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“Joe, you need to come up with something now... No , I don’t want any excuses. Yes I know. I know. Yes, but a lot of people have been turned down from their original placements. Ok. Ok good, thank you. Right I’ll see you later, bye...”
Stupid cow I thought glumly, hoisting myself up onto the shallow window ledge. I knew that she wanted us all to get it sorted, but it wasn’t that easy.
As the school bell rang, I jumped from my perch and jogged quickly up to Physics.
Sir arrived a few minutes later and as always Physics seemed to drag on for much longer than it should have. The only thing on my mind though, was my bloody placement. Where could I go? Apparently the mine was too dangerous, the newspaper too busy and the corner shop not ambitious enough. I didn’t care where I went, who gives a toss about work experience anyway?
My mind slowly returning to the lesson, I sighed in boredom as Sir droned on, monotonously ranting about the speed of light and the terminal velocity of a coin dropped from one thousand feet, leaving most of the class snoring in harmony with his gruff voice. Luckily though, physics was my last lesson and the sun was shining as I started walking home.
Passing the busy corner shop on my way, I took a quick look inside. I asked about a placement, to no avail, and bought a can of diet coke. Thanking George, a friend of my Mum’s behind the counter, I carried on down the lane, thinking about my day. I really did need to get this work experience thing sorted. It was getting ridiculous now; I only had a few days left to choose a place to go. Plus, if it wasn’t sorted by Monday I was going to have to spend my week sweeping leaves with the two caretakers, a couple of crack heads who spent their days smoking weed and watching the CCTV cameras in their office.
When I finally got home, the house was deserted and so taking the phone up to my room along with the yellow pages, I sat down ready for a long nights work. It was about eleven when I finally got my first positive result, a small restaurant in the middle of town: “Hell’s Kitchen.” I’d heard of it, a tiny, grotty, cheap place. But anywhere was better than nothing, right?
Getting up the next morning with a smile on my face, I trotted into the kitchen and gulped down some breakfast with my mum. I told her about my placement proudly and pecked her on the cheek before getting on my way.
I walked briskly to school and straight up to Mrs Mall the school’s work experience coordinator’s office. Telling her about my placement, I smiled as she enthusiastically scribbled a few words onto a small piece of paper.
“Right. Finally, thanks Joe, I’ll send this off and you can relax.” I apologised for the delay and left the office, full of relief.
The next few weeks passed me by in a whirlwind of adrenaline and excitement. My fifteenth birthday came and went and my Mum bought me a new laptop.
Before I knew it, work experience was just around the next corner.
In school however, all was chaos. The never ending nattering of year tens resounded around the hollow walls, as teachers tried frantically to round up the last few people who still had nowhere to go. Despite the buzzing atmosphere, I just sat alone, thinking to myself. Mainly, I found myself thinking anxiously about the week ahead. I’d never really had any experience of cooking before and so it was going to be something of a novel experience and apart from that, she was on my mind. Angelina that is.
I sat behind her in Maths and English and although I had never managed to build up the courage to speak to her, the sweet scent of her hair and the beautiful smile which was always playing on her lips seductively was enough bring the colour out in any boy’s cheeks.
It was Thursday the fifth that I first spoke to her. She caught me staring gormlessly in her direction, and despite my open mouthed, expression of disbelief, she smiled. Yes. She smiled at me, crazy I know. So, naturally, my stomach feeling as though it was about to drop out and my legs wobbling like match sticks, I walked over to her.
“Er...hi,” I began.
“I,I...” Fidgeting with my leg, I thought about just walking away when she smiled reassuringly.
“I’m free on Monday if you want,” she said. “We could...go to the cinema?”
“Wha...er...yeah! Great!” I smiled goofily, confusion and terror racing through my head.
“I’ll meet you after work experience. Hell’s Kitchen, right?”
“Er...yeah. ‘Kay. I’ll see you then.”
“Cool. ‘Till then.” She smiled and turned away.
I watched like a man hypnotised as her hips swung seductively as she walked away, caught off guard as she snuck a look back and giggled at my embarrassed expression.
I shook my head, smiling light headedly, then turned around, and walked home.
Heaving open the heavy back door for the final time, I felt as if I was swimming in ecstasy. Essentially, I had a week of unannounced holiday and then a date, with Angelina Goodheart! What could be better? My life was turning out to be sort of great at the moment, I thought. The next few days seemed intent on proving me wrong.
Cramming my bag with everything I could possibly need for the week ahead, I went to bed early, dreams whirring through my head as I tossed and turned.
Getting up happily to a nice day, I punched the air in triumph. The sun was shining, the sky was blue and birds chirruped merrily in the spring breeze. I got dressed slowly and set off into town. Coming to an old cracked door with a small plaque reading “Hell’s Kitchen” on the outside, I shivered. The alleyway was hidden from the warm sun and so, knocking quickly, I started to jog on the spot. Suddenly, the door was flung open and a tall, lanky man beckoned me inside. Nervousness building up in the pit of my stomach, I hesitated and then stepped forwards into the darkness beyond.
“Why, hello,” the man said, taking my coat off me. “You must be Joseph.”
“Yep, it’s really nice to meet you Mr?...” I began curiously, gesturing towards him.
“Oh, all in good time, all in good time.” The man chuckled, showing me slowly into what could only have been the main dining room.
“So what would you like to do whilst you’re here Joseph?” He asked smiling. “Oh please, do sit down.”
“Well I’m not exactly sure,” I answered, sitting in an old, patched sofa behind me. “I don’t really know what goes on in the catering industry.” I shrugged.
“Well to start with, you’ve got to know, it’s a competitive place, you know, kill or be killed.” He said “Care for a cup of tea?”
“Err please,” I smiled, “So perhaps, I could have a look around, see the chef at work or something.”
“Yes,” the man answered, “well whatever you do, I’m sure you’ll find the whole experience truly... breathtaking.” He smiled, handing me a warm mug. “You know it’s not every day we get a young enthusiast in here. I’ve got some friends coming over tomorrow; they said that they’d love to have you for dinner.”
Blushing, I nodded. “I would be...honoured.” Avoiding the man’s gaze, I sipped from the mug of tea. “So what star rating are you?” I asked.
“You know, one, two, three, what’s your rating?”
“Oh, well, you see, we... we don’t exactly have one. You see, not many people really even come in here anymore, a shame really.”
Can’t guess why not, I thought, the place was disgusting. The cracked walls were homes to what looked like a cross between spiders and crabs and many dark reddy brown stains clung to the walls like cobwebs.
“So when was the last time you had a proper customer?” I asked, finding the idea of a restaurant without diners ridiculous.
“Probably about a year or so ago, but an inspector, we had one of them a while back. You know they really are cold blooded. They’d eat you alive.” He spat. “But now we’ve got you we’ll have plenty of diners. You see, people love it when you stock up on fresh meat.” He cackled.
“What?” I asked in confusion, my heart beginning to pound in my chest.
“You know- fresh meat, new staff.”
“Oh,” I said, relaxing in my chair.
“So do you ever cook at home?” he asked me. “Or does your mum do it all?”
Ignoring the quip, I looked away from him. “Well,” I said, “well I guess mum does most of it but I do chip in sometimes. You know, peel potatoes, cut carrots and so on.”
The man smiled at me silently, studying my face as if it were an investment. “You look like a boy who might enjoy...meat,” he acknowledged curiously.
“Yeah,” I answered, “I s’pose chicken’s one of my favourite foods. The skin, when it’s nice and crisp, it’s just...yum.”
“Yes,” the man whispered, licking his lips, a wild hunger raging in his eyes. “Yes, skin, skin is sooo delicious, although chicken isn’t exactly...my favourite food.” He broke eye contact and seemed to break out of some sort of trance, the crazed look departing his eyes.
“So, who else works here?” I asked, trying to strike up a proper conversation that might actually somehow resemble work experience.
“Just me and the chef really. If there are ever any really busy nights though, we sometimes call in some more locals. It tends to stay quiet now though, since the bloody government published their new rules and regulations.”
“So when can I meet the chef, and when will you tell me your name?” I asked. It was getting a bit weird.
“Like I said before,” the man answered, “all in good time.”
“I wish you’d stop bloody saying that,” I growled, getting frustrated. “I’m not four years old. This place is weird,” I said. “I want to go outside instead of staying in this old, bloody bombsite of a restaurant.”
I stood up just as a door on the other side of the room opened. “I’m afraid I can’t let you do that,” the man said, standing as he talked. “You can either sit back down...or we’ll make you.”
Hesitating for a second, I sprinted towards the door, but the other two had been expecting it. Vaulting over the sofa and skirting past an old dusty table, I picked up an ash tray and hurled it at the man’s head, missing by centimetres. Carrying on, I reached the door and started desperately tugging on it, but it was locked. I squealed spinning around as a strong pair of arms lifted my feet from under me and I was dragged back over to the sofa. The man knelt down and pressed a damp cloth against my face.
“Don‘t worry,” he said. “It will all be over soon.” My vision started to swim before me and everything went black.
Dark brown stains clung to his apron and his once white hat looked like road kill. He licked his teeth cunningly and picked up the huge, stained meat cleaver which sat threateningly in front of him. I watched in horror as he shuffled towards me, his wooden leg clunking with each dreadful step. His left eye flickering hungrily, I caught the scarred rivulet which snaked down from above his eyebrow and onto his bright pink cheek- a souvenir as he’d told me from his distant past spent during the war. Butchery hadn’t exactly been booming and so as the meat diminished rapidly, a more available source was called upon. And the bodies... Well they weren’t being used for anything else.
Snorting deeply, he hawked up and spat a huge globule of bloody snot onto the floor in front of me. “Stay still,” he giggled, “we wouldn’t want to hurt you.” Trying to scrabble away from his huge, sweaty bulk, I looked away as he erupted into a fit of coughing, his pale lifeless eyes bulging in their sockets.
When he finally managed to recompose himself, he looked back up, “sorry about that. Now where was I?”
Hanging loosely from his forehead his hair was matted and greasy like an old mop, whilst his huge belly poured out from under his apron. He cackled awfully like a hyena and snorted again horribly.
“Go on,” he mocked. “Get scared. They always taste better when they’re scared.” I tried to crawl away, whimpering in horror, but the shackles connecting me to the wall held tight. I tugged and tugged desperately, but it was no use.
I was going to die.
Coughing throatily, the man bent over double, blood dribbling from his mouth and so seizing my chance, I wrenched my arms upwards, finally hearing something give. I crawled forwards dopily, the chloroform still making me feel woozy, and threw myself into a cupboard on the other side of the room.
When the man (or chef as he was) had finally stopped spitting blood he looked around in annoyance.
“Where are you?” he cooed like a child. I held my breath but to my despair he started walking straight towards me, a smile playing across his face. He stopped about a foot away and I heard him punching some buttons above me. He looked down and grinned. “If I’d known you were so keen, I could have made it quicker” He laughed and slammed a bolt shut on the cupboard. I turned around in confusion as I felt hot air blowing towards me. I stopped. I stared. I swore. I had hidden in the oven.
Writhing frantically, I kicked against the locked oven door but it wouldn’t budge. Wiping sweat from my brow, I turned around, my eyes catching sight of a small air vent behind the fire. It seemed to lead straight out onto the street and if I could just crawl through the flames I might have a chance. Reversing my position, I kicked once more. There was a quiet yet distinct snap and so kicking out again, I sighed as the grate came free. Holding my breath, I propelled myself through the flame and crashed into the vent. Gritting my teeth as the excruciating heat bit my body, I punched wildly at the metal and finally after what felt like minutes, it gave way.
Spilling out onto the bright street, I clapped out the remainder of the fire and smoke which clung to my clothes and wiped my brow in relief.
Turning from the door, I suddenly remembered Angelina. She was going to come here to meet me. I had to warn her.
Retrieving my phone from my back pocket, I punched the “on” button and willed it to come to life. It was just 5 o’clock, so I still had time. Scowling as the phone searched for a net work, quickly finding it on facebook, I keyed in Angelina’s number. The number ringing out, I left a quick, frantic message and turned to sprint away before the two men came out to get me.
Running down the street, my bare feet screamed with each footfall, but I couldn’t stop now. I had to make it. I passed the supermarket and gained a few worried looks from pensioners on the estate before coming to a stop in my garden. Seeing that mum’s car was gone, I jumped over the wall and climbed up the drainpipe to my room. I slipped inside; and sighed tiredly on my bed. Where was my mum? I wondered curiously, she’d said that she would be back; I walked into the hallway and down to the phone to find a message on the answer machine from her:
“Hi Joe, it’s 5:37, I’m just heading down to the supermarket to get some milk and butter. I just picked up a pie though on the way back from work. Hope you’ve had a good day, Mum.”
Quickly jumping in the shower and patching myself up, I walked into the kitchen. I threw open the fridge door, and retrieved the meat pie, tossing it into the oven. Then, going back upstairs I watched the news. Nothing however had been reported about a fire at a small butcher in downtown Bashfield.
As the timer went off on the oven, I ran back downstairs and got out my dinner. The pie tasted delicious and within five minutes, it was almost all gone. Lifting the last forkful into my mouth, my teeth came down on something solid. Studying a big piece of gristle in my fingers, I walked over to the sink frowning. I washed it carefully; still squinting at the half chewed piece of god knows what in my hand. I could have sworn it looked almost like...like a toe. I rubbed the piece of meat and added some more water, a shiver running down my spine. Oh s*** I thought. Oh s***, oh s***, the little toe like piece of meat in my hand wasn’t unfamiliar. The small ring, the small ring with the big “A” stamped on it. The small ring which Angelina had been wearing that day in class. Suddenly feeling as if I was about to puke, I fished in the bin for the packet from which the pie had come and steadied myself queasily against a shelf. The piece of card read:
“Meat pie, 100% meat, no additives-” Suddenly I stopped dead, the room seeming to constrict around me. “Hell’s Kitchen Butchers no. 3 Leadenhall avenue.” Suddenly the world came crashing in on me and everything went black once more.