Wednesday, 21 August 2019

New Release Spotlight: The Nine Lives Of Jacob Fallada by Neil Randall

The Nine Lives of Jacob Fallada by Neil Randall

Nine stories
One artist
The whole world against him

The Nine Lives of Jacob Fallada is the story of an outsider, a lonely, misunderstood young artist who chronicles all the unpleasant things that happen to him in life. Abandoned by his parents, brought up be a tyrannical aunt, bullied at school, ostracized by the local community, nearly everyone Jacob comes into contact with takes an instant, (often) violent dislike towards him. Like Job from the bible, he is beaten and abused, manipulated and taken advantage of. Life, people, fate, circumstance force him deeper into his shell, deeper into the cocoon of his fledgling artistic work, where he records every significant event in sketches, paintings and short-form verse, documenting his own unique, eminently miserable human experience. At heart, he longs for companionship, intimacy, love, but is dealt so many blows he is too scared to reach out to anybody. On the fringes of society, he devotes himself solely to his art.

Three Little Boys, the sixth chapter of the book, actually started out life as a standalone short story. The subject matter is bullying, something I’ve always abhorred. Firsthand, I’ve seen the impact it can have on the victims, how it can scar them for the rest of their lives. In this story, therefore, I wanted to try and capture the emotional damage done, long-term, how bullying can leave its mark on someone, no matter how hard they try and forget.
Three Little Boys
Jacob Fallada heard the boys long before he saw them. Their shrill, panicky voices carried all the way down the deserted dirt-track leading to the dilapidated caravan he now called home. Jacob was unused to such interruptions. He rarely interacted with other people. The nearest dwelling was several miles away. If he required any provisions, he had to hike across fields and through woodland to a remote village shop. At this time of year, the entrance to the dirt-track was overgrown, concealed from the road, the surface itself boggy and rutted with potholes, almost impassable. How the boys had stumbled upon it, let alone made it all the way down to the bottom end, was baffling, an impossibility almost. For this reason, Jacob abandoned his artistic work, pulled on a thick winter coat, and went outside to investigate.
Since early morning, patchy mist had been rolling in off the sea, enveloping the surrounding countryside in a wispy, shifting curtain of gloom. Through this curtain appeared three sturdy looking young boys in waterproof clothing, scarves, bobble-hats, and wellington-boots.
Look,” said one, pointing at Jacob. “A man. He’s sure to be able to help.”
What’s the matter? What’s happened? How come you’re out here, in the middle of nowhere, all on your own?”
We were with our fathers,” said the same boy as before, “on a daytrip to the seaside, a nature walk. They went down to the shoreline to see if it was safe for us to walk along the beach. They told us to wait near the shelter by the slip-way. But they never came back.”
Jacob listened to all of this with a mounting sense of unease, scrutinising each boy in turn, studying them at closer quarters, for they were the mirror-image of the three boys who had tormented him at school, who had teased, beat and humiliated him in front of the other children.
What are your names?” he felt compelled to ask.
That’s Shane. That’s Will. And I’m Zac.”
Jacob shuddered. Shane, Will and Zac had been the names of his tormentors. Not only did the boys now standing in front of him bear an uncanny resemblance to the bullies of yesteryear, but they had the exact same names.
We’re scared,” said Shane, the slightly bigger, bulkier of the three children. “We want to find our dads. We want to go home.”
I…I understand,” said Jacob, mastering his emotions, telling himself that this was no more than a bizarre coincidence, that his memory was playing tricks on him, that the boys didn’t resemble the Shane, Will and Zac of the past as closely as he had originally thought. “So, you were told to wait by the shelter near the slip-way leading down to the beach, right? Only your fathers didn’t return. You went out to search for them and couldn’t find your way back again?”
Each boy nodded earnestly.
Okay. Perhaps it would be best if we retraced your steps, then. I’m sure your fathers lost their way in the mist. I’m sure we’ll find them without too much trouble.”
But Jacob knew how treacherous that stretch of coastline could be in these conditions. In the past, he had heard stories of ramblers or birdwatchers going missing when venturing along the shore, never to be seen again.
Follow me.”
They walked along the dirt-track, ducking to avoid overhanging bramble bushes, squelching through thick mud, stepping over rutted potholes full of dull, brownish water. Every twenty or so paces, Jacob would steal a glance at one of the boys. Each time, a painful memory rose to the forefront of his mind. He remembered the day Zac pinned him down and made him eat pieces of mouldy orange peel. He remembered the time Will had accosted him in the sports hall changing-rooms, stripped him naked and pushed him out into the corridor, so all the other children saw him naked. Or the time Shane slashed his forearms with a protractor, slicing his skin, drawing blood time and again. But what haunted him most of all, as they turned and made their way down towards the main coast road, were memories of those horrible bullies laughing at him, how much pleasure they derived from inflicting the utmost pain.
Did you come this way?” Jacob asked them.
I don’t think so,” said Will. “I’m sure we came over a railway bridge.”
I see.” This baffled Jacob all the more. The nearest railway bridge was several miles away. If they had come from that direction, then they must have been walking for hours before they stumbled upon his caravan. “Right, we better cross over.”
They crossed the main road, and walked down a narrow, winding lane that led all the way up to the cliff tops.
Right,” said Jacob, bringing them to a halt. “The lane up ahead is always flooded. To get past, we’ll have to walk along the grass bank. You must be very careful, though. The ground is saturated, treacherous, very slippery. If you don’t display sufficient caution you could fall into the boggy pit in the field to your left. So perhaps it would be best if I walked behind you.”
But what if the boy at the front lost his footing and fell?” asked Will. “You’d be too far away to help.”
You’re right,” said Jacob. “Maybe I should be in the middle, then.”
But there are four of us,” said Shane. “How can you be in the middle? Four, after all, is an even number.”
Of course it is,” said Jacob. “What I meant to say is: one of you will lead the way. I will follow directly behind. The other two boys will bring up the rear, as it were.”
But why not have two at the front and one behind?” said Zac. “Surely that would make more sense. We’re walking forwards not backwards. If we get into any difficulties it would be much easier to help a boy in front of you rather than behind, wouldn’t it?”
Okay, okay,” said Jacob, losing patience at this point. “We can’t stand here all day arguing. Zac, you go first. Will, you next. I will be directly behind you. Shane will be directly behind me.”
This decided, they clambered up onto the bank and proceeded to edge very slowly, very carefully along the soft muddy grass. Halfway down, despite the caution displayed, Zac slipped over onto his backside, arms flailing.
Ah!” he cried out.
Lunging forward, Jacob grabbed hold of his wrist, stopping him from sliding off the bank. Startled, Shane lost his footing completely, and went tumbling from the verge, crashing through the adjoining bushes, plopping into the bog below.
Help!” he shouted, splashing around in the thick quagmire. “Help!”
Jacob scrambled along the bank on all fours. “Shane! Shane!” But there was no response.
Where is he?” asked Will. “Where’s he gone?”
Jacob called out time and again. But still there was no answer. Crouching closer, he stretched out a hand, searching for the boy’s body, but all he encountered was the boggy ground, the clingy, cloying feel of cold, sticky mud.
I’m going to have to wade in.” He lowered his legs into the quagmire, inching deeper into the mud, trying to find the bottom. “It’s very deep. But I might just be able to get some kind of foothold.”
The mist was much thicker now; he could barely see a hand in front of him as he waded through mud up to his waist, doing a complete sweep of the surrounding area. But it was all in vain; Shane was nowhere to be seen.

Neil Randall is the author of seven published novels and a collection of short stories. His work has been published in the UK, US, Australia and Canada

Giveaway to Win 3 Copies of The Nine Lives of Jacob Fallada (UK Only)
*Terms and Conditions –UK entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.