Wednesday, 31 December 2008

To remember


I remember you; the grass running free in the meadow and you rolling through it. I remember you standing atop a narrow boat, your reflection in the water bejewelled by the sunlight.
I remember touching you, whenever I wanted, never having to hold back. I remember that day, on the towpath, tugging you along though you were scared of the water.
There was breeze, yet there was sun; there was fire and there was fear. Still, we ploughed on, didn’t we?
Do you remember the autumn coming? Ensnaring auburn leaves in your hair? Catching patchouli wafting from that bright boat we passed? Kissing my eyes and mouthing ‘I love yous’; breathless and silent, feeling the shape of the words through close-pressed lips.
Staying, that night, beneath stars we hadn’t seen for years. A bitter cold night, but we moved slowly and surely, sculpting one body against the other so there was no room for icy air to intervene. Do you remember it all?
Funny how it has come to me now. I hope it crosses your mind too, from time to time. I worry you never think of me at all.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Sensing hope


After what they told me was a passing of thirteen days of my life, they moved me to a room where I could see daylight.
And not just see the sky outside, but taste the air; breathe and smell it. Winter is a cruel time for colour and the sky was blanched grey: no remedy there for the cold stones of my cell. Still, it offered such respite for my soul that I put all thoughts of giving in and wasting away, there in captivity, firmly aside.
I thought this view might help me to better understand or even recall how I came to my current predicament. I was trapped in a stone hewn cell, perhaps like that of a castle or medieval keep. The thin, overcast, corridors were lit by torches.
The guards ordered me about in grunts and arm movements. My interrogators questioned me in broken, halting English. They were all white-skinned, of obvious European descent, but their accents were seemingly impossible to place.
Their questions, too, were a source of perplexity: "How many kings have reigned during your lifetime? Do you remember the last time you saw your mother? How many times have you attempted suicide? Have you ever been to South-East Asia?"
They would ask these in a barrage – one after the other – seemingly not recording the answers. I have no idea which questions they needed the answers too, nor if the answers to all of these questions were of interest to them.
It may have been a psychological exercise or an information extraction. All I know is that I had difficulty recalling much of the information they required. My mother, for example; I have no recollection of her whereabouts, nor where I last met with her. This seems to be a cause of real sadness to me.
I’m drifting now, between consciousness and sleep. I’m peering along the tiny passage, as wide as my fist and barred at both ends with barbed wire. I’m peering out in some vain hope of salvation. And then I hear something, a song from the outside world; a call of nature.
A dark bird sings and I am undone, for it is the caw of a crow. I don’t know whether to call myself blessed or cursed, but I find myself making the strangest of sounds. My throat feels like it is being strangled, torn by internal wires. Still, I struggle loose a caw of my own, a quite realistic call. Where did I ever learn to do that?
I cough a little and then wait. Sure enough, after a small time, I am answered. My body floods with warmth and a smile greets my face.
Somehow, I know now, there is hope.

Monday, 29 December 2008

The devil's hand


The silver coin weighed him down, played on his conscience. Neil’s grey hair, was parted and greasy and flopping into his face as he stared down at the mugshot of capitalism. It eyed him coolly in return as a magic mirror, almost smirking remembering the spinning lies and the possible future it had once shown him.
He tossed the coin away then, as the thunder rumbled in the hills behind the city. There would be a flood, soon, but not that day. The rains never reached the city until late summer, but the devil walked freely there.
So Neil saw it: the evil twists of his life’s story. He guessed at a sinister edge of dark magic being accountable for his wretched decline in wealth and status. Perhaps men like Neil refuse to see the truth in such situations, for to see the truth would be to accept blame, to understand one’s own fallibility and take blame for one’s own actions and the outcome of their risks.
So Neil kicked on through the black heart of a city that seemed dead, now that trading hours had ceased. And there, he found himself; his head repeatedly pressing itself up against the tastefully lit windows of designer stores.
He saw the devil, there. Somewhere between Buddha and baby it laughed at him in its perverse infant nudity, all red and burning. Behind it lay the stuff of temptation and greed and pride.
And, from its nascent sulphurous palm, Neil struggled to climb free.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Happy Christmas

Hello dear readers,

Hope you're having a wonderful Christmas. I am not going to post a tale on Christmas Day or Boxing Day.

See you next week when hopefully I shall be more sober, full of leftover turkey and with more stories to end the year.

Paul.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

The tidewalker


She used to tell him that the moon brought lovers together. She’d say that its great actions in the heavens would draw souls together, magnetised by lunar cycles and destined to cling forever to the other.
He’d laugh, of course, and kiss her forehead and they’d both sigh and wish it were true. When he lost her – lost her to doubt, fear and perennial lust – he had an epiphany soon after.
He began to believe her idea, about the moon and the souls of young lovers. He began to imagine this intangible thread running always from him to her. It was now tightly drawn, and straining across a great distance of space and mind, but it existed all the same.
So he came to thinking that the flow of the tides could help him to find her; that the gravitational pull of the satellite moon would be the strongest at high tide. That if he were to stand on a beach, when the yearly tide was at its highest, there was a good chance she’d be there, on that same stretch of beach, searching for him too.
So there he was, on December 14th, 2008, his shoes filling with salt-water, his trousers sopping and him flinching in the chill. He was there, on a desolate winter’s beach, strolling through the surf, walking the tide.
Nobody else was on the beach that bitter day but, in the icy sting of the salt spray, a song came to him, shuffling forth from his memories.
It was a song she sometimes sang and it always made him smile. Somehow, he had lost this memory to time, and now the clawing December tide had returned it to him along with a clear visual memory of her face, fair and glowing, at Christmastime.
He stood there, tidewalking, for as long as his shivering body could stand the winter sea. And, all the while, he smiled.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

The melting prayer


Religion is such a wonderful thing. Believers feel they can invoke it, as a warlock would a magic spell, to bring their dreams to life.
Here is a religious bribe; a treat with a message for selfish needs. A big tin of Quality Street with a sticker on it saying: “Thank you for your prayers that I get into Pembroke! Have a chocolate!”
Quality Street is a popular brand of confectionery, and Pembroke is a respected college within Oxford University. How do scholarly life and the aspect of the Christian pulpit become so intangibly entwined?
I asked myself that question as I toured the sacrosanct chapels of the Oxford conglomerate; saw the enlightened ministers of the written word that studied nearby; inspected the towers of beer cans they had drained, we all laughed to see such fun.
And there, on the dark oaken table, next to the postcard of Michael defeating Lucifer, sat the tin of temptation; the treat-laden box of delights with the begging message: pray for me, just me. Pray for me and perhaps I will enter these hallowed halls and be better. Better than you, or better than most.
Pray for me. Pray for me and have a chocolate. Pray for my intercession unto the right hand of the dons.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Into the vapour


What a thrill it is to walk unguided into the syrupy mist. What wonders might await you in the lands you cannot see?
Usually the landscape of your home is a thing of ornamental ordinariness to you. When the fog cloys and the mists choke the trees and bushels, the houses of your neighbours and the fields of the farmers are less obscured than actually lost to sight and so knowledge. Only on closer exploration can an explanation for their existence be found.
When I was a young lad, my older brother told me that when the mist descended upon the park to the rear of our house it offered us a strange chance; to reach a land of dinosaurs.
If we might tread carefully and absolutely correctly, along the grey concrete path cut through the centre of the oval park, then we might find ourselves coming through the spectral mist into a land of thunderous lizards.
We’d set off to school with excitement in our hearts and I’d hold his hand tight as we stepped into the fogbound field. Sometimes all we could see ahead of us was the cool grey path. And I swear that, sometimes, I could hear the cumbersome roar of giant beasts, lurking somewhere ahead in the strange smog.
We never made it to that prehistoric land he conjured up but, whenever the mists return and the world returns to the haze of childhood, I tend to think, there’s always next time...

Friday, 19 December 2008

From the forest to the sea: The House


So he returned to the clearing, dragged and heaved the body, scraped along the path and then on into the trees.
He stopped some way along the journey. The woman’s dress had caught and was now up over her head, revealing her underwear. He slowly and quite gently replaced the dress, for he felt her shame.
Soon he came to the old house. He saw no-one on the narrow dirt track through the trees and he left the forest cover and approached the dilapidated property.
He followed the message he had received via the beacon. He took the body to the first floor of the house and laid it in the large room to the west. He was able to prise up some of the rotting floorboards and drop the corpse there.
He stood and looked for a little while, spied to see if the woman’s hand was showing, or if her cold eyes regarded him in return.
When he was at last satisfied, he left the house with a glance to each side, and he never went back there again.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

From the forest to the sea: The Beacon


He crossed the dunes. His plan – to return to and burn the body – itched at his scalp. It was wrong, somehow.
He needed to ask a higher power, but the sea was not granting him communion today. Then he spied the great spear, the beacon which could connect him to heaven, and he rubbed against it and kissed it and spoke sweetly to it.
And, sure enough, the wires rippled and whispered to him in a strange breeze of tongues. He waited there for comprehension. He pieced together the voice from the strings.
He smiled when he understood. Its message was as beautiful as the strumming of the lyre.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

From the forest to the sea: The Shore


He spent a while looking into the vegetation. His eyes couldn’t pick the body out and he was satisfied. It safely hidden, he went to ask the sea what to do next.
The rich dark wet sand crumbled under his mighty footstep; the killer, come to the almighty sea like a pilgrim to Delphi. He sat down, cross-legged on the deserted shore. He listened to the waves as they whispered their commands.
After a time, he got up and snarled at the sea birds. The messages were all garbled and confused. He didn’t know what to do next.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

From the forest to the sea: The Clearing


At the edges of the forest the trees were leafy and deciduous.
He dragged the battered body to the treeline and hesitated at the clearing. It seemed a lane, running from the dunes back to the inhabited world. It was a potential giveaway, a total lack of vegetation to cover his sin. Yet, where were the people? Where the witnesses?
He bent down and examined the corpse for signs of animation: a gargled breath, a sinister movement (for he could have sworn it jerked and spasmed still, such is the wont of the restless dead).
It lay still though, like yesterday’s doll. It almost made him want to cry, so he hauled it over the path and dumped the heavy load down, amid the longer grass and nettles; kicking it until it rolled down a shallow bank and under the trees again.

Monday, 15 December 2008

From the forest to the sea: The Forest


He killed her in the forest, while she was walking alone.
The sun shone its brilliant light through the thin canopy of pines. She saw him, smiled a hello, let him approach.
She bit his fingers as she struggled. He lifted her off the ground as he strangled her. She didn’t stop fighting until her head hit the tree.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Dragging the millstone


The stone hit with a thud and a whine. There was no movement, thereafter.
Though it was late afternoon, nobody was around the village green and no cars were driving past. Charlie acted quickly, dragging the body by the scruff of its neck away from the open lawn where it lay and soon into the bushes and soon into the trees.
He knew the hidden ways well, places where he’d hide and watch the children play. The body was surprisingly light. He looked back at it for a minute and saw blood pooling upon the crack in its head, mixing with hair and dead leaves.
When he was a safe distance from the village, he thought of leaving the carcass in the trees to rot, or for animals to feast upon. But his eyes heard the babbling of the brook and he was soon sliding down the bank with the small body trailing behind him. They made two firm splashes as they hit the water. He stopped to peer about the banks, for signs of fisherman or nosey children, but the area was as silent as any a dull day in Breckford ever was.
As he dragged downstream, the body grew heavier with water and his arm soon weakened. He eventually decided he would find a deepish pool, under overhanging branches, and weight the body down with stones.
Charlie looked down at the sad bedraggled creature he had killed. Blood mingled in tugging draughts from its head wound, matting its fur. Its pink tongue lolled from its once snarling mouth. Its tail hung pathetically and uselessly behind, like some broken rudder.
Still, it soon sank, and the stones fell slowly to crush its bones.
Charlie withdrew, up the bank, covering his pants with mud. On the shivering walk home his mind whirred with excuses, ready for the parental inquisition to come.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

A future explosion



Though he touched her and felt alive, he found himself more afraid of this girl than he had been afraid of anything, at any time in his life.
Her priapic presence was a joy to him, a real joy. He wanted to sing it to every man he met, that he was there, that he was at last in love. So long a disbeliever, he'd finally succumbed. He had found his faith; his calling.
Looking at her, as she slept, he examined what it could be that induced this terror in him, something that disturbed his slumber and worried him all day at work and then later when they ate (and he ate, but a little).
He analysed his fear, and it had always been aimed at the future. With other women, he had no such fear. The future was something unbeknownst, and he always felt that it would not contain the woman he was seeing at the time.
Now, however, the future was different, almost clearer. But it seemed to him a green field with a paradisiacal beach at the other side of it. This green field looked, at first glance, inviting; a thing to stroll across on a sunny day, arm-in-arm with one’s lover.
Stare at the scene, at the field, for a second or two, and see that it is strewn with ruptured bodies and dangerous craters caused by the eruption of once buried landmines parked, shallowly, beneath the lush and healthy exterior of the field.
This field, of his, was a trial. Everyday he would have to step carefully across it, measuring the green blades below with the progression of his feet, striving to cross with safety, without explosion.
He was scared because he now had to try and navigate this field, not alone, but tied to another who must somehow be shielded from potential carnage, underfoot.
As he lay there in bed – scratching his arm, a light sweat upon him – the bright beach seemed very, very far away.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

The inevitable waters



The tide is rolling in now. I can hear it coming. I can feel it. And with each roll, my stomach turns and my knuckles go white.
I’ve never been scared of the sea before; I’ve never really thought about drowning or the creatures that lurk in its murkier depths, but it’s all I can think of now. When I come to the beach it fills me with dread.
A few days ago I had to tell Sylvie I was ill. There was no hiding it any longer; she’d done well to pretend she hadn’t noticed it in me. She looked at me for a while, right in my eyes, then welled up and asked if I was going to die. I told her that I didn’t know, that they didn’t know.
I stroked her arm, like it was her who was sick, and told her to sit down. It dawned on her this information wasn’t new, that I had likely been keeping it from her for a good while.
She asked me why I’d not mentioned this sooner, but I didn’t know what to tell her. She asked me how I’d managed to get myself to and from appointments, perhaps tests and procedures, without her help. She asked me earnestly and I just sadly shook my head.
She looked up slowly from the bed and queried with her eyes. Even more slowly, she shook her own beautiful head. Eventually, she stood up and pushed past me. I listened for her and heard the front door open and close, then the ignition of a car’s engine.
She hasn’t been home since. She must have picked Greta up and taken her too, because she never came home from school that day. I’d made ratatouille, just in case they came home. I ate what I could manage and threw the rest away.
I shan’t come to the beach much more, I think. I can’t get what I need from the water, it seems. Not anymore.
Ha! And now it seems it’s going to piss down upon me from above too. Well, if I’m not going to jump in, it’ll still drown me in the end, I suppose.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Notes left for someone to find



Calling from the hole;
The cracks beside this bed, will echo sounds lost through reams
Of scholarly failures before me,
Crying you to sleep or awakening your dreams.

And which of us will remain?
Ghosts walking among are soon to linger with kindred.
We may all be able to leave
But the house keeps a token; how large, depends on the dead.

Different now
From the moment of entry – yesterday or last year –
Change entraps time, snorkelling our memories;
Discarding flotsam, lampooning fear.

Time seems of little importance,
Life, at the time, now forgotten, along with the point of it all?
No deep truths, well, will we understand,
Here, our time is over, and soon some voice else will call.

We begin anew, elsewhere, somewhere
Separated, yet together; connected. You’ll find
You have the chance, here, now,
Not to understand your deep truths, rather the ones we leave behind.

Monday, 8 December 2008

The end of the rails


I’ve been driving the trams for years. ‘It’s a fine life,’ I always said, when people asked me. It’s not boring, like they think.
There’s a strange sort of freedom that comes with the trams. No-one understands that, when I say it to them. ‘Trams are stuck on rails,’ they say. ‘There’s nowhere to go than where you always go. A bus driver, even a train driver will need to go a different way sometimes, but you’re always on the same rails, going the same way, day after day.’
I find it hard to explain why I feel free on the trams. I can never explain my thoughts clearly when people ask after that. I tell them, sometimes, in reply, that I believe God has put before us a hundred and two different ways and means of getting through the day, every day. And if we thought, about all the different decisions we made in one single day, and where these all might have taken us, if we’d done things differently, then we might all go completely mad.
You see, these decisions, they’re taken away from me – when I’m on the rails. I only have to stop and start when either the lights or the people ringing the bell tell me to. Everything else has been decided for me. And I’m free, then. Do you see?
Found out I had some sort of chronic anaemia this year. Doctor didn’t recommend I kept working on the trams. Could be dangerous; if I got tired, you see. Could get sick from meeting so many people, too. Immune system’s buggered now, apparently.
So, the company are retiring me. Can’t get insurance for me to drive the trams, anymore. I’m into my last week on the route, this week. A couple of women brought me a card the other day; said they were very sorry to see me go, that I was the only friendly driver on the route, these days. That was nice to hear. Someone else said she had a present for me, but every morning she says she’s forgotten it and will bring it in tomorrow. She’s got so much to think about in the morning you see, so many decisions to make.
People tell me it’ll be great when I’m finished on the trams. That I’ll have so much time to relax and enjoy life; do all the things I missed out on while I was travelling the rails. But, truth be told, I don’t know what I’ll do. I don’t know what to do; what can I do?
When the rails run out, there’s only roads to travel and paths to choose. Sometimes it seems all too much, this choice, the unlimited journeys we can make. It all gets so overwhelming that I can’t think of anything else. I don’t feel free anymore and I can see the end of the rails coming up fast. All I want to do is turn around, and go back the way I came.

A century of postcards

I've made it to 100 Daily Postcards now. I like to mark things like that.

Thanks to everyone who has stuck with me and read on, especially if you've been a reader since The Daily Tale.

The year's nearly up and the stories are nearly done...

Friday, 5 December 2008

Following Annabel (part two)



His juddering hand pressed lightly upon the white door, to see if it could be pushed open. The door felt like ice. Such a jolt of cold went through him when he touched it that it almost repelled him from the house altogether. But then came the moans of Annabel filtering through the cracks around the door, he had to enter.
Wrapping his hand in his sleeve, he gripped the door handle. It seemed almost frozen to the touch but it turned and the door slowly opened before him. He took a step back as a blast of icy, reeking air flowed out over him.
The man staggered a little under the charnel stench, but stumbled forward into the room. His senses were reeling; he rubbed his eyes and lurched towards something he might hold onto. In the strange twilight of the room, he saw red carpets running into purple walls. He found a supporting pillar and leant against it in a daze.
There was a strange fog in this room, it was stopping him from understanding quite what was real here. He tried to look through it, to peer through the wisps to the motion beyond, the place where he could hear Annabel struggling.
He stumbled on then, brushing the effervescing smoke away and walking into a couch, which he rolled over and lolled upon in a stupor. He could see her now, Annabel in the fog. Her eyes were closed and she was leaning back against the cloud that enveloped her. Her black blouse had been removed and she was twitching a little and murmuring in seeming ecstasy.
Around her, the cloud was snaking into some kind of form. Nothing precise and definite, but there was a sensation of form, of a grey shape stroking her body and holding her in space.
The sight of Annabel’s bare white breasts, moving in the asphixiating room, shook the man and angered him. His fear draining away, he ran to the girl and grabbed her, wresting her from the spectral form that danced upon her flesh. She opened her eyes then, but her pupils had rolled back in her head.
She pushed the man back against the wall, kissing him and scratching at his neck. He wanted to succumb to this, all of this, the reason why she brought him here, the limits of strange lust and desire, the complete wanton destruction and devastation of the soul. But he opened his eyes then, and saw the fine grey mist grow thicker and less gaseous. Its form grew darker, like an oily pulp, pulsating and flowing forward towards them.
A thousand futures seemed to race through his mind as the sludge descended. Would he give himself to an eternity of urges and feelings?
Instead, he pushed Annabel hard, back into the open arms of the thing that possessed her and ran for the door. He flew from the room and bounded down the stairs. He noticed a thin layer of smoke trailing from under the doors in the ground floor rooms and he kicked at the grey mist as he pulled open the front door.
Spying a motor-scooter further down the street, he hopped on and forced the engine to start. He heard the gutteral scream of a young woman from a room somewhere above him and saw thick black smoke pouring from a shuttered window. Not for a second, though, did he think to go back for her. Not for a moment.
Soon he was propelled along upon a moped, whizzing out of the warren of the back streets; every second getting closer to sanity.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Following Annabel


He bought a new hat before he met her today. He wanted to look a little offbeat, out of sync with the world around him. He felt sure that would appeal to her.
She was so cool, so sure of herself. She didn't look like an Annabel. Her hair flowed pitch black down her back, her blue eyes stoked those around her with intense excitement; her lips, ruddy and enticing, she'd bite them when she was thinking. She'd bite sometimes while she was kissing, too.
She didn't mention the hat when she saw him, but she looked at it and smiled wryly. She kissed him slowly on the cheek and drew her fingers slowly down his face as she withdrew. Those same fingers then wrapped tightly around his hand and she set off, running at a startling place. "There's somewhere wonderful I've found," she shouted back at him. "I want to show you."
They danced through the back streets of the city. Flying down alleyways and along narrow streets he saw a world that he'd never noticed before: the city in daylight as a warren, almost deserted.
And then on a thin, overhanging street she slowed and walked quite genteelly to a door ajar. "I don't know how I found it, the first time," she said softly to him, smiling excitedly, "But it welcomed me, all the same. That's how it felt, anyway."
The girl shook her head then, as if she had been speaking gibberish and undoing all the hard work she'd put in establishing her casual persona.
When he stepped through the door, the young man was surprised to see the still furnished hallway of an apartment building. There even seemed to be a communal phone connected there.
Annabel looked back at him from the staircase. She’d already bounded halfway up one flight. Her head was turned towards him. She bit her lip and held her hand out, beckoning him.
He wanted to go upstairs with her, so much, but something about the house left him uncertain and uneasy. He stepped slowly towards the stairs, listening intently for some sound from this dead house. There was nothing. He stepped onto the first step as Annabel said, “Hurry! Come on!” and disappeared up the second flight. He heard her padding on across the landing. He was so scared of going up there with her, he looked for a reason not to go. Was that blood on the stair carpet? He almost wanted it to be, but he kept on, plodding up the stairs, feeling colder and more awkward with each step.
It seemed to take an age to clear the stairs and reach the landing. Why did he feel such dread? There were four doors, all closed, and the window shutters were all fastened. Where was Annabel?
He saw more stains on the carpet of the landing, more stains on the wall and, then, a bloody smear upon the old white door. Second to the left, a shaft of light illuminating the streak of red dried upon it. His body shook. What happened here?
He heard Annabel then. She was on the other side of this door. She was whimpering. And she was speaking to someone.

(To be continued...)

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

From a beautiful balcony



From a beautiful balcony she saw the world. It was a world of constant blossom and energy; the kinetics of motion seemingly drawing a performance of life on and on before her lookout post.
She, Sarah, was a tender girl of 20 years; soft of face and lustrous of hair. Her young love, Theo, was the reason she watched out so much.
On the days she knew they would meet, she spent at least an hour before his arrival looking down upon the speeding world. This panoply of colour and sound would bring such a delighted smile to her mouth that she would often start to tremble with sheer joy, or perhaps shed a little tear for the world and all the beautiful things it had to show her. Even on the days it rained, she was happy by the teeming water tapping at her window.
When he eventually came (always five minutes early) she would see his black head bobbing along the street from quite a distance. Immediately her heart rate would increase and she might feel a little bit sick, but she would take a deep breath and follow his progress with her eyes.
When he got near to her balcony he would always look up to see her, but she was able to time this to perfection and always rolled away and around, back into the living room, to keep him waiting for his glimpse of her, to heighten the anticipation of their imminent embrace and kiss.
There was one day, just one day, when she looked out for him, looked out long and hard and she couldn’t see him. Her eyes flicked like a hungry tongue around the street, crossing to the other side and then back again. She felt sick, she was trembling, her eyes were tearful, but no sign of him. ‘He must just be running late,’ she told herself over and over. ‘He’s okay’.
But when the time came when she would usually twirl around away from the window, she simply fell to the floor, covered herself in her dress and wept. Not for long, though. It dawned on her that her Theo might be in trouble, somewhere near by. She must look for him, at least. She must do that.
And running down the stairs, without stopping to take a coat or change her shoes, she flung open the double doors of the house and then stopped dead. There, upon the first step, was a bouquet of delicate white roses, and smiling next to them was her love.
She stepped over the flowers, then, and threw herself into Theo’s arms, weeping some more and kissing his face, almost falling from the weight of the contrasting feelings she had been subject to these last minutes.
But he held her up and kissed her eyes, and found that he was weeping too.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

The queen of all she surveys



She looked out, across the flaming grass, upon a hot and salty scene. They’d left her there, while they played, or sat to talk and read; they left her there, in the shade.
It wasn’t as if they were thoughtless children or mean. It’s not as if they sought to dump their infirm gran as a young mother might disregard her newborn’s pram.
No, they thought she liked to sit alone, as regal as a queen upon her throne. They would slowly turn their heads to spy; see her relaxing and smiling or staring at planes in the sky.
They never knew what thoughts blistered her head, what screams twisted her dreams. Her smiles and waves were enough to share; they’d get no closer than when pushing her chair.
It was a torment to her, you know? Every moment she was propped before that show. With the pantheon of summer laid out before her – all pumping limbs and cart-wheeling hair – there’s grandma with the brakes on and the wheelchair, frozen in leering frustration before them, like a garden gnome.
The hours there, broken only by the short straw and trips taken to the lavatory door, until four o’clock comes and it’s not quite so warm. They forgot her cardigan you see, they forgot to leave it under the tree; so it’s time to stop having fun, ‘cos grandma might be getting cold. It's time to load her into the back of the car and drive her home.

Monday, 1 December 2008

In the undergrowth




You hear people talking all around you when you’re a child. You’re too busy to listen, of course; it’s more a constant buzzing that encircles you, filled with boredom.
You learn to respond to certain tones or commands; else you’ll be grabbed, slapped or worse. But soon you find that the odd word begins to slip inside; is allowed through the net of interference and white noise.
I remember, when I was six years old, I heard my parents use the word murder in front of me for the first time. It’s funny how with some words you just know what they mean. Straight away, I knew this word was tinged with violence and death. I was scared of this word, but more I was scared of something I’d seen the week before.
On the bus on the way home from school, I’d seen a man lying in the undergrowth. I told the children on the bus and they laughed. I told my mum when I got home and she told me to stop being silly. When I insisted, she dismissed me by saying: “He was probably just having a lie down.”
I thought about it all night and in the morning, when dad was helping me to get dressed I told him I had seen a murder. He was shocked, of course, but from my description he soon realised my misunderstanding of the word ‘murder’, for it was the victim I thought I’d seen.
He didn’t tell my mum where we were going but we set out on his bike, me riding pillion and going faster than ever before.
I remembered a patch of “yellow flowers”. Weeds they were really but I called them yellow flowers. There were so many patches of these plants, from Naylor’s Farm all along the lane to Turnpike Road. It all seemed so familiar and my dad was shouting at me to remember and to stop bloody crying.
And then I saw the hand; rising from the grass like it just wanted to shake mine. I jumped up and down and moved in to grab it, but my dad stopped me. I looked once and saw a huge beetle perched on a white-brown index finger. I looked away then, for as long as I could.
I listened to what the noises of the undergrowth could tell me. I heard my dad flagging down a passing car. I heard him speaking something to a man and him joining us at the roadside. I heard one of them break a branch to use as a stick. Then rustling in the grass and the buzz of insects. Then a cry from a man and the sound of retching.
I opened my eyes and saw a stick lying on the roadside. My eyes scanned around it and there, in the undergrowth lay the uncovered hand connected to an uncovered arm, which was unconnected from anything else.
Everything else about that day fades away into a soft-edged dream. Mists come all over and swathe my memories in ambiguity. But I remember every detail of every moment I’d looked upon that repugnant limb.
I’d stared so hard at the severed arm; it felt like my eyelids had frozen. I’d stared until my dad regained his composure and picked me up and held me close so that I couldn’t see anything anymore.
Later, he would say sorry and hug me in front of my scowling mother. Later still, he would take it upon himself to come and comfort me, at my bedside, every night that I woke up screaming.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Fish heads and wolverines




When they caught him, Francis said he’d been chasing fish heads and wolverines. He said he’d followed them until they returned to the river. Then they told him to take off all his clothes and swim with them.
Later the wolverine called him from the water on the other side and took him on a stroll through the park. He told the police this after they’d found him, naked and dripping in the cold afternoon.
They took Francis back to the station and took this strange statement from him. Later, he was sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
Francis was a minor celebrity. He had appeared on Big Brother, series three. Everyone in the house had quite liked him. He was funny and he cooked most of the time for them. He was open about himself and did not bitch about the others. He always said he prided himself on keeping his mouth shut, when needed.
He made it to the last four housemates and people cheered when he was released. Later that year, he hosted a cookery show on Channel Five. He was happy for that year and people would greet him in the street; complete strangers shaking his hand.
He even got ‘papped’ a few times. That is, the paparazzi would sometimes cross the street in front of him and take his picture for OK magazine or maybe even The News of the World.
And then it all went downhill for Francis (or Fat Frank, as he came to be known). His fall from grace has been well documented so we don’t need to go into that here. Suffice to say, he got well and he went back to trying to live his life.
He’d been out of the flashlight glare for some six months, when he noticed a man was following him. When he went into town, when he walked his dog, when he went to the shops of a morning, so many times he’d see this man out of the corner of his eye. He knew it was the same man, because he always wore the same clothes: blue t-shirt, blue jeans, white trainers. He always wore a t-shirt and showed his arms, even though it was cold, and he never wore a coat.
Francis was perturbed by this and noted that it was happening increasingly frequently. Still, he didn’t mention it to his wife, for fear that she’d think he was losing his mind again. Instead he planned to question this blue shirted man when next he spotted him and ask him to come clean about the reasons for this apparent stalking.
It was on a Saturday in early November of this year when he next saw the man. Francis was in town and had decided to explore some of the historic sites of the place that he had always just walked straight past. It was while he was up at the top of the cathedral, as part of a guided tour of the seldom opened north tower, that he spied his stalker once more. Francis looked with horror at the man, who was down in the street below, looking up. Despite the distance between them, the unmistakeable shape of a quite wicked smile then crossed the lips of the man as he pulled to his eye a small black camera fitted with a zoom lens, and began to snap, snap, snap away at the defenceless Francis.
Poor Francis; trapped between two old women on the thin walkway of the tower’s rampart, no room to squeeze by, nothing to do but stand and shout, howl and scream in utter frustration at this devil who was following him; tormenting him at every turn. The look of horror on the face of the old woman to his right was the last thing Francis remembered before he passed out on top of her.
He came to in the vestry below. Evidently someone had carried him there. They gave him warm tea and kept him warm until his wife came. He said nothing to them about the photographer, even though they asked. He knew well enough not to talk now.
And even after he was feeling better; and even after he was safe in his wife’s car; and even after he’d seen the man standing at every bus stop between the town centre and his home, Francis knew to say nothing.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

The unconquerable walls




The body of the old church looked pristine. It was so smooth, like the alabaster skin of a virgin bride. Jacob wanted to touch and stroke its walls. He longed to climb it, but he had little knowledge and still less skill when it came to such things.
Jacob had seen a man, on TV, called the human spider or some such epithet. He could climb up vertical structures, tall buildings with almost no footholds or handholds. All the time he’d push himself further, make the acts more dangerous, watch the crowds get bigger. Did they gather beneath him to see him succeed; to tackle this mighty and impossible edifice and defeat it? Or did they gather to see him fail, and hopefully fall to a grisly end? They could tell their friends: ‘I was there, I saw him fall. It took longer than you’d think, you know, to hit the ground...’
It didn’t matter to the human spider though. He said that he never worried why the crowd had gathered, because he knew he would never fall. He would keep climbing until there was nothing more to climb, rather than let himself fall back to Earth.
Looking up at the church again, Jacob stepped back to admire it more fully. He had no idea quite how old it was, but ‘the old church on Bethel Street’; that was the only way he knew it. It had a richness that spoke of the decadence of organised religion; of the Papacy and the secrets held deep within Vatican vaults. And yet, he knew nothing of its denomination, though it spoke stoically of Catholicism. All he knew was that the deep mysteries of faith and belief in the divine were held inside these walls; secure in near darkness, candlelight and the filtered unreality of stained glass.
Jacob longed to belong then, to become a part of this great building, this great Church, this institution of understanding and security. How wonderful, he thought, it would be to be assured. To be certain of one thing in this life; one thing that would make it all worthwhile and take all the fear out of it, out of everything you ever had to do.
He reached out to touch the smooth walls once more. His hand hovered, tantalisingly, over the perfect brickwork but he withdrew, suddenly. He felt something strange, a shuddering, like an earth tremor beginning.
That was enough, he thought. Enough for today, and he turned his back on the perfection of the church and its unconquerable walls. He stepped quickly along the narrow street and off around the bend.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

We met under the trees



We met under the trees that day; Rhoda, Sanchez, Billy and me.
The sun was so white it bleached the light and the buildings around us. It was hot, but Billy sat outside the shade of the tree. I looked at his arm and hoped it would soon go as red as his t-shirt. I wanted it to become thick with boils and sag, peel and wither.
I hadn’t seen these guys for a few weeks, but I barely spoke. I glanced around the group, but my eyes would linger longest on Billy. I wondered how I’d be the next time we met, but I didn’t think I’d feel this upset.
Billy, for his part, looked at the ground and sometimes at the others, but never at me. He spent a long time rolling a joint; longer than I’ve ever seen him do it before. So meticulous it was, that you’d expect it to be the most amazing, the most perfect joint ever constructed. However, when it was eventually passed to me, I noticed all the usual small flaws in its architecture, all the scattered thoughts that made it such an imperfect work of art. Perhaps Billy had been building these in by design?
I dared to glance up at him and this time he caught my eye. He offered a smile; thin and intangibly curved. I found myself beginning to smile in return. It’s something I find hard to resist, my ability to please. But I couldn’t let him have this smile, I couldn’t let him have this day. So, as my lips began to imperceptibly curl, I slowly blew the smoke out of my mouth, covering his face with a thin blanket of grey.
Childish, wasn’t it? I know it; everyone gathered there knew it and they shuffled uncomfortably. Billy, though, took the hit. We’ll give him credit for that. He knew he had to do whatever it took to regain acceptance and re-admittance to the circle. Still, the line was a tough one to walk. How to not let Billy have an easy ride back from the brink, while also not alienating Sanchez and Rhoda from myself? Ah, they wanted such a quick retribution, a swift ending to hostilities; but I’ve never worked like that.
I had to restrain myself, stop my legs from standing me up and shuffling me away from the cover of those trees. That would have meant a failure on both my goals; but it was so hard seeing him there and thinking of all the things I blamed him for, all I suspected him of, and all I knew he was guilty of.
Probably a few blows to the face or stomach is what everyone had hoped for. That’s how men can sort things out easily; simple retribution. But I was extracting my flesh pound for pound, and the strain was beginning to show.
So, I spoke to Billy. I asked him how his mother was! It was the best thing I could think of. Of course, talk of mothers was the last thing Billy wanted, and the last thing anyone expected to hear from me.
I enjoyed watching Billy flounder for the right words. I don’t think he could believe I’d said this to him, and at last his skin had gone red, all around his face. Waiting a second or two, I then turned my head slowly around the group with a grin stuck to my face to let them know I was having a joke at Billy’s expense and that it was okay for them to laugh.
That’s when they exploded, Rhoda and Sanchez. They’d waited so long to laugh, their bursting faces went as red as Billy’s and they were soon fighting to refill their lungs. The laughter rolled on like a spring tide, and Billy had the chance to join in, and so did I.
Later Sanchez would tell me that he’d been about ready to stand up and scream, before the pressure was released. That, had he a gun, he would have been fidgeting with it; toying with suicide or murder.
I nodded, and told him I knew just what he meant.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

I'll see you back home



The movie’s over,
And then I get hit by the way you walk -
Same way you get hit back home;
I’ll see you back home.

I call your name,
And then I get hit by the way you talk -
Same way you get hit back home;
I’ll see you back home.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Dreaming spires



I unfolded my life like a pocket handkerchief; unfurled and hung it from the tops of the great Sentinel spires.
I climbed like Quasimodo to the tip of the gothic tower and danced around on top, my features blacked out by the sun at my back, my shadow cast long across the great square below. It looked so strange to see my silhouette, maybe 30 foot long, dancing a jig upon the plaza, with a dumbfounded crowd looking on.
And then I plunged inside the statue’s head, this sentinel of the tower, and felt that inside was the warm squish of a living brain.
Without hesitation I ripped it from its casing, from its stimulating wires. But only a portion of the brain came free, and it tore apart like raw minced beef. I had to scoop the leftovers out and hold it above my head. Grey matter rained down about me, but the crowd started to cheer and with one almighty heave I lobbed the brain out, away from the tower and listened for it to splatter satisfyingly upon the building’s steps below.
And then, seeing the cheering crowd scatter, to be replaced by Authority forces with weapons trained on me, I took the decision to step off my platform. And as I saw the great steps racing up at me, I was laughing at the thought that soon they wouldn’t be able to tell the bits of my brain apart from Mackenzie’s.
Mackenzie, the founder of Lacroix, the first Sentinel; how I laughed. In fact, I woke up laughing.
Now I sit, awake and sweating. Will Authority be coming for me? How far can the Sentinels see? Do they read my dreams for dissent? Will Mackenzie himself be sleeping with me tonight?
I dare to flick a glance out of my window; I dare to quiver, but the city is still tonight.

This tale is related to an earlier piece called The Sentinels.

Friday, 21 November 2008

The strength of the sea



In my regular trips to the beach, I am often impressed by the power of those creatures that depend upon the sea for their lives.
It seems to me that such creatures have an overwhelming capacity for survival. I could go into numerous examples; the great spawnings that help defeat predation, and also the swarming of fish and the flashing of their scales to confuse those creatures higher in the food chain and help them to keep surviving. Still, nature often finds a way to break them down, no matter how well they protect themselves. It’s all quite inevitable, I suppose, but no less remarkable and fascinating.
It is, perhaps, the ability that many smaller, very simple creatures have developed to defend and protect themselves from the world that impresses me most. Take those creatures who reside within shells, for example. What miraculous creatures they are. They protect themselves from attack by coating their soft invertebrate bodies with a shield of their own creation. They manufacture crystals of calcium carbonate and add them in layers to create a protective exoskeleton. How amazing is that?
And then, they latch onto a rock. They hold fast and steady in the face of turbulent tides and the worst of storms. They wait in the baking sun for the sea to rise once more and cover them, and allow them to feed. And they just sit there, in the face of chaos, safe in their armour.
Anne agreed to pick me up from the hospital after my procedure. Heck, she even offered to come with me. That was nice of her. I’d quite forgotten she could be nice.
When she dropped me back home she asked if she should come in to make sure I was alright. Sylvie was at work, but I said no. ‘It wouldn’t be right’, I thought, but I didn’t say it.
I thanked Anne, and she told me to look after myself. I couldn’t help chuckling a little as I got out of the car. ‘Look after myself!’ I think it’s a little late for that.
I spent the next couple of days in bed. I told Sylvie I had a cold or flu or something. She brought me tea and sympathy, but she’s none the wiser. I’ll get the full results soon and then we’ll know.
Today I felt better. Today I have been to the beach and walked on the sand. I saw the mussels clinging to the grey rocks, just waiting, prone but secure enough, until the waters returned.
And then I watched the gulls, wheeling overhead. They held stones in their beaks and they dropped them from a height onto the mussels, smashing their proud shells and brittle bodies. Then the gulls descended and feasted.
It’s impressive. Nature; its capacity to survive and to devour. So magnificent.

This tale is part of a series. To read all the stories in this series search the blog for the keyword 'Anne', or click on the word 'Anne' in the 'Labels' tab below.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

The Liquorice Man




Everyone in San Pedro remembers the strange events of November 20, 1998. How could they not? That was the day the Liquorice Man came to stay.
He came in broad daylight; the morning, seeping from the pavement like thick black oil. Commuters spotted his birth and pointed and shrieked, like maybe they could claim this gusher and become rich.
Soon though, the liquid pooled and formed in ways that physics ordinarily would not allow. Then the people were startled and moved back; stepped away from the black phenomenon.
As the pool grew bigger, so the liquid seemed to suck up the blacks and greys of the tarmac and the pavement. The liquid swirled and flowed along atop itself, forming tubes of whirling slick that began to extend in arms, up, away from the pavement.
People where now visibly and audibly frightened. What started off as a magical natural phenomenon had soon turned into a biblical nightmare. With cries of ‘El Diablo’ filling the air, terrified shoppers and businessmen ran in all directions from the scene. And, as if in response to their screams, the strange arms began to thrash about, pulling down cables and smashing signposts and lampposts.
And, just as before with the pavement and the road, when the thing came into contact with these random objects of the street – the ephemera of daily life that it was haplessly trashing – it took hold of the different colours, of signs and posters and lampposts and screens, and added them to itself. Soon this Liquorice Man had grown into a strange kaleidoscopic swirl of colour, rotating and hurtling across its growing form with abandon.
Inevitably, though perhaps strange that it took over five minutes of mayhem before it occurred, the Liquorice Man smacked his whirling arm into a person. A woman, it was, named Maria Angelina Reyes. She passed away that day, her body sucked up into the vacuum arm of the thing and never seen again.
But the addition of Maria’s form to that of the Liquorice Man’s caused a strange thing to happen to him. His swirling arms began to slow their rotation, his colours separated, he began to crawl and curl less. People watching said that it took around three minutes but eventually, at seven minutes past nine o’clock, the strange entity that became known as Liquorice Man was completely frozen, there on the street that had spat him forth.
In the days and weeks that followed, many attempts were made to destroy the remains of this unholy creature and rid the street of its stain. But, no matter which tools were tried upon its arms, nor which priests were called to its exorcism, the creature’s corpse stood firm.
And so, it was the mayor of the town, Poncio Guadalupe, who proclaimed that the Liquorice Man should stay there on the street for all time, as a reminder to the people of San Pedro of the strange works of the Lord, and how it was a human spirit which defeated this awful being.
People – tourists – who walk by now see only a marvellous multi-coloured artwork; and they stop to take a picture there. But if you ever go, to the small town of San Pedro, stop there in silence and awe and remember that this thing is a creature, escaped from the dark places of this world and that it took the life of a young woman named Maria to bring it to peace.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Through the strange grass



Confidence is a strange thing.
Jonas learnt that the hard way in the strange grass near Loch Kilder.
Climbing the lower boughs with less angular friends, he sought to reach and stretch as high as they could.
See, Kelvin can shimmy so high, he’s out of sight in the thick branches. And there’s Liam, holding on to the overhanging limb with one arm, already so strong and limber. On a hot day he would allow himself to fall, plunging into the cool waters to shatter its clarity with sweat and fizzing bubbles. But today, when the temperature was niggly and the vegetation retained the water from the night before, Liam just held on as long as he could, staring down at the damp ground below as if it were the strangest thing he ever saw, before climbing back up and sitting straight upon the branch, like a bishop.
They called to Jonas, “Come higher, come and sit with us; you can do it,” and he tried to stretch and climb; and though you know what happened after that, it doesn’t make it any less sad.
The two boys, strong and able, ready for anything, looked down through the leaves and through the strange grass, to a sight they’d truly never seen before.
Little Jonas’s flickering eyes, looked away from them. He wanted to shiver but he didn’t feel he could. All he felt was ashamed and he looked away from the strong and able boys, through the long wet grass. The grass seemed like it was bigger than him and he felt so ashamed.
He felt ashamed until he felt nothing more.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

In that other realm



I will not be there
In the phone book of your mind,
No, I’ve waited too long;
All those unliving
People in your eyes
Make me long to be dead.

I will not see
The phone book of your mind,
Only the Lord could take me there;
Still, I will not get there
Even if I’m blind,
But I could see you…

In that other realm,
Where you find yourself sleeping in the day;
You are not living there
And I am visiting your bed.

You will not fight it
Even in a lie,
Cos you will be coming too;
And I will not leave you
On into the day,
As long as you don’t ask me too.

Then, on into your loving
Evening time,
Knowing hours with you;
We’ll keep on loving
Even ‘til the light
Of the dawning.

Oh, and you’ll ask me to
Leave yourself just sleeping through the day;
And when you rise next time,
Find yourself escaping from the lie.

But I’ll keep on loving,
Even through the day,
Knowing you’ll never love me again;
I will not give this
Feeling to the night
Although grown men will ask me why.

Always to see you
Just dig into my mind
There, all of my senses, divine;
I would not give in
Even if you asked
‘Cos I would just ask you back.

And even if you held me
Know that I would not be there;
Because I’d be running wild
In the fragrance of your hair.

Monday, 17 November 2008

The morality bubble



It was a long walk, in the drizzle, from Heather’s hotel room. I’m not sure why I stayed so long, lost in myths aroused by the sweet touches of her soft, warm lips.
Whatever, I stayed until the trains and buses had all gone to bed, and I had to follow the lights of streetlamps and shop windows back home.
Heather was of a curious morality. She had no fears in inviting me back to her hotel life; this little bubble she’d constructed which consisted of four walls, a bed and room service. It seemed that, within this bubble we could do what we wanted; say what we’d always wanted to.
But after minutes turned to hours, and kissing to caressing, and clothes started to be discarded and entangled upon the floor; suddenly the bubble that Heather had constructed around the room, retracted quite violently so that it seemed to cover only her body. Her hands removed my hands from the edges of the bubble and we were soon staring at each other from different sides of an iridescent film.
Heather said she didn’t want to cheat on her man, Jules. It seemed that kissing was one thing, quite separate to cheating, and as long as things didn’t get too wild inside her bubble then the moral equilibrium was preserved. Presumably, in some hotel room in Kent, Jules was ‘just kissing’ someone too.
I thought about pointing out how ridiculous this whole situation was. Pointing out that she obviously didn’t feel that much for Jules, otherwise she wouldn’t be here with me. But for some reason I simply acquiesced. We kissed a little more and then we replaced the few clothes we’d shed and I stood and pondered the night, from her hotel window, and how dreadful it would be to leave here and make my way home.
Still, I had to leave.
It’s funny; I don’t remember seeing another soul on the dank journey of that night. No other loser sloshing through puddles, his mind muddled by such curious morality.
I do remember halting, though, in front of a strange shop; its one window illuminated to show its strange display. And there I smiled grimly to see a troupe of hands, severed from myriad shop dummies, and all covered with beautiful and expensive leather gloves.
Perhaps, I mused, had my own hands been encased in such delightful bubbles, they would not have been so easily turned away.
I stood for a moment, grinning incredulously at the strange window, before turning on my heels towards home. And I think I kicked the stars out of every puddle more, I saw that night.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Mirrors



Through an old mirror in the hall I saw a strange corridor.
It looked out upon strange vistas, cloistered chambers and amnesiac subways. I rubbed my eyes and was amazed to see the visions change each time I looked again.
Checking over my shoulder I looked around at the people shuffling by. It was midweek and I was in a grey museum. I was incredulous that they didn’t stop to wonder at the mirror, showing such strange and wonderful places; hidden spaces of the Earth.
‘No matter,’ I thought. ‘Let them walk on; passing by without thought or care for this miraculous mirror on the world.’
It never occurred to me, until much later, that perhaps when they looked, they just saw a mirror. Maybe it was stranger that none stopped to wonder why a man such as me should wish to stand there, peering deeply into the glass of a seven-foot mirror.
But even miraculous phenomena such as these grow tiresome to the short attention span of a man. I soon realised that each wonderful place I saw was empty; devoid of humanity. And then I came to realise that each of these, at first strange and wondrous, places were actually locations I had visited, even frequented, somewhere in my life.
Once they thronged with life and I, young and carefree, frolicked in them. They were my playgrounds and my courting haunts, my workplaces and my bed chambers; but not one single ghost was seen to reside there. Everything of living flesh had been removed from my mirrors and, as I realised this and span around, I felt the blood trickle from my face and I crashed to the floor in a feint, under cover of thick darkness.
When I came to and all the damn people stopped crowding around and let me breathe, I returned home and took to my bed for three days. I was lost inside dreams, some waking, some fever-cold, and haunted myself like this without water or food. And in all my dreams I walked inside the mirror’s scenes and tried desperately to revive the memories of the people who once had walked there with me.
And at the culmination of those three drenching days, tossing and clawing the bed sheets, I woke with my ears filled with awful tears.
“They’ve all gone,” I sobbed. “They’ve all left me.” And I cried there for hours more. You see, the people of my memories had all left me, so long ago, that they had even left my dreams. And that, friend, is the most punishing mirror of all, to make yourself stare into.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

The intake of breath



Woke up late, next morning, past 10am
When I discovered your soul
You'd left it on the side for me to read
I turned it over, looked for tears,
Any hint of your name
But you'd left yourself in pools down in the street

The scream of the crowd at the scene,
That's all I can remember, 'cept the beam
Of light that followed you down
You landed on a car, it broke your fall

Time passes slowly,
The intake of breath
That comes before the clock strikes 12
Crashing out across the skyline,
It summons your eyes
Booming through my mind and then we sleep

You screamed, like the crowd at the scene,
That's all I can remember, 'cept the beam
Of light that followed you down
You landed on a car, it broke your fall

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Lost in the Amazon




As she sat there with James, she was sheltering from the world. Though it was 30 degrees, she hugged her bag to her for warmth and protection and stared ahead.
The race they’d run, across town, just to get here. It had been unbelievable, reckless of him, to drag her in front of fast moving cars and trams. And then he’d gotten lost and they had to settle on the steps of the French Embassy, and she was wondering what the hell she was doing here, in this strange country, where she didn’t speak the language, with an idiot called James who couldn’t read a map.
It was then that the Amazonian strode past. In every way, Lorraine could never hope to compete with this huge woman, who strode past on eye-catching red slip-ons.
Lorraine’s eyes flowed up from the shoes, up the muscular legs of this giant woman, to the thigh-high point where her dress ended. At this point she was almost upon her and Lorraine could now sweep easily across the model-like features of this woman.
It made her sick to be cowering in front of this specimen; this woman who couldn’t even raise her face to look another person in the eyes. No, better to stare in front of her to ensure her step was as perfect as her physique.
Lorraine noticed James was looking intently as the woman strode away. She was ready to get very angry, until James said: “Bloody hell, was that a bloke in a dress or what?”
Lorraine’s shoulders lifted up to her neck and she beamed again. She put her arms around her boyfriend and kissed his cheek so that it smacked. He looked at her like she was a little bit mad and smirked.
“Okay then,” he said. “I think I know where I’m going now.”

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

The place of the skull




Milandra and the two boys, faster than ever before, ran through the park.
The three children, their rough hair blowing in the wind, thought only of murder as they flew by the boating lake and the man selling ice cream from a cart.
It was on the far side of the great Memorial Park – the arts quarter, where children rarely played and adults liked to wander, holding hands – where the strange alien lifeform stood.
An angular amalgam of stone, its curved tops gave the impression of heads, of life, to the artwork. Its intermingled hard, straight lines, cut and climbed across each other like people playing or fighting. And all around the grey lifelessness of the sculpture were smiling green trees, plants and lush grass.
“There,” they pointed at an imaginable 3-D area where nothing now existed; a perfect cube of emptiness that the children could all see perfectly well. “That’s where Sonya found the skull.”
The story – as it had been recounted to them a hundred times that week in school –explained that Sonya’s dad had taken his daughter out for the day, but he’d brought his girlfriend with him. Sonya, bored and tired, had slipped away while the two of them were kissing near the fountain.
She watched a squirrel run by, stop under the sculpture, dig a little, look around and then shoot off for the cover of the trees. When she skipped over to see what the squirrel had found, she saw grey-yellow bone rising from the soil.
Quite fascinated, she apparently picked it up, brushed the dirt from it and brought it over to show her dad and his girlfriend. Her dad made her take it back to where she’d found it before he called the police. His girlfriend cried. That last bit made all the children at school laugh.
Milandra now led the two boys over to the edge of the monument. Much braver than them, she leaned her hand on the sloping ‘leg’ of the sculpture and strained to see where this skull might have been buried.
“Can you see anything?” asked one of the boys; a short, scrunched up, red-headed child of 10. “M-Maybe there’s more bones, and a f-f-full sk-skeleton down there?” asked the other, then sneezed into his hand and wiped it on the grass.
But Milandra took a step forward, knelt down and shook her head. “It’s all gone,” she said softly. “This isn’t a grave anymore.”
She looked up to see that the other two boys had joined her to kneel beneath the sculpture. So Milandra, realising she was in sole charge of proceedings, did the only thing she could think of doing. She made the sign of the cross, closed her eyes, and led the boys in solemn prayer at the graveside of the unknown skeleton.
She made them both stay there, until the prayer was done, but as soon as she said “Amen” she let them both run, far from the scene. Milandra, though, walked away slowly, looking back continually, just in case she saw something there.
She kept looking behind her until she reached the duck pond.

Monday, 10 November 2008

A routine




Falling into old patterns and routines is a common failing of man. Perhaps, I should amend that to ‘men’.
I mean, I’ve been coming to this beach at least once a week for the past year; and for what? I prefer to come alone, I scowl at the sea, I flinch when the birds fly by in case they drop shit on me. Maybe I come here so that I can get all my frustrations out without company to aim them at? Perhaps I’m good at preserving my relationships; with friends, wives and lovers equally, because I just haul out my pent up feelings once a week and throw them in the sea? Maybe we could all try that?
I came here last week to look at the newspaper and the letter I hid from Sylvie. That morning in bed I looked at her as she was rousing and when she opened her eyes she saw me looking directly into them and gently holding her soft face.
The poor thing screamed and shot out of bed; thought somebody was trying to kill her. I explained I was just thankful for what I’d got; such a beautiful and tranquil human being to share my life with. Then I told her I loved her. I can’t remember saying it before to her, though I’m sure I must have.
She dismissed it and said I must still be drunk from the night before. Then she said if I was after a bit then I wasn’t in luck as she had a busy day planned. Then she asked me if I wanted a bacon sandwich for breakfast and left the room before I could answer.
Of course, she knew what I was going to say in reply. I love bacon butties, plus a cup of English Breakfast, of course. I have it every day.
When I open the letter, I’m propped up against the timbers of the old pier. The tide’s right in, but it’s lapping softly and there’s only a light breeze. A gull is airing its wings right beside me and it looks like the damn thing’s trying to sneak a peek at my letter.
I pull the white piece of paper close to my chest so nobody can read it. I think about letting it go, down into the salt water below, but I don’t. It’s got my appointment on it, and I’ll never remember when and where I’ve got to go without it. Especially as I’m not telling Sylvie.
I need someone to drive me to and from the hospital though. I wonder, should I ask Anne? I ask the seagull his opinion and he almost shrugs then turns away.
I feel like wringing his damn neck and go to grab him, but he’s easily away from me and flapping. Very soon he’s soaring, off over the sea, and then all his worries will seem far, far behind him. Insignificant specs, to him, will we be.
He’s so high and still climbing.

Friday, 7 November 2008

A dread autumn (part 5)



The world looked grey from the church roof. Grey and cold and getting colder.
A bird’s eye view gives little more than an overview of the world. From here, nothing is certain, all you can see is stark contrasting colours and the earth seems garish, twisted and impossible to fathom.
A rook was perched there upon the pointed spire of St Alfonso’s. ‘Twas a crow looked down upon Lord Winstanley and Father Seddon that cold November day when they were taken.
The green children spoke then as they pulled and clawed at Winstanley’s coat. “We ready ourselves for winter’s depths. Come, join us in sleep. Soon we will hunger and we will quake.”
Leanlo clawed at Winstanley’s face, drawing blood and saying: “Provide our sustenance. You know we will hunger all winter long.”
And poor Winstanley climbed down there, climbed into that hole of his own accord. The crow saw this, took it all in; the priest and Lord Winstanley, at the bottom of a deep grave with three green children for company. The rook flapped its wings and pecked at its feathers as lice would often get in there and cause such an itch. It watched the people in the grave with an impassive eye and cawed for company.
Soon there were five crows atop the church, and they peered down to see the grave where two poor men were howling as green children clawed at them.
Soon the green ones began taking clods of earth and scraping them in upon themselves. Green grass and brown soil, sullen sods of earth, hurled down upon the grave and the poor howling creatures below were soon buried beneath.
Leanlo stood atop the grave and filled the last of it and patted it smooth before glancing at the dying world about her. With a last gasp of autumnal air, she dug her way down through the centre of the loose soil, replacing it as she went, journeying down, down into the black grave, there to join her brothers in hibernation.
And soon the crows would fly. Fly on, far from that place.
And soon the ground would freeze. And soon a new priest would be found and the church would be opened anew. And soon the people of the parish would visit once more, to hear mass, and to break bread with Christ.
And all the while, the green witches slept beneath their feet, awaiting the end of the frosts, the end of winter’s death kiss. They longed to stir and rise again.
O come spring. Come summer, soon.

The end

This story is a continuation of ideas from earlier tales, including:
Winter Quakes, Spring Awakens, and The summer meadow.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

A dread autumn (part 4)




But the children did not return for Lord Winstanley. He had perhaps lain there in depressed retreat for a half hour before he realised he may have been spared.
It would be unfair to criticise Winstanley for not immediately running home once the hermit had passed away, or else following after the priest to try and save him. Such unworldly horrors as the green witches are not often seen by ordinary men, and Winstanley himself had not even seen battle in his lifetime, though war it was that gave him his fortune through his ancestry.
At first he sat up and peered about him. The forest seemed quite silent, above the running of the nearby river, until the Lord was able to make out a low moan somewhere on the other side of the river.
The fear, that had hurled him prostrate next to the dead body of the hermit for so long, swirled and changed into a great anger and Winstanley leapt to his feet and ran along the river’s edge to spy for a fair crossing place.
A worn and sturdy log seemed to have been placed, some time ago, across the two banks and Winstanley made swift use of it, running in the direction of the sound until he heard a growling, agonizing howl.
He came upon the priest, broken and sobbing, his body thrown down upon the stump of a felled tree. All around this place the trees were bowed and sagging and three scorch marks haunted the ground where the green witches had stood.
Winstanley turned the priest’s face towards him and was sickened by the horrifying scowl his face was contorted into. He lifted Father Seddon, a small man of balding middle-age, onto his feet and then, half-kneeling down, took the priest’s weight upon his shoulders and began to carry him. He would head for sanctuary; he would head for the parish church of St Alfonso’s.
Usually but a twenty minute walk across country, today Winstanley did well to make it in under two hours, such were the burdens of the day. As he stumbled up the moorland slope and beheld the sight of the church, Winstanley thanked God for the first time in a long time.
But the skies were brooding and dark and perhaps God was getting ready to shut his eyes upon the little church beneath him, for as they neared the gateway to the parish graveyard the hitherto silent priest began to speak.
Though his eyes remained closed he spoke steadily and rhythmically, chanting three names over and over again: “Petandral, Leanlo, Gerrent; Petandral, Leanlo, Gerrent; Petandral, Leanlo, Gerrent.”
Winstanley recognised one of these names; that of Leanlo, the green girl who had spoken in his mind. He shuddered and halted beneath the arched entrance. A gravel path offered a straight line, 40 feet before him, on into the safety of the church building. He scanned his eyes about him and could not see the green ones, though he knew in his heart they must be near. All that could be done was to walk forward, without looking back, on through the great wooden doors of the old church.
For a man carrying a dead weight, his pace was swift and sure, but Winstanley’s eyes were caught upon an awful and insane sight just to the left of the path. There before him lay an open grave, deep and fresh, with earth strewn about it. And down at the bottom looking up at him with piercing, smiling eyes were three green faces.
And soon they were climbing up, out of their hole. And soon, they were upon him.

(to be concluded)

This story is a continuation of ideas from earlier tales, including:
Winter Quakes, Spring Awakens, and The summer meadow.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

A dread autumn (part 3)



The hermit stepped with care and precision along the woodland route down into the valley. Lord Winstanley and Father Seddon followed cautiously.
Choosing a path that followed the river, the hermit turned onto a tree-lined corridor in the wood, walked until the troupe were equidistant from each end of the path and then halted.
“They will not surprise us here,” said the hermit with more than a little glee and confidence.
“This is madness,” cried Winstanley. “Why, they may approach us any route they see fit and drag us into the forest.”
“No,” said the hermit softly. “They will stick to the lanes, for there people go. We will see them approaching, one way or another.”
“Well enough, but have you weapon to face them? The priest has a crucifix and I but a pocket knife. How shall we defeat these fiends, then?” enquired Winstanley.
“My Lord, you are free to leave if the fear is too great. The priest and I will stand alone, with faith in ourselves and in the greater powers that built this world.”
Winstanley gritted his teeth at the hermit’s chide, but his resolve stiffened and his hand moved to grip the hilt of his hunting blade.
“They are upon us,” said the priest and the hermit nodded gravely as the three kindred of the soil appeared ahead, moving effortlessly along the dirt path. As they neared, Winstanley noticed the dead leaves being blown and brushed from the creatures’ path by unseen forces. Every sinew strained in him not to flee this ghastly scene or else take his knife and rush headlong into battle and likely doom.
It seemed to him the creatures flickered and oozed, as if lichens and fungus grew and then died upon their bodies; living out entire existences within seconds over their childlike torsos. And as they came to the place where the three men stood to face them, the trees bowed and bent as if to flee the unholy and most powerful presence of those green beings.
Winstanley heard them speaking as they passed through the avenue of trees. At first he thought they spoke to each other, but soon he heard them calling his name, asking him to step forward and lay himself down before them, though their almost formless faces did not seem to have mouths to speak.
Leanlo touched his mind then, speaking deeply to him and her arm reached out, beckoning him forth. Winstanley closed his eyes and began to step forward. The chill in the air was gone and his mind felt only the lush green of summer as the girl invited him to roll upon green grasses forever.
As he stepped forward he was aware of a temperature clinging to his bones, a coldness more deathly than a winter’s frost on a flower’s stalk. And just as soon as it had gripped him it left and he came to with the hermit’s dirty and wrinkled hand holding him by the shoulder. He saw that both he and the priest had taken two large and unwarranted steps forward, almost into the reach of the green ones, but the hermit had saved them, for now.
From the look of intense concentration on the hermit’s face, it seemed he was attempting some complex equation, or else arguing within his own head against some unshakable principle of the universe. But Winstanley was taken with the possibility the hermit was locked in unspoken conversation with the green witches, or perhaps some unseen battle of minds and wills was taking place high above the auburn trees and the greying fields around about them.
If the hermit was locked in combat then, perhaps he could have bested them had not Father Seddon ultimately screamed and then fled the terrifying scene, into the forest. His concentration broken, the hermit shouted to the priest in vain before collapsing upon the ground, the green ones departing the scene in seconds to give chase to the priest. Winstanley wheeled around in confusion as things unknown to his mind weighed so heavily upon him that he too collapsed beside the spent and broken body of the hermit.
And as he watched the hermit’s breath shallow and his eyes twitch and then close forever, Winstanley knew all was now surely lost. He lay there on the hard ground and looked up at the forest canopy, spinning up above him, and awaited the return of those fearsome children to feast upon his vitality. As he lay there, in sorrowful defeat, he realised that, while many of the trees were skeletal and bare, some of the trees remained defiant, some of the trees remained green. He held that thought with him as he lay there in painful defeat, just waiting for the chill to kiss his bones once more.

(to be continued)

This story is a continuation of ideas from earlier tales, including:
Winter Quakes, Spring Awakens, and The summer meadow.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

A dread autumn (part two)




The hermitage was dark and moist. It smelled of moss and mould, but the dim light of candle would not prick the shadows enough to throw clear light on the walls and floor of the hut, in order that Lord Winstanley might see what was growing there.
Winstanley had given this stone dwelling over to the hermit, following a dying practice of landowners allowing a wise man to stay for free upon his land.
Lord Winstanley used his squatting tenant as a sign to others that he was both rich enough to give this property away and benevolent enough to suffer the old fool gladly, this hermit. He certainly wasn’t glad to suffer his ravings now. The hermit bounced about the room, excited by the arcane words he spouted. His wild eyes glinted towards Winstanley, who caught a reek of his bastard breath and had to cough so that he wouldn’t wretch.
“Fr Seddon,” enquired Stanley, “would you kindly ask this man to aid us sensibly and with some decorum and more judgement than his childish persona suggests he is capable.”
Stopping his manic jig and standing stock still, the hermit spoke but looked away from Winstanley, his back to him. “You may address me directly, sir, for I am no fool, though I see and hear of things so phenomenal you too would lose yourself on occasion and find it a simple thing to become lost on the way back to a salient mind.”
Though the hermit addressed the stone wall beyond, Winstanley was transfixed and stared intently at the back of the hermit’s head, feeling his words through the slightest of neck movements; a tilt of the head this way or that became mesmerising.
“The priest has come to me with more than the devil on his mind, for if it were Satan at work then his God would show him the way.”
“But, these green ones. They vex him. They are of a magik older even than Lucifer, for they have crawled straight out of the belly of the Earth herself and woe to him who sends them back to their mother now.
At this, the priest spoke up: “But if it were possible, to cast these creatures back to the sluices of hell they grew up from, then you could tell us how. You could guide us?”
The hermit didn’t speak for a long while and Winstanley was almost moved to speak when he became aware of a sudden warmth, becoming a strong heat within the dank cabin, but no flame was lit there.
“It is done,” said the hermit, presently. “I have spoken to them, to Leanlo and her brothers and they are coming to meet us.”
“What!” exclaimed Winstanley, “the green ones come here now? And when shall they arrive, and what shall they do?”
“They arrive soon, they are almost here,” said the hermit turning with a delicious smile to face his landlord now. “And they come to dine upon you, my lord, if they should be allowed to.”
With that Winstanley grew pale and looked at the hermit’s sandaled feet. “Though, I dare say,” continued the hermit, “they should not be allowed such liberties, wouldn’t you agree Lord Winstanley?”
“Come now,” the hermit said, taking an agape Winstanley by the hand. “They are at hand and we must go out and meet our guests where the grass still grows.”
The hermit then led Winstanley from the hut and the priest had little option but to follow on, slowly and most fearfully, close behind.

(to be continued)

This story is a continuation of ideas from earlier tales, including:
Winter Quakes, Spring Awakens, and The summer meadow.