Catalpha

I was twenty-seven when I moved to Moorchurch.

More than anything, I didn’t want it to feel like time was slipping through my fingers without leaving me much to show for it.

I felt like I needed a new start where nobody knew me.

I fancied a new challenge. I had spent most of my adult life either as a receptionist or an office assistant for a multitude of different types of businesses. Retail, hospitality, distribution, construction; it was all similar domains of mediocrity. It’s hard for me to believe that I treaded water for as long as I did.

I found an advertisement for a senior sales representative.

For starters, it was over an hour away from my hometown where I had spent all of my life until that point, so commuting would be impractical and almost problematic. Besides, aside from the odd slice of patter I picked up from the years in sales-oriented environments, I doubted I’d be qualified for an entry-level sales job, let alone a senior one.

You miss all of the shots you don’t take, or something like that, and I needed to tidy my C.V. up anyway, so what harm could spending half an hour putting together a duplicate do? I enjoyed it; I liked finding out the level of nonsense I could produce without telling a single lie.

One fabricated list of experience and transferable skills later, and I got invited to interview. To say I was pleasantly very surprised would be a great understatement. I arrived in the reception area and clocked that I was the only female interviewee; to say that I prepared for the best but expected the worst would be an even greater one.

I got the job and I threw myself head-first into my new life. I found a little apartment near the centre of town that was a nice distance from work; near enough to walk to in summer and the later months of spring, but far enough that my work life and home life wouldn’t become one and the same. Something about not mixing business and pleasure?

That was the plan, at least.

Thomas interviewed for the same job that I did. I didn’t know it at the time, I didn’t even know it after we started talking at work; I was a loosely-tied bag of nerves that day so my memory of everything pre-interview is hazy at best. I didn’t know it until we went on what turned out to be the first in a lifetime’s supply of dates. He teased me about how I was selected for the job he missed out on, but he was quick to tell me he was joking, and about how it was such a close shave that the company created a similar position solely so they could keep him.

Right from the start, there was something there. I don’t know what, but there was something. We worked so closely that, naturally, we spent a lot of time together. When it reached the point that I was spending over half of my waking hours with him and I wasn’t anywhere close to tiring of his company, I knew a committed relationship with him was probably something to be pursued.

I had a feeling that I was expecting; a suspicion that was confirmed with finality just seven weeks before our big day. I felt I was really lucky with the timing of everything because if I’d been any further along, the dress probably wouldn’t have fitted me.

Circumstances dictated a belated honeymoon. Baby on the way, this biggest project of each of our careers happening at work, a house to finish decorating, and a marriage to finish consummating. I felt it wouldn’t be long before total darkness would be the only working aphrodisiac for Thomas, so I wanted to take full advantage of what precious little nights we had left this side of parenthood.

We brought Elson into the world and, as cliché as it is, it was one of the happiest moments any person could ask for. I spent my days at home looking after him, and Thomas became the sole breadwinner. It was the 1950’s, minus the music and milkshakes.

Elson has Thomas’s eyes. And his smile. And his laugh. He was his father’s double; cloned at birth and sent forward in time. It was nice because when Thomas was at work, it felt like he was still at home with us. The two loves of my life wrapped into one tiny human.

We continued to live as comfortably as we ever did. I missed having a solid structure to my days but I couldn’t complain much. Every emotional and psychological box was ticked and Thomas was content with how things had worked out.

The nearest seaside became our go-to place for a quick getaway. The sun would beam down and we’d look out to the horizon, and I’d look out the corner of my eye at my little family and think about how lucky I am to have them by my side. I’d think about the future. The past was in the past.

The attention of our noses would be caught by the smell of fish and chips; a smell that can only be found at the British seaside. Travel the country, travel the world, visit every chip-selling shop you can seek out, and you’ll never find the same smell. I think it’s the tepid and salty air.

We’d spend hours in the amusement arcades. Elson would enter a trance with the barrage of sounds and colourful lights. We’d spend hours on the smaller rides; the teacups were a thrilling favourite of his. We’d spend hours seeing just about every other attraction; the mini-golf course became a favourite of mine.

Things couldn’t have been better. Every so often, Elson spent Friday nights with Thomas’s parents. Happy to have the house to ourselves, there was one night when we decided against forcing ourselves to go out for the sake of it, and instead opted for a night in; a night of a delicious meal courtesy of Thomas, a few films, and a bottle of wine or two. Once the wine was flowing, our conversation moved onto things we hadn’t previously discussed, mainly because it had been an awfully long time since we got the chance to have a proper conversation.

It was bubbling in the back of both of our minds to maybe turn three into four.

We had enough home space and we both felt we were in a good enough place in life to do so. I don’t remember what led to it or even who first made the suggestion, but we decided that we wanted to adopt. I don’t know exactly why; maybe we both realised there are too many children in the world that aren’t fortunate enough to have a parent in their life. To be honest, one is too many.

It didn’t matter whether it was to be a boy or a girl; neither of us had a preference. We gave the idea a couple of years to breathe. Some might say that we were giving it far too much thought, but it isn’t something that should be entered into with anything less than complete confidence and assurance.

Elson was four when we told him. Thomas took a half-day at work and picked him up from school. They arrived home and we all sat down around the kitchen table. It couldn’t have been any more perfect; just as my lips parted and I was about to tell him that he had a little baby brother, a giggle came from the room next door. He looked me straight in the eyes. We didn’t have to say much else. He knew.

He ran through to the living room and his face was the purest personification of elation in the history of the world. A thousand mornings of Christmas presents couldn’t begin to dream of having the same effect.

Elson was still too young to really understand the concept of conception, or to wonder why he went to school an only child and came home to a new member of his family.

Luke. That was what he was known as and it didn’t feel right to change it.

Everything fitted together nicely.

For the majority of my life, my glass has always been half-full. But it felt like everything fitted together a little too nicely.

With the exception of his tendency to overcook eggs, Thomas really was the man of my dreams. We couldn’t have asked for a better child than Elson. We couldn’t have asked for a better child than Luke. We couldn’t have asked for a better family than ours. We couldn’t have asked for a better life than the one we lived.

The trips to the seaside continued. The family evenings out continued. The family evenings in continued. Life continued, and the wheels on the bus went round and round.

No matter what happened, there was a feeling in the back of my mind that I couldn’t shake. I always tried to fight it by telling myself that everything was objectively good and things will stay objectively good forever; there was no reason for them not to. Who was telling me that total contentment doesn’t exist, and that something was alarmingly wrong?

We went on our first overseas holiday as a team of four about a year after we had Luke. We’d normally favour a more cultured trip; one with plans to see all the sights and do all the activities. But creating and caring for a family is hard work, so we felt we deserved to remove ourselves from everything, if only for a week or two.

Lying on the beach under the sun, looking out to sea whilst sipping mojitos and margaritas. Another point where it almost felt like everything was too perfect.

There was half of my mind, there was a lot more than half of my mind, trying to keep hold of me and my thoughts under control. It kept showing me how good I had everything. It reminded me about how different life was ten years ago. How different things were even five years ago, when me and Thomas had just started dating.

When we first started spending days together and going on adventures, it was usually as sunny as the majority of that holiday was.

At first, I thought it was the excessive sun and heat that got to me.

It wasn’t the excessive heat that made me wake up in a pool of sweat on our seventh night.

Luke woke Elson. Not by crying, or screaming, but by holding Elson’s duvet and pulling himself up. He gave him a knife he had taken from the kitchen downstairs. He’d taken two; one for himself and one for Elson.

Elson got out of bed.

Luke couldn’t walk and followed Elson across the floor by crawling by his side.

Luke unintentionally but repeatedly sliced the hand that held the knife. Most cuts were on his palm; a few were at the base of his thumb; one was at the end of his middle finger. He stopped, and he pulled on Elson’s pyjama leg so he’d stop, too. He knelt up and looked at the incision that had made its way through most of his fingertip. As he inspected it with curiosity from all angles, he looked up at Elson.

Elson smiled back at him.

Luke looked back at his bleeding finger, before tearing the tip off with his teeth. He chewed and swallowed the flesh and the wound left blood around his mouth. He tried to wipe it away with his wounded hand, but the amount of blood on his face only increased.

Elson smiled when he saw the blood around Luke’s mouth. Looking like he never gave the idea a second thought, he sliced each corner of his mouth and blood flooded down his chin. As he widened his smile, his smile widened.

Luke leant forward and continued to crawl using his sliced-up hand as if nothing had happened. Elson followed.

They stopped at the side of my bed. We hadn’t seen Luke stand or walk. With minimal effort, he stood beside Elson. The silhouette of a third child rose and stood on the other side; they lifted their knives in unison.

My body refused to move; there was nothing I could do. I lay and watched.

As all three knives fell towards my throat, I jolted awake and was brought back to reality.

I looked around the room; I was unsure of the exact time, but it was dark. I could make out the outlines of everybody and I could hear that they were all fast asleep.

*

The past came back.

I did what I thought I knew was best.

I wasn’t as fortunate a second time.

Time is slipping through my fingers without leaving me much to show for it.

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Feast Or Famine

‘If I die on this night, I want to see the moon one last time.’

Joss’s eyes opened and they looked out of his bedroom window at the sky above. He didn’t move a muscle; he didn’t move his head.

Teldrid folded the corner of the page in the book he was reading and put it face-down on the bedside cabinet. He looked at Joss as Joss stared into the near-black sky.

‘Less of that. I don’t think your hour is now. I don’t think it’s soon.’

It was the smaller hours of the day; twenty-seven minutes past three, to be precise. The sun was teasing its presence; it offered a drop of light on a ceiling of nothing. The moon had passed overhead and was now low-in-the-sky around the other side of their house. Joss would often remark about the unpredictability of the moon, even though he knew that it was one of the things in life that was perfectly predictable. But there was no fun in knowing it all.

Joss was happy that he’d get to soak in sunrise; Teldrid was happy that Joss would get to soak it in, too.

Waves floated through the air from the music player. Joss turned his head towards Teldrid. ‘Time or no, it’ll be full tonight. And I want to see it.’

‘Think you can digest it?’

‘It would be rude to not try.’

Joss and Teldrid were part of a collective with a specialised theory. They weren’t religious, and they didn’t worship any form of deity. They believed in the existence of the soul, and they believed that the human body was its nurturer and protector. They never understated the body’s role in giving nourishment to the soul; while most that look up to a form of other saw the flesh as temporary and disposable, Joss, Teldrid, and their circle understood the value of human experience. They understood the body’s significance in marrying the soul with reality.

‘And I’ll be the next one to find out whether living this life was worth it, or if it was just a waste of everyone’s time,’ said Joss.

‘Exactly,’ said Teldrid, ‘is the future bright, or is this the end of the road?’

‘I like that we don’t really know. Please, will you play that record you showed me yesterday?’

Teldrid played Joss’s requested music, and the two reminisced about the life they had shared with one-another. Friends for as long as they could both remember and a loyalty that flowed deeper than any familial bond. Joss loved each and every person he was acquainted with, but he said his goodbyes to them all and asked to have only Teldrid by his side in his final moments. Joss was a bold man, and one of the best people a person could know.

Few were aware of it, but he was also a self-conscious man, and he didn’t like the idea of the world seeing him at his most vulnerable; he was too proud for that.

It was cold all day and cold all night. Joss moved closer to the wall so Teldrid could get into bed. They both fell asleep and their minds had their own adventures in the land of nod.

Joss was in space; Teldrid was in a jungle.

They woke once again to the late-morning sun beating down on their faces.

‘We missed sunrise, then,’ said Teldrid.

‘Maybe the sky will still be clear this evening; I’d like to see sunset,’ said Joss.

‘I’m going to do a bit of breakfast, or brunch. Whatever. Do you want anything? Anything in the world?’

‘Poached eggs on toast?’

‘Four?’

‘With four pieces of toast?!’

‘Please.’

‘Won’t be long.’

Joss looked up through his window and to the sky; a cloud was passing in front of the sun. He thought about how great it felt to be able to see. His sight was his most prized possession and daily he acknowledged how fortunate he was, but today he was especially thankful. Today, all he wanted to do was look up into the heavens.

The music continued to float through the air of Joss’s bedroom and into his ears.

He tilted his head to look at the book Teldrid was reading, before he picked it up to look at the cover and scan the blurb. It didn’t seem like it would be the type of book he’d enjoy, but he liked the picture on the cover and that the principle colour used on the front and back was a little lighter than plum.

As he put the book down on the bedside cabinet, he looked back into the sky and let his thoughts wander. He thought back to the life he had lived, about all of the friends he had made on his journey, all of the memories he had made with the friends that he had made, and the man that the memories had made him.

‘You’re all out of teabags. Lucky I picked up a box of that ginger tea for you yesterday,’ said Teldrid as he pushed the door’s handle down with his elbow and backed into it to open it, ‘and you’re out of seeded bread, so I used brown.’

‘Thank you for this. For all of this.’

‘Breakfast is breakfast.’

Teldrid put the mug of tea on the bedside cabinet and gave Joss his meal and cutlery.

Joss sliced an egg; its yoke burst and started to seep into the toast beneath it. He folded the toast around the egg and bit into it. Joss’s joy was pure.

Teldrid left Joss’s bedroom and returned with a mug of black coffee. The roasted-bean aroma wasted little time furnishing the air as he sat on the chair.

‘So, what shall we do today?’ said Teldrid.

‘I’m not too sure. Five-mile jog, fifty-mile bike, see if we can finish it all in time to catch sunset?’

Teldrid laughed along with the joke; he admired Joss’s ability to smile whilst death crept up the garden path.

It was the latter part of Joss’s suggestion that dug its nails in deepest. Teldrid knew how much it hurt Joss that he hadn’t seen a sunset for months. The moon was all that was left to bolster his soul.

That was winter.

He finished his meal and put his plate on the floor.

‘Didn’t last long,’ said Teldrid.

‘That meal never will.’

‘I’m just going to change the record and see if we can’t feed your mind, too.’

Teldrid got back into bed and they both drifted to a place that wasn’t awake but wasn’t quite asleep. After the rug was pulled from under their lives many months ago, any kind of sleeping pattern became one of their last concerns. Consequently, they were both prone to dozing at any hour of the day.

It was Joss’s silver lining.

He travelled from room to room inside his head; behind every new door was a new sky. Some were mundane and tarred with the blandness of grey. Some were a summer sunset, casting incomprehensible shades of red and purple into the canvas above.

Travelling was something that they and others had spent their lives doing, both physically and psychologically. They would meet in the early hours of late-spring, summer, and autumn and travel to everywhere and nowhere to watch the sun rising, and then travel to other wheres later in the day to watch it sink. They had visited seven continents and seven seas to see what the skies had to offer. They believed there was no heartier meal for the soul than witnessing a majestic transition from night to day, or vice-versa.

In times when they couldn’t get to elsewhere and the season wasn’t right, they turned to other methods to feed their souls. Music was one; a dark room accompanied by the ear’s favourite compositions was ecstasy.

There was nothing quite like the moon. It was something that could be enjoyed at any time of any night when the sky was clear; whether it was the rays of the sun racing through space being grasped by only the moon’s edge, or the moon in its entirety and the ghostly glow that it bathed the Earth in.

Teldrid woke first and was greeted by the glow.

He listened to Joss’s substantially slowed breathing. He thought about the miles of road they had rode and all of life’s storms that they had weathered. He thought about how every tear spilled was fixed by a thousand laughs.

He thought about how they’d always talked about space, and how phenomenal it would be if they ever got the chance to fly there. He thought about all the evenings they had spent stargazing in places where there was no light artificial light, and about how there was nothing like a clear night sky.

He hoped that there was another realm of reality where Joss would soon be, next to all of their fallen friends. He hoped Joss had nurtured his soul enough so that his transition to an other would be the most beautiful thing he could feel.

Joss woke a little later than Teldrid, but he didn’t open his eyes.

As he lay in his bed, more snug than he had been maybe ever, he thought about his years in laps around the sun.

Teldrid basked in the almost-silence, but he enjoyed the small fraction of sound that was his and Joss’s synchronised breaths. It reminded him of the night that they, along with a small group of friends, went camping in the woods a little south of home.

They were both almost a decade the juniors of their friends and in the early years of adulthood, and were a little anxious about their first trip to underneath the night sky. They had hiked a mile through thick vegetation and up an incline; their friends knew how to get to the cliffs that were, what felt like, within kissing-distance of the moon.

When the sky cleared and they got to see the moon, they were both overpowered by awe, butterflies, and an inexplicable urge to shed a tear or two; it felt like a mark of respect to what they had the fortune of witnessing.

When the sky clouded over once again, their friends slept ahead of the next day’s early hike home. Neither could sleep at all; outside was too silent and all they could hear, aside from the bi-hourly hoot of an owl or windy rustle of the tree’s tops, was the breathing of other humans.

With his eyes still closed, Joss remembered all of the best times from his time.

He remembered all of the late nights, all of the early mornings, the edges of the Earth, the edge of real life, and the accompaniment of Alexander. Alexander was the third of their band of brothers, and a friend they had lost to the inevitability of life many laps ago.

It wasn’t easy for Joss to leave Teldrid’s side.

It wasn’t easy for Teldrid to say goodbye to another soulmate. He knew he’d see his friends again one day.

Joss audibly inhaled before his breathing ceased. Teldrid sat up and turned his head to look at Joss.

Joss’s eyes opened and they looked out of his bedroom window at the sky above. He didn’t move a muscle; he didn’t move his head.

Joss died on that night, but he saw the moon one last time.

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An Extraordinary Fellow

We’ve gone to The Mills for the weekend. There’s chicken pie in the oven. See you Sunday xxx

She removed the note from the door and folded it, before putting it into one of the exercise books under her arm. It was from her parents; they would always leave notes for her with a small corner poking out of the letterbox, just to make sure she didn’t miss them.

Whenever she read one of their notes, she thought about how much easier a mobile phone would make their life and hers.

*

She resented the concept of homework, but she knew that she was more likely to pass school if she put in more hours.

The television was turned off and the music was at a minimal volume. The front-room’s primary light was off; the corner-lamp illuminated her surroundings.

Her solace was shattered by a piercing double-thud from the front door.

She wasn’t told to expect anybody.

She put down her pen and stood. As she peered around the living-room door, her cautious side told her that the chain’s on and to leave it and they’ll go away.

At twenty-five minutes to midnight, there wasn’t a lot that could convince her to open it.

*

She sat down on her sofa with her legs pulled to her chest and wondered who’d want to bother her on a Friday night.

The corner of her eye convinced her that someone peered at her from behind the curtain. Her head shot to its direction and she could see nothing unusual.

Seeking confirmation that her imagination was getting the better of her, she approached the curtains. She pulled them back to nothing but the front window, and the taxidermied hawk perched on the stone sill.

She re-closed the curtains and sat on the sofa; she felt that continuing with her homework would be the best thing to occupy her mind.

*

Something stood from behind her and loomed over her as she wrote.

*

She thought she felt a brush against the top of her head; she rose and looked behind the sofa.

She found nothing, but the absence didn’t alleviate her unease. Perhaps, she thought, tea would help.

As the kettle boiled, she texted her boyfriend.

Hope you’re having a nice time. I keep hearing some strange noises around the house, reckon you can stop by for a bit on your way home? X

Mum and Dad were tidy, and they had left the house in spotless condition. She wiped the sideboards, straightened the spice rack, moved the fruit bowl from the sideboard to the table, and wiped the sideboards again; she felt like she needed to keep her mind occupied, even if that meant cleaning to a higher standard than is necessary.

*

Something walked to and stood in the doorframe and stared at her.

*

She filled her mug with water from the kettle and picked it up; she thought she could feel a presence behind her. She turned around.

*

As something raised its left hand and curled its fingers into an almost-wave, she dropped the kettle and mug. The mug smashed and covered the floor in the first stage of tea.

*

She looked back up to see nothing in front of her. As fast as she could, she bolted for her bedroom. As soon as she reached it, she slammed the door behind her and dived under her duvet.

*

Terror commandeered her body; inescapable distress inhabited her mind.

Her bedroom door exploded with the same double-thud that invited her outside.

The door creaked open and he crept in.

There wasn’t a piece of his skin that showed. At the end of his brown long sleeves were black-and-white striped cuffs; at the end of them were a pair of white gloves covered with red stains. He was dressed in calico dungarees, the thighs of which were also covered with red stains. His boots were the most menacing piece of attire and it looked like his choice of footwear was made with function in mind.

His collar matched the stripes of his cuffs and his hair was such a vibrant red that it was as if he was engulfed by a mane of embers.

White paint covered his face and neck. Black paint covered the area around his eyes.

Red around his mouth.

He inched towards her bed and slithered on top of her.

*

She pulled back the duvet and stared into his black eyes.

She knew him.

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Manufactured Paradise

I am a ghost.

Walking alone in public reminds me what I probably look like. They avoid eye contact; they don’t want to see me.

They think I’m homeless. Well, I am. But I’m not houseless. Almost.

I turn off the main road and here I am, here is the street where I’ve made many memories.

I’d lived in this place my entire life but I couldn’t keep up with the repayments a few years back so I got evicted. Nobody moved in the house after me; they stopped seeming to care about it so I moved back in a few months ago. I’m not there completely legally; it’s somewhere between stolen rent and squatting.

Things are tough at the moment. My main problem is getting through the day without some sort of something. I have my favourites, but most things will do.

Everything else is a distant second and third.

I pull myself over the fence and navigate the mess of a garden. It’s no later than five, but it’s winter so it’s getting dark. It’s cold, too; just not cold enough for me to see my breath.

I pull myself up and through the broken kitchen window and crawl along the sideboard. The glass on my knees has become such a regular thing that it’s pretty much painless now.

I find my feet and walk to the light switch. I try to press it multiple times but nothing happens, before I remember hearing the whispers that they were going to shut off everything to here.

I don’t know what to do; I’ve got no electricity, probably no gas or water, and, most importantly of all of life’s necessities, I’ve got no ticket.

Or, have I?

I may have left a small rock somewhere. I don’t think it’s in the kitchen; it may be somewhere in the living room. I lift the cushions from both sofas and it isn’t there; it isn’t in any cupboards or drawers; I open up every single DVD case I own and it isn’t in any of them; and it isn’t hiding in any of the room’s corners.

I sit on the sofa that’s seen better days.

I look through the mess of magazines and printed media on the floor; I find what I’m looking for wrapped in tissue paper, and I find my journal. I open a random page and move my finger as it hovers over it. I put my finger down and open my eyes.

I suggested a week in Milan; Lily suggested some kind of spa break. Cynthia laughed at us both and it immediately dawned on me the ridiculousness of our ideas. She asked us if we fancied doing something a little more “out there” and I wondered what she was pushing us towards. As soon as we said yes, she told us that she had organised a crazy few days packed with white-water rafting, rock climbing, abseiling, mountaineering, paint balling, bungee jumping, all topped off with a skydive.

That’s Cynthia.

My pipe lays on the arm of my chair and I feel as though it’s asking for my acquaintance. As I think about how much I’ve waited for this all day, and how different it will all feel in a few seconds, my lighter is doing nothing. I think the flint is gone because it won’t spark at all. I’ll be lucky to find another now; I was very lucky to even find one, functional or not.

Sadness kicks me one more time as I remember that I also don’t have a working stove that I could use. I’m not even sure how lighting a pipe on a stove would work, but it’d be nice to have the choice.

I throw the pipe and lighter on the floor, and throw myself back onto the sofa. Deflated and nearly defeated, I start to wonder what to do to pass the time. At least it’s a treat every time I’m reminded of just how good being horizontal feels.

Another venture down memory lane might be good. Another random page. Another random paragraph.

I visited Cynthia today.

Another Cynthia story.

We arrived a few minutes before 7pm; the nurses were kind enough to let us sit around her just in time for her waking up for her evening medication.

It’s probably just about Cynthia in this part of my journal. Writing my thoughts seemed to be the only non-consumable thing that made life bearable.

The first thing I clocked when we got to her bedside was a familiar potent aroma, before I noticed the fresh posy of lavender on her cabinet. She loves that flower and I’m reminded of her whenever I smell it.

I haven’t been able to smell lavender since Cynthia died.

I need to stop thinking about her. I miss her.

Maybe writing in my journal might help. I turn to a fresh page, and put pen to paper.

Nothing.

I expect nothing less.

Well, my pen won’t write. It physically won’t write. If it could, it might write about how I’ve been feeling today.

It’s been a weird one. Most days have been weird ones since I went cold turkey. I did okay, for a while, at least.

It was the sleepless nights that got me. The days weren’t too bad after a few weeks. They were bearable, and some were, dare I say, enjoyable.

If I wasn’t wide-eyed in bed until sunrise, I was having some dark nights.

I didn’t have to look far to find something to plug the new gap. I’m content with my choice because it’s easier to smoke, so it’s a bit more convenient than a needle.

“Convenient” is an odd word, all thing considered.

It’s never agreed with me; some of my worst times have been carried by that. I don’t know if it’s too powerful for my body, or too intense for my mind. Probably a bit of both.

Last night I went for a walk; last night I met Daria, Adam, and the rest of those that sleep under Eastbourne Bridge; last night my mind was blown, almost literally.

They were passing a pipe of it round. Of course they were; it’s the easiest thing to get.

When Daria passed me the pipe, I knew I shouldn’t. My mind said no and my body said no. I inhaled.

The next thing I remember was waking up sometime this evening. Well, late afternoon and almost evening. The sky was half-dark; I looked around to see every one of my circle of acquaintances fast asleep, but I could still hear the noise of the real world above.

I decided not to wake anyone as I had no real need to. I found my shoes and headed straight here. That was probably about four. And that’s today. That’s my day. Not an eventful day, but a day.

The ceiling needs a clean. The lampshade needs a clean. I tuck my chin to observe my surroundings; my interlinked hands not daring to move from the back of my head. I look around the room and, if nothing else, the sight of this mess reminds me that I’m home.

The whole place needs a clean. And more.

I let my head fall back onto the armrest, and my eyelids soften into their respective counterparts.

The sofa is my temporary salvation, and I’d melt into it if I could.

I approach the edge of sleep, when a jolt of awakening races through my body.

I don’t want to open my eyes but I know somebody is standing in the doorway behind me.

I can’t see them.

I can hear their tiny movements.

I can smell lavender.

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Quiet And Peace

The remains of the sun’s life lingered in the twilit sky; the structure was enveloped by a cloud of no hue.

A ghost train was not normally known to be one of the crown jewels of a funfair. The Midnight Hour pulled people from the furthest stretches of land, and drew some from across the ocean. It was mostly black, except for faded images of ghosts. There were no witches, or zombies, or werewolves, or mummies. Even Frankenstein’s monster himself was nowhere to be seen.

‘It’s two tokens each. Four in a cart,’ said the ticket-master.

‘Four people, please,’ said Harriet.

‘Are you scared of lights? Or are you scared of dark?’

It felt like he was neither here nor there; he was unnerving, and being within five metres of him forced discomfort and apprehension. The abrupt cutting of conversational corners was contradicted by his flowing enunciation and tone of voice; his shadowing presence by his wacky top-hat and monocle; his jewel-encrusted cane and three-piece dinner-suit by a brawny frame that looked just shy of seven feet. He was a manifestation of The Midnight Hour’s spirit.

Harriet paused, almost as if in disbelief at the impromptu poetry. ‘Perfect,’ she said as she re-counted the eight tokens in her hands. She put them on the counter and pushed them to the ticket-master.

His stare shifted between counting the tokens and analysing the three friends that stood behind her.

‘Right,’ he said as he stepped out of the booth, ‘be seated.’ He gestured towards the cart.

‘I haven’t been on a ghost train since I was about seven,’ said Bobby as he sat in the front.

‘Really?!,’ said Harriet, taking her seat at the back.

‘I don’t think I’ve ever been on one,’ said Joseph, as he sat next to Bobby.

‘This better be as good as you say it is,’ said Rob, as he took the remaining seat next to Harriet.

‘It’s nothing crazy and it’s not super thrilling; it’s just a bit of silly fun. You’ll love it,’ she said.

The ticket-master pulled down the cart’s two lap-bars. ‘We don’t want you running away, do we?’ He half-smiled at Harriet.

‘Why does a ghost train need safety restraints?’ said Joseph.

The ticket-master reached into the booth and pulled the lever; the cart started to crawl.

‘Mind yourselves,’ he said.

The cart continued through along the track through the main doors; The Midnight Hour had begun its passage.

*

In a heartbeat, darkness consumed every wave of light. Less than two minutes after the cart started moving, it stopped. The ride’s sounds stopped, and silence thickened the air like a toxic fume.

‘Well, this is fun,’ said Harriet.

‘CAN YOU HEAR ME?’ a voice from the outside called; it was muffled and muted, but the words were just about intelligible.

‘YEAH, FINE,’ Joseph replied, ‘WE’VE BROKEN DOWN.’

‘YEAH, THE POWER IN THIS END OF THE PARK HAS GONE. JUST STAY SEATED AND WE’LL HAVE YOU OUT IN FIVE MINUTES.’

‘COOL, THANK YOU.’

‘You never forget your first time,’ said Bobby.

‘Apparently so,’ said Joseph.

‘I’m sorry,’ said Harriet, ‘not too great, is it?’

‘It’s alright, just one of them things,’ said Rob.

‘We’d better get our tokens back,’ said Joseph.

‘Yeah, and find something that won’t break down,’ said Bobby.

‘Have any of you been in a hall of mirrors?’ said Harriet.

The conversation was forced to a halt by three consecutive loud thuds from outside. ‘WE’LL GET YOU OUT SHORTLY,’ someone else called.

‘YEAH, WE KNOW. THANKS,’ Joseph called back.

‘FIVE MINUTES.’

‘YES. THANKS.’

The persistent silence created a void once again; it was peculiar that no sounds seeped in from outside.

When those on the other side stopped shouting through and banging the walls, it was like the ride was on a mountaintop and there wasn’t a soul around for tens of miles. A pin could fall in the furthest corner of the room, and it would be as resounding as a jumbo’s jet. The quiet was comforting and none of them felt forced to shatter it with small-talk. They each had a mobile phone, so time could be killed if they chose to do so; instead, they embraced the situation.

Harriet thought about how content she was; fairgrounds were her favourite place to be. A similar awe was felt by Bobby, and his internal-voice couldn’t help but chuckle at his predicament. Joseph and Rob were old friends that hadn’t seen one-another in over a year. Joseph had moved overseas for work and he had now come home to visit family and friends. They also saw the humorous side of their reunion.

Bobby’s whelp broke the silence.

‘Bobby?…Bobby?’ said Rob.

There was no response.

Joseph tapped Bobby on the arm.

‘He’s not moving’, said Joseph.

‘Can you hear breathing?’ said Harriet.

They all silenced themselves. ‘I’m not sure,’ said Joseph, ‘let me check his pulse.’

As Joseph put his hand on Bobby’s neck, he gasped in petrification.

‘What?’ said Rob.

‘Blood. I think it’s blood. A lot of blood,’ said Joseph.

Joseph got out his phone and turned the light on. He shone it on Bobby to seek confirmation of his suspicion.

He turned the light off as quickly as he turned it on. Rob wanted to scream for help; he couldn’t see the blood itself from where he was sat, but he could see the red glow of light that surrounded Bobby under the light. He gathered his last few fragments of will that hadn’t been ravaged by terror. As he started to exhale, his volume increased at the speed of sound, but he didn’t scream for help; he managed a-fraction-of-a-second of a shriek before the darkness was blackened by a brief silence.

‘Rob?’, said Joseph.

Rob made no subsequent noises.

‘What do we do?’ said Harriet. Both Harriet and Joseph were frozen and neither could turn any way but forward.

Joseph lifted Bobby’s arms and removed the bar from their laps. ‘We have to run,’ he whispered.

‘Now?’

‘Now.’

‘But what about the safety bars?’

‘Electric’s gone. Lift it.’

‘I know, but I can’t lift Rob’s arms.’

‘In a couple of seconds,’ whispered Joseph, ‘I’ll shine a light back there, I’ll lift his arms. As soon as I do, you get out the cart. I’ll run for the door; run as fast as you can behind me and don’t stop running.’

‘Okay.’

‘Light’s going on in three.’

Harriet opened her eyes.

‘Two.’

She inhaled as much air as she could through her nose.

‘One.’

Joseph turned on his light. He shone it towards a dead Rob and a Harriet who looked to be bleeding heavily. He noticed that her bar was raised; he was momentarily perplexed.

Harriet screeched at the top of her voice.

The light was caught by something shiny in her hand and it commanded his sight.

The last thing he saw was Harriet’s smirk, and the last thing he thought about was how much she wanted them all to go on the ghost train.

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Burning The Midnight Oil

She buttered the toast and thought about tomorrow. It was unusual for her to eat so close to bedtime.

Tea and toast and shower; teeth and tired and bed.

Dreams of neverland and foreverland. Aesthetic symphonies and auditory feasts; stranger than perfection for as far as the senses could sense.

She wrote seven pages of rubbish about a rock; there was a party in the jungle and everyone was invited. There was a second party – a party that could only be reached by boat. A party at sea, almost; the Gardens of Eden.

There was a sitting man who looked like he was enjoying life more than anybody else ever could.

England. Holland. England. Canada. England.

Sunrise. It felt beautiful; iron faces and golf-ball eyes.

She enquired as to where the music was coming from. The apple was eaten; she was happy to be going home and not to the third.

Her thoughts stopped dead; she felt her body follow. She thought she felt her body follow.

She was in a room that she recognised from childhood, and she was sat on the end of the bed with her feet touching the floor, next to a friend she knew from previous years in her life, but later than childhood. Another friend from the same chapter of her life entered the room, and the sitting friend stood to greet the standing friend with a hug.

She couldn’t move. She couldn’t move in her dream, and her thoughts couldn’t move in her reality.

‘Go to sleep if you need to,’ said the friend who stood first.

At the seventh hour, the bells rang and she awoke to the world.

Shower and toast and teeth.

With a step of her spring, she strolled under the sun’s spark like she was the first and last person to possess life.

A day like today wasn’t as good as tomorrow, yet a day like today was better.

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The Living Dead

‘Yeah, it’s good to get out once in a while.’

She takes a mouthful from her glass of wine and gently nods her head in agreement.

‘Even if it’s just for a meal,’ I say, before taking a sip of my beer.

‘”Just”?’

‘Well, no, not that. I’ve been looking forward to this for as long as I can remember.’

‘I’m starving. Perhaps we should have got a starter.’ It’s like her fingers are independent of the rest of her body as they impatiently start to score a symphony of tapping on the table.

‘Perhaps. Do you think the kids are alright?’

‘They’ll be fine, you know they will.’

‘But it’s been….’

‘…years since we’ve been apart from them,’ she says, ‘and they’ll be fine.’

‘If you could be any animal in the world,’ I say, noticing her hint at rolling her eyes, ‘what would you be and why?’

‘A dodo.’

‘Why?’

‘Deaf as a dodo,’ she says.

‘Dead. As dead as a dodo.’ I smile at her.

‘Dead; deaf; I’d rather be either than small-talking.’

I feel my smile dissolve in a heartbeat.

‘Come on, you know I’m only messing,’ she says. She looks over my shoulder and picks up her knife and fork.

‘I know.’ I find my smile. ‘I love you.’

‘Aw,’ she says, as she looks into my eyes, ‘me too.’

‘I’ve got one East Side Burger with chips. I think it’s a double, too,’ says the waitress.

‘That’ll be mine, please,’ I say.

She puts my meal on the table in front of me and recites the other half of our order, ‘For you, carbonara with extra chicken and extra garlic bread?’

‘Please.’

She asks us if he can get us anything else and I say no.

There’s nothing anybody could get us that could make right now better. My chest feels like it’ll burst with the burning that pierces it whenever we lock eyes.

I pick at my chips. I look up from my plate and watch, just marvel, at the woman sitting opposite me.

She makes me live, and she makes me feel like every second before now never mattered and every second that will follow won’t matter.

Tagliatelle, spaghetti, linguine. She’s never been able to twirl it around a fork so she cuts it all up into pieces; it’s the cutest thing.

I appreciate that we get to be together like we used to; I like that I get to see a side of her that she rarely shows; I get to see the old her, even if the moment is fleeting.

I pick my burger up and sink my teeth into it.

‘For heaven’s sake; why do you insist on selecting the messiest meal from the menu?’

I put my burger down on my plate; she hands me her napkin and I wipe the dripping egg yolk from my chin. I quickly chew and swallow the half-bite.

‘I’m sorry,’ I say, as I wipe my hands.

‘It’s fine. What are you like, eh?’

‘I think I should wash my face’. I lift the yolk-encrusted napkin off my lap and lay it on the table next to my plate. ‘Why do they only give us one each? Optimistic.’

She gulps the remainder of her glass before starting to pour another. ‘Don’t you be long,’ she says.

I push my chair away from the table and stand. ‘Or what, eh?’ I attempt to eradicate the tension by inviting her into a light-hearted exchange.

‘Or, if I finish mine before you’re back, I will make a start on yours.’ She looks at my meal. She’s not accepting my invitation. Or is she?

I take my phone out of my pocket to look at the time.

‘Leave that here if you want,’ she says.

She removes her eyes from the food and ours meet once again.

Without hesitation, I put my phone on the table. I head for the bathroom.

I love all food, but I’ve never had a favourite cuisine. I like it here; there’s a bar, there’s a restaurant, there’s a menu with a little piece of everything.

There aren’t a whole lot of people out tonight. I like it like that.

A man holds the door open for me as he leaves the toilet.

‘Thank you. Cheers,’ I say.

He nods in acknowledgement.

There’s nobody else in the toilets. As I look at myself in the mirror and proceed to wash the rapidly-drying remnants of yolk from my face, I feel that that’s for the better.

On the surface, I can’t help the anxiety I feel for leaving the children with a babysitter.

I know they’ll be okay, and I’ll cherish the handful of hours we can be away from them for. Not just for me, though. I’m happy because of the time that she and the children can spend apart.

I look at my face in the mirror; I’ve done a top-notch job on the clean-up.

I wipe the excess water away with paper towels and dispose of them. I pass my hands under the dryer.

As I finish and take a final look in the mirror, my mind’s attention is drawn to the pace with which she is glugging wine, and to the night that lies ahead.

‘She doesn’t mean it,’ I say, as I look through the face that stares back at me.

I open the door and make my way back to the table.

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