I remember the first time I saw them.
On a scale of 1 to 10 of depressing journeys, this one had begun as a 9.99er.
The RER train was going from the centre of Paris to a faceless bourgeois suburb. I should have seen the signs on the platform at Chatelet Les Halles. Sat on a cold concrete bench was a tramp. He was wearing a rotten suit jacket and woolly hat. Holes in the elbows and pockets. Dark turtle neck jumper. Scuffed and shitty trainers. And that was it. His cock and balls lay flaccidly between legs. Flaccid. Thank the gods for small mercies. It was minus three out in the street. I wondered aimlessly how he had managed to get there in one piece. Every now and then he’d rub his member and then sniff his hands. People threw glances then hurried on their way. Pulling their small children away. Scowling. As if his madness was infectious. As if they would all begin to rub and sniff their own crotches if they stayed too long near him.
The train finally came. All trains in France keep their own timetables. You can’t expect anything to happen according to plan in France. You just have to be joyful when it does. I was joyful. I needed to be in Rueil Malmaison by five that afternoon. Why I was on my way there is of no importance to the rest of the story. At all.
The carriage doors opened. The old stagnant air was sucked out, to be replaced by new underground stagnant air flowing in from the station platform. The smell didn’t register until around three seconds later. It was the smell of shit. Human shit. Not a dirty nappy but piles of adult human faeces. Looking to my right and nested in the far corner of the carriage there was another sack of human sadness. He was a medieval peasant who had stolen a pig farmer’s cast offs. He glared triumphantly around him. He had cleared three quarters of the carriage. It was indeed a triumph. People were getting on, sniffing the air, making various noises such as “Hoo!”, “Oh!”, “Pew!” etc. then exiting.
Luckily, I’m a smoker. My olfactory sense is diminished. I walked down the carriage past a single wizened old granny. Her sense of smell must be used to shit and piss. And Lavender. Which is a whole lot worse.
I found myself a seat as close to the door as possible. I always did. It was a survival instinct. I dabbed some decongestant oil on my collar and pulled it up to my nose. I breathed the menthol fumes in. An irate local flashed me a glance. He was jealous of my oil. I smiled back politely with no less glee than he gave me vehemence.
The train trundled on down the subterranean tunnel. One light flickered on and off. On. Off. On. It bothered me. I told it to stop. It didn’t listen.
Looking down the lines of seats, I watched all the miserable people in front of me. The student girl with her dreadlocks. A fashionable statement of studied rebellion. Nonchalantly staring out of the windows. Stared out into the dark underground walls. All actions are a pose. The French art of staring out of windows. They do it, so well. Just so. Like smoking. There was a drunken fat bloke leaning over a minuscule office worker. The poor worker was trying to read his free newspaper. So was the inebriated fat man. He was grunting and spluttering. The office worker was pent up frustration. You could see it. He wanted to grab the drunken lump by the lapels and smash his face into the window. He wanted to take out all that misery on the creature intruding on his space. But he didn’t. He adjusted his glasses. Squirmed. Seething.
I turned from this gone scene.
Hadn’t Dante written about places like these?
Which Circle of Hell were we in?
What crime had we committed?
Me, the student, the fat man, the peasant, the office worker, the innocent old granny?
What brought us all together, here and now?
The train screeched like a valkyrie around a corner and entered into the open air. Muted daylight flooded in. Showing us concrete walls covered in graffiti. Dogs pissing on their territory. This is mine, not yours. Whatever. I thought it was all the insects’ world, anyway.
You could hear them before you saw them. From the high ground of the train tracks looking down over Nanterre town. Over the soft chack-a chack-a sound of the train. Deep bass rumbling vibrations in the seats and walls. Getting louder. Time stopped. White mist. Pure alcohol over an open wound. Or a fresh tattoo.
There they were.
Motor oil and metal. A wolfpack. Cry Havoc and let Them loose.
The leader was all leather, grey beard, mirror sunglasses and Waffen SS helmet. I heard him howling over the engine noise. On the back of his bike was his woman. Long blonde hair and curves in her jeans to send a man blind. The rest of the wild bunch were a priest’s confessional nightmare. A snarling Death’s Head cacophony. Bared teeth. Pirates. Bandits. Born to Lose.
Everyone turned to look at them. Open mouths and bulging eyeballs. Gawping. I thought the grandmother was going to have a heart attack. The student looked with a curled lip of disgust. Unconsciously she had put her hands between her legs. The overweight drunkard turned from the office worker towards the window. Too fast. He smashed his nose into the pane. Blood trickled down his top lip. The office worker grinned. Probably the first one in a long time. The smell of excrement wafted through the carriage. The peasant had shat himself again.
Then they were gone. All that was left was the soft rumble of their bikes melding into the urban horizon.
The doors opened and I got out. In the distance I heard the whine of police and ambulance sirens.
I later found out that there had been a four car pile up that afternoon in the centre of town. There had been seven casualties. Including two pedestrians. All terminal.
That was two or three years ago. It was one of those things. You remember. I would think of those ugly bikers whenever I saw a car crash. Heard thunder sound its warning of the blowing tempest. Saw a street fight. The day after I dreamt of black dogs.
I don’t know why I decided to go into that pub. Thirsty, I guess. Don’t remember the name of the pub. It had the advertisement for an AC/DC cover band playing. And it had begun to rain. I was in Derby. It always seems to be raining in Derby. Except for one or two days of sunshine in August. Slap bang in the destroyed industrial heartland of England. Soulless shopping centres and chavs a-go go. The odd beautiful church that nobody went to anymore. The faces of those killed all those years ago in the prison carved in stone on the pavement. I was visiting an old friend. He owns a tattoo shop. He was working on a big fuck off back piece. It was an octopus. Octopuses were his speciality. That’s octopuses not octopii. It’s a popular misconception. So, I decided to leave him to it. I went for a walk. Stretch the legs.
I hadn’t seen the bikes. They were stashed around the corner. I walked in. Straight for the bar. There was an old Johnny Kidd & The Pirates tune playing. Shaking All Over. It was a good sign. I tend to judge pubs in the same way as I judge people. It’s the first 90 seconds that count.
I ordered a pint of bitter. It came fast and I smiled my thank you at the twenty-something barmaid. She returned the favour. Her bottom lip was pierced. It curled up as we both made the friendly facial gesture. When we smile, we use the same muscles as we do when we are afraid. It means, I come in peace. I pose no threat. She was at least ten younger than me. Who could threaten who?
I turned and scanned the pub for a suitable place to sit. There were various people sprinkled around the place. At a glance I could see an old fellow reading his newspaper. Probably the horses. A young couple having what seemed to be a quiet argument. As the drinks increased I knew that the argument would become louder and louder. There were one or two lone drinkers. In the corner, there was a large group of seemed to be old rockers. They were loud and were enjoying themselves. It was only when I passed them that I saw that they were bikers. They were the bikers. The leader was sat with his back to me. He had on a patch on the back of his jacket. The words The Wild Hunt. His long grey hair was plaited and fell down over the patch. He was stroking the thighs of a blonde amazon. She had been the one on his bike. She was every Japanese businessman’s wank fantasy. Dammit, she could well have been mine.
I headed for a seat close to the door. As I passed them the leader stopped. Then they all stopped. Grey mist. Open wounds. He turned around and fixed me with his one good eye. He had a patch over the other. They all seemed to be staring at me. I have to admit, I shat myself. Not literally, of course. It’s just a saying to imply fear. My facial muscles moved instinctively into a smile. A scared smile. Shaking all over.
You!, the leader growled as he pointed his long gnarled finger right at me.
Quivers down the backbone.
You, I know you, boy!
Shakes down the kneebone.
Come. Join us, he gestured. Waving his hand as big as a shovel. I cannot say he smiled at me. I come in peace would not be something I expected to come from this man’s mouth.
Tremors in the thighbone.
What do you do when a barbarian tells you to drink with him?
It has happened to me before, in a place far from where you are now reading this. I did the same thing then. I sat down and lit up a cigarette and drank. But that is another story. For another time.
I sat down and lit up a cigarette and drank. I was placed between him and the vixen. She rested her head on my shoulder. I tried to ignore her. It was difficult. He was still squinting thoughtfully at me. I was still smiling.
Where I know you from, boy?, he hissed like the wind. His accent was Northern European. It wasn’t British, wasn’t German, wasn’t Swedish or Norwegian. Maybe Danish or Icelandic. Maybe not.
Where did he know me from? The only place I could think of was Paris.
Paris …?, I stabbed in the dark.
Paris … Ya, Paris. You see us in Paris, ya …, he nodded satisfied with the answer. I didn’t ask him how he knew. His bedraggled tribe began giggling. I ignored them figuring to keep my attention on the leader.
They call me O, he said gesturing to the others then offering me his hand. I told him my name and we shook hands. Or should I he shook my hand, my arm, my body. His touch was electric. It set the nerve endings on edge. Straight to the brain. I had flashes of things I’d forgotten. Good things. Bad things. Thoughts and words and images. He let go of my hand. I kept my hand outstretched for a moment or two. I exhaled. I blinked. I felt a hard slap on my back.
Drink!, bellowed O.
I drank my pint down. Every last drop.
O threw some notes at one of his pack. A tall man, unshaven, long hair falling over a lupine face. The man gathered the paper and headed for the bar. It looked like we were in for a long haul.
We began talking and I asked O what he was doing here.
Something will happen, he replied bluntly and put his finger to his mouth. I let it go. O then laughed and opened up with a story concerning a drug deal, Lemmy from Motörhead and a night in Amsterdam. The amazon had begun stroking the back of my neck. The first pint had begun to hit me. I was relaxing and I hasten to say, beginning to enjoy myself. The company was entertaining. Only once did I wonder what the hell I was doing there.
A group of young men had entered the pub. Shaven heads, hip hop baggy, Burberry caps, New York jackets, bling-a-bling-bling, youthful swagger and council estate attitude. Chavs in kaleidoscope vision.
The crescendo was coming to the story. Voices were raised. Laughing, banging on the table, boasting, standing up, adding little bits of information, pushing each other.
There was a smash! from the bar.
It was difficult to tell what was going on but it seemed that Freki (who I had learnt during the story that was being told was the gang member who had gone to bar and had also performed various athletic deeds with a Dutch dwarf hooker) had accidentally knocked the drink out of a chav’s hands. It seemed to like it was going to get nasty too. The bling boys had surrounded the lone wolf. They swaggered and pointed and crouched and pulled shapes straight out of the handbook. They were young and thought themselves to be in South Central L.A. They were in Derby and just stupid enough to do something just stupid enough. I saw the flash of a blade. Freki’s hands were full of drinks.
The rest of the pack just sat there and watched. None stood up to help. None needed to. I looked at O and he shook his head and leaned in.
Vatch, he growled.
The drinks crashed to the floor.
Smash! Smash! Smash!
Then something happened. I stiffened at the noise. Freki was a black blur. A hell hound. A head came right off. It was still wearing a NY baseball cap. The others seemed to explode into red. Red mist. Ribs pulled out from the inside. Limbs flew, separated from their bodies. Intestines were dragged out. Then played with. Then eaten. A body was pulled in half. The bottom half still wearing baggy trousers halfway down its blood soaked arse. It was a fucking George A. Romero-fest. And it finished in a blink.
It was then that I saw the barmaid look over the bar where she had instinctively ducked. She screamed. The couple screamed. My mouth had opened but was silent. Gob. Smacked. The old man peered over his paper, folded it and walked briskly out.
O stood up. And screamed. Jesus. What a sound. They all did. An unholy racket. I froze. Felt bowel movement. Freki lurched with a feral gait back to us. He was licking his thin lips. There was blood all over them. O pulled a pistol from his trousers. He placed it in front of me.
This is Gun, he whispered.
What a big eye you have.
It has killed many.
It was then he smiled at me.
I smiled back.
We go East!, he bellowed.
And we all moved as one.
No feet touched the ground.
The bikes roared.
Lions tearing a deer apart.
And we were gone.
Through the centre of a small Northern town, we went.
And it will never forget us.
Jason Michel haunts the corridors of the PULP METAL mansion searching for inky roadkill …