hard to get up so I just laid there for a bit and listened to my own heavy breath.

Jim Gibson grew-up on the feral plains of an ex-mining village, Newstead. He is editor and co-founder at Hi Vis Press and has had work published in various venues, including a short-story chapbook in Tangerine Press’s Walking Wounded Series. His site has more.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, December 16th, 2019.