Tuesday, 15 July 2008

The Daily Postcard

Hi guys,

Well, I returned from my week away from blogging refreshed and considering my next move.

It's been six months since I started The Daily Tale and I thought it might be a good idea to freshen the format up, try something a little different. So I have created a new blog called The Daily Postcard where I will do my daily blogging from now on.

The Daily Tale was an unexpected success and I'd like to thank everyone for taking the time to support me by reading the stories and leaving such great comments.

However, I think the format had gone as far as it could and I was chomping at the bit to try something a little different. I'm quite into photography and wanted to devote some time to that, along with writing. So that's kind of what the concept of The Daily Postcard is - a photo and a short tale to accompany the image.

I hope it will become something the browser can either just dip in and out of when they feel like, or alternatively let their imagination become swept up in the twin assault of the image and the words.

My reasoning for starting it on another blog site was so that I could leave The Daily Tale blog here as an archive for anyone who wanted to flick back and read their favourite stories again. When I've finished my Postcard project I will seek to do the same with that too.

So that's all, I think. I hope you'll join me in The Daily Postcard. See you on the other side...

Please follow the link to The Daily Postcard:


Monday, 7 July 2008

aperture, break, gap, interruption, interval, lacuna, lull, pause, time off

Hello all,

I am taking a short hiatus from my Daily Tale-ing. I will be on holiday for a week and then, when I return there will be a revamp in order for my daily blog.

I hope you'll be back in a week to experience it...


Friday, 4 July 2008

Fourth of July

" 'Cos I heard it in the wind and I saw it in the sky,
And I thought it was the end, I thought it was the fourth of July "

Chris Cornell

I saw a firework, dead, burnt, on the street. I reflected on how sad its resting place, how briefly it had burned and now how ignominious its fall.
At one time it had potential. Potential to explode and cause delight. Always while it had potential it was a special thing. A device of magic, waiting to bring wonder. In its short life of usefulness it was above us all. It could fly, it could shower us with metallic petals of light. Great golden arcs that would shard in the sky.
And then, dropping black and crippled onto an unlit street corner it could now only move if kicked or gusted by a force of nature.
Still, at least it had fulfilled its potential.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

The Vision

She looked at the image long and hard. She scratched her head to show him that she was thinking about, thinking long and hard. She moved her head around to jaunty angles, ways that she almost never moved her neck.
No matter what she did, or how she considered the possible illumination of the piece of artwork he displayed proudly before her she couldn’t ascertain any relevant meaning from it. It really was just a mess of paint to her.
She contemplated telling him this. Maybe he’d appreciate what it said to her, but she bit her tongue. She bit her fingernail as well and then stopped in case he was looking at her.
He wasn’t looking. He was sat on an old red sofa, spotted with paint and ripped open in places so that the stuffing poured out like fat. The sofa was turned away from the easel, away from where he worked so that he could at least try to switch off from his mind’s displays for a while.
The radio was on at that low volume that is as annoying as too loud. He was thinking, this artist, about something someone had said to him earlier. He stared at the music coming from the radio.
He found that he often realised that something interesting, something insightful about another person, had been revealed to him in conversation and he would only pick up on it later. By this time, the conversation had long faded to dust and there was little chance to query the interesting party. Another wasted opportunity.
“Celine,” he called without taking his eyes from the stereo. “What do you think?”
She stopped looking at the splurge on the canvas before her and bit her nail again. “Well, I loved the funny picture of the radioactive clown,” she said. “Very surreal!”
He smiled and nodded. He was pleased enough, but he found himself fighting not to ask her about the latest piece, the work he was proudest of.
“I’m glad you liked it,” he said. “Honestly, I am.” She moved uncomfortably in her jeans. They were just a little too tight and she felt it now as she walked back to the couch. The room was lit by just the spotlights pointing on the two easels and as she stepped away from these she felt more confident.
She picked up her long drink and nibbled the edge of the glass. There was room to sit next to the artist, on the couch, but Celine opted for a leather armchair facing him. She sat down slowly with her knees together and sipped her drink. The spotlights flared in her ice-cubes as she tipped the glass back.
“It’s a shame,” said the man, “that you didn’t like The Vision.” He referred here to the title of the strange abstract painting, and not in some grandiose way to his overall method or philosophy of painting.
The girl gulped her drink hard and swallowed an ice cube. It stuck in her chest and made her entire body tense up. She gritted her teeth against the cold.
“It’s not that I didn’t like it,” she said. “It’s that I didn’t understand it.” She fumbled now as the ice moved on away from her chest, “I’m sorry, sorry about that Robert. I just didn’t quite get it, maybe.”
“It’s a shame for us both, that you preferred the clown,” he said.
His words barely hung there for a second before her reply: “Why, Robert?”
Robert shook his head, then dropped it to the side a little and raised his eyes to look at her. His eyes looked softly and sadly upon her. “Maybe you don’t know why yet. But you will later,” he said.
They didn’t say anything for a minute or so. Just looked.
A buzzer sounded at the door. A man spoke.
“It’s David,” Celine said. “Shall I tell him to come up?”
“No, it’s fine. I have to finish up here. I’m tired. Goodnight Celine.”
Celine stood awkwardly and put down her glass. She looked down at Robert for a moment and then turned and stepped carefully across the wooden floor to the door, unbolted its latch and pulled hard. The great old metal door swung on creaking hinges.
“Goodnight Robert. I really did like your pictures, you know?”
Robert nodded.
“Don’t forget to lock the door behind me,” she said, stepping out of one world and into another.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

The octopus

A man standing on a beach casts his pet octopus into the sea.
He holds it by three of its legs and swings it in dizzying circles before letting go to send it flinging back into the sea where it was spawned. As it plops into the water, a red ball, he hopes it’s the last he’ll see of that octopus.
Sinking into its new home, the octopus lingers in the swell, growing accustomed to the new tastes and sights, but soon it spreads its legs and swims off into the deeper waters, in search of dark rocks and things to eat.
The man sits down on the sand. He has had that octopus for three years. It was a treasured gift of a former lover, now gone.
The waves break ever so gently on this shore. So gently, in fact, that the short breakers have created a tiny shelf at the point where the sand remains dry and full. Upon this shelf climbs a green crab. It has come from the sea, allowing itself to be deposited there by the tide.
It sidles towards the man, unnoticed, then nips at his sandals and toes.
“Woah!” the man lets out expressions of concern. He looks for some flotsam to flick this crab away or something heavy with which to crush its shell. But before he can find this he hears a voice.
“Brian, what have you done?” He stares down at the green crab. “You have cast away your only friend.” The crab speaks. And it addresses him by name.
“Strange creature,” says Brian. “How came you to speak so, and know my given name?”
The green crab replied that he was one of the great seers of the sea, and with the lobster, the ray and the narwhal, views all that occurs both above and below the waves.
“The cockles sang to me, from the rocks over there,” continued the green crab. “And then the sprats and starfish whispered to each other that the octopus had returned to us, before his time.”
The green crab explained that the octopus was a great talisman, a conduit between the realms of sea and land. Such creatures were placed in homes throughout all the continents of the world, allowing the seers to get a clear view of the airy world above them, helping them make decisions and policies for life under the sea.
“Even your partner, Selkie, was put into your life by us. Once she thought a bond had been established between you and the octopus she knew she had to return to the ocean.”
“Now, you must go and retrieve your octopus, Brian. You must try. Only you can find it.” And with these words the green crab motioned with its right claw, beckoning Brian towards the sea.
Brian stood up, proudly and with purpose, now. He had to do this, he knew, though it seemed impossible. He would swim and swim, and search and search, until he found his red octopus once more.
He stepped into the light foam of the surf and pushed on until he was waist deep. Then he turned back towards the crab and waved. The green grab seemed to be waving too. Brian lifted his legs from the sandy sea bed and started to swim and swim.
It was difficult to move his arms though, and his legs cut sluggishly through the water. He looked to his arm as he tried to take it from the water. Fifteen small octopuses of various colours were clinging to it, dragging on it.
As he stopped swimming he felt the myriad suckers of a thousand tentacles attaching themselves to his body. Hundreds of octopuses grappled with him and he began to feel sharp stinging sensations across his body. A larger tentacle then wrapped about his head and Brian slowly disappeared beneath the blue waters.
The green crab, safe on the shore, stopped waving and skittered off across the wet sand, feeling satisfied and looking out for a warm rock pool to hunt in.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008


The three lads, bounding through the weeds at the trackside stopped for breath.
Johnny, the youngest, legs wobbling with the effort, wanted to sit down but he fought that feeling with all his might. He was out with his dad now.
His brother, Michael, stood up as straight as he could, sucked in a lungful of air and puffed out his chest proudly. His father patted his head rather heavily.
Dad had come to see them today and their mother had rolled her eyes. It was their uncle’s birthday, their dad had said, and so he had thought of something for them all to do. ‘A family outing’, he called it.
They’d crawled under wire fences, scrambled down dirty banks and jumped from heights that Johnny had previously thought impossible to survive. These were all things his mother and his teachers had told him never to do, but here he found himself, on an overgrown railway embankment, with his father, watching the trains go by.
“Not far to go now, guys,” said Peter. He was revelling in his new found role of leader, a figure to be feared and obeyed. “Just round the next bend,” he said, “that’s where it happened.”
They hacked onward with their feet until they came to a brown stone wall. Peter led them slowly down the bank and onto the gravel at the side of the railway track. A curving tunnel opened cavernously before them.
“Right,” he said. “When I say the word we’re going to run for it. There shouldn’t be another train for 10 minutes anyway, but we’re better safe than sorry.”
Michael looked a little incredulous at this, but Johnny pushed in front of him, eager to race away into the darkness at his father’s command.
“Now come on, son. Michael’s first up and then you follow him on. I’ll be close behind you, okay?”
Johnny nodded; Michael said nothing and just stared ahead into the gloom and then at his shoes.
“Alright go,” said Peter, but Michael didn’t move.
“Come on Mike, head up and run for it.” Michael’s body moved, almost imperceptibly, but again he held himself back.
“For God’s sake Mikey, fucking go for it you prick!” His father raised his voice and his hand and Michael was away.
He ran blindly into the darkness, stumbling upon the rail and then vanishing. His father screamed after him to bear left and not to trip on the tracks, his voice echoing about him in madness.
Peter held Johnny by the shoulders as the child strained to follow his brother. As soon as his son stopped struggling, Peter plunged ahead of him onward into the tunnel.
He found it curved round gently and then light flooded back into its far mouth. Out into the daylight, not far up the track, Michael sat on the rail, crying.
Peter ran on, out of the tunnel towards his eldest son but his mind was gripped by responsibilities and he turned around to see what he’d forgotten. Johnny came then, whimpering out of the darkness, rubbing his red eyes and peering at his father with that look of fear and disappointment that can tear at a man’s chest.
Peter strode towards him, picked the boy up with one arm and then stumbled across the thickly piled gravel at the railside until they reached Michael.
He resisted the urge to grab the lad roughly with his spare arm, instead holding out a hand to him. “Come on,” he urged, adding: “I’m sorry.”
Michael looked up graciously and took the hand. Soon they were all sitting on the grass bank looking back at the railway.
“This is it,” said their father. “This is the spot where your uncle Mikey died.”
They all stared at a spot on the track and imagined it happening there. Noticing there were two different sets of tracks before him, Johnny spoke up with a sniff: “Dad, which side was it, that uncle Mikey got hit by the train?”
His father looked long and hard at the two sets of track and didn’t answer for a minute. He realised he couldn’t remember. He had no idea any more.
Peter scratched his beard a little, turned to his boys and pointed at the track nearest them. Three pairs of eyes converged on that point.
A horn sounded in the tunnel and a train rushed by. “It’s early,” said Michael.

Monday, 30 June 2008

The dream box

At 3am I was awakened by the sound of struggle.
The TV whistled to the sound of static and its glare lit up vague bookcases filled with things I may have read. The couch stank with the droppings of a day and night spent filling oneself with carbohydrates and poisons.
I stood groggily. A tiny fly buzzed by my hand. The curtains stood open and I saw mellow streetlamps fizzing on the other side of the road.
I could hear Sarah in the bedroom. Her twisting movements on the mattress caused the sheets to whisper and the springs to croak. She spoke, but too quietly to be heard between walls.
My mind moved slowly, as if through water, like a mill-wheel or the great paws of a bear. She must have come in sometime after eleven. She mustn’t have wanted to wake me. But why didn’t she turn the TV off at least?
I sensed objects moments before I crashed into them or stubbed my toe. The buzz of the fly and the TV faded to the tune of Sarah’s breath. She swallowed air like she was drowning somewhere.
I made it to the hallway and could see that the door to the bedroom was open wide. I slid over the passage by stretching my arms forth and allowing them to catch my weight as I dripped across the space. There I held myself, crucified within the wooden frame of the door, staring at Sarah.
The curtains were drawn tightly in there and it took perhaps a minute for my pupils to compensate for the freshness of the darkness. And there she struggled, against the whims of her mind, against the heat of the morning, against the suffocating covers that she gripped like a lover.
Collapsing then, into the room I loomed over the foot of the bed like a spreading ghoul, a watching phantom delighting in his handiwork. Using the edge of the bed as my guide to her, I moved around keeping Sarah always in my gaze.
She spoke to someone, entreating them. Such a helpless thing she was, and as I saw the sweat trickling from her brow I moved to wipe it clear; moved but slipped to my knees at her side.
And there, in a small box floating perpendicular to the bedside I could see her dream; sparking, cold and full of fear. All life and colour was being drained slowly from the screen before me. Inside it, Sarah floundered in the midst of a muddy veil as black shapes, amorphous clouds of soot, flitted about pushing down this grey net around her so that it began to cut into her lips and gums when she screamed.
I tried to get to my feet, to turn myself off from the horror I was viewing, but in either field of my vision I could see separate Sarahs writhing in synchronized agonies and I was transfixed.
I sat there, watching those demons plague her until the light from the dream grew as dim as the room. As the final drop of colour and the last pinprick of light faded from the dream box, my head slumped against the mattress. Soon I joined Sarah in dreams again, and my head whirled there until morning.
When the daylight lifted my eyelids several hours later I was damp and shivering and crawled into bed beside her. She’d discarded the quilt and was now sleeping coolly in a loose ball. I dragged the covers back on with my last drops of strength and sanity and snuggled in behind her.
Time stabilised soon after, our temperatures aligned and our bodies took on that soundless motionless sleep; the sort of sleep that adults envy in their children, as they watch them in fear and awe each night. They stand there helpless wondering where their child has gone to, what they are seeing and how they can possibly protect them there.

Friday, 27 June 2008

An ode to lunch

Finishing the week, with some symmetry, and following on the poetry theme, here is a paean to that time in the day when we put down our tools and briefly run wild: lunchtime.

Well, how sounds the call to arms that dost the luncheon bring?
Can any man amongst thee lay a feast befits a king?
Women tell in hush-ed corners that the sandwiches are near;
While men they rush and falter, just an hour to sup their beer.
Oh the midday hour, and hunger's power, it doth a madness start,
Whence gluttony meets lunacy and pulls one's sense apart.
But me, I stroll oblivious as I pass the gawpers by,
And I shall greet thee, starkers, eating lettuce from a pie.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Lakeland (part three)

Rose stole into her mother’s room and peered about it. The curtains were drawn but daylight seeped about the drapes.
After a moment she could see the strange shape of a figure upon the bed. It was naked and its body bulged in places her mother’s didn’t. Everything was bigger, from the arch of the back to the width of the arms.
Rose’s mouth opened slightly, but she bit her bottom lip and kept herself standing there.
Beneath this mass of flesh writhed her mother. She whimpered, as if she was being crushed against her will but had finally succumbed to the inevitability of oblivion.
Everything about this scene was unrecognisable to Rose. The room had changed from the place she had known. It had never been a joyous place, but it had been a place she recognised and felt safe in. Now it was tainted with strange noises and unfamiliar scents.
Afraid of waking the great beast that was draining the life from her mother, Rose whispered: “Mummy, are you alright?” At no response from either figure she raised her voice so that it became a bizarre croak, a sound unlike any she’d ever emitted before.
Her mother seemed to open her eyes at this point and become aware of the monster, squeezing the vitality from her. But instead of fighting it off and comforting her child, scolding words were issued forth and deities were called upon.
“Oh my god, Rose! Get out of here, get out now,” shouted her mother. The creature atop stirred now, to see what the commotion was all about. Its face lifted to look at her mother and then turned slowly to regard the little girl.
Rose saw the face of a man staring, almost without comprehension, into hers. At this point she let out her scream and darted back through the door.
Her mother called after her as she fled down the stairs: “An hour. An hour was all I asked for, Rose.” The slamming front door separated a mother’s cries from a daughter’s tears.
Rose ran blindly from the house and across between the rows of perfect little cabins until she reached the grassy meadow. Here the wet grass rubbed her face mixing clinging rain water with salty tear drops.
She strove on through the tall grasses, until she fell through the last of the thicket and landed in the shallow stream that runs out into the lake.
In the summer, her and Chester would wade through here chasing brown fish and splashing each other with the cooling water. Today she just sloshed through it, soaking her knee socks and ruining her shoes. She dragged her little legs on through the stream toward the lake, sobbing hard so that it was difficult to catch breath.
Through her bloodshot eyes she saw the great expanse of blue water fanning out in front of her and Rose wanted so much to become a part of that beautiful tranquil scene.
Through her splashing she became aware of another pair of feet crashing through the water, coming towards her. She slowed down and soon felt an arm around her shoulder. She wanted to sink into this person, whoever they were, but she held still and let them turn her around.
It was Chester and as she hugged him there in the stream all her fears and strange thoughts flowed seamlessly away through his arms and into his chest.
Rose’s big brother sat her down on the grass bank of the lake, took her socks and shoes off and rubbed her feet to keep them warm.
She’d stopped crying now, but her voice wavered still. “We have to stay out here a little bit longer,” she said, shivering a little. “We’re not to go back in the house just yet.”
Chester looked into his sister’s eyes and nodded gently. He sat down on the bank too, put his arm around her shoulders and they looked out together across the lake at the boats and the ducks, the green hills and the slowly greying sky.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Lakeland (part two)

Lakeland Estate was a grouping of twenty-four log cabins, set on the shores of one of the Lake District’s favourite stretches of water.
Many of these cabins were sold as holiday homes or timeshare properties, but Rose, Chester and their mother lived there all year round.
It was often a very lonely experience, especially in the winter when few people visited. It was cold too. Their mother felt the cold bitterly.
In summer it was better. There were always other children to play with, though they rarely stayed longer than a week at a time. Rose and Chester formed more firm friendships over the course of one summer season than many children managed in their entire youths.
Sometimes, when Rose grew tired of gazing at the bobbing boats or the dabbling drakes, she would turn around and stare at the grouping of the cabins, laid out perfectly before her. Each cabin had been placed in a spot an exact distance from the next, and that pattern was repeated on the row behind, going back up the hillside. Each cabin was offset to the side of the one in front of it, so that each had a forward view of the lake. It was all of a pleasing fit.
And then the cabins themselves, they too were made to an exacting design. From a distance it almost seemed like they couldn’t or shouldn’t possibly be able to stand up, without the tree trunks buckling and falling apart, scattering the insides of the house all over the front lawn.
But these too interlocked and joined in a perfect design, as if nature had decreed it so. The strange 3-D jigsaw of a genius giant.
It was their house, the fifth property (the first cabin to the left on the second row of properties) that Rose now approached, and her eyes flicked about the front windows for signs of life. She saw no movement.
Gingerly, she stepped up the single metal step outside and tugged ever so gently at the door so that it made almost no sound as she clicked it open.
Looking at the clock Rose could tell that she’d been outside for just over half an hour. That would just have to do.
On the kitchen table she spied a familiar sight. An empty bottle of red wine lay on its side there, its last drops spilled like holy tears. Upstairs she heard music playing.
At once, Rose was struck by some unfamiliar feelings. She felt uneasy in her own house, as if the rules of normality had ceased or at least been changed. She had an urge to go upstairs and see if her drunken mother was alright. But the blood froze in her veins as she thought about mounting the first step on the staircase to her mother’s bedroom.
She hesitated and held there, one brown shoe seemingly nailed to the stair carpet. Her ears, her entire body strained to hear movement or a voice up in the room, her mother’s room. While by no means off bounds to her, Rose didn’t like to go near her mother’s bedroom when she was drinking.
After what seemed like ten minutes, there on the stair (it had really been just two), the little girl began her climb in steady earnest.
Deftly and with some experience she avoided the creaking stair. The music, blaring from the radio, got louder with every step.
Outside her mother’s open bedroom door she hesitated. Looking past it, down the landing, she could see the door to her safe, pretty room standing slightly ajar, beckoning and welcoming her.
Rose proudly ignored the lure, the temptation to run, and listened for noise in the room. She heard the rustling of the bed sheets and the sound of laboured breathing from within. Fighting her cold blood once again, the girl stepped into her mother’s room.

...to be continued...

Tuesday, 24 June 2008


A blur of blue and white, the two children in their very best clothes ran down to the shoreline.
There, they picked out stones and pebbles, the flattest ones all the better for skimming the furthest.
The two siblings, Rose and Chester battled furiously. Each strained to flick their arms quicker, harder, stronger than the other.
Chester caught a good one. Two, three, four, five, six. His broken piece of slate hopped the small waves breaking on the lakeside and whizzed on like a rotor blade toward the horizon.
Rose managed just a couple of small leaps before her stone sploshed into the clear shallows at the side of Derwent Water.
Chester was buoyed by his skimming success. “Maybe I can hit one of the boats out in the middle?” he cried, jumping with excitement.
Rose turned and walked to the grass bank at the edge of the small pebbled beach. She plonked herself down and looked up at the afternoon sky, scudded with cirrus, scraping the day clean.
“How long will mummy be?” she asked Chester, with the hint of a whine. “I’m bored already.”
Her older brother let out a brisk ‘tsk’ noise. “She said to play out for an hour or so,” he replied. “Come and throw some more stones.”
Chester was trusting of his mother, and happy to play out at the lakeside and in the nearby woods until the sun began to make its first dip beyond the Cumbrian hills. But Rose was not an child spirited by the idea of adventures into the hills, climbing the tall trees or swimming in the lake, come summer. She sought the comfort of her favourite chair, her books and her bedroom.
“I’m going to the meadow to pick flowers,” Rose said with a sniff, turned her back on her brother and began to march in the direction of the wild unkempt grasses growing to the side of Lakeland Estate.
She knelt and the long plants bowed under her weight, protecting her knees from the wet ground. It had rained earlier and the spring leaves were dappled-down with sunlit dew. Rose watched one of these leaves for five minutes, until she witnessed one of the water droplets successfully detaching itself and falling into the thick undergrowth below.
Nature fascinated her. She loved to collect frogspawn and watch the tadpoles grow. She would stare from her bedroom window with wide-eyed fascination as lightning flashed across the lake during a summer storm, while poor old Chester quivered beneath his covers.
She liked to look at it, but she hadn’t learned to love it yet. She grew quickly tired of being outside, she was cold and bored now. It was time to head home.

...to be continued...

Monday, 23 June 2008

Ode to a shop girl

Another poem-tale for you verse fans...

Oh lovely
Is the girl,
Who sits upon the till,
She fights the out of
Circulation coinage
We use still.
She has kind freckles
And a smile that nibbles
Sweetly at her cheeks,
Her blouse encases
Freshly ripened bosoms -
Unclimbed peaks!
I imagine her
Getting ready,
She's late for work some mornings;
When she arrives
They've stocked the shelves
And opened all the awnings.
Yet her hair
Carries the breeze
And managers forget the time,
Imagining spending
The night with her
In bed with poppies and red wine.
But me, I gaze
With thoughts resting
On her secret ways,
And I'll sleep with
Her vision burnt there
Until autumn days.

Dedicated to the pretty girl in Boots who serves me during lunch...

Friday, 20 June 2008

Voices in the city

Click. The VHS turned off. The image returned to a soap opera called Emmerdale Farm, except it was tough to see the cows for the blood covering the screen.
The room was thinly lit but with a turn of a dimmer it shone to reveal a bubbling wound upon a body black with blood.
A detective would later assume that the blood covering the TV set and some of the far wall was caused when a blade was used to open the artery of one Jonathan Gerne, late of Henley-upon-Thames. The reason for his visit to and subsequent murder in a Soho bed-sit was still unknown and would be for several weeks. However, as the wound still sputtered forth a little, a heavy-set man with a mullet haircut sloshed towards the TV set and bent down to eject the video cassette. As the shunting device ejaculated forth the hard black box through its cassette flap the words Hard Knocks could clearly be read on the label by any ghost standing in the room.
The man put the video cassette in his pocket and left the room and then the flat. The TV buzzed on as the blood clotted over the green fields like cream.

Somewhere in the city a sickness crawled. It plunged on through walls and pavements and minds. It was devastation breathing fumes, a substance that swallowed light and tricked the sun into death. And someone was tracking it.
Evidence was hard to come by and impossible to present, at least to Scotland Yard. Enough whackos leading them down blind alleys as it was. Taylor knew he was a whacko too. Associated with whackos, learnt from whackos, used whackos. He sensed things though. Sensed the good in some, the churning nipping bitter mouths deep within others.
He could hear the tiny voices that told them, told everyone, what to do. Maybe it was because he could distinguish these sounds from all other background noise that he could ignore them. Society had noticed them - named them conscience, mind, or even soul - but society thought these noises originated within them, whereas Taylor knew they certainly did not.
This realisation had caused him to act noticeably differently to the average person in the average situation. He would actively disobey the voices; the guiding voices, the commanding voices, the desperate voices. Sometimes this would get him into trouble, would cause him to be a bit of a whacko.
Taylor saw the second murder. Knew it was the second when he saw the papers. Knew there would be more when he heard the voice.
He didn't know if it was one booming disparate voice from the gloom or many chattering furies, but they were whispering above the city and sometimes they would rush down and grow louder. He could hear them right now. They were below him, somewhere along the canal towpath.
He had got this close but fear gripped him. He wanted to vault the brick wall and get a glimpse of his quarry, but his limbs were locked and all he could do was listen to the cacophony of rage.
The domination of the voice echoed over the stagnant water. It was blasphemous in its meaninglessness, yet it was compelling someone. A flash of moonlight danced near a mooring. A scream clashed with the howl of the behemoth voice and then both were silent. The padding of footfalls moving off to the north won the fight of sound.

Underneath the canal bridge there were plenty of good people fallen on hard times. There was plenty of bad luck, hard luck, tough luck. Too many stories ending the same way. Greatcoats of bin bags, weak fires, fingerless gloves. It was cold.
There was a wheezing haunting the damp corners and other invisible sounds creeping through the darknesses. The sounds that the police could feel as they picked around looking for clues. The sounds that kept them sharp and scared. Chief Inspector Tonne was even affected by it.
Someone nearby was not affected though, not in the slightest. Someone was sitting with his eyes closed, listening to the voices. Listening to the moans and the screams, the whispers and the laughter.
With his knees pulled up tightly to his chin, sitting upon a bed of thick cardboard, someone was deep in communication with the voices.
All around were stacked videos and books, old stereos and towers of comic books, surrounded. Someone had brilliant blue eyes and a dirty blonde shower of hair in ringlets and straights uncontrollable. A wide grinning mouth was filled with lucid pointed teeth.
'What a whacko.' Smith says, nudging a couple of arms. A few policemen turn to see him and feel the same way. A whacko. They're looking for answers and they're looking for a killer. The kind of killer who likes the sight of blood.
Smith starts to swagger: 'I'm going to ask him a few questions'.
'Excuse me sir? Sir?'
Eyes straight ahead, he keeps on rocking.
'I'd like to ask you a few questions about what happened here last night, sir. Do you know what happened?'
No answer. Smith tries to push on: “Sir, can you please -”
Someone’s mind moves - rustling all around in the dark. Restless.
“He can't hear you.”
“He's just a crazy mute.”
“Leave him alone.”
Smith takes a step back. Looks at the small crowd and Taylor in the middle of them. Walks away. Someone was watching.
Tonne, he saw it all and he felt it, ugly and strange. This was the beginning of his fear.

Thanks to Paul for help and inspiration here.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

An elegy

Today he saw a face from his past; a face he could never forget. The face of Philippa.
They met while studying Latin. Neither of them were that hot at the language, but the poetry brought them together. Those Romans could sure write a love poem.
Elegy it was called, and elegy tells, usually in a poetic form, about a loss or a death of something. It can be wistful, nostalgic and mournful. It can also be the most beautiful feeling in the world.
This boy’s study of romantic elegy coincided with its birth within him. He soon found that the longing for a love that couldn’t be had created a singular internal stirring that becomes almost addictive.
This feeling can be easily evoked, perhaps by certain songs or pieces of music, also through powerful literature and film. Imagine these feelings now, feelings which can successfully transport you to a magical place of all-consuming passion; feelings that can never be sated, that can never truly be shared.
Rather than feeling empty and depressed, though, his elegy filled him with bittersweetness and this is something which can keep a heart enthralled.
Let me share with you this elegy of mine.
I once sent a note to a girl whom I was friends with, but who had a boyfriend. He was a real idiot; of course he was.
It was at university, but he wasn't attending the university. I was really taken with this girl and we had a good relationship, though I guess she was just enjoying the flirtation, the attention.
Her boyfriend lived nearby. We were away from our homes and families for the first time, but there he was every few days. He so regularly visited, like a nightly ghost, and he was everything I thought a boyfriend shouldn't be: a burping, puking, insulting, child.
I didn't understand the attraction on her part and, as I had met the girl soon after we started at the university, I figured this relationship was simply a hangover from a school romance. A lingering crush. The last puss from a teenage spot.
Two years down the line and I am proved very wrong. He remains; lingering, stale in the air around me.
Is she just weak, what power has he over her? I decided I needed to act. Galvanised by a recent night out, a dance, that connection still and the spark; I posted a note under her door.
I told her things: that she was special. You might say it happened on a night of the soul. Music, writing, solitude.
My actions were unwise, silly, ultimately destructive. The creak outside, the rustling at the door, the note sliding through. Whether it woke her up or she found it in the morning, it doesn’t matter. The entire exercise appears creepy in the light of the morning. All she can think about is a man, standing outside her room, in the wee small hours.
When next we met, the ugly embarrassment was paining her pretty face. It took weeks until we could begin to talk again, but our relationship had changed. She could no longer feign innocence. No longer pretend to understand what I really saw when I looked at her.
Her boyfriend greeted me with huge toothy grins from then on. He never mentioned the note, but he was pleased he'd won. Perhaps he respected the gall of my actions, but in his victory I was more sickened by the sight of him touching her.
However, I wasn’t downcast. I couldn’t again go near, yet the taste in my mouth made me smile. It still does.
When I saw her today, she was alone. She walked with purposeful grace, and the same red glow in her cheeks. But some zest was gone. Some divine spark of hers seemed washed away, perhaps forever.
I stopped where I was, and allowed my gaze to follow as she walked by on the other side of the street.
I thought about going over there, and speaking to her. Asking if she remembered me, was she still with him. Endless futures seemed possible for those few seconds. But the elegy, the elegy gnawed at my stomach some more and demanded to be fed.
So my eyes closed heavily, taking and holding one last image of her. Flowing brown hair, walking away from me once more, beautifully, forever.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008


Does anyone really know
How the stuff that we call fluff
Gets in my belly-button?

It seems to gather in the day
And at night, while I'm away
Asleep, it makes its journey.

Such a sojourn shouldn't happen
Logic unravelled, fluff travelled
To my blow-hole.

Why does it gravitate?
And will it just once abate?
I have sat and sat to fathom.

Some people think me rude
But I do not watch my crotch,
I'm just gazing at my navel.

So next time you clean it out,
With your finger in the spout,
Stop and think of me.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

The red dragon

As I look now, out of my second floor window, I can see the first mountains of the ancient kingdom of Wales, climbing into the horizon.
They are out there, across the railway tracks, down the road of terraced houses, across the dunes and over the estuary.
Today I can see white crests breaking out where the river meets the sea and, still further out, crepuscular rays beam between cracks in the cloudscape, illuminating foreign beaches or sand banks.
Wales is a whole other country, and I can see it from my lounge. I’ve never been there and yet it appears quite a walkable distance away; drowning in mud, quicksand and saltwater not withstanding.
It seems a place of mystical and magical possibilities. What secrets might it hold? What ancient power may still be locked within those mountains? Their national flag has a picture of a dragon on it! How much more mystical can it get?
When last I thought like this, I resolved to journey there.
In order to aid my flight to this land, I spent all evening watching the dance of the insect-chasing swallows as they glided over red-tiled roof-tops and swooped at speed across the road below.
Then I watched the glossy winged gulls as they flipped and flapped their huge spans and took off from chimney pots and railway sidings. And I spied the arcing flight of the pigeons, glancing branches and telephone lines but still flying straight and true. If these rodents of the skies can do it, I reasoned, then why not I?
So, once the sun had descended into its nightly cradle and the moon was safely ensconced behind the sinewy clouds, I slid open wide the huge window in my lounge and clambered out onto its narrow ledge. Someone had painted the ledge cream, and I found that comforting.
I took in deep lungfulls of air and bent my body backwards, stretching my arms out as I went. I then began to move them in a routine flapping action and my joints cricked and cracked under this unusual motion.
I then held one of my deep breaths, counted to three and prepared to step forward, off the ledge. I strained and I struggled but each time I tried, something, some primal fear deep within, wouldn’t let me go. Wouldn’t let me leave the ledge. I felt like some fledgling who couldn’t depart the feather-lined nest.
Perhaps it was for the best, I thought. I’d probably just collapse, sprawling, in the garden below.
But then a remarkable thing happened. Through a crack in the ever-shifting night clouds, I saw a strange shape flit across the face of the moon.
“A dragon!” I exclaimed and, without second thought, leapt into the summer night.
What happened next is still difficult for me to understand or make clear in my head. I remember though, quite distinctly, my body rising up, and it just kept on climbing.
The railway and road went by in a flash, and I was soon swinging out towards the river. My shadow fair whizzed across the beach and I felt the air temperature cool as I reached the water.
All I could do was flap my arms and head on towards the far side of the estuary and the north-east coast of Wales.
I must have been mere minutes from the Welsh border when suddenly the temperature around me rose quickly. Flame crackled close to my head and I was forced to dive down, close to the spraying sea.
I twirled and wheeled my body like it was some top secret fighter plane and was amazed to see the scaled body of a great red dragon flapping above and snorting its fiery breath in my direction.
For a large beast it flew superbly and soon headed me off in my quest for the coast. A crackling wall of death halted my progress and I banked sharply as my progress to the sandy shores of Talacre was blocked by this boiling curtain of flame.
As I scrambled to avoid a scorching end, my course brought me into the path of the ancient beast itself. The dragon reared and roared at me, swinging a blistering claw in my direction. Its breath, all sulphur and inferno, wilted my resolve. It landed a bloody smack and my body sailed backwards at an astonishing rate, across the ten or so miles of water that separates Merseyside and Wales.
And that is the last thing I remember about my encounter with the red dragon of Wales, the great guardian of its borders, repeller of English invasion.
I awoke the next morning, scratched and sore in the branches of the apple tree that grows in my front garden.
I was lucky to survive my encounter with the dragon, that’s for sure. But every now and then, when I gaze from my lounge window, I still get the urge to make that short trip across the water to visit those Welsh shores.
Not by air, though. Next time, I’m going to swim for it…

Monday, 16 June 2008


The feeling of floating above the clouds is a queer one.
If you let it, it can take you over. You could get lost in a kingdom of cloud, see castles with soldiers and dragons attacking. Something about these fat mountains, wisping into new dimensions before your eyes, turns one’s head back to childhood dreaming.
I once took my grandfather with me on a transatlantic flight to New York, to visit my sister. It promised to be an uncomfortable journey; a long flight interlaced with stilted conversation and awkward silences. Still, there were always the clouds.
I remember the first time I flew in a plane. I was an adult yet I was stuck to the window in delight as a million synapses fired at once, relaying memories of candy floss and ginger beer, chasing pig-tails and climbing trees, mud seas and bloodied knees. And now I was above all that.
I travel by air routinely now, but it still stirs up some of those feelings, and it did that day flying with grandpa. I looked away from the clouds when I heard the clinking trolley of the air-stewardess but my grandfather, in the window seat today, stared on at the rolling white ocean below us. The stewardess had to touch his shoulder to see if he wanted a drink. She may have been checking to see if he was dead, too.
Then, as we enjoyed an in-flight brandy or two, my grandfather began to speak.
He told me how he had longed to fly above those clouds in his youth; and how he had loved flying above them in his adulthood.
“I would take every opportunity available to me to taste the higher air,” he said, “And get closer to those white angels dancing in the fluffy sky.”
He didn’t look at me many times while he recalled his time amongst the clouds, and at times I couldn’t tell if his memories were real or fantasy. His words were laden with romance and it seemed as though he had at one time managed to grow wings and flown like a migrating swan to reach the heavens.
The war was raging and there he was, a flying delivery boy transporting whatever was needed to wherever he was told.
He said how lucky he was to be able to fly so often back then and recounted a tale from those days:
“Often the sky would run black with smoke and man-made clouds would burst my white castles and set them aflame.
I would stay calm by searching out any little speck of white in the distance and focusing on it and striving towards it with all my might. Anything to leave behind the grey reek of the flak.
I was doing a similar journey to the one we’re on right now, in the June of 1940, when one of my engines caught fire during an attack on our convoy. It spread to the wing so my co-pilot and I bailed out.
In a way, I’d always longed for the chance to jump, the opportunity to step onto the clouds. It almost made me cry when my body flashed through them like they weren’t even there.
They might look substantial, like a dream taken form, but they’re really just clouds of water vapour.
I thought about this as I plummeted, and I didn’t want to open the parachute, not for a long time. But something in me, maybe when I saw those blue Atlantic waters rushing at me, something made me relent and I pulled the ripcord and slowed sufficiently to hit the water safely.
I bobbed around there for a few hours before a passing trade ship happened to spot me. I looked up, helpless once more, and saw the clouds turn to white again.
And as I looked up at that colossal sky I was thinking, ‘Maybe I just picked the wrong cloud? Just the wrong cloud to walk on?’ ”
He finished his drink and then didn’t say anything for a while. I looked and saw that he’d fallen to sleep.
He was back in the land of dreams now, where anything can happen. So when the stewardess brought our dinner I asked her not to wake him.
We let him sleep awhile longer. We let him sleep there in the sky for as long as we could.

Friday, 13 June 2008

The sight of summer

Lillies and rosemary dappled her hair, his lady blossomed in the sunlight. He reached out his hand to help her and she stepped down three garden stairs onto the dew spattered grass.
They were welcoming the dawn in summer, the solstice was upon them.
It was the 21st day of June and they had sneaked over a high wall using a borrowed wooden ladder. They balanced along the tops of the thick brick wall that housed one of the many gardens of Hanley Hall, until they reached a sturdy trellis they thought they might use to descend.
Though it creaked and it strained, these two lithe creatures did not break the wooden latches that allowed tangled vines and creepers to flow upwards, closer to the glowing sun.
And then, running through the Victorian garden, barefoot upon cool morning stone, their clothes and locks flowed with the movement of their youthful grace, their joy and love, like wild ponies prancing.
He bounded now, ahead of her, and jumped through the open gate (left unlocked the day before) into the wonderful hillside meadow at the edge of Lord Hanley’s estate.
Before him the beautiful patchwork of the English countryside cascaded down to the valley and villages below. An amazing sight, the sight he had come to see, paying true homage to the first rise of the midsummer sun.
It was then that he turned around. Turned around and saw his love standing in the gateway of the old garden, staring not at the view but at him. Her eyes told him this was the view she’d come for. Not the first auburn flares of the seasoned sun; not the field and hedgerows, birds and foxes, bathed again in the magical warmth of midsummer. She had come for him.
And as he helped her down into the meadow’s thick green grasses, even he, this lover of the dawn and worshipper of the ever travelling sun, could not unlock his gaze from the wonderful reflection of her eyes.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Stormy weather

Imagine if you spent time labouring over every decision you ever made, every step which took you in a new direction, every person you looked towards.
That was Colin, this was how he was, how he approached most situations.
You see, Colin thought about the future. Colin realised that when he boarded a train he needed to be careful. The decisions he made could change the entire course of his life.
The correct choice of carriage might offer something as simple as a pleasant and quiet place to sit and read. This was important. But then, upon boarding, which side of the carriage to sit on? One may contain that boring guy from the office that Colin always tries to avoid; or it may be holding Chris, who owes him money.
Then, choice of seat is important too. Sitting in the right seat may give the opportunity for some eye contact and subtle flirting with a girl. She might be the girl he’s going to marry, or she might just be willing to sleep with him. Either way, he realises that choice of seat is imperative.
Of course, if he thought about this for too long, and in too much depth, his brain would start to frazzle a little as he realised that stepping inexplicably to the left at any moment might take him out of the path of some unseen falling masonry, or bird shit at the very least!
The difference between a clean and excrement covered shirt might be the difference between a job offer, an interesting conversation with a stranger, perhaps a woman noticing him.
But he realised, almost immediately, he couldn’t live his life like that, constantly second guessing what nature and physics had planned for him. And even if he did, like in the case of the train, realise that his choice was stark and potentially meaningful, should he set himself a rule for decision making such as ‘always go with your first instinct’, or perhaps ‘always do the opposite of what you first consider’? Would such a rule even help him to choose what was the right thing to do?
In the end, all this pondering left him with the realisation that we are all whims to the breezes of fate. Who knows if the right people are going to blow into our lives or not; who knows if we will blow into theirs, and at the right time to affect them?
Colin didn’t believe that luck was anything more than a superstition, but good fortune could be described as having these whimsical breezes work out for you, once in a while.
As Colin sat in the middle carriage, to the right of the train doors, in the second row of seats, first seat on the left facing the direction of travel, he wondered if he was sitting in the eye of a whimsical hurricane.
He stared at the drunk brunette sitting across from him for a few seconds before she stood up and blew away from him forever.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Too much salt

Sienna played with her food. Her pasta tasted too salty, there was never enough pepper on it. She ground out some more and sniffed at the food so that tiny granules of pepper dust tickled at her nostrils. She tried to see if she could stand the tingle, ignore it and control the temptation to sneeze.
She held herself perfectly upright and waited. She blew a little air out of her nose, snorting like a bull. She was calm and in control of her body. She stared with burning concentration out through the kitchen and down the hall where her husband lay.
She’d pushed him down the stairs earlier.
After the palpitations had stopped and she was no longer shaking, she plucked up enough courage to descend the staircase and see if he was still alive.
When she reached the hallway, taking care to step over his body, Sienna found it difficult to be certain of his state of health. She always had difficulty taking a pulse, so she didn’t bother with that. He may have been breathing, shallowly; all she could be sure of was that he was unconscious. He was definitely unconscious.
It was at that point that she realised she was quite hungry. She thought she may as well prepare some pasta. The pappardelle softened and flowed around in the bubbling water on her stove like seaweed or huge tapeworms.
She strained it before it got too soft, added a tomato sauce and grated mozzarella on top. It smelled delightful, but she couldn’t eat it. Just too salty for Sienna. It was always something with Sienna, she would always be complaining about something, always whingeing and moaning and asking her husband for something. No wonder he got angry with her.
Outside her husband groaned. Sienna sneezed.
Her left hand was shaking a little so she pushed her fork slowly into the skin on her left forearm until the shaking stopped. Then, rising purposefully, she moved around the edge of the kitchen table, passed through the open door and stepped along the hall.
Her husband’s head jerked spasmodically and his hands seemed to be reaching, slowly, for the bottom of the balustrade.
She sneezed again and this time she saw him open his eyes and look right into her.
Time hung around her like a curtain made of bridal silk. She was lost in her life for a moment, lost in her youth and beauty, lost in the words he had said to her.
She remembered every time he touched her.
Then time came crashing down around them both and she peeled her eyes from his, allowing them to rest instead upon the baseball bat they kept by the door: ‘to deal with intruders’.
She didn’t even take the time to think of the best place to hit him, in order to keep his injuries consistent with a tumble down the stairs.
Stifling a sneeze, Sienna just swung away.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

The right thing

We ran like wolves in the morning air and the farmer chased us home.
Diving over stone lain walls and through fair thickets of gorse, we flew, Joey and I.
I looked back at him as we raced through Crockett’s Field; my little brother, carrying a pig under his arm and still bounding away from the pursuing farmer like we were racing in play. I smiled back with pride and he smirked - we were nearly at Crockett’s Wood and the farmer would never find us in there.
Before we reached the tree-line, the cruel farmer stopped running, readied his weapon and squeezed off both barrels of his shotgun. I immediately slowed and turned around to make sure Joey had made it. He careered on by me without a care in the world and I gestured my disapproval towards the farmer with my right hand, while picking up a hard grey stone with the other. The farmer readied himself to fire again as I ducked into the cool dark of the wood.
Joey was nowhere to be seen, but I could hear the squealing of the baby pig issuing from the woodland depths. “Kill the damned thing,” I hissed through gritted teeth, “stick it now!” Up the slow roll of the sloping field trudged the farmer, gun-toting and steely.
There was little time to find Joey and silence the swine. We had a chance to escape the hot buckshot by using the tree cover, but the idea had been to climb and hide in silence. Now this small animal threatened both our lives.
I skipped between the trees, my eyes on the ground, my ears pricked for the piglet. Bounding over the ageless roots that grew like twisted tumours in the ancient recesses of the forest I heard the cracking of twigs and the shifting of branches that said the farmer was not far behind. When this was followed by the report of a weapon and the sound of shot thudding into a trunk, I had to end my pursuit of Joey and climb the nearest tree for sanctuary.
Heart pounding I scanned the forest floor below for signs of movement. The pig whimpered on somewhere nearby, but I could not see it or my brother below.
And then came the farmer into the scene. I remember him, a brooding presence in cap and weather-beaten coat, his face was never clear. He seemed to have locked onto something now and advanced with stealth and purpose, gun poised and pointed at some large green ferns nearby. As he came towards my tree I pulled out the cold grey stone from my pocket and held it over the edge of my branches, waiting for the target to pass underneath.
I was sweating so much and felt that the noise of my pounding heart would surely give away my position at any moment. Still, he was beneath me now and all I had to do was open my hand and put him down.
“Drop it, drop it now,” the words ran repeatedly through my head, but I found myself fighting them hard. It wasn’t me, to do this. I couldn’t maim this man, no matter what harm he had suggested to do me.
As he passed by safely, without hope of return and another chance of falling under my stone, I remember being struck by such pangs of guilt. Yes, I had avoided the possibility of causing serious injury to this man, but I had left him to my brother; I had deserted Joey.
I find it hard to describe this feeling, but it was like something nearly frozen was being pumped all over my body, that’s all I can say about it.
There he was, the farmer, parting the ferns now with the end of his shotgun, getting ready to catch and then punish my poor brother. I sat there though, remained in my tree and did nothing while the scene unfolded, while the farmer slowly prodded inside and the pig began to squeal. He then stamped the ferns down flat and I closed my eyes, waiting for the scream.
But no more noise came.
I opened half of one eye and squinted to see the farmer bending down to retrieve a lone piglet. He rummaged around the rest of the thick vegetation but found nothing. Joey was nowhere to be seen and relief flooded my senses, melting my juddering body.
He soon gave up and, with a stern look about him, the farmer marched away from the ill twilight of Crockett’s Wood.
I waited up there, in the tree, for what must have been five minutes before risking the drop to the floor. Once on the ground I crouched and gave our secret call - three croaks and a twitter - like the woodcock. Suddenly, Joey crashed to the forest floor behind me.
“I dropped the pig, I’m very sorry Henry,” he said and looked like he was going to cry. “I did try hard to find him again, very hard, I swear I did.”
I wanted to hug him then and tell him how scared I was for him and that I was sorry I didn’t do a better job of protecting him, but my brain was numb and I couldn’t order my thoughts any longer.
So I just grabbed him by the collar and turned for home, dragging him through the forest with contempt.
He was my little brother, you see. I was wretched and he was my responsibility, so we just always did what we did.
Somehow, this always seemed to be alright.

Monday, 9 June 2008

The curse of Berabenar

Berabenar had cursed himself. A transformation spell gone horribly wrong, his body was in disarray surging into uncontrollable creatures, shapes and other ungodly things. Only the Green Witch could help him now, could stop his bodily flux. So he set off on a tiring and bewildering journey to her door, as his body pulsed into everything you (or he) could imagine.
Great boils pockmarked the wizard's flesh, before it became bark and the boils were simply gnarls in the wood. He had been walking for a mere thirty seconds before his legs, at once horse and lizard, became pond weed and he collapsed like harvested corn.
His fingers oozed, but every now and then they became solid enough for him to drag his infinite carcass another step or so along the road. The night was as black as the soul of Azamoth, and he was thankful that the sun's tyrant master had sewn up the very eyes of the stars so that no light could illuminate his grotesquery.
He oozed ever onward. Two hours had passed and his blasphemy had ailed Berabenar. Longing for sustenance, he saw that his form became more gelatinous, more able to spread across the dark lane. A huge spider happened across his path. His teeth were leaves but his tongue was of a frog and he lashed the spider with horrible force and spontaneity. It retracted into his beak, biting horribly at his feathery cheeks, and then it was gone, crushed into the lava of flesh and fauna beyond.
He guessed he was still an hour's slide from the door of Hulldimble, the Green Witch of the North Pastures. She lived on the village's north-eastern edge so he needn't risk detection and certain immolation by passing through the streets of Casterdale.
Then, growing the strong legs of some giant tarantula he found the strength and speed to scuttle onward to his goal, the spider had burned in the furnace of his body and revitalised him. As he approached the village boundaries his legs began to pool. They flowed like ugly syrup now, and he felt himself collapsing into this sludge. A horse whinnied and he looked in horror as a lone rider approached him.
The shadow of the forest canopy provided cover from the eyes of the rider. A strong man, probably travelling home after some secret assignation, rode as quietly as possible over the cobbled ground. He hushed the horse, who no doubt smelt the rotting of a creature in the forest before him. The wizard had no control and his tongue slithered greedily and flatly across the forest carpet to the edge of the sturdy Casterdale pathway.
The horse stepped onto the simple slime that was now Berabenar and reared up. The rider caught hold of the reins and steadied. The horse bucked and turned around, its legs seemed to sink into something acidic and it cried out. Thrashing frantically the steed loosed the rider and gained the strength to bolt away though its limb twisted and broke and the horse collapsed into a verge.
The rider had fallen face-first into the puddle of moss and scum. Ferns grew and twisted around his head so he could not scream, would never scream. Roses grew through his body and leech like arms attached themselves to his body or vanished into orifices. His body convulsed in seeming agonies but no cries could be heard.
At last the flesh formed again and engulfed the man. The wizard took on a truer form, though he was now eight feet tall and carried the bulk of a man who had feasted on man. Replenished, and in some control of his flux, he staggered onwards. Torches now flickered in the village, stirred by the neighs of the broken horse. The wizard faltered, sweating, but his path was straight now and time evaporated until the moment he crashed through the door of Hulldimble's cottage.
She was feeding a serpent from her breast. She looked up and smiled…

Thanks to Matt for the inspiration for this tale.

Friday, 6 June 2008

From 'The Ballad of Sir Ravenscroft'

I'm away for a few days so thought I'd post this strange little horror/fantasy tale. A group of friends and I were taking turns to write the next part of a story. The scene set is of a knight returning home to see his castle beset by strange creatures. It's silly, but offers a little escapism, anyway...

From a distance of perhaps 100 yards the gallant knight watched as his loved ones were thrown to the death giving ground below them. In a fraction of a second he witnessed a pair of leathery wings flop across the infernal scene and snatch a falling carcass, which was borne away over the encroaching forest and soon into the cloudscape. The other figure hit the inner bank below the castle wall and rolled slowly into the slim black moat.
Sir Ravenscroft sped on foot towards the base of the east tower. In the oily, fetid stream he spied thick black hair, growing heavy and sinking fast. He reached in, aware that his arms could be ripped from his body by some demoniac mouth beneath the surface. But it was little relief to drag from the stinking mire the broken body of his lady fair.
He traced her purple lips with his gauntleded finger. They seem burned and lacerated by a blasphemous kiss. Her clothing was torn and her body showed infinite signs of torment and torture at the sport of damnation. Blood dripped thickly down her legs and he fell hard on her chest in untold agonies, anguish his soul had not known could exist, despite witnessing the full horrors of Moorish battle.
The impact of his weight drew a sudden, sharp, agonising breath from the body of his wife. "John," she spoke in gurgled guttural tones, "Leopald, I tried to save Leopald. He lives yet." Sir Ravenscroft longed to look into the beautiful eyes of his wife once more before her life ebbed to a close. He expected to see horror and fear there and wished to insist they saw only peace before she met God. Yet as he brushed back her bloodied hair he gazed only upon two blistered sockets, scolded and torn with worms burrowing holes into the softest fleshes within.
The last thing his poor wife would have heard was the sound of her husband retching and heaving in paroxysms of revulsion.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

A feeling for falling

On the street.
Looking down from windows
At aerial photographs,
New roads seem cobbled;
Victorian retro
Smoothed by feet.

Tom was pottering in his flat. His windows were open in the summer sunshine and light was pouring through as small clouds passed.
It was like in some cheap advert for washing powder; the freshness really was coming in, injecting his entire room with the scent of pollen and wild grasses.
He allowed himself a moment to enjoy this, to be infected by the season, before looking at the images he’d set in front of him.
Scattered scenes, in a square format, these nine prints were laid out in even rows of three on the table. Each photograph measured six by six inches and their arrangement, on the floor, became a pleasing square of squares.
Each colour image represented a different view, a window on the world, captured by Tom, of a view of the ground directly below, taken from a variety of heights.
The overall appearance of these various bird’s eye views, when seen together on the floor, was of falling through several spaces at once, towards a multiple of floors.
The first time Tom had stood over this strange world of gravity and seen all these different ways to fall, all these different grounds to rush forward and catch a brittle body, he was quite shocked and had to sit down.
A little later he viewed it with awe, later still and he was pleased with the work he had done. Vistas, opened up with snapshots.
He had sucked these images from the world over the past year of his life by taking a vintage camera with him, virtually everywhere he went, and looking out for interesting windows.
Once one was spotted, an estimated reading for distance and light had to be made and then, quite carefully, Tom would reach a slender arm out of the window, point the camera’s lens directly at the earth below and open the shutter.
The process was a little ‘hit and miss’! Without the luxuries of auto-focus, a light-meter or range-finder, the shots would often appear out of focus or incorrectly exposed. And there was always the wind to contend with.
Still, nine pretty decent images were the result. Interesting individually, Tom felt they created a powerful whole. Jennifer was coming over soon, to view the finished article, and Tom was quite excited at the prospect.
They were now ready for framing. He’d spent hours deliberating over their order, their suitability in place of about four discarded others, and the effect of the ‘overall’. Now, he felt it was almost finished.
Slowly, Tom picked them up, print by print and slid them into a frame he’d had specially made with nine perfectly spaced and separated mounts fitted.
As he sealed the frame, placed the completed artwork on the wall of his flat and stepped back to look at it, he was not struck by it as he first had been. In fact, he was not struck by it at all.
There was no feeling of falling, there was little in the way of synchronicity, flow or a majestic whole; there were just nine disparate images staring back at him. Nine snaps of broken concrete slabs, black bobs of hair and thin spikes of wire and cable criss-crossing it all.
Tom looked at the frame, and then his watch in a dazed panic. Rushing to the window, Jennifer’s bobbing head blurred into view, sliced by myriad railings. Time stopped moving for Tom until a buzzer sounded on his door and awaited his usual reaction.
Defeated again, Tom plodded towards the door. As the latch clicked open, somewhere a vintage camera slipped from a hand and was obliterated, smashing to a hundred tiny pieces on a hard and greedy street below.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

A quiet

I love it when the night melts away,
Silently seeping into dawn.

Those serene still hours that fade like a dream.
Moments when nothing happens
That are some of the best of our lives,
Some of the most memorable.

Those times when one no longer knows what time it is…
The watch face fades and the ticking joins the calm
Of the warm still night air.

To float with those lost hours -
The soul quiet, the body so relaxed -
Heightens all that we need not force:
and love.

At these times we lie unmoving and understand;
The closest we will be to peace on Earth.

In this state of bliss, its very concepts are challenged,
Channelled through the dim light of lamp or candle.
Its slow spark, electric, eclectic,
Travels short distances… which is enough.

All are close at this time.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

The works of Stranger Tom

Stopping at the blistered door,
The dwarf explained what lay in store:
‘A stranger man than I’, says him,
‘Called ‘Stranger Tom’, resides within.
With mouth of claw and hand of tongue
A statue, made by gods gone wrong,
Then given damned life,
Abomination, scales and strife…’

Tom had taken to writing poems about himself.
In these he would always manifest as some type of ghoulish creation, a grave robber’s nightmare come to life.
He couldn’t say what had brought out this new found affection for the romantic poet in him, nor why he saw fit to so distort himself within the verse. But, as he scribbled away on the page, he would find himself contented; and when he would read them back to himself later, he would be smiling. ‘This can only be a good thing,’ he thought.
Earlier that day, Jennifer had taken her place at Tom’s side in the canteen for lunch. Tom was enjoying a rather fine salad of gruyere and cherry tomatoes with avocado and wild rice. It was a strange combination of his own dreaming and he thought the flavours complemented one another, perfectly.
Jennifer baulked, as usual, when he peeled back the blue plastic lid of the Tupperware container. She’d say things like, “oh my”, or “quite ghastly”, in a manner, so clichĂ©d, Tom believed she must have borrowed it straight from Austen. Of course, that was a prime reason why he was so fond of her.
Jennifer stroked her long brown hair with affectation. Bending her neck back as she did so, Tom realised he was supposed to notice something: “I see, you have a new necklace - very fetching, Jennifer.”
“Oh this? Do you like it, Tom? Do you, really? Oh, why, it’s nothing really. My little Arnold bought it for me, actually. Brought it back from the East recently. It’s jade.”
The mention of Arnold’s name frustrated Tom, always, but he always let it pass without showing a flicker of emotion. If Jennifer had worked out how much it annoyed Tom then she was certainly a cunning psychologist and a keen manipulator of men.
Tom stared at Jennifer’s beautiful neck and sighed. His eyes flickered and held there, not daring to look lower in case she might be watching, daring him to embarrass himself with a brief inspection of her cleavage. The temptation burned him for many seconds until she mercifully relaxed and let her hair pour back down around her shoulders.
“So, how are things between you two then?” asked Tom, as uninterestedly as he could muster. He picked up his pen before continuing, “Is the ground still a little shaky?”
“Oh no, not at all Tom, dear. Well, at least not any more,” she replied.
“Well, I mean, I know we don’t talk that much - like you and I do - but there’s something about him that still drives me wild,” she went on.
“I mean, you’re such a pretty and handsome thing, poor Tom; but he’s a brute, raw and animal. Drives me quite delirious, sometimes, I can tell you.”
Tom’s teeth ground and his face wrinkled, ever so slightly, but his eyes remained stoic. He started scribbling in his notebook.
“Ah now, Tom, what on earth are you writing there?” she asked. “It’s nothing,” he replied, “just some verse.”
“Oh gosh, poetry? Let me read it Tom, please won’t you let me?”
Tom hunched over his work, as if trying to hide it, but he left a corner of the paper exposed and didn’t stir when she grabbed and pulled it from under him.
Her eyes opened wide and she devoured the lines, hungrily. Tom gripped hard his pen and watched as her entire head seemed to roll along and then spill over each of his syllables like they were the crests of waves.
“Oh dear, how frightful!” she exclaimed, grinning.

This marks a welcome return to the blog for Stranger Tom - I'd almost forgotten about him... Here's his first appearance.

Monday, 2 June 2008

The taste of chicory

Chicory hit his tongue and warm tingles of happiness touched his spine, delighting the fibrous links of his shell-like neck with hot electrical current, coursing up and down his nervous system.
It smelt strangely of death to him. He reached out again, daring to touch and to taste the frazzled mess that had been dropped before him by Lillian, earlier that gruesome day.
He loved to eat; even more, he loved to eat what she had made, no matter how burnt it was.
“Oh baby,” cried Lillian from the stove where she worked, “Won’t you eat some more food for momma?”
The man looked about him, slightly bewildered at where the sound was coming from. Lillian turned around. Her cold old face was tired, sagging like the bough of an oak. She lived now, only to satisfy her man.
Through a hole in the screen door of the kitchen, someone was looking at the domestic scene. He was at a fair distance but he focused now upon the man sitting at the wooden kitchen table, picking at a charred carcass.
It was difficult for the viewer to pin-point the sitting man's age. All he could say was that he was between twenty-five and fifty years old. For a man who liked to be accurate, this anomaly gnawed at him.
He’d seen this creature before, knew his name was Timothy, but even though he’d once walked right up to him and shaken his hand, he’d left none the wiser as to his true age. His only impression of Timothy - with his raggedy checked shirt, wild eyes and always sweating brow - was that this was a wretched man, an idiot, a worthless soul. Every breath he tasted was a waste of another’s last gasp of oxygen.
Now, this man stood in the long grasses of the field outside Timothy’s house and viewed him through the crosshairs of a magnified hunting scope. He squinted in the bright sunlight and was able to make out a fresh wound upon Timothy’s balding pate. He reasoned that this was concurrent with a wound that might be sustained during a car accident.
This man knew that Timothy’s car was still running on the lane near his farm. There was blood, fur and feathers smeared across the dirt track and covering the bumper of Timothy’s car. The car’s engine was puttering helplessly, its protective bonnet embedded in a tree. Tracks and blood led towards Timothy and Lillian’s house.
“Now you finish that off now, Timothy,” cried Lillian to him, “And I’ll get to cooking up the rest of it.”
Timothy was over the strange flavour of the chicory and had set to ripping apart the burnt flesh with his fingers, then sucking on the tender parts, extracting juice and rich flavours, before tearing chunks off with his teeth and swallowing greedily. Lillian looked on, nodding.
A single gunshot rang out across the fields and no-one stirred much. The wound on Timothy’s head bled anew. It gushed out onto the grey lifeless meat before him and Lillian cried for her Timothy then and tried to put the blood back in his head.

Friday, 30 May 2008


Just to prove it's not all dark and serious on this blog, here's a frivolous little poem for the weekend...

The other day, behind a tree,
A friend of note, he said to me
That Princess Di was alive and well
In a Nicaraguan prison cell;
Guarded almost day and night
By burly men, some black – most white.
They captured her, in quite a coup,
In a factory where she’d made a shoe.
‘Twas a publicity stunt of sorts
‘Til they gagged the press and shot her escorts.
The workers were paid for their silence and fears,
Largest amount that they’d seen in years!
And when the palace got word they employed a double,
To run the press around and avoid any trouble.
But when the palace got worried that the papers would twig,
Their efforts were doubled – the endeavour was big -
Until sooner, or later, from upstairs it was said
That somewhere, and sometime, someone be made dead.
So they wheeled out these actors for some accident deal,
Then actually killed them so the pictures looked real.
They paid off the assassins with cigars and French beers,
And then paid off the media with the country’s own tears.
So everyone was happy at the end of the tale -
Except maybe 'whatshername' locked up in jail -
And no more of interest was said to unfold,
Plus it’s all gospel truth, so my friend has been told,
But a bigger liar than him you could not hope to meet,
You see, Diana’s okay, she lives on our street.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

The scream

You’ve been straining for too long. The wind is lashing rain into your face now, coming down in leather straps across you. You can’t hold it in. You unleash the scream.
Drenched shoppers, already bewildered and straining to see under their hats and hoods spin round deliriously to locate the source of the sound.
Their dread faces pale when they see you, all tousled hair and see-through clothes. A child weeps, but he was crying before the tumult.
The scream, a success. Not so powerful, because you were already out of breath from your struggle with the elements, but impressive all the same. It got you what you crave more than anything else. Attention.
You flop down now, at the corner of a department store, where the rain falls in bitter torrents. The noise it made as it hit the pavement in one continual tubular splosh was heavy handed, powerful, so the excitement builds as you put your head under it. The water knocks at your skull, trepanning a hole into your soul.
You sit down for a moment, wondering how long you can take it. Your vision fades momentarily. Maybe this is the end? Ah, but someone is shouting something at you. Come on, wake up, get up, clear off.
You’re scaring people. You. You’re the scary one. And as you are kicked to your feet and moved along, your wretched vision returns and you catch your reflection in the store window, standing aghast, between two perfectly tailored shop dummies.
You really are a wretched thing, making yourself so sick. You realise now the error you made. You were inside, you were sheltered and safe, before the rains came. But you couldn’t stay in. You’re sick of in. In is the old out.
So you took the only clothes you have in the world and you paraded them across the half-empty streets where you live. Sassing through soggy gutters and tangoing down gushing alleys, you sang a song to the blind twins who threw flowers at you from their open window. It all seemed so magical back then.
You’re shivering now and you can’t feel your feet. You’re shunting disgusted people, heading for underground trains and early evening assignations. They probably hate you more than you hate yourself.
You figure you’ve got a window of opportunity of maybe twenty minutes. Twenty minutes to somehow sneak onto the underground and then get back to the room and get naked. Get undressed before you pass out somewhere, an action which will bring with it the unfortunate consequence of almost certain death.
At the barrier you hesitate for a moment. Your mind wanders. Do you really want to jump the gate and run for a train? Do you really want to go back to that room and save yourself for another night? Do you really want to see what the sky looks like in the morning?
Only you know the answers to those questions. But, whatever they were, however you tossed them around in your mind, you’ve hopped the barrier, you’re running and you’re feeling warmer already. The train has stopped and its doors are slowly sliding open for you.
This instinct, this will to survive. It’s still so strong.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Something changed

Philip watched the raindrops clinging hard to the telephone wires. They spread a thick web out from a pole near his bedroom window, some sections shooting into the wall beneath his feet and then surely burrowing in and infesting it.
Slight gusts of wind tugged aimlessly at the black lace web. It was almost as if he could see the wind moving around it, being sheared in two by the thin wire.
The rain clung only to the higher wires, the ones that connected to the tops of the three-storey town houses on his street. Here the slope from pole to wall was so gradual that the rain didn’t run along the wires to escape into porous brickwork.
It seemed trapped. Looking down at a concrete street that it would seemingly never reach. Somehow it was locked, hooked, to its cabled web. Its only hope for respite or transcendence lay in a sudden, sharp gust of wind to rattle the line into throbbing life and send water droplets sailing haphazardly through the air. Or, else, for the clouds to part and the sun to suck its crystalline tears back up into the skies.
They probably shouldn’t have had sex last night. That was Philip’s take on the situation, now he’d had time to reflect.
He’d been waiting a long time, and the night was warm and the kissing as passionate as ever it had been, but now, as he gazed out of his bedroom window, he didn’t see any problem with waiting some more.
Tina felt the same way. It was the first thing he read this morning when he turned on his mobile phone, her thoughts on the sex.
He’d gone to sleep with mingling feelings of elation and maturity sending his mind giddy, and he’d woken up with a boot pushing into his guts.
He went to the bathroom and spent a good five minutes looking at his body, his face in the mirror. Maybe there might be something different he’d notice. A mark on his waist, perhaps, a certain look in his eyes or a smirk he couldn’t shift. But all seemed the same.
Down to breakfast and another quick glance in the hall mirror. He sat as casually as he could manage. His parents were finishing their cereal and swilling coffee around their mouths, the final wake-up call before the journey to work.
He waited a moment for them to say something, for them to smell something different about him; his new found reek of manliness, or her, unwashed from his body. But they strove on with their very busy lives, stuffing toast into their mouths and wishing him a good day. Feed the cat, do some homework; the things they always said.
Philip drank some pure orange juice and munched half-heartedly at a round of toast. He looked at the phone on the counter-top and thought about calling Tina. Instead, he slouched back upstairs, lay down upon his bed and inspected his penis.
It looked the same as always. Nothing seemed different about it, and it grew in his hands as he pulled and prodded at it. Soon enough his thoughts turned to some beautiful woman, naked and purring beside him. He made very sure that his thoughts did not turn towards Tina.
Outside his bedroom window a blackbird landed clumsily on a slowly throbbing wire sending raindrops scattering. One by one they plopped sadly down onto the hard grey ground below.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

The routine

The old man gazed up from his garden at the tenderly bruising sky.
It seemed, to him, such an imprecise cosmos. A network of constant enjambment, flowing across and into itself. There was nothing constant enough about the stars, they never came out at the same time. Tonight, the little twinkling greenish one had come out long before the large yellow point of light that usually dominated the scene above his home.
Shaking his head and looking at his wristwatch he laughed the laugh of disbelief, as men do when their morning train is delayed. Must everything in this ridiculous universe be so random and uncooperative?
He would spend five more minutes watching the stars and having a smoke before he’d go in and check on Samantha. She usually liked to have a cup of tea around now.
Samantha was propped up in bed, like always. He could rely on his Samantha. She would be sitting there with a smile for him and a hand to hold.
What was she watching? A quiz show, there’s always a quiz show on at this time. She loved to watch them and once had a very good general knowledge. Maybe she still knows some of the answers, but she never says them.
She won’t say her husband’s name anymore, either. Each time he looks at her, his heart winces a little at the thought she can’t remember his name. He puts that thought away, soon enough. Maybe she just doesn’t want to say it anymore. Perhaps that’s it. Her smile is worth so much more than a name and it heals his heart a little, for each bite that is taken from it.
They are enjoying the quiz show, tonight, until a stupid answer from one of the contestants causes the man to start shouting at the screen. Samantha grabs his arm and links hers with it, stroking at him, calming him. He looks at her for as long as he can, bites at the inside of his cheek and tells her he is going to make another cup of tea.
It takes him three minutes longer to make than usual, and he forgets to add sugar. He sits back down on the bed and sips at the tea. It is hot and bitter, but he forces himself to drink it.
Has she noticed things failing around the house? He wonders about this, often. The roof is leaking, the front door has a cracked pane of glass, the old wireless radio’s reception is so poor, and there may be mice in the loft space. Has anything in this old house changed for her?
The old man has taken to testing his arms. He holds each up in the air for closer inspection. The muscle tone seems lesser each day and he counts the seconds in his head before each starts to shake uselessly, just about staving off atrophy.
He’s smoking again. An hour later and Samantha will start falling asleep. She’s always woken back up again, in the morning. It sounds silly to think about it, but he always does.
He tells her, how much he relies on her. He holds her hand and tells her this, as she slowly drifts off to sleep. How reliable she is, the only thing he can count on in this entire world.
When he’s sure she’s asleep, he goes and showers. He feels fresh again, after the impact of the day. He puts on clean clothes and combs his white hair back.
He turns off all the lights and checks on Samantha once more. She is sleeping and she will sleep through until morning, now, just as she does every day.
Lovely Samantha. He kisses her on the forehead and then walks out the front door.
He won’t look back now. He’ll cross the road and pass three houses to his left, before knocking on the door of the first bungalow. A lady called Margaret greets him with a kiss. She calls him Frank and she takes his coat.
He fixes himself a drink and she tells him she’ll be home late tomorrow - she’s out with the girls. He shakes his head and then takes her to bed.
He reminds her to set the alarm. He has to remind her about this, every single day.
He has to be ready in the morning. He has to be there, first thing. Be the first thing Samantha sees when she opens her lovely eyes.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Summits and streams

We picked our way along the gravel banks of the river, a trickle in its summer wane.
Me, barefoot in the light of the rising sun, looking around for a sturdy branch to assist my travails. Others streamed about me, reflecting the river and spilling forth along the well-trodden path leading to the summit of Mount Urnath. So many sinners, creating a fluid backbone - the black spine of God’s mountain.
In the car park below, I had taken off my socks and shoes and held the stones and dirt between my feet, as if for the first time. My two boys, Donald and Reece, were joining me today. They looked so excited by the spectacle, all these people, gathered together to climb a mountain.
The boys kept their trainers on and said they’d scout ahead for a sturdy stick. From bitter experience, I knew I’d need one.
Thousands would make the journey from the hospitable car park - where kind ladies served tea and orange juice - to the rugged peak above. Most would do it barefoot.
I chatted to some of my fellow travellers as we followed the burbling River Streath to the base of the mountain.
Donald came back with a long brown stick. It was perfect, and I told him so. A smart height to help my hobbling, and its gnarls would provide a good grip for my hands. Reece followed on behind, annoyed and bitter that he didn’t find the stick, didn’t receive the praise.
I ruffled his hair and asked if he’d tell the story of the mountain and why we were climbing it today.
He gave a beautifully flowery account of when the monk, St Neil of Urnath, first heard the voice of God asking him to go barefoot up the grey mountain, on the 16th of August, 1622.
When he reached the summit he got down on his hands and knees, begging forgiveness for his sins and promising to atone for his wrongdoings, in the eyes of God.
At this, he was dazzled by a wondrous light and a great warmth, which he said was paradise revealed to him; the peaceful heart of Christ. From that moment, the barren mountain-top around was said to have sprung to life, with all manner of mosses, lichens, grasses and trees beginning to grow.
St Neil stayed, weeping with joy for three hours, before climbing down to tell his fellow monks in the nearby abbey about the miracle that had occurred.
I smiled as he told the story, my youngest, blessed with a gift for speech and storytelling. I could tell other travellers, other pilgrims were listening too, impressed with the zeal of Reece, like a young John the Baptist or, perhaps, St Paul himself.
Halfway up the mountain, small streams burst out of the heather and criss-cross the mountain path. Donald and Reece had to carefully step past them, but I was only too happy to let the cooling waters wash and sploosh over my blistered and bloodied feet.
I’m not sure if it is best to concentrate on the pain or rather meditate about God and think only of the summit. Should I be glorifying every crippling step, remembering Christ’s path to Golgotha? Or should I attempt to transcend this purely physical process of pain and struggle?
The war in my head, created by these two concepts, usually causes my annual journey to the peak of Urnath to be one of real anguish. But then, that’s no bad thing, I think.
Donald tells me he’ll accompany me bare-foot, next year. He wants to show me he’s a man. I nod at him, though I know I won’t let him. But, one year…
We reach the summit after just over an hour’s climb. Thankfully Urnath is not the highest of peaks. The summit is packed, people are everywhere - kneeling down and begging forgiveness for their sins.
It is organised chaos, though. There are two lines, two fast moving queues. One moves towards a small covered area where a Catholic priest is taking Confession.
People need to be kept moving, you see. They need to start their journey back down the mountain before the summit becomes dangerously crowded. It seems almost like a drive-through confessional though, God forgive me!
The boys join the Confessional queue, whereas I join the line for Penance. I drag my dusty feet along towards the two robed monks, remnants of the same order of St Neil of Urnath’s.
This queue moves a little slower, though a little more certainly. Each man, in turn, removes his shirt, and kneels beside the monks. One monk washes your back with holy water. You make the Sign of the Cross, and say the Act of Contrition. Then the two monks take turns striking your back with birch twigs.
Sometimes, as the blows rain down, I look to the sky to see if paradise will be revealed to me. But today I find myself looking towards the ground.
I notice that the well-trampled summit is almost devoid of the green life God once ignited here. I notice the red streams trickling out across the brown dirt floor.
And I notice my own tears, falling to the ground, mingling easily with the dirt and the blood. Such beautiful anguish, and my mind is clear once more.

100 Tales reached...

Hi guys,

I've just noticed that my post 'The end of summer' marked the 100th Daily Tale posted!

It's nice to reach a milestone. Thanks to everyone for reading them and all the great comments. Really appreciated.


Friday, 23 May 2008

The end of summer

He’d been seeing her for a month now.
Though he had difficulty remembering the night they met, he felt he could remember every moment of his life since then.
Juddering, sensual moments in her company; anxious tedious times without her. Each second of this month seemed engraved upon his mind, and would be forever after.
Long summer nights spent wrapped together. Closeness, he always wanted her nearby, despite the humidity and the natural heat. She told him once that she liked to sweat. She told him everything he’d ever wanted a woman to tell him.
And, on balconied mornings, watching the sun rise over the city, he’d open himself up to her, pouring it all free, bathing her in himself to see if she could stand it.
When she went, his sweat would turn cold. His mind raced with fear. Would she return that evening? Why would she come back? Why did she ever have to leave?
That evening he resolved to remedy this issue. His was a turbulent mind, but within it he saw a straight line heading towards clarity and followed it there. Followed it to the roof terrace with a glass of 30 year old Macallan in hand, sullied by a single ice-cube.
When she arrived, she followed his hand-drawn paper signs and arrows, through the apartment and out onto the roof terrace.
The garden was blooming with lavender and hydrangea bushes, the drone of insects was louder than the traffic, up there in the clouds.
He said he had something important to ask her, so she sat upon a low brick wall. She lit two cigarettes, one for each of them, though he set his down on the brickwork.
Then he poured himself upon her once more. He gushed, he cried a little, he got on bended knee before his proposal was done.
And she accepted, with crystalline tears streaking her own beaming face. They stood and embraced as the sun dropped lower behind the skyscrapers.
They talked and drank for the rest of the night, though she said she couldn’t stay with him - she needed to go home. To go home and pick up some things. She could not be dissuaded.
He held onto her company for as long as he could. She unclasped herself around 3am.
The CCTV cameras in the lift recorded her face, smiling broadly for the entire duration of her ride to the ground floor.
One also recorded the moment when her face turned to horror, upon the opening of the lift doors onto the lobby. A different camera watched as one gunshot pierced her breast, and another struck her temple.
Her fiancé, high up in the penthouse, was already sweating without her near. He had resolved to go after her, to retrieve her and he was already punching the button to call the elevator.
He was already watching so eagerly as the blessed machine joyously counted the floors - up, up, up - up to his high apartment.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

The mother lode

A cringing performance, but she felt she was in. Now she just needed to seal the deal, so to speak, and she could think about asset stripping.
It doesn’t matter where she met him, a bar, a party, a hotel lobby, they were all the same to her - all places where she might meet the rich.
She almost let him go. She almost sidled by, without even allowing him the pleasure of her smile. Just as she approached she heard him order surely the cheapest scotch they had on the bar.
What kept her interested was what was clamped to the arm he used to point out the bottle of Chivas Regal, sitting forlornly at the side of the Johnnie Walker. She admired the man’s gold watch for a few seconds. Certainly his attire spoke of money, but why go for the cheapest drink? Was he simply putting on a front? Was he grifting too?
She had to ask about the drink. Unembarrassed he laughed and said he hated it. The conversation continued and he explained that he loved fine Scottish single malts, that he loved them a little too much, on occasion. So he would always start the night with the cheapest blended whisky he could find, something to make him feel a little ill, in order to remind him not to over-indulge.
The story was good enough for the woman. She invited the man to a booth and eyed him carefully. Not bad looking, not too old, in good shape. Better than so many others. She listened to him intently and played with the collar of his shirt, almost out of gratefulness.
He overindulged that night and she took him home in a cab. Wondering if it was worth playing the long game over this one, she insisted on helping him up to his apartment. He’d said it was the penthouse, but she had to see for sure.
Sure enough, the button press came with the turn of a key and the lift doors opened upon a lavish and spacious apartment suite. She put him to bed, left her number in eye-liner on his pillow, and exited with a feeling of elation which she tried her best to dampen. She kept it in check until she opened the door to her own apartment, but by then the scream could be suppressed no longer.
The mother lode. The mother lode was going to call her in the morning.