Steven Savile’s Frugal Find Under Nine:
My name is Declan Shea.
I never thought I was monster. You have to believe me when I say that. I had a normal life. I was in love with a beautiful girl, Aimee. We’d just bought a great apartment in the Theatre Village we could barely afford and I was working impossible hours trying to make ends meet, but I loved every minute of it. This was my life.
It changed overnight. I was driving home from a gig when a tramp stepped out in front of my car. I killed him. I know I did. But no-one believed me. The medical staff at the hospital insisted he was the result of some sort of hallucination because of the trauma sustained during the accident. I tried to convince them otherwise, but the more I protested, the more obvious it became to them that I had damaged more than just my ribs in the crash, so I started to lie to keep them happy. I pretended he wasn’t there. I pretended that I hadn’t woken up to find him sitting at the bottom of the bed eating my meal. But he was. He was everywhere.
His name was Crohak, king of the tramps. He ruled the streets.
And he was determined to destroy my life and take away everything I loved in revenge.
Ask yourself this: how do you fight a monster no-one else can see?
That is what he reduced my life to. I stopped being Declan Shea that night. I stopped being a jazz pianist and became someone else entirely. I became a monster.
Outcasts, International bestselling author Steven Savile’s debut novel is a document humane charting the descent of an ordinary man into a murky underworld of very human monsters, grief and madness as he wrestles to come to terms with who he is and just what he is capable of in the name of love.
“A raw, gritty novel: part social commentary, part philosophy, part fantasy. Savile handles his episodes of graphic violence skillfully, eschewing cliches and shock tactics in favor of understated, detached narration, and the result is a genuinely chilling portrait of total alienation. Savile’s novel is original, smart, and well-written; his disturbing images and bleak prose and both thought-provoking and genuinely unsettling.”
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An excerpt from Outcasts:
Walking, even with the support of the crutches, was exhausting.
I was forced to stop twice before the hospital gates. Impatient people bustled and steered around me not bothering to hide their wariness and even annoyance. I could see them looking, wondering what it was that had reduced me to paraplegia without leaving any external scars for them to read. I couldn’t imagine having to carry their morbid curiosity every day for the rest of life. Their eyes lingered long enough to make me feel dirty.
I forced myself to walk on and found myself making excuses for everyone who thought of themselves as normal.
Some things stay the same, no matter how much they hunger for change. Money can be poured into the infertile soil only to wither and die as projects fail, while twenty feet down the road, where the grass is forever greener, the self same projects could have been blossoming. Parts of Newcastle are like that. The walk down Leazes Hill to the Haymarket is like that. The Trent House on the corner, with its sawdust, spit and polish atmosphere cynically designed at snaring student grants, is like that. The red brick buildings that stand four and five storeys tall are like that. The Georgian terraces are like that. The wooden portakabins are like that.
I crossed the road at the converted zebra, expecting horns to blare when the waiting drivers realised my legs weren’t capable of covering the black and white stripes as quickly as the green man dictated. I poled my way to the centre, looking apologetically at the blind windscreens. Again, I had to pause to gather my second wind. I felt momentarily guilty. I knew I should have waited for Aimee, but I just didn’t feel like being shepherded or cloistered. Walking on my own was something I had to do. My own stubbornness saw me refusing the offer of aid when it came my way. The drivers took my halting progress well. The bitter man inside me said it was because they saw a cripple and were thinking: But for the grace of God, there go I.
Somewhere inside all of them was a memory of a moment when a slightly different twist of fate could have propelled them into an involuntary role reversal, be it a knock picked up in a kick-about, a trip on the staircase at home, walking out in front of a car, or over-compensating for a skid. The variations were as endless as the outcomes and every one of them was feeling guilty for thanking their lucky stars. I didn’t begrudge them, that was almost exactly what I was feeling myself.
The streets are a hostile place for someone on crutches. Too many people don’t think – too set on their trajectory, all elbows and pushes as they arrow for gaps that aren’t there. Crutches are trial enough without having to ride against the current of shoppers or go down.
The open air bus station and its wreath of thick exhaust fumes was a welcome sight, even if it meant another road to cross. I sat outside the Oxfam shop on the corner, watching the cars and the starlings. A black cab glided into the rank with its buckled railings.
An old woman wearing too many coats for the tee-shirt weather clutched carrier bags and pushed a wire-framed shopping trolley towards the lights. Her entire world was in that trolley. Clothes, papers, jewellery, boxes and bottles. A scavenger’s treasure trove of useless oddments. She stopped before the repetitive beeps of the crossing said it was all right for her to wade out between the stationary cars.
I levered myself to my feet and started to shuffle-walk to stand beside her at the lights, looking past the iron staircase into Eldon Square and the reflections of glass walls to the circling birds above the hidden Grey’s Monument.
When she saw me, she screamed. This poor old woman literally dropped the bags she clutched so desperately, opened her cracked lips to say something, couldn’t and started shrieking. It was a terrible sound. I stepped forward, forgetting the restrictions of my crutches. One went clattering to the floor. Panicking, she tried to fend me off, throwing her hands up defensively and slapping at the empty air between us. I held up my hands to show her I meant no harm. Her bags spilled rubbish onto the street. People had stopped to look at us. I felt like turning and yelling at them to leave us both alone. I would have if I thought it might have helped.
I took another unaided step forward. The skin across my ribs pulled. She pushed her trolley straight at me. I had no chance to dodge, so I let it clatter into my legs, praying it wouldn’t be enough to topple me. It wasn’t. The old woman was crying hysterically. Clawing at her own face. Her fingernails dug into the bags beneath her dull eyes. Soon, her tears mingled with blood on her cheeks and her fingernails clawed all the more fervently, scrabbling after her eyes.
I backed off, still in a stupor, bending to grab my fallen crutch. I fell sideways against the side of a car, needed its support to drag myself back to my feet. I couldn’t move anywhere near as quickly as I wanted to. My horror effectively hypnotised me.
Her fevered fingers pulled at the skin, burrowing into the wretched flesh. Working by feel, they undermined the roots of her eyes. Splashes of blood gouted down her wrists and forearms. The skein of muscles and nerves beneath the skin parted in some insoluble puzzle of knots. Her face was blazing with the lustre of pitiful triumph.
‘You won’t. . . harm me. . . now,’ she said, whether to me or to herself, I couldn’t tell. Her voice was that of a mewling infant, albeit spoken from an elderly mouth. She was shaking her head wildly, her feet rooted to the spot. Above her head the green man started to flash but the warning was too late for her. Her fingers neatly snapped the worms of nerve and then pulled out her eyes.
Screaming, she turned blindly, drawn by the beeping overhead, and lurched into the traffic, eye sockets empty, blood streaming down her cheeks, hands fighting off whatever demons her blind senses were conjuring. She twisted back on her self, stumbling. She fell to her knees in the middle of the road. Lifted her head to look up. Those vacant sockets seemed to stare right through me. Her hand was on her face, her look now stricken, as she realised what she had done. No euphoria.
I clutched the traffic light for support. I wanted to be away from this place, badly.
Her mouth was a raw wound between the planes of blood. Her head no longer raised above the height of her body. Her voice clung to coherence with the greatest of difficulty, but I heard the remnants of the old woman there, clinging to life.
‘You remember, don’t you. . ? You remember. If you don’t. . . you will. . . I knew you’d come. . . You get down on your knees. . . and you pray. . .’
She fumbled blindly ahead, clawing at the road, her eyeballs abandoned beside her. Her head twisted, hearing something I didn’t.
The car didn’t slow down.
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