Season One: All The Rest Of Us
Issue One: DepartureJohn Constantine’s room is a shithole.
Wall-to-wall, the floor is visible only in scraps, littered with garbage that feels like aggressive white noise in its hostile repetitiveness. Beer can, discarded food packet, dirty laundry, beer can, discarded food packet, dirty laundry, beer can, scrap of carpet. Foil sheet, emptied of pills. Beer can. Empty plastic bottle of six bob voddy. Beer can. Laundry. Beer can. Beer can. Beer ca-
John wakes up. His neck hurts, and he knows this is because he has no pillow, but he is inwardly angry anyway, resenting his body for being damaged by his own poor caretaking. He rolls over onto his stomach, and the physical exertion makes him feel nauseous, and he reaches for a plastic carrier bag to vomit into. Nothing comes up, but John tastes bile in the back of his throat and spits thick saliva into the bag. He throws the bag away, another movement he immediately regrets, and while it lands atop one of the scarce few bits of carpet left, John tears rapidly through the closest pile of rubbish and fag-butts to find at least one smokeable cigarette. He comes up empty, and now his hangover, a fetid miasma of migraine, nausea and muscle ache, begins to crash in waves against him, and his scorched throat begs for further lashings.
Ignoring both, or at least ignoring the ever-increasing urge to vomit, John sits up on his mattress. His duvet, thin with no sheets, falls off his torso quietly, the change in temperature barely noticeable. He splays his legs out in front of him, kicking aside empty cans and paper wrappers with his heels as he waits for the dizziness to subside. John rubs his eyes. He stands, legs cold and shaking, and then makes a quick trip to the bathroom across the hall, where the nausea overcomes him and he empties his stomach and his bladder in quick succession.
It is while John washes his hands, mouth, and face under the cold tap in the sink that he thinks of his stash. He finishes off, patting himself dry on a stained, ragged old towel that he scoops from the floor and then returns there, and crosses the hall again back to his room. His stash is hidden behind his chest of drawers, and he has to move a pile of laundry before he can move it, but when he does he can see the cracks in the wall almost instantly. He can't remember the last time he used his stash, but to his nicotine starved mind, behind that small section of pull-away wall hides John's earthly salvation: a small white box, adorned with a simple purple square.
John feverishly works his finger into the small hole carved into the wall and pulls at the section. It is stiff but comes loose without much effort, and John quickly pushes his free hand into the compartment. His fingers find no box, but instead touch glossy paper. John seizes the object and pulls it out for inspection.
He barely glances at the old photograph before he drops it reflexively and casts his gaze away, his whole body flinching before going rigid. He is dumbfounded, all thought function seizing up and clattering to a halt. His vision swims and his heart-rate and breathing speed up involuntarily, as his surroundings seem to swell against him and push upon his skin. He places a hand on the chest of drawers to steady himself, and screws his eyes shut tight enough to hurt. His blood pounds in his ears, drowning out all other sound, and though John breaths he is asphyxiating, his chest feeling like a clockwork spring with its key being wound; tighter and tighter, twisting his innards into a tense ball that grows smaller withe very turn, every gasp for air a new threat that it would burst and punch a hole clean through John's torso, killing him and letting loose every demon and insecurity, every bad though he'd ever had, for everyone to see and point and judge and laugh and ostracize and -
And then it's over. The coil unwinds, slowly but gently, and John's breath and vision come back to him. He lets go of the drawers, his knuckles brilliant white and his hand aching, and carefully, slowly, picks up the two pill boxes that stand alone atop the unit, pulling a foil rack from each and pop-pop
releasing the pills from their containers. John reads the words 'citalopram'
with glazed-over eyes as he swallows the tablets dry, and then takes some deep, steady breaths as he bends down to retrieve the photograph, holding it with both hands as he stands back up.
The photo is of a young girl, center frame, water behind her and the light of the sun reflected off of it to illuminate the girl from behind, giving her an ethereal golden outline. John is almost moved to tears just looking at the picture.
Instead, he tears his eyes away from the smiling face of the girl and sets the photo down next to his pills. He looks around his room, allowing the true scope and meaning of the filth to sink in, and then dresses himself in the least-smelly pair of jeans and top with the fewest stains. He pockets his pills, and then carefully folds and pockets the photo as well.
Downstairs, John pads quietly from the hallway to the kitchen in search of water and food. He drinks from the tap and takes a half-empty packet of digestives from the cupboard, and then makes his way to the front door. Behind him, through the hallway into the living room, he can see Thomas Constantine - a father to the letter of the law and no further - sound asleep on his worn and rotted old armchair. A can of lager has fallen from his hand and spilled across his lap and the floor. From here John can smell piss as well. He nervously eyes the small mound of empty cans beside Thomas, and can't help but picture the cans on his bedroom floor upstairs.
John turns around. Thomas' jacket is hung beside the door and John does not hesitate to pilfer the wallet from the inside pocket and empty it of the cash within. He turns, putting a hand on the handle of the door, and hesitates only long enough for his other hand to touch a finger to the photograph of his sister in his pocket - and then he leaves.
John was ten, Cheryl fourteen. Summer in Liverpool, as much as Liverpool could allow, and the sky was covered by a pallid shroud of grey clouds. They were collecting change - running through the streets, spotting shrapnel on the floor, on abandoned tables, in phoneboxes and ticket machines. John's pockets rattled melodically with coins as he joked, jostled, teased and cracked wise. Cheryl downplayed her amusement but could not stifle a chuckle here and there.
At a dockside cafe, Cheryl distracted the owner with meandering, protracted questions about the menu, while John took the opportunity to dip his hand into the tip jar and came up with a few more silvers than he had gone in with. Cheryl had ordered cola and sandwiches and the pair ate outside; when the owner turned to serve another customer, the pair had ran, laughing at themselves and each other as the frustrated shouts grew quieter and quieter behind them.
Back on the high street they ducked into a Boots and found a disposable camera; John emptying his pockets into Cheryl's outstretched hands so that she could count out their collection. They had only scrap left after their purchase, but they left the coins and the plastic wrapping of the camera on the counter behind them as they left with their prize. They filled the camera roll in only a few short hours, and then returned to Boots to develop the film. The lady behind the counter huffed and puffed as they turned out their pockets to pay the fee, and eventually, just waived it entirely as their performance grew too tedious to deal with any longer.
John and Cheryl sat on a street bench in the fading sunlight, thumbing eagerly through their envelope of photographs. Many were unfortunately marred by poor lighting, lens glare, or even intrusions from John's clumsy fingers as he had played with the camera. But one picture stood out: Cheryl, standing center frame with the Royal Albert Docks behind her, smiling and laughing at the John behind the camera. The clouds had opened up in a moment of serendipity to stream sunlight down onto the water, and it bounced off the surface of the docks to light up the photo from behind. To John, the photo was remarkable, perhaps the greatest accomplishment of his young life so far; it held a paradoxically fleeting and infinite moment of serenity, and seemed to capture an angelic quality about Cheryl. The photo was a gleaming representation of John's sister through John's eyes; he loved it, and her, and they spent the rest of the evening delaying their return home any way they knew how.
John sits on his arse on the kerb outside of Leicester central station, staring at the creased photo of Cheryl he holds out in front of him. The cash in his father's wallet got him from Liverpool to Nottingham, and dodging the ticket man had gotten him from Nottingham to Leicester, and here he had been caught and summarily ejected when he was found unable to pay the fine.
The sun he sits in is suddenly blocked by an approaching figure, who casts a large shadow across John as he stands watching. John looks up, squinting against the sun that shines behind the man."What do you want."
John demands, his back bristling on habit alone. Liverpool didn't teach him to be friendly."You look lost.""What's it to you, geez? Shove off."
The man chuckles, and this both irritates and disarms John."Thought you might need a hand."
John pauses, hesitant. This stranger's forward nature unsettles him. He is not used to kindness."I'm fine. Shove off."
The man does not move. This annoys John. "You bored?""What's that photo?"
John stands up, and pockets the photo. The man is taller than John, and wider, and John is cold and hungry, but John has anger and a wild, nervous energy building inside him. John thinks he could take the man if he had to. "None of your business."
He responds, looking the stranger directly in the eyes and locking his jaw. He waits.
The man steps back, and without the sun behind his head John can see him clearly. He has a friendly face, and in his eyes is a look of genuine concern and empathy. The man holds both his hands up before putting them back in his jacket."Fair enough. Bad start.”
He steps forward, only slightly, and extends a hand to shake. John does not take it. “Francis Chandler.”
John does not offer his name. Instead, he sits back down. Francis stays standing. After a long pause, John explains. “I’ve come from Liverpool. Trying to get to London to visit an old friend. Cash ran out at Nottingham. Narcs caught me here. Now I’m stuck.”
Francis rubs the messy stubble of his chin and sits down next to John, taking off his flat cap. “Well, that’s a fair bit of luck to get from Nottingham to here.”
He days after a moment of deliberation. John murmurs an unenthusiastic agreement. “And I reckon you got chucked just in time too.”
John frowns and looks at Francis. He smiles, a wry little smirk that forces John to like him a little. “I’m leaving back to London today. Just escaped a visit to my ogre of a ma. Car’s parked at the station. Saw you first, though. Lucky bugger, don’t you think?”
John stares at Francis, his face conveying all manner of emotion: incredulity; confusion; distrust; disbelief; hope. He doesn’t know how to respond, or whether he should. Most of him thinks Francis is playing a cruel joke. “If you get your jollies being a cunt I reckon you’re done for the day with this one.”
He finally says, and Francis laughs. John waits for a response, but Francis doesn’t reply. “Why?”
Francis shrugs. “You look like you could use some help.”“I could be about to take you for all you’re worth.”
Francis laughs again. “You’re welcome to, got fuck all anyway. I’d let you drive away with me in the boot if it got me away from my mother.”“Why do you want to help me so bad?”
Francis stands up, John does the same. Francis stands across from John, regarding his skinny frame in the sunlight. “I’ve got a nose for good hearts. Good people. You got an aura about you. I can tell. You just need a break.”
John could cry. Francis has compassion he hasn’t felt since...that he hasn’t felt in a long time. He clears his throat.“I think you’re full of shit.”
He pauses as Francis chuckles. “But I could do with a break.”
John extends his hand to shake. Francis takes it firmly. “John Constantine. Nice to meet ya, Francis.”