• Alexander Hay

Fiction: The Immortal Maurice Ball by Alexander Hay

Photo Source: PxFuel

Fame is a fickle thing, not least when you're dead. Maurice Ball had a chart hit in ‘87 with his song, "It's Raining Tears." It took two trips to rehab, a flop second album, three tell-alls in the News of the World, a divorce, a suicide attempt, and five long, hard years, before he would dare mount a comeback.

Time had moved on, of course. The kids had traded in their Spectrums for Mega Drives (or Master Systems if their parents were skint) and ecstasy had replaced smack as the folk devil of the day. Maurice had, of course, tried both, and wrote his begging letters with a typewriter. Still, at least vinyl, with its scratchy sound and tatty cardboard covers, was dead. He much preferred the laser sheen of CDs, the sound of the future.

1992: A favour for a favour for a favour later, plus some dumb luck, and Maurice was handed a song from a rising Swedish writer. The producer, a friend from the glory days, plus some kind, gentle session musicians, helped him record his comeback single. He'd forgotten how safe and warm it was, making music. His voice was weak and out of practice, but the old magic began to creep in, and by the final take, he was almost back on form.

Times had moved on, but the single hit the shops at the right moment, when it was hot and the schools were out for the holidays. It sounded like a Maurice Ball song, but with hints of a new decade creeping in with the arrangements, and the cod house music flourishes.

Suddenly, Maurice found himself at Number 4 in the charts, and on the playlists of radio stations that once sniggered at his name. Momentum. A second chance.

He found himself in the green room of a popular Saturday evening TV show, a runner steadying his nerves with a sneaky brandy.

"It's just a bit of fun" she said, patting him on the shoulder. "You'll make everyone realise you're up for a laugh, know what I mean?"

Maurice gave her that nervous little boy smile, and she giggled. He could almost feel his old self again, but those five years wouldn't quite go away.

So there he was, on live TV, locked in a sealed glass cabinet, under the sluice of a super ginormous gunk tank. He managed to deliver his scripted dialogue of 'cheeky banter' with the host, who hadn't yet been consumed by a messiah complex at that stage of his career. The crowd laughed and cheered, and chanted.


And then the tap was opened, and Maurice was drenched with lime green slime. He could just about hear the audience's applause, before it was drowned out by the relentless downpour of Natrosol and E140/E104 food colouring. He held his breath desperately. His eardrums felt like they were going to burst.

Outside, they panicked. The tap wouldn't turn off! Panic in the studio, the audience, the control room. The director and producer ranted over whether to cut the feed. Two cameramen and a mic operator managed to get fire axes and started hammering at the glass.

But Maurice is drowning.

Offstage, the runner covers her mouth with one hand, her eyes wide in horror, too stunned to move.

As the thickening agent fills his lungs, Maurice remembers all the pain of his earliest years. Dad walking out. The heartbreak of his teens. Mum ruing the day he was ever born. Never quite making it as a welder, an office junior, a boilerman. The talent contest his mates bullied him into entering...

The first blast of excitement as it all began. The hard fall into Page 7 purgatory. Morrissey crooning "You could have said no if you wanted to." But where is the love in the dry hiss of a boiler? And that song, always that song... "It's Raining Tears." It is always raining tears. Always.

They managed to finally smash the reinforced glass and drag him out. The hospital turned off the machine three days later. Eight million people kept watching.

The inquest was full of stern words, solemn expressions, frenzied shorthand. The broadcaster put on its serious face and said Lessons Must Be Learned. But Death Through Misadventure gave sighs of relief all round, at least in private. The show continued, but without the runner or the gunk tank.

Maurice’s new song, "We're Breaking Out", charted #1 for three weeks. People who'd forgotten him, or moved away nervously when he started using his penis as a cocktail stirrer, or who had called him no son of theirs, soon turned up on the news, dabbing their eyes. The label managed to cobble together an EP's worth of demos for what would have been his second album. It sold very well on CD. You can buy a copy for 50p in a charity shop, if you look.

If Lennon had lost his temper with McCartney a few years earlier, stormed out and let the rest of the lads fly off to Hamburg without him, how might things be different? Would he be remembered if he keeled over dead at his allotment, all of 80 years old and riddled with Covid? You’ve got to die in the right way. History is a sadist with poetry for blood and vultures for a chorus. In another life, there’s Maurice Ball, 58 years young, clogged arteries and dead before his British Gas pension kicks in.

The world, and the charts, marched on. Other tragedies and spectacles soon took precedence, though sick jokes continued to be whispered in the corners of rough pubs, with piss on the toilet floor, for years to come.

But Maurice lives on. That horrible video, looped forever more. First on shock sites, then on social media. Wide eyed teens in Wisconsin tapping WTF on greasy touchscreens. A young man, drowning – forever.

Alexander Hay is a writer and journalist who currently dwells in North West England. His previous credits include several horror, sci-fi and weird fiction markets, such as Futures (published by Nature), the No Sleep Podcast, and Cosmic Horror Monthly. His time as a music journalist includes such highlights as nearly killing one band's guitarist with a wasp, and interviewing Alice Cooper on the phone in a haunted, ex-boarding school. He can be found on Twitter: @Alexand40457338