Tuesday, 6 November 2018

30 Days of Flash #4 - EXCERPT FROM UNFINISHED VICTORIAN STYLE HORROR.

American flash fiction writer Nancy Stohlman has started up a useful writing prompt for those of us without the time or inclination to commit to the NaNoWriMo exercise.FLASH-NANO gives those who've signed up, 30 days of prompts to put short stories down.

Day 4 was write a story that is set in a warm room.

Here's mine - an excerpt from something I will try to finish soon



THE LAST SHIPWRECK

 


“I remember clearly that it was the first week of Michaelmas when the Dean invited me to dine with him in his quarters. The invitation was one I was only too glad to accept, the first anniversary of my wife’s passing had found me in varying shades of maudlin self-absorption and the opportunity to distract my mind – if only for a few hours – from sad and dismal contemplation was to be gratefully taken.

It was an excellent meal. The Dean’s cook, a plump lady in her middle years, had rendered us quite immobile with roast beef, carrots, potatoes and peas – all but drowned in the most succulent gravy I had ever tasted. Our passage to invalidity, I am almost ashamed to say, was aided by a bottle and a half of a most splendid claret. My comfort would have been unsurpassable were it not for the knowledge that outside the weather had turned most treacherous. Having retired to the Dean’s drawing room, warmed by both the excellent beef and the glowing hearth by which we now sat, I had begun to feel the first stirrings of tiredness when the Dean suddenly spoke.

“Do I strike you as an honest man?”

Surprisingly unnerved by this question, I replied that he did.

The Dean poured two more large glasses of the claret.

“The white collar does not guarantee a truthful tongue. Even the most proud soldier of Christ must sometimes bear false witness, my dear boy. Sometimes the truth evades us as it evades all men. I have seen fit to hide things that would shock even the hardest of hearts. But there is one terrible truth which I feel compelled to share with you if you would be so kind as to indulge an elderly fool.”

The rain grew bolder outside.

“Mrs Butterworth will make you a room up. No point in wasting the warmth of the beef by venturing anywhere in that storm.”

I thanked the Dean and reached for my glass. The Dean rose from his chair and steadied himself before the glowering hearth, his head bowed. He seemed troubled. Just as I was about to enquire as to his wellbeing, he straightened himself and turned towards me.

“What I am about to tell you is something I have not spoken of for over 20 years. I had presumed I would take it with me to my grave but I fear it may be an omission which I will pay for in the hereafter.”

The Dean sat himself, his tearful eyes lit by the flames.

“The year was 1850. I was based at a small Cornish village called Stonesizes. I had taken over the church there when the previous incumbent, a man named Treville, was found to have fallen off a perilous path close to the cliffs….”

Though it is some time since that evening, there is not a part of me that wishes I had taken leave of my host there and then. For though the storm that raged outside that night would pass by the time the sun had risen, how I wish I could say the same for the tempest that has troubled my mind ever since.”

 
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Monday, 5 November 2018

30 Days of Flash - #3 - NEW KINDS OF DEATH

American flash fiction writer Nancy Stohlman has started up a useful writing prompt for those of us without the time or inclination to commit to the NaNoWriMo exercise.

FLASH-NANO gives those who've signed up, 30 days of prompts to put short stories down.

Day 3 was write a story that includes mud.

Here's mine.
 

NEW KINDS OF DEATH



For a long time we died differently. I mean, not technically. The heart always stopped beating, the brain activity tailing off like a paper earthquake et cetera. But the causes of the heart stopping and brain dying were different back then. For a long time we weren’t living very long at all, you’d get barely out of your teens and you’d catch some cold or bug that there weren’t any medicines for and that was it, game over.  

Perhaps you’d be asked by a village elder to go and fight the blokes from the next village and one of their lot would spear you in the guts and you’d bleed to agonising death there and then. Perhaps your village elder would randomly decide that the reason the crops had failed that year was because you and your sister had failed to conceive a child and you’d be sacrificed to some locally worshipped god. Perhaps you’d be thrown into a huge flaming sandpit or have your heart cut out.

Things improved for your descendants. You reached your thirties, sometimes you had grandkids. You got to live long enough to go slightly grey and have a massive heart attack whilst out hunting for dinner. Or perhaps you got hired to sail the seas and die of some new exotic illness in a place that wasn’t yet on maps.               

There’s a good chance the following thing happened. At the age of 32 my great-great- great-great- great-great- great-great- great-great-grandfather made the mistake of saying something like I can’t be arsed to go to church on Sunday, I’m not sure if I believe in him to be honest, I’ll rest up as I’ve got a serious amount of ploughing to do this week. And some local dignitary would have noticed his absence from church, put the word about he was involved in satanic practises or some other nonsense and the next thing you know he’d be on the stake watching the flames take his toes and waiting for the heart to stop pumping oxygen to the brain. It could have happened, people died differently then. Who’s to know?               

One ancestor I knew of had a mine fall in on him, not a muscle was wasted in selling the coal that smothered his young, blackened life. Fire, malnutrition and the sea took others. The ones I remember, my grandparents, died of cancers in warm, nurse-filled rooms.               

When I died, I wasn’t really aware that my death was kind of a new sort of death. I mean, in the last few moments I was really wishing I could swim, that I hadn’t fucked off out of the nightclub in a temper, that I hadn’t taken the canal path home and that I wanted to see my mum and dad and be home and all kinds of things. But I suppose my death was different to a lot of the deaths that came before me. I’d taken a few pills, drank a shit load of expensive foreign beers, trying to unwind from the crappy office job that I’d somehow found myself trapped in for the last nine years, trying to forget the fact that I was single for the first time in ages and suddenly far lonelier and needier than I’d ever felt in my life. All of those conversations at work and at home had aged me and led me to death. Age is a number; we’re dying all the time I reckon. Your heart stopping - well, that’s just like a receipt at the checkout. Ta-rah time’s up. Always was.               

Funnily enough I’d been watching a program on telly only the night before I died. It was that one where celebrities get to trace their family trees and find out poignant or alarming family secrets. The one I was watching was with that bloke who had that big hit movie about the environment a few years back and then went into politics. He found out that his great grandfather was once acquitted of the murder of an innkeeper in the East End of London. It was interesting. I was thinking maybe I could trace my family. I looked at the website for the programme and the first thing they said was get as much information out of your family as possible.  Well, that was a fucking non-starter – the cunts haven’t talked to me in years. Didn’t stop em crying at my funeral mind. 32 isn’t very old I suppose.  

When you die, it’s odd right. For me, I only went and bastard drowned in a fucking swollen river, didn’t I? I slipped in some mud on the canal path, went completely over, straight into the river. Head first. Comical really. 

The water filled my lungs and I was suddenly sober and thrashing but the current was too strong and I just went under. There were a few moments of real physical pain and then this sudden whoosh of absolute calm, total tranquillity. There was a light and I was like oh fucking hell this is it like I really am on the way out like. And this guy who I vaguely recognise is standing at the entrance to the light and it’s like I’m being slowly pushed toward him. I can hear all these voices saying hello and stuff and I walked into the light and this bloke says to me hello Jason I’m your granddad. And I look again and it is him, except like instead of this really old guy with a bald wrinkled head and a bag for his piss to his side, there’s this guy in a cool looking suit with a nice smile. I says to him “Are we in heaven?” and he says “Well, kind of. You could call it that. There’s no angels or stuff. There’s no God or anything as far as I can work out. We’re all just here; everyone who’s ever lived in the history of the world is here. It’s like a parallel version of Earth except there’s no shops cos we don’t eat, no beds cos we don’t need sleep or sex and no arguing. We’re all just happy we’ve made it to here.”

My nan was there too, a beautiful woman who always smelled of baking. Just wandering about in this light I got glimpses of people I’d known before, people I went to school with who’d died tragically young, the old fella who lived next door when I was quite little and had a massive heart attack picking the milk bottle up off his step. I remember him lying there slumped over the smashed milk bottle and the milk spilling out from under him like he’d been shot and his blood was white. I remember the ambulance and the police and all the neighbours standing quietly whilst they carried him away. His name was Mr. Anger, I remember thinking that was quite funny. I suppose it is. There was Rachel Armstrong who’d been strangled by her step dad when we were nine or ten. She recognised me and said hello, god knows how she knew who I was.

 It’s all very comforting those first few hours. It doesn’t feel too bad at first, being dead. But then this other fella came up to me and told me it was time to be judged. That’s a horrible moment, I can tell you. I mean, I haven’t lived the purest of lives. I was scared. I started thinking that maybe I was going to Hell but this fella with a clipboard suddenly appeared. He put his hand on my shoulder and put me at ease.               

“I know what you’re thinking. You needn’t worry. The judgement isn’t made by anyone here. It’s by those you left behind.”

This bloke sits me down and points me to this bridge. We walk over it and suddenly I’m in my ex-girlfriend’s flat, she’s sitting on the bed that we used to shag in, she’s looking at a picture of me and laughing and crying and then really crying. She calls me a stupid bastard and I almost reply but then I remember I’m invisible to her. She’s holding up a photo of me and her in New York that time we blew a month’s wages each on an impulsive fuck it lets do something crazy weekend.  I start to laugh and then I’m not in her room anymore I’m on my parents doorstep behind these two coppers telling them that I’ve fallen into a river and I didn’t make it out again. And all the colour drains from their faces and for a second I enjoy their pain and then I find myself screaming along with my mum as she sits on the stairs and sobs her heart away. And so on. I’m in the bar with two of my mates as they get phone calls from other mates. I’m on a train with a girl I secretly fancied as she sees my picture on the front page of the local paper.  I go from room to room like it’s my first day at work and I’m being showed where everything is and being introduced to new colleagues except I already know everything and everyone except one thing – the impact me not being around is having on the ones I leave behind. 

Some sample responses to my demise.

“He’s a fucking prick. Stupid fucking prick,” my boss in his office says shortly before checking out Grindr on his phone.

I never knew. 

The receptionist, a pretty blond with a permanent limp, is devastated and is sent home for the day. Mr Kaur, the man who runs the corner shop at the end of my street, sighs and cancels my order. I owe him a week’s papers but he’s a decent bloke, I can’t see him chasing my parents for ten quid. My mates Lee, Martin and Terry are all just sat in the Duchess nursing scotches. Lee looks like he’s cried all year. 

Anyway, that was the hardest bit. Since then, I’ve just been chilling really, listening to my Granddad telling me about this bloke he shot in the war, and this bloke, this German soldier just turns up out of the blue and sits next to us and starts laughing. It could have been awkward, but it wasn’t, it was all really mellow.

There’s no telly. No cinemas or nothing. We all just sit around and talk to people, share our lives, it’s dead weird, and no one argues here, you’d think that people would get these grievances and grudges out with one another but they don’t. It’s like they can’t. Like the other day I saw someone I fucking hated at college and I’d heard he’d been blown up in Iraq working for a defence contractors or something and I saw him, he turned to me and smiled and we just sat there talking about the different paths our lives had taken.  

As soon as you think of someone , someone you knew, someone who’s died, it’s like whoosh they’re there. Like they’ve never been gone.  In between these encounters we sit on these pure green hills, dry, soft, warm grass. Around me, old couples smile and stroke each other's hands, young children play with loved toys, dogs, so many dogs, run wild and free.
 
I pick away with a stick at the mud on my loafers, it never seems to shift. We stare at the gate marked Arrivals and wait for our loved ones to die.

 

 

 

 


 

 

               

               

30 Days of Flash - #2 CLEAN

American flash fiction writer Nancy Stohlman has started up a useful writing prompt for those of us without the time or inclination to commit to the NaNoWriMo exercise.

FLASH-NANO gives those who've signed up, 30 days of prompts to put short stories down.

Day 2 was write a story that takes place in the bathroom.

Here's mine.

CLEAN


The baby lies in a basket beside the bathroom sink. A yellow woollen blanket over the top of the white all in one, the white boots, the white mittens and cap. The red scrunched face. The mother is barely out of childhood herself. The grandmother and an aunt are eating fries and drinking coffee less than fifteen feet away. Above the sink, a rota claims this bathroom was inspected by Debbie almost an hour ago.

                The baby sleeps.

                The mother wants sleep.

                Endless smothered pillow resting calm eternal quietness mercy please.

                A small white bin of sleeping pills in the tired hand.

                Loneliness.

                The mother runs the cold tap, feeling the water slip through her fingers like the rest of her life. She begins to cry and stops herself almost at once. She knows it will be quick, she knows that nothing takes too much time at this age.

                Outside she can hear the laughter of her mother.  Then steps.

                She picks up the baby for the last time.

                She kisses the baby and swallows hard.

                Sssssh, she says.

                Sssssh

Friday, 2 November 2018

30 Days of Flash - #1 - CLASTIC

American flash fiction writer Nancy Stohlman has started up a useful writing prompt for those of us without the time or inclination to commit to the NaNoWriMo exercise.

FLASH-NANO gives those who've signed up, 30 days of prompts to put short stories down.

Day 1 was write a story that begins at the end.

Here's mine.

CLASTIC



Whoosh.

                I think as it happens, that’s the last thing I’ll hear. The waves crashing over me, moving over me towards the shore as I plunge further into the craved sleep.

                The sky above me is blackening. The sea reflects the sky’s mood, sympathises too with my own. This is the way, the right way out. My feet shift and slip on the small stone planets, my eyes scamper and dart as they search for the right worlds to fill my pockets with, which empty moons to take me away from this rock. Each beach is a galaxy, my father once said. The pebbles are moons, the rocks are stars and each grain of sand is everything that ever lived within.

                Finally I see one. Smooth and silent slab of stone; into the barren pocket you go. Symmetry demands more; I bend and pick with care the right number to fit inside my trouser and coat. Not frantically, these stones will see me into the darkness, so I pick them with something almost like…no, not like that at all.

                Now I am pregnant with stone.

                I turn and look back at the town, the world. No one sees me. A car drives past but does not see, does not stop. The driver doesn’t get the chance to have my final conversation, to hear my final words. What will be the last thing I say out loud?    

                Angry rain upon the sea now. Each tiny drop invisible in flight and yet the sea feeds off this assault and grows and turns towards me as I, in turn, move towards the edge, the stones jagging against my cold flesh through the thin pocket, the sky’s tears rippling the fabric of the ancient sea.

                I giggle for a moment as the wave flirts with my feet. One step, then another. I am level with the end of the pier now. I check my pocket as I would have once for keys and money.

                Water past my feet, the cold cannot shock me now. Wading slowly into the darkness, into the water, the waves bristling against my shin, now my knees. My crutch damp with death, the heaviness of each step now making itself known to something deep within me. The rocks in my long nightshirt drag me and almost trip me, but not yet. I am not ready yet.

Walk a little further with me in the rain.

                A few more steps and we’ll be home and dry. An ecstatic stumble, at last the end. I gasp as someone I used to be reaches out but the waves are stronger now, rushing me down, drenching my face, and hunting my breaths. I’m falling, sinking, ready. Above me, above the sea I see a parting of cloud, a burst of sun, another wave, lightness, dark, lightness, dark. And the sea filling my chest, stuffing my lungs with water, turning my bones to stone, to air.

Sunday, 29 July 2018

The Kids They Are In Cages

A few weeks ago, in disbelief at the latest dark chapter in the rise of American Fascism, and in a spare 20 minutes at work, I put together an updated version of a Dylan classic

A lot of people seemed to like it. The award winning David Hughes even recorded a version of it. Got asked to post a full length version of the lyrics here. So here it is.



The Kids They Are in Cages

Come gather round people
Wherever you sit
And admit that the whole world
Has all turned to shit
And accept it that you
Played your own part in this.
If your President
Constantly rages
Then you better start praying
That he’ll soon have to quit
For the kids they are in cages.
 
Come racists and rapists
Your man’s in his lair.
Your fear of dark faces
Was what put him there.
And don’t you pretend
That you didn’t care,
That your concerns were
just for jobs and wages.
A fascist sits
In the President’s chair
And the kids
they are in cages.
 
Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
The American Dream
Is as wide as it’s tall
Don’t drug tiny children
Cos you cant build a wall
Your Bibles are missing
Some pages.
The land of the free
Will be lost to us all
When the kids they are in cages.
 
Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
The earth’s darkest hour
Is now close at hand
The administration’s a family band.
Tyranny, it comes on in stages.
They’ll come for you next
If you don’t take a stand
When the kids they are in cages
 
The lies are now facts
The news is now fake
A move for world peace
Is now a mistake
The values that bind us
Are now his to break.
Dictators are suddenly feted.
And you need to act quick
Before it’s too late
And your
kids they are in cages….

Monday, 23 July 2018

Monday


If I was to get up right now, tell my colleagues I was going for a long lunch, leave my desk, walk to Cardiff Central, buy a ridiculously expensive train ticket to London, grab a table seat and then wait for my personal space to be invaded by a bunch of Brexit retirees on their way to a Monday night showing of something ungodly in the West End, and have to listen to their fucking pre-paid funeral mouths screeching on about how they didn’t even know Italians played golf and how good Lidl-own gin is for cocktails, and all the while watching Tory England speed past me like an ironic montage of a country abandoning the bucolic idyll for tower blocks and cancer, and because despite being nearly 50 still feel pathetically unable to ask if I could just squeeze out for a piss and so I just hold on to it till I nearly pass out in a Paddington cubicle, if I was to then make my way to Westminster and fortuitously bump into Jacob Rees-Mogg, would it be ok if I did a massive Mick Channon-style windmill and punch the nanny-fed cunt into the Thames?

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

PARKLIFE


A version of this rant appeared on the sadly now defunct Profane Beefs website, a short-lived affair dedicated to desecrating the sacred cows of music.


What happens with music is what happens with everything else the poor possess.

Music scenes pretty much always start amongst the poor – a new sound emerging from the forgotten corners of urban life. This sound spreads to local clubs and DJ’s. Soon money gets involved, a buzz is generated around an ever hyper-ready media and then record companies, scared of missing the boat, flood the scene with cash – copycats are suddenly abundant, the scene is diluted, finished.

Same thing happens with where they live.  People will hear that a certain part of town is vibrant and exciting and so the hipsters will move in, wanting part of this scene, driving rents and mortgages up. Soon the local cafĂ©, the local pub, all those things that created that atmosphere in the first place is choked with moneyed strangers, incapable of seeing that they always kill the things they hoped to keep.

Sanitise what the poor have and sell it to the middle classes.  Football, music, fashion – it’s all just grist to the millenial mill. These parasites have always existed but the internet has made their breeding uncontrollable. You used to have to work hard, shop around, put the hours in looking for that new thing you wanted to hear and make yours. Now a click of a mouse and suddenly everyone knows about the Big Beat revival/that obscure French director/that little old fashioned tea rooms tucked away in a forgotten side street.

The poor love their drink, you killed their pubs. They love their football; you priced them out of the game entirely. Everything that the government does already had a mandate from anyone with a buy-to-let mortgage or a stupid haircut. Their chips, their clothes, and their run down cars – you took them and resold them to the rich as artisan street food, authentic work clobber and vintage runabouts. The working class has been shafted, so what the fuck you looking at.

That band you and your mates used to follow back in the day. The local heroes.  Made one album, split up. Now they’ve had a song used in a Coke advert. Now there’s a reunion tour. Better still, they’re playing your hometown. You have to book a ticket online but you’re stuck in a queue and the next thing you know, the thing’s sold out to a bunch of micro brewers with massive beards who just chanced upon an article on Pitchfork and decided that it sounded fun, ironic even.

Sometimes it feels like you’re being laughed at. Everywhere you go, people are dressed like you used to only somehow now it costs a fortune. The pub you frequented as an underage lager lout has changed its name, got rid of the jukebox and sells sandwiches that cost more than your bus fare to work. The telly’s full of people pretending they speak just like you despite being called Julian or Sebastian.

Your dead end job just about keeps the wolf from the door. All your friends are either in the same boat or have fallen overboard. Your kids share classes with kids with first names that make them sound like they came out of a 1930s pit village. Alfie, Bertie, Sid – all being dropped off by the au pair.

Sometimes you want to run away, run home. But home’s gone. That estate, that run down hellhole of your youth, they did it up nice. Saw that there was a view of the sea and decided that the poor didn’t deserve this. They packed them off to live in a car park near the landfill. They renamed the estate after a local hero who grew up round here and who promptly vanished the first chance he could.

Everything on the telly makes you feel worse about yourself. Shows with people buying second homes when you haven’t yet bought one and having the cheek to be stressed about it.  Public school educated comedians pretending to be just like you and generating canned laughter and a stadium tour just by saying stuff that you would say in an exaggerated version of your own accent.

And that’s the laugh you hear in your head whenever you hear the opening chords of the song Parklife by Blur, that “Oi” and those sitcom music hall fucking key changes.  It’s doubly annoying because the single Girls and Boys had been such a celebration of pop music, dance music, holidays and sex that you thought Blur might actually be on the verge of doing something special, something magical. But they weren’t. They were just doing what all the other middle class bands do, picking your pocket with one hand and buying you a drink with the other.

You play the entire album once. It disgusts you. You take it to a charity shop. You walk home and a pigeon shits on your head.