The Outcast (Winter is Coming) – David Cook

Outside, snow began to fall. Inside, a group huddled around a window table, watching the flurry as it descended.

‘Winter is coming,’ remarked one. Everyone laughed. Well, everyone except Charlie, who said, ‘And it’s only September.’

‘Game of Thrones, pal,’ said Fred from accounts.

‘Oh,’ said Charlie. ‘I don’t watch that.’

Everyone fell silent and looked at Charlie. He began to go red. He stared at his drink and pretended to see something very interesting in the bottom of his glass.

People began to talk about someone or something called ‘Stark’. Charlie slipped away from the table.

No-one noticed.

*      *      *

Two evenings later, Charlie had a date. This was rare. He’d summoned up the courage to ask Kirsty from the fish counter at the supermarket out for dinner and had nearly fallen over when she’d said yes.

He’d taken her to a fish restaurant which, he reflected as they arrived and he saw her face, was probably a bad move. Still, things were going okay until Kirsty said: ‘So did you watch the season finale last night?’

He blinked. ‘Sorry? Of what?’

‘Game of Thrones, of course.’

‘Oh,’ said Charlie again. ‘I don’t watch that.’

Kirsty’s face fell. She dropped her head and paid very close attention to her halibut. Charlie opened his mouth to speak, then shut it.

The date limped to an end. Charlie would never go back to that supermarket..

*      *      *

The following day, Charlie took the bus into town and came home with a box set of Game of Thrones DVDs and a huge bag of popcorn. He would watch the first few episodes now and see what the fuss was about.

He spent the next three hours of his life feeling somehow nauseated and bored simultaneously. He didn’t like gore. He didn’t care about dragons. And he couldn’t remember anyone’s name. What did everyone see in the damn show?

He turned the television off and bit down on popcorn, chipping a tooth in the process.

*      *      *

On Twitter the next evening, Charlie wrote, ‘Am I the only one who doesn’t like Game of Thrones? #GoT’

His follower count immediately dropped from the low hundreds to single figures to zero, while anonymous people with avatars of lizards began to send him abuse.

He deactivated his account.

*      *      *

His Mum called. ‘I’ve just been watching this Game of Thrones show. My friend Winnie told me about it at the hairdresser, everyone’s talking about it. Have you seen it?’

Charlie said that he had.

‘Isn’t it just awful—‘

‘Yes!’ almost shouted Charlie with relief. ‘It’s long and tedious and unpleasant. I’ll stick to my nature documentaries, thank you very much.’

He smiled. At least he wasn’t totally alone. Then he noticed the silence from the other end of the phone.

‘Mum?’

‘I was going to say “awfully good”, actually.’

‘Oh.’

‘I think it’s brilliant.’

‘Oh.’

There was a click as she ended the call.

*      *      *

Isolated and friendless, Charlie jacked in his job and went travelling. Surely he could escape the Game Of Thrones obsession in another country.

‘Ert þú að horfa á Game Of Thrones?’ asked a girl in a bar in Reykjavik.

‘Mae Game Of Thrones mor dda!’ said a hotelier on the coast of West Wales.

‘Ang Cersei Lannister ang modelo ng aking papel,’ commented a waitress in a restaurant in the Philippines.

‘If you don’t watch Game Of Thrones, you’re a flamin’ Galah,’ said a man on a beach in Sydney, fiddling with his boomerang in a way Charlie found unnerving.

He tore up his travel plans.

*      *      *

So Charlie came home again, far more multilingual than when he left but equally as depressed. He dumped his bag, then fell over the pile of Game of Thrones DVDs he’d left on the floor. Losing his temper, he sat where he landed and hurled the offending plastic boxes around the room. As the final one arced into the wall with a satisfying thud, there was a knock at the door.

Cursing under his breath, he hauled himself to his feet and hurled the door open. On the other side was a woman he’d never seen before.

‘Hello?’ he said.

‘Oh, hi. I just moved into the flat next door. My name’s Yasmin and…’ she stopped, and looked over his shoulder at the mess of DVDs. ‘Is this a bad time?’

‘No…’ Charlie took a deep breath. ‘No, it’s fine.’

‘You’re a Game of Thrones fan, I see.’

‘Definitely not.’.

‘Hey, me neither.’

‘What, really?’

‘No.’

His mouth fell open. He realised this wasn’t a good look and shut it again. Yasmin carried on without seeming to notice.

‘I just don’t get what’s so good about it,’ she said. ‘All this mythical stuff leaves me cold. And it goes on forever. But everyone loves it.

‘Not me.’

‘Nor me. You’re the first person I’ve met that doesn’t like it.’

Their eyes locked. Yasmin smiled. Charlie smiled. He felt his heart rise in his chest. Time seemed to stop.

‘I’m Charlie, by the way,’ he said, eventually. ‘Would you like to come in? I’ll just clean up this mess.’

They beamed at each other as Yasmin stepped inside and Charlie closed the door behind her.

‘No, I much prefer Stranger Things,’ Yasmin continued as she sat down. ‘It’s just so cool. Best show ever. Do you watch it?’

Charlie had seen Stranger Things. Charlie had hated Stranger Things. His heart seemed to notice how high it had climbed. It panicked, wobbled momentarily, then plummeted back down, landing with a squelch in the basement of his ribcage. He tried to force a smile, but didn’t manage it. ‘Do you like nature documentaries?’ he asked.

Yasmin shrugged. ‘Not really,’ she replied.

Cersei Lannister looked on from a discarded DVD box, the glimmer of a grin on the edges of her lips. Charlie glanced out of the window and noticed it was snowing once more.

 

 

DAVID COOK’s stories have been published in print and online in a few different places. He lives in Bridgend, Wales, with his wife and daughter. Say hello on Twitter @davidcook100. If that Icelandic, Welsh and/or Filipino is incorrect, please direct your complaints to Google Translate.

Cabinet Of Heed Contents Link 21

Image by Thorsten Frenzel from Pixabay

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