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BlackOut by Sam Grenfall

Chapter One

Sebastian Cleary now knew something of life. Like you always get caught. As his father said to him the day after his indictment, “Why do you think I don’t park the car in disabled spaces?” 

Sebastian remained silent and after a few seconds his father continued, “Because I always get a ticket.” 

It may not be the best reason to walk the line but Sebastian now saw the logic of it. He’d always get caught. The shock of it and even in an odd way, the gross injustice of it all. Other people didn’t get parking tickets. Others walked free. But he got caught. And Her Majesty’s Youth Offender’s Institution Feltham became his new address. He even wrote a song about it, Caught. The song didn’t really work that well. It had too jaunty a beat, like a dance tune. What would have been better, a whole lot closer to reality, was a beat of head-banging rage.

It was unit 26’s turn for recreation and the boys filed silently into the gym and then spread out to the weights and equipment. They were a silent lot, paying careful attention to the benches and presses. Sebastian Cleary stepped aside as he entered the door, pressed his back against the wall and watched. No one paid him any attention – which was just the way he liked it.

They only got recreation three times a week, for an hour, and sometimes not even that. It was the closest the unit got to communal worship. In the corner, a guard stood, a baton that he could ferociously wield sitting in its holster, and outside the glass wall, more guards patrolled. The boys lined up patiently, waiting for a turn on the benches.

The guard eased his way out of the room, slid past the glass wall front still watching them and then went on patrol. Seb waited still. As SOP, Feltham teetered on the knife-edge. Sometimes, Seb spent the entire hour standing there. Mostly though, once everyone got settled into their groups and started on their sets, the rest of the hour went fine.

Because he was so far from everyone, Seb couldn’t be sure when the first name was called. But eventually even he heard it. It was a low call muffled by the clang of weights.

“Viral,” but said like, “Viiiiirraaaal.”

“Gone viiiiirraaaal.”

Everyone went taut like a slack line snapped tight. Seb flicked his eyes around the room. The guys were studiously avoiding meeting anyone else’s pretending not to hear. Seb wondered who it was meant for. And what it meant. No matter. It could only end one way. Unless a guard returned.

“Preeetttttyyy booooooyy.”


Then Seb figured out where it was coming from.

It was Marco, a YO of mixed genetics but a clear dont-mess-with-me-if-you-want-to-breathe vibe. So Seb never did. Now, Marco had a tight smile on his face and kept glancing his way. Seb was kind of surprised. Marco didn’t usually start the fights, he liked to delegate that task. If it was going well, he stayed out. If not, then he jumped in to balance the odds in his own favour. Marco never lost. By prison standards, Marco was top dog, pure alpha. Then Seb saw Sarif and Peter straighten up and fall in behind Marco. All over the room, YOs were casually moving into little groups, gelling to each other for safety. Though Seb was a loner by nature, he was starting to feel envious of Velcro. A guard walked by, seriously eyeballing them, saw nothing, and walked on.

Seb, with his back to the wall, had nowhere to go. His mouth went dry. Marco couldn’t possibly be heading for him. Seb didn’t do the fighting, the jockeying for position, the fist-led negotiation for who’s on first and what’s on second. Seb just didn’t give a toss. Besides, he was no Jackie Chan and everyone else seemed to have studied at the Royal School for Dental ReAlignment. And passed with nothing but A stars.

The three young men were moving slowly towards him, thoughtfully, as if they needed to focus on the names they were hissing.

“Heard you’ve gone viral, doofus.”

“Grassing on the net.”


Seb had no idea what they were talking about.

“I don’t grass.”


Seb suddenly got it. “I upload my songs on Facebook but that’s all. I don’t grass. I don’t tell on no one.”

“That’s all.” Marco mimicked in a falsetto and then dropped his voice back to a hiss. “You put it to music. All of this shit. You put us in your tunes. Our lives.”

“No, Marco. Just my life. I told on no one here.”

“Idiiioooootttttt,” Sarif breathed.

Then in Marco’s hand, out of nowhere, was a long, skinny shine of white. The white was plastic, cut off a box or pried from the edge of a table, screen, laundry tub, or god knows what. If you put your mind to it, there are bits of metal and plastic all around that can be roughened or sharpened or shaped or bent to make a nasty weapon. Not as lethal as a knife, but that thin strip of plastic could cut like a razor blade. When snapped at someone, it left slices on the skin that burned like a whip of fire. Then healed as if someone had taken a superfine pen to your skin and drawn squiggly white lines all over.

“Don’t matter none, doofus, coz you never going to be uploading nothing ever again.”

Whenever there was a knockdown drag-out at Feltham, routine evaporated. Seb was on the enhanced reward scheme. So he got a guitar in his room, access an hour a week to the Internet to upload his songs or check his Facebook, and more money to spend on iTunes. This was the only thing that made Feltham bearable. If there were a bloodletting, he’d lose his rewards. And there was not a lot of point of complaining in the hope that the appeal process might reinstate his rewards. Feltham didn’t like complaints.

Seb stepped forward, seemingly open to discussion, his hands spread and friendly. But he was also giving himself room. His navel was tight against his spine as if his stomach was concave.

“Hey Marco chill. Come on. If you don’t like my songs, I’ll take them down. I can do that on Friday. There’s no need for this. Chill, okay.” Not a brilliant speech but Seb was pleased his voice wasn’t doing the shakes and tremors.

“Too late for that,” Marco snarled. “You’ve gone viral now.” He whistled the white line through the air with a snap of his wrist and Seb couldn’t help himself from jumping.

“I didn’t know I’d gone viral. I can shut down my whole Facebook page.” Seb danced to one side as Marco whipped the plastic at him. Then jumped to the other side as the white sliced through the air at him from a different direction.

“Questions’ll get asked. Your fans’ll want to know what happened to you.” Marco slowly stepped toward Seb flicking his white plastic whip. Seb stepped nimbly back putting equipment between him and Marco. Seb could see Safir and Peter splitting to go around the presses, trying to block and push him into the open.

“I’ll tell them something.”

“You will. What we tell you to say.” And over the weights came the overhand flick of the wrist. The white plastic touched Seb on the wrist as he snatched his hand back. And then it snaked out again. Seb hopped over some weights on the ground, then ducked as the whip came snapping over his head, and then leaped behind a chin-up bar.

“You dance like a girl,” Safir called. From behind Marco came snickers of amusement. And Seb saw an opening. It might not work. If it did, it’d be because he’d look demented. Mad’s not bad at Feltham. Any chance that stopped him from being in a fight was dice he’d willingly throw.

“Look Marco, I don’t mind dancing for you. I can do the tango, the two-step and if you promise not to step on my toes, I’ll even waltz with you.” To the growing chortles and chuckles of amusement, Seb launched into a soft-shoe dancing routine belting out “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine” as loudly as he could. After some of that, he jumped onto a bench, and pretended to tap-dance making the noises by clicking his tongue. As that kind of silliness began to grow thin, he jumped off, did a twirl midair, and without wasting a beat, swung into Strauss’s Viennese Waltz yelling the tune at the top of his lungs. 

As he pirouetted around the weights, he broke off his singing to call out, “Wait for it, here it comes, the big finale.” And with a final spin, Seb finished down on one knee, his arms flung dramatically wide. His chest was heaving like he’d run a mile. The room broke into calls and whump whump whump as the boys fisted the air.

“What d’ya say, Marco. Let’s call it a day,” he gasped.

His Fred Astaire was way down the alphabet from alpha. Just so long as Feltham didn’t tip to the ugly side of its knife-edge then Seb couldn’t have cared less.

He could see the smile that Marco was trying to suppress and knew he was wavering. He felt a rush of gratitude as if Marco was just the greatest guy on the planet. And then the door jerked open and a guard entered the room. Faster than he could have believed, the guard moved. From behind Seb, he took two long strides, almost leaps, and grabbed Marco’s arm holding the white plastic whip. With his other hand, he plowed his fist into his stomach, his knee into Marco’s balls, and as Marco softened down, brought his knee back up and under the whip-holding arm and snapped it with a clean clear sound. It took seconds.

BlackOut is available in paperback and ebook

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