Thursday, 15 May 2008


Excuses raged about inside his head, though as he attempted to speak of them he heard his conscience arguing against them and instead stayed silent.
His trembling hand slowly reached across to the grey device on the table in front of him. He felt the raised shapes on the buttons; squares and triangles.
Shutting the light from his eyes and his head, he concentrated on the reasoning going on inside his skull. Why was he fighting himself, his reasons?
The realisation came that, deep down, he knew he had always been fully aware of what he was doing. His so called reasons could not be thought of as any excuse. He was definitely guilty.
The young man tried to focus his thoughts. There was no light to dazzle his brain, but the low whirring sound from the dictaphone he fondled filled his ears, growing annoying and irritating.
He stopped holding the small rectangular device, laid it down and pressed the button furthest on its right. A short click and the whirring died. The man was alone with his thoughts.
After a period of darkness that was impossible to quantify he screamed. He said aloud: "It honestly wasn't my fault," and he seemed to be trying to convince himself. He put his head in his hands and wept, until he slept.
A buzz awoke him with a start.
The man leapt from his seat - he’d needed that sleep - and again came the short buzz, clearer and sharper now that he was more alert. His eyes snapped towards the closed curtain where daylight fought to find the slightest gap through which to gain entrance into his lamp-lit room.
His glance swung to a digital clock display. Its bold red figures screamed at him that it was now 10.30 in the morning. The buzzer sounded once more and he calmly pulled the cord that turned off his desk-top lamp. He had an idea who might be at the door. It was about time for them to call.
The letterbox on his front door rattled open, a voice filtered through: "Hello Mr James, are you at home? Just like a quick word, sir. Come along."
Silence was easily managed and the letterbox rattled shut. The door was thumped a number of times before footsteps slowly faded away into the morning.
He considered rooting out the binoculars and peeling back the curtains to spy his would-be visitor. Though he was twenty-three floors up, he feared the windows would now be watched around the clock.
Still, he felt pretty safe behind ‘Fort Knox’, the affectionate name for his front door. Not as flimsy as the original doors, his landlord had been pleased to allow him to install it. It took an age to unlock, though.
His attention returned to the miniature machine on his desk. “How technology had advanced,” he marvelled within his head. “How small things have become.” His thoughts drifted between the confession he had recorded and his recent caller.
How many were there? How long before they called again?
It was a strange thing to know you’d never safely set foot beyond your apartment again. Life become a sort of flimsy toy, one that you treasured but knew you couldn’t stitch its head back on, when next it fell off.
He began to wonder why he had assumed he would simply be able to hide from his past deeds, hide from consequence. They would not stop looking for him, they would always look for him.
Over the coming hours, more mental anguish awaited.
He remembered his normal life. He thought about the concept of guilt and tried to sneer. He remembered the darkness he worked in. His little machines. His playthings. The pump of adrenaline. The deafening noise. The screams and suffering. His powerful hands, the catalysts. And then reliving it all on the television when he made it home.
Looking around he saw another remnant of his past, his ordinary briefcase. A useful thing to carry during rush hour for a faceless man, someone who blended in. The sales pitch for this brand had been that the case could withstand the impact of a charging elephant. Its owner had never tested this claim, but he certainly hoped it to be true.
When next his doorbell sounded, he stood up, opened his curtains and unclasped the window.
About twelve hours since the last call and it was dark now.
There were to be no more buzzes. The letterbox opened and the same sharp voice from before sniped: "Open the door now, Pete. No more games, mate. What you did wasn't in play."
There was scratching at the door, and then a series of blows shook it. They would gain entry, eventually.
Sliding a lock, the briefcase popped open hungrily. He flung the pocket recorder into its maw and then shut it tight. He had purpose now. He was impressive when he had purpose.
The man hauled himself up onto his window ledge, briefcase in hand. He was doing the right thing.
There were whispers outside and then a small bang that rocked the door from its hinges.
The man smiled, patted his briefcase comfortingly and stepped out into the cold night air as his apartment exploded in a miasma of sound and light.

On the beach

Contorted into a frown, the moon rose high above the summer beach.
A lone hound, prowling the sands, sniffed out crabs settling on the fine grains as the tide flowed away once more. He caught one deftly by the canines and held it up to the moonlight, it’s snapping pincers dancing just out of range of the dog’s sensitive nose.
With a snap of the finger and a crack of a chemical reaction, a round was projected, streaking into the raised head of the animal and sending it sprawling.
And what a shot! It may have been a still night, but the visibility was not great. This marksman was working with shadows and experience. He was an excellent shot.
The crab crawled back towards the sea. From his craning eyes he saw only unfathomable distances of sand, the crashing sea and the mighty mountains of the dunes. Somewhere in that morass a sniper lurked, but a crab could not be expected to care.
The sniper however, kept guard of the beach. His lookout was constant. Nothing would safely pass his sights.
Between the morning hours of three and five, just one more animal crossed the beach. That animal was the elusive fox and it was worth taking down.
The fox’s name was Joshua, and he was so dubbed by the name chiselled carefully onto the round that eventually ended up in his side. The rifleman had so inscribed each of his rounds, in order to baptise his quarry with a funereal title after each golden shot; a blast and a name to help them gain swift access to the kingdom of the dead.
Ah, but the fox! The fox turned to face the dunes; to face the rifle that lined him in his sights. And, strangely, the shot skimmed the creature’s snout and ploughed deep into its midriff.
The fox, it shook and rolled - blood spilling onto the yellow sand, making a sad mockery of the light green colouration of the smiling seaweed.
Seeing the unkind accident, the hunter now stirred and gave away his position for the first time. The creature was barking and writhing in agony. What an idiotic thing to let happen. Why does boredom make fools of the idle?
The young man in the dunes considered the beach for a moment. He looked up and down its long lengths for signs of life. There was nothing moving in the dark. He even looked out to sea, in case some watching eyes might have spied his ignominy. But, all was clear.
So the young man clambered up from beneath the cool sand covering that made safe his position and hunched forward, low to the dunes, moving towards the site of the wounded fox.
Undulating and moving beneath his feet, the strange young man stalked the sand slowly to the edge of the beach. Here the moonlight passed from cloud cover and lit up the scene once more.
In view: a sad, wretched little creature, an animal, pawing at the ground, kicking trails of sand towards oblivion. The man gave one quick glance about him and pulled a pistol from his pants. Cocking the trigger, he pointed the barrel at the fox’s head and squeezed slowly. He did not miss.
From somewhere in the channel, a cruising gunboat spotted the moonlight reflecting on the weapon of the sniper. Seconds later, a shell was delivered with great accuracy to the point of this reflection. On contact with the ground the sand was lifted many metres in the air and flung about the old golf course that lay behind the sand dunes, as if some old duffer had played a rather poor bunker shot.
The body of the sniper would be found the next day, lain daintily upon a larger dune; prostrate, like a king shot by an archer upon his castle walls.
The body of the fox somehow remained, untouched. An impact crater lay not a foot from its motionless body.
In the morning, a small boy would find the perfectly auburn body of the fox and pronounce the day of his find, the most special, the most unforgettable ever in his short life.
Later, he would find the charred remains of a sniper upon his favourite dune. He would hardly be able to contain himself.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

A small victory

Picking up the coaster, Cesar inspected it for damage.
Square, solid looking and with the words ‘Mocha’ and ‘Cappuccino’ running through it, he could detect no cracks or chips anywhere about its glassy surface.
He wiped away the condensation that had seconds earlier caused the coaster to bond momentarily with his glass of lemonade. Once that bond between moisture and two sets of glass had taken hold, there was little the four rubber pads that kept it still on a table could do to keep it on the ground. In fact, it is in such a moment when one realises just how weak the force of gravity is. Even a man can jump free of it for a second, or scale a wall or cliff and stand at its peak for hours, in rapture, glowering at gravity, like a king to the rabble beyond his castle walls.
That this sturdy square of glass could be freed from the ever engaging hands of gravity for a while, by an almost supernatural ability to fuse with some cooled water vapour, was a small wonder of this world. Gravity won in the end, but it should almost have been blushing after almost being bested in this manner.
Cesar moved to restore the coaster to its idle place on the windowsill. Before placing it down, though, he spied through the translucent surface of the coaster a tiny beetle, about a centimetre long. He examined it there, within the window of the coaster, picking out its miniscule legs and pincers, its carapace shell and the small red dots that peppered its black armour.
Then, Cesar moved the coaster sharply and pushed it down. And then he lifted it back up. The beetle twitched for a moment and carried on nibbling at the dust it had found.
Cesar nibbled at his bottom lip with his incisors and considered carefully his next move. He estimated and then pushed down, lifted up and saw the beetle munching away. He turned the coaster over and examined it.
The four half balls of rubber it rested on curved enough to save a tiny beetle unless one’s accuracy was perfect.
Sure of his strategy now, Cesar pushed down quickly and then lifted, took a visual reading and pushed down again.
On the third push he heard a satisfying crack and felt a tiny body giving way to his will. He was a proud Goliath then, and basked in glory for a moment before worrying that the little creature might have made a mess of his nice coaster.
Cesar turned over his glass weapon. The inert beetle was crushed, but had generally retained its coleopteran shape. ‘How much mess can a little one make, anyway?’ wondered Cesar to himself.
And then, still feeling like a giant, he brought the wielded coaster up close to his face, inspected the remains for a moment and licked the foremost rubber foot, taking the dead beetle into his mouth.
“Yum, yum, yum!” Cesar intoned in his best booming voice, and then settled back to enjoy the sound inside his own head, as his tiny enemy was mashed between his molars.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Our second fight

She starts to dig, to pry, to cajole, and I try to keep my cool - just remain. I try to give her a little of what she’s after, but keep doing whatever it is I’m doing.
Sometimes it’s fine, just fine. And then, sometimes an unknown, a hidden gear, clicks into place and her mind whirrs at a speed thought previously impossible.
And then, ‘something wicked this way comes’.
That’s how it was, second time round. Me and Rachel, drinking at home.
I never really saw it coming, I’ll be honest about that. She’d say later, you knew what was going to happen, you knew what you were saying. But really, what the hell did I say anyway? And you’re about to ask her that question and then you’ve got to stop yourself quickly and make with more hugs and kisses, before fight number three kicks off.
She’d been telling me about her day. I’m watching TV and I’m tired. The drink makes me a little more sleepy I guess and, I suppose, it loosens my tongue a little too.
Maybe I let the first round off? Maybe it was my fault? Saying something about how I’m trying to relax here and not think about work. That was pretty much it – and also I said something like, if I wanted to be bored to death I would have just become an accountant too.
I can imagine you reading this. The men might be laughing or putting their heads in their hands. The women, well...
Now that I read it back I realise how inflammatory I was being, but I guess I really wanted to watch whatever it was that was on the TV.
So she’s straight back at me. Sticking the knife in about my boring job, about how I’m always so tired at the end of the day, that my job is ruining her life. That’s what she said. Unbelievable, really.
I’m just there, throwing a few comments back at her, but mainly just watching the way she’s rocking that scotch glass around in her hand as she speaks, seeing her eyes going grey and her face all screwed up so she’s almost unrecognisable as my Rachel.
I say something about her friend from work, the dumb one, and she suddenly unloads. This glass comes right out of her hand, flies by my shoulder and shatters on the wall behind me.
I jump up from the couch, scream some obscenities and remind her that this is a rented house and to look at the state of the wall.
She sits there for a few seconds, looking at the single malt running down the cream painted lounge wall, down behind the leather couch, surely ruining the carpet, and then starts to sob. I look at her and she’s shaking. Her arm is still locked in the same position as when she was holding the glass.
Her face is still contorted but I can see my Rachel there again and I get that feeling where everything drains out of you except for this cold fire in your throat and an enveloping feeling of concern for this other human being, this creature that you’re staring at.
With my every sinew I wanted to protect her from this world and bring her back from whichever nightmare her mind was playing out right then.
She let me sit by her. She seemed helpless. Her mouth hung open and her eyes were wet, but she hadn’t drawn enough breath to really cry. I grabbed her, hugged her hard, holding her head and rubbing her back like it might start her up again.
Eventually she took that breath and bawled and lay her cheek on my shoulder, gripping me so tightly. Soon I could feel her warm tears through my t-shirt.
And when the crying died down, she slowly stroked the back of my head, brushing away all the fragments of broken glass that had gathered and stuck there in my thick hair.


This is a follow-up piece to an earlier tale: Our first fight.

Monday, 12 May 2008

The hill of the psychopomps

Slipping through cracks in the floor, the spirit landed and the brown dog drew him on.
Brown dog did not have reins, but he had teeth and a temper. He strove up the steps and through the cellar door. He drove out through the maddened crowd jeering at the doorstep (they didn’t see him go) and on by where the demons gather, on the hill ‘neath the churchyard.
Charging forth, the spirit leased the hound, snarling and chomping at the hellspawn, grovelling near graves, waiting for souls of their own to grapple with and descend.
The spirit nimbly skittled beyond the hanging tree and avoided the grasping fingers of the souls trapped therein. He sailed softly by and the hollow tree moaned so.
Brown dog was waiting at the edge of the copse. Hair ever-shocked by the presence of death, its eyes stalked with menace, yet the steed waited patiently for its spirit rider.
Blood red eyes watched for the hands of hell, as the hound bounded out across the threshold. And, as he passed with speed through ectoplasmic fogs and dense clouds, lifetimes wide, the spirit he carried caught wonderful glimpses of parents, friends, lovers and children. All time and every memory existed both at once and never more. If spirit could smile, he smiled then.
“Press on, press on, press on.” Thus spake the wind into the corners of brown dog’s mind. The whispers of the dark soul-gatherers grew more shallow as brown dog continued his ascent of the sacred hillside. His burden was heavy, and the hillside so steep, that his weary path would wind around the hill four times, before sight of the summit.
In the lower pastures were the horses, strong brave white steeds with golden manes and eyes of fire. The dog was weary and stopped by a fast-flowing stream to drink. His spirit dismounted and walked a way, amongst the wild horses that whinnied and pranced about him.
A bald man sat below a silver birch tree, at the edge of the harass of horses, drawing in the dirt with a stick. As the spirit approached, he dropped his tool and looked up, asking: “Yes?”
The spirit spoke: “Where is this?” And the shepherd replied: “Why, the hill of the psychopomps.”
“Here graze the carriers, the soul guides, the great mediators between the worlds of consciousness and the beyond.”
Spirit felt wonder and awe, but he stood impassively, and the last dregs of these feelings passed from him forever into the green ground of the hill.
“See, there flies the sparrow and, hark there cries the whippoorwill. Drive on, to the very crest of the hill, and you will spy all creatures who burden themselves with gifts to the netherworlds.”
Then brown dog was again at spirit’s side and spirit climbed upon his back so that the pair flew onward, parting the frolicking horsekind and sailing on, higher up the hill to where the harts played and rutted; where the ravens fought the owls for unfortunate bones.
On the third circuit of the magnificent mountain, spirit dared to look back; glanced at the world he was leaving far behind. While on the ground it looked monstrous, insurmountable; from here it looked pitiable, fragile even.
What couldn’t have been accomplished upon that flat ground? What couldn’t have been toppled or climbed? Spirit realised and tried to cry. The last of his feelings fluttered out from his flowing locks and were caught by dancing sparrows, who reeled and chirruped on the breeze.
And then, the last rise. The peak was gained and brown dog lay down panting. Spirit stood up and allowed himself a glimpse of all that surrounded the hill. Times past, present and yet to come mingled with time that had been lost. Each time was bathed in its own peculiar shade, but it was the brown of lost time, time that could never be regained, that held the attention of spirit.
He bent down to brown dog, gazed deeply into his eyes then stroked and held him until his hair no longer stood on end. Brown dog then yapped and ran around and around spirit for a minute or so before disappearing back down the hill.
Spirit watched him go before turning towards the hilltop. A pool or wellspring burst forth there and spirit walked slowly to it. He realised, for the first time, that he was truly naked now, and allowed his foot a dip into the pool. He imagined it felt so cold, but he felt nothing.
The water looked at once colourless and then every colour, as if a think curtain of oil graced its surface. Spirit took his own hand and led himself into the pool. As he stood there, he noticed the pool turn a muddy brown colour. All he could do was nod a nod of acceptance and acquiescence.
The brown water then began to reach up, to reach up and coat and cover his legs. As it did so, his form slowly dissolved, slowly became part of a brown wave. Soon that wave was a torrent, gushing up to take every remnant of a life both spent and wasted.
And, in the trees below, the whippoorwills called to tell the world of another soul softly passing.