A L L I T E R AT I CREATIVE WRITING AND ARTS MAGAZINE
I S S U E
A LLI T E R AT I IS SU E
Welcome to Alliterati Magazine Issue 5! The following pages are filled with the creative offerings of writers and artists stretching from the Alliterati hub in the North East of England to across the globe. From poetry and painting to flash fiction and film and everything in between we hope there is something for everyone! We run a unique Go-Between Scheme to match artists and writers: creating much of the dynamic new work in the following pages. Please visit our website www.alliteratimagazine.com for more information about submissions. Enjoy! The â€˜Aâ€™ Team
CO NT ENTS 6 MISS NORMER SEN THREADGOLD
50 YELLOW GOLD JENNIFER LENHARDT
10 THE MUSE: LOVE AND WAR SALLY RICHARDSON
54 A LOT OF CLOUDS RUBY GULLON
12 A SOUR AFFAIR ROSE AKEHURST
58 HARE’S BREATH KATE WILSON
16 PROPOSITION LIAM TEMPLE
60 DIANE ARBUS FOUND A GIANT DAVID SPITTLE
18 TYNEMOUTH LIAM TEMPLE
64 GRADUATION BRIDGET HAMILTON
20 LOST SPRING TIME ROSE AKEHURST
66 HELL INC CALLUM FRASER
24 ME, MYSELF AND I JULIA BOND
73 BOOKMARKS BRIDGET HAMILTON
32 AN ABSENT PLACE DAVID SPITTLE
74 I BEN SCHWARTZ
36 A GRAND UNDERTAKING DANIEL HINDS
78 PARENTHETICAL DANIEL RIDLEY
44 BEFORE AND PAST DAVID SPITTLE
84 ERASE JAKE CAMPBELL
46 SOON TO BE SMOKE SAM DUDA
86 AGE OF HOSTILITY ASHLEY COWAN
48 HANCOCK JENNI HESLOP
SEN THREADGOLD GEORGINA ATKINSON
As far back as I can remember she never called me my full name. It was just ‘Pen’ – maybe ‘Penny’ in particularly informal situations. And I don’t know when the variations on ‘Pen’ began, but that must have been pretty early on, too, because the glee she got from formulating and applying them never ceased or diminished as the years went by. I remember one very early memory, when I was about six – perhaps one of the first instances of the ‘Pen’ monikers, but considering she’s known me my whole life I’d consider it unlikely – I dressed up for Halloween. I was a stereotypical witch, resplendent in a black bin-liner cloak and putty nose-wart, my parents not having the time or inclination to construct a more sophisticated costume for a six-year-old. We held a party for friends and family at our house – various waist-high warlocks and werewolves stumbled around and clung to the trousers of adults, banging on plastic pumpkins in a plea for treats. My brother and I sidled up with our own hollow pumpkin-heads and she looked down at me and trilled, ‘Ooh, hello Pendle Witch!’ ‘Huh?’ I gawked. She didn’t reply, too busy toasting her successful wordplay with some other semi-drunk family friend. I wandered away in search of more bountiful adults. After that, the pet names – I should probably call them Pen Names – came thick and fast. Sometimes they seemed to flood out of her mouth in a torrent, as though she’d been accumulating them for days and waiting until she saw me to let them all come gushing out in a stream. Some could be mistaken for cutesy nicknames – Penny Chew was a popular one, used almost every time she saw me for a month after she spotted me on a journey home with a paper bag full of sweets (they were actually Blackjacks, but I had neither the gall or the capacity to correct her, my mouth being jammed full of the incriminating items) – but as time went by they became more elaborate and far-fetched, and hence more embarrassing. ‘Alright, Penny Farthing?’ she’d ask as I rolled my bike into the sheds at work. Or, ‘How’re you feeling, Penicillin?’ on a day when I had a head cold. More and more often, however, the names were unrelated to anything contextual. Penfold, Pentathlon, Penknife, Penny Arcade, Penrietta – sometimes I didn’t even notice she was addressing me because the monikers were so outlandish (Appendix being one of the most obscure – especially when used within the sentence, ‘Joshua, make sure Appendix knows the way to the bathrooms’). Several times, I admit, I was forced to look up the background for some of the Pen Names (‘Epi-Pen: a registered trademark for the most commonly used autoinjector of epinephrine (a.k.a. adrenaline), used in medicine to treat anaphylactic shock’ – as in, ‘Hey, Epi-Pen, where’d you get that tuna wrap?’) and to be honest I think she probably did a spot of research of her own, just to keep herself topped up with potential ‘Pen Candidates’: why would a PA have words like ‘Penology’ in her standard vocabulary? If she was having a particularly dry day she’d stick to various nib-types: ‘Fancy a coffee, Ballpoint Pen?’ Or, ‘Rollerball Pen, that blouse looks lovely on you,’ or even on one occasion,
‘Pass me that fountain pen, Fountain Pen’. Other times in a fit of garrulousness (and she was a chatty woman at the best of times, if you hadn’t figured that by now) she’d string out such ridiculousness as ‘Calm down there, Pent-Up Rage’, or ‘Nice one, Pen-Is-Mightier-Than-The-Sword.’ People in the vicinity when she used the Pen Names were almost as humiliated and frustrated as me, and I was treated to many a questioning glance from a colleague or friend when they overheard a conversation that concluded with her calling, ‘I’ll catch up with you later, Penitentiary!’ over her shoulder. I think what they found confusing was that she spouted this rubbish with such ease, and without a hint of shame: she thought the Pen Names were hilarious. She obviously was so overcome with pride in her own abilities that she never noticed the fact that not once, in the entire time she used the Pen Names, did I react to them favourably. A forced smile – more of a grimace – was the most I could muster when I was feeling lenient. At the worst my mouth scrunched up into such a tight, bloodless little ball of chagrin that my lips resembled a wad of crushed-up paper. But she was, apparently, oblivious to my exasperation. ‘Why does she do it?’ a co-worker asked me one day as we sat outside our building, snatching an hour of sunlight for our lunch-break. ‘I just don’t know,’ I sighed, surprised at how close my voice came to breaking in frustration over the last two words. ‘It obviously upsets you,’ my friend commented over a mouthful of chicken salad, her eyes wide in shock at my borderline tearful response. ‘You should just ask her to stop. Say it pisses you off.’ ‘It does piss me off!’ ‘So, say it pisses you off.’ I skewered a piece of penne – Penne, that was another favourite of hers; now I could only muster the courage to make it for lunch when I was in a very, very positive mood – and cast my eyes down at the ground. ‘I can’t. I mean, she’s helped me out so much. She’s the one who got me the job in the first place. I’d feel so bad, only telling her after all this time that I hate it. She might get upset.’ My friend took another bite of her sandwich, chewed thoughtfully, and frowned. ‘Didn’t she call you Penis one time?’ I stabbed my plastic fork through the final flute of penne. ‘Right. I’ll do it after lunch.’ It was easier said than done – how could you change someone’s perception of the past twenty-seven years in one workday conversation? Would she be guilty? Ashamed? Maybe she’d be angry at me for keeping my true feelings from her all this time. See it as my fault: allowing her to perpetuate the degrading ritual through my own spineless reticence. It would be just like her to twist the situation. But as I proceeded down the corridor a hundred broken strands of Conversations Past floated along with me: How are you, Pirate Of Penzance? Spoken to your brother lately, Pencil Sharpener? Pentecost, where’s my work diary? Nice work there, Pen-And-Teller. I burst into her office, eyes blazing. She glanced up from her computer screen and, for once in her life, registered my anger. ‘Woah – alright there, Impending Doom?’ she enquired. This was followed up with a smug raise of one eyebrow in self-approbation at coming up with a topical Pen Name at such speed. ‘I need to talk to you.’ The eyebrow dropped as she noted the irate twitch of my lip at her question. For the first time
in what seemed like forever, she was on the back foot. ‘Well – of course. Er, take a seat.’ ‘No, I don’t think I should. I just want to ask you something and get this over with as quickly as possible.’ She was silent for a moment. Her cheeks seemed to sag. ‘Okay.’ ‘I need to know...’ I held up my hands, fingers splayed in ineffable irritation. ‘I just need to know...why.’ She glanced to the left, as though contemplating a leap from her third-storey window to a preferable fate. ‘Why...?’ I dropped my hands. As I breathed out, every molecule of breath in my lungs seemed to escape, leaving me utterly deflated. ‘Why do you never call me by my full name?’ I asked, pitifully. ‘Why do you always come up with these ridiculous nicknames for me? You must have realised by now how much I hate them. Why can’t you just call me by my proper name? I can’t even remember you ever calling me it, not once, not in all these years. Why?’ My face crumpled but I staved off tears. Across the room, my adversary appeared to have suffered a similar deflation to my own. Her cheeks drooped even lower, her eyes skewed downwards like a depressed bloodhound. Her mouth fell open in preparation to speak – her primary talent – but for several incredible seconds no words emerged. ‘I...’ she stammered eventually. My eyes lit up. Finally, finally I was going to get my answer. I had waited, I realised, all of my life for this moment. I nodded raptly, urging her on. ‘I, er...’ Then she cleared her throat and, looking ashamedly down at her mahogany desk, my mother said, ‘I forgot what ‘Pen’ is short for.’
T H E M U S E : LOV E A N D WA R
SALLY RICHARDSON ROBYN NEVISON
The dust settles. Making peace with that which it caresses. All things had shattered… Had scarred her soul with shrapnel. And the soles of her feet had bled, From the splinters and broken glass on which she tread Carefully. Mindful not to move you to tears. Mindful not to lose you Again. She picks up the pen, and Writes with intent. Ink and paper, Making love like they used to. Not a bad start. There’s hope at least? Give it a week, Ten days – no more. Before she’ll pick a fight again, Before she’ll start another war. Minefield mentality, her heart is sore From the sniper attempts: Sneaky and sly. They try and try to Erase her. Yet she shall not shift ‘til the Pen and the page have made An arrangement. Until you are needed no more. Until you are no longer muse enough, To move her to make love and war.
A SOUR AFFAIR
ROSE AKEHURST KIT GRIFFITHS
Drizzle. The grey was no longer only smearing the dirty glass, but had fixed itself in the form of a dingy film over his eyes. He had been standing by the window for a long time now, gripping his cigarette the way a man twice his age would a walking stick. He flicked away the ash which had come close to burning his steady hand and it landed in a smouldering heap on Marie’s used-to-be-cream carpet. Jack had chosen not to notice the ash tray she had laid out for him. He disliked the way she was able to pre-empt little details in his behaviour lately, he was sure that there was an element of smugness about it. Susan wouldn’t have let him smoke in the bedroom at all, never mind provide ash-trays. Between heavy drags he made something like a grimace, or a smile, as he observed the price sticker still on the tray’s side. Surveying the room for something to take his mind of things, Jack’s eyes fell on a discarded Cosmo on the bedside table. Absent-mindedly he began flicking through the pages, reluctantly feeling something near revulsion towards the kind of woman who would read and believe this drivel. ‘How To Know What He’s Really Thinking’- did he imagine this page seemed to fall open easier than the rest? Looking up at him from the glossy pages was a picture of a sheepish looking guy, sitting on a fluffy white bed, in a tight white t-shirt and boxer shorts, smiling back at a tanned super model type with flippy blonde hair, also in her white underwear. Looking pretty pleased with herself, Jack thought. He put his cigarette out on the couple as he heard her taxi pull up outside, shutting the magazine with the stub still burning into the blonde’s D-cups. Back over at the window he watched Marie step out of the car into the drizzle and without looking up make her way straight to the front door of the flats. The house looked, from the outside, like a well-to-do suburban family home, pretty similar to his own on the other side of town actually. But it had in fact been gutted out a few years ago, torn up and converted in to bed-sits for singles and retirees. Jack remembered grimly how he’d been deceived by the house on his first visit. “You own this whole thing?” he had asked, totally incredulous but impressed nonetheless; he remembered thinking she must have come into some inheritance. She’d just laughed in response. “I live alone, if that’s what you mean,” she’d said through a set of impeccable pearly-whites. It was undeniable; Jack had been totally captivated by Marie from day one. He had never seen a woman so young move with the assurance she had, like a dancer, as if every move she made had been meticulously choreographed to attract his attention. He hadn’t been the only one either; some of the younger guys in the office had been swarming around the new girl like bees to honey. One sweaty little kid in particular, Oliver Something, was never more than 10 feet away from her. She indulged them of course, enjoying the attention the way, in Jack’s experience, attractive women always do. But on more than one occasion, from in amongst her fan club, she had peered out in the direction of Jack’s office, and with a flash of her cat eyes from under that crop of short jet black hair, she had let him know her sights were set. On him.
The first time it had happened had been when they were both working late, for no particular reason but, on Jack’s part at least, he had sensed he should stick around that night. It had been raining anyway so it would have been a nightmare getting a taxi, and he certainly didn’t fancy the bus. He called Susan to let her know he’d eat when he got back later so no need to wait for him, “Yes, I love you too”. At about half seven even Oliver had reluctantly given up and dragged himself away from his leggy beloved, to whom he gave a hurt backward glance when she politely refused a lift home in his green Ford Ka. Jack and Marie had had urgent, half-clothed sex on the kid’s desk about twenty minutes after he left. Jack smiled wryly at the memory. Jack had never felt guilty. There had been the odd girl or two, once (or maybe a few times) before, which he had quickly become bored with. But there was something about Marie that had held his interest. For nearly ten months now. She had insisted on going alone, well, not exactly insisted, but she understood the predicament this put him in. “It’s our family’s surgery,” he had explained, “Dr. Stevenson treated Molly for tonsillitis just a few months ago. I can hardly just stroll in there with you, can I?” This had been a week or so ago. “No, I suppose you’re right,” Marie had conceded. She hadn’t seemed to mind. “This is probably something I should do alone.” However, as she shut the bedroom door, she looked as if she hadn’t banked on feeling quite so alone. For the first time since they had met last year he suddenly realised he had never seen her like this, without makeup. If asked he’d have told her she was just as beautiful without it, but quietly to himself, he noted the ugly bags forming under those penetrating eyes. Eyes that had previously been set in perfect porcelain skin, like emeralds cast in marble. He drew himself up, straightening his pin-striped suit jacket, which he hadn’t bothered to take off since arriving an hour ago. She looked so small and skinny in the doorframe, hardly the woman he had been lusting over for the best part of a year, and there was something calculated and unfeeling in her look. He was a little taken aback, not that he had known what to expect, but it wasn’t this. He felt somehow persecuted by the weight of the pause that followed, as a new kind of silence engulfed the room. She seemed to be waiting for him to speak, but what could possibly be said at this point? “It didn’t take long then.” Was that really his voice? She lowered her eyes further. He hadn’t meant to upset her, he shifted from foot to foot like a chastised school boy as she shook off her soggy coat and threw it over the bed post. He cleared his throat, “I mean, I thought, well, it might take longer?” A pathetic second attempt, but he was trying and she still refused to meet his eye as she sat down at the vanity stand on the far side of the room. How dare she? She seemed so controlled, Jack was certain it was contrived and it made him uncomfortable, he did not like feeling uncomfortable and he twitched with stifled irritation. She was hiding something, he was sure. With her back to him now he could only glimpse her face through the cold, shiny surface of the mirror; but it was a different person he saw in there, some stranger trapped behind the glass. Why wasn’t she speaking? He could feel the urge swelling up inside him to smash the mirror that was holding her silenced. Jack took a step forward, “Marie?” Her eyes found his instantly in the reflection, stopping him in his track as though the look had cast him in stone. No, this Medusa was not Marie. This woman in the mirror was determinedly hostile. “You should know, I didn’t go through with it. I’ve decided to keep her.” The stone shattered all around him. She may as well have smacked him in the face, but in
stead she was provoking him. He was incensed. “Her?” he spat. “Yes. Her. I can feel it, I can tell,” she said coolly as she began methodically applying the missing makeup. There was another pause as Jack struggled with himself. She had managed to reapply about half the mask that had seduced him before he managed another word. “Are you insane? What do you expect me to tell my family?” Marie was totally composed by the time she had finished her war-paint. She stood up and finally met his furious gaze. “You can tell them you have another family on the way,” she bent for the phone beside her, “or I can tell them.” Jack ripped the phone simultaneously out of her hand and out of the wall. He needed to get out of there before he did something he’d regret. He drove his car all night around the city until the petrol light flashed red, which was when he dragged a calmer version of himself into bed next to his sleeping wife. The next day was a Saturday, but Jack decided to go in to the office. He organised a rearrangement in management for the next week, and filled in the necessary paper work he needed to get the time off. He had surprised Susan with a spontaneous short break in Barcelona earlier that morning at breakfast, “Just because I love you, do I need a reason to spoil my wife?” By midday he had cleared all the excess paperwork off his desk, signed anything he had in his ‘pending’ pile, and locked his office door. On his way out he casually placed a large brown envelope on Marie Thompson’s desk; it contained the contracts and details of her immediate transfer to the Leeds offices, and a cheque for £15,000.
LIAM TEMPLE PAUL JOHNSON
Would you like to come back to mine for a half arsed blind stab in the dark at having some fun? I’ll play second fiddle to that darling first love of yours, he wouldn’t have to know, as the saying goes... behind closed doors... ...oh. Of course not I jest its not like that’s something I’d want to suggest, or take an interest in... Anyway you know that’s not me, so why don’t you come back to mine for a stiff... ...cup of tea?
LIAM TEMPLE CLEMENCY KEELER
At the lighthouse in Tynemouth the sky was grey and the sea was black with our little shelter brought under attack by intimidating waves and interrogating winds. But none of that mattered back then, we were just two young fools, falling in.
LOST SPRING TIME
ROSE AKEHURST ROSANNA GLASSE & GEORGINA ATKINSON
Even after all these years, under the veil of dust, the dark, rich mahogany was still vibrant with colour. But for a few scuffs (scars from being too well loved) the polished lid and body still exuded pride and purpose, and the brass candlestick holders jutted out in anticipation of illuminating the music stand once again; though the candles had not been lit for many years now, and the score pages remained unturned. The piano stood in the centre of the greying room, forever the spectacle of those who could not look away: the portraits that looked down on it from the walls, last remaining audience members who would never grow tired of it, grow up, and leave. But for this magnificent creature, the drawing room was almost empty these days. It had been gutted of its treasures after her death and the final auction had been and gone that afternoon. Now, like the rest of the house, it echoed a new kind of silence, with a freshly desolate resonance to it. The room seemed to ache with the loss of these treasures. A large Persian rug had once almost covered the entire floor, before it had been sold, leaving the hardwood boards naked and exposed to the criticisms of their own imperfections. Under the frosted glass of the window that now looked out over an over-grown garden in endless winter, where dying blossom fell like snow out of season, still sat the nineteenth century writing desk, but its many drawers had most likely been ransacked and it looked odd and sad without the scattered papers of industry on its surface. An entirely alien looking Coke can sat empty where these papers should have been- no doubt left behind by some youth, it acted as a miserable parody to a silver inkstand, that had also been sold. The book case, the photographs, furnishings that made a room a room were all gone, it was only the piano that remained unchanged, a silenced monument to her. The moth eaten curtains blew out in the breeze as if protesting against their own shabbiness and the old woman seemed almost to billow out from the worn cloth. She went to the piano to run her crippled fingers, prisoners of war that had been seized in her battle with arthritis, over the cold ivory keys, she would stroke once across the yellowed-white, then back along the pitch-black. Hesitantly, she placed her right index finger above middle C ready to begin, before thinking better of it and removing it once again. Music from years gone by rang silently from the great beast, and she allowed it to wash over and haunt the air without resistance. The pain was no longer there, but out of habit she wanted to sit. She by-passed the piano stool in front of her and retreated to the well-worn arm chair in a far corner. We suit each other better, she thought. Once settled the old woman had a better view of her piano and she sunk like melting glue in to what was once her favourite chair, where she decided she would remain. Then, she appeared before herself, beautiful and young again, glowing the way people only who are youthful and well-loved glow. The young girl’s white muslin dress hung delicately on either side of the stool, making her look almost as if she were floating above it. Barley-coloured locks struggled to escape the green ribbon in her hair and she shook them impatiently from her face, placing her porcelain hands on the keys. The old woman silently mimicked the gesture on the arms of the chair. The first movement of Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ emerged from under the girls fingertips, surges of hopeful notes that
could paint fresh buds on trees rang forth, a sound like playful ripples in calm waters. The old woman longed to dance, but she did not. She could not see the young girls face, but she suspected it was filled with a similar joy to her own. This music wrapped them up together in a lost spring time that sent shivers of delight down the old womanâ€™s spine. They remained united together like this until the old woman observed a change in the scene before her. A tall gentleman entered smiling, and standing beside the girl placed one strong hand on her shoulder, she went to turn to smile at him and the old woman knew she was about to see the girlâ€™s face... But then they were both gone. And the music, and spring time with them. And the door swung open. The removal men took the piano away; it took six of them in the end to move it. They were clumsy and rough with it; it had not gone for much after all. A final discordant crash resounded through the strings and right to the core of the old woman as it was heaved on to the reluctant, squealing trolley. Two of the men followed with the writing desk, although they left the Coke can. Finally, two more left with the old armchair, and the room truly was silenced.
ME, MYSELF AND I
JULIA BOND TOM BENNETT & ELIZABETH MCNALLY
I dragged him into the corridor; dumped my bag down on the table and stared into the mirror. The sounds of booze and people echoed in the space, messing with cocktails that spun round my head. His reflection glared back at me. His face read a mixture of drunk, confused and angry. He’d always hated missing parties and now I’d hauled him out here into the dark, just to wait for the moment that I’d kept putting off. I bit my lip thinking how to start. He was the one to break the silence. ‘Look. I only did it to protect you from -’ ‘Protect me? From that guy at the bar? I can deal with him myself. I’m not some sort of teenage child for fuck’s sake. I don’t -’ ‘The guy at the bar? Nah, you know who I’m talking about.’ His feminine features flashed back at me; a halo of blond hair that contrasted with blue eyes, and a sneer, which crept into his lip, as he spat out, ‘I heard you and him. Talking.’ ‘Eddie, I -’ ‘I heard your plans,’ he said, distorting my thoughts, ‘And I know it all….what you’re gonna do…It’s sick, Em. Stop it.’ ‘What? It’s not like that. There’s nothing for you to worry about.’ I shook my head and contemplated reaching up to ruffle his hair, ‘You’re being paranoid that’s all.’ He pulled me up to the mirror; his reflection dangled in front of me, with that vein popping in his forehead as he rebounded, ‘Paranoid? That’s a bit hypocritical. All I do is worry. Or look after you, you know, ever since -’ ‘It’s over. I’m not her anymore. I’ve changed,’ I looked straight into his eyes, ‘I don’t need you anymore.’ His reflection blinked twice, ‘I know it’s over. I made sure of that before I went. Remember? I’m talking present tense here, Em. He’s trouble.’ I jerked myself free from his gaze and its blueness to glare down at the floor. ‘I know what I’m doing.’ I snatched up my bag, walked away and left him there. His voice called out to me, trying to grip my ears and stop me. I ignored him and pushed past the crowds towards the door; grabbed the handle and then I heard him shout out, ‘Stamp him out Em. Before he drags you down. You’ve only just escaped!’ * The final sentences of last night niggled in my mind, lingering in-between the synapses and stalling cognitive function. He’d said it just before he’d faded into the recesses. But how could he know? I stirred my caramel macchiato, drowning the foam in the murky brownness. The caffeine kick I’d been craving entirely failed to register and I stared out the coffee shop window; pondering whether to drink the rest. The glassy surface in the cup murmured its figures to me and made me twinge, but I was meeting Nina at the gym later so it’d be fine. Teenagers spilled into the shop, bringing a mixture of high-pitched squeaks and grunts intermixed with repetitive beats that poured from the dis
carded earphones round their necks. The remnants of last night circled my head and the bittersweet concoction spilled across the table. ‘Shit.’ I grabbed some napkins and dabbed at the mess, blotting out their whiteness with brown stains. The attendant bustled her way over to me, carrying cloths and spray. ‘Sorry, I was miles away and -’ ‘Oh, it’s fine, love,’ she said. ‘This kinda thing happens all the time.’ ‘Sorry,’ I burbled, clutching sodden wads. She shot me a reassuring look and began to wipe down the tabletop. I stood there not knowing what to do, simply useless. The sound of my name exploded across the shop, stealing my attention and I turned to see Olivia standing in the doorway. Tall, blonde and with a voice like a foghorn she’d never really been able to blend in anywhere; not at a club, let alone a café. She waved to me, came over and plonked herself down in the chair next to me. Surveying the state of the table, she raised one eyebrow. ‘Em strikes again then?’ I let out a weak smile in response as she continued, ‘Bless! Well, I wouldn’t expect any less from you really after you knocked down that supermarket display and all!’ She chuckled and turned to the attendant, ‘I’ll have a double espresso thanks. Anyway, last night…’ The attendant cut her off and kindly explained to her that all drinks had to be ordered from the counter. She turned away and left the two of us in silence; Olivia with redness inching across her face and myself managing, only just to contain my laughter. ‘That didn’t happen. Right?’ ‘Course not.’ I replied. ‘Oh god.’ She ran her fingers through her extensions whilst I giggled. For once being able to relish at my clumsiness being outweighed by someone else’s lack of social know-how, instigated by what looked like one hell of a hangover. We’d met that first week in law lectures. She’d been the other girl suffering the side effects of Freshers and we’d bonded over our mutual need for coffee, bacon sandwiches and Nurofen. I’d never really expected that our friendship would last longer than that week; but we’d expanded beyond hangover cures and exam stress to become flatmates and friends. Even now, after graduation and competing law firms, we’d stayed just so. Glossing over her mild indiscretion, she leaned towards me, ‘Emsy. We have pressing issues at hand.’ ‘Pressing issues? I hope you mean gossip.’ ‘Erm, sorta. What do you remember about last night? As, I’m pulling a bit of a blank about various sections…I remember wine at Charlie’s, then cocktails at Mini’s Bar, then I…’ she paused, before questioning me, ‘We did shots right?’ I nodded, ‘Ah, so that’s where I went wrong, as from then on it all begins to fade into sound, light, and…possibly something very dodgy in an alley.’ ‘Classy.’ ‘Well, I learnt from the best.’ She replied. ‘Oft! Cheeky bitch! Well at least you didn’t do a Zante like Megan!’ Then I saw her face. ‘No way.’ ‘Nah, I’m not that classy. Bless Megs,’ she said. Then our eyes met, and with one look we both burst out laughing. Olivia’s hoots collided in the air with my shrieks creating what could only be described as a scene. The whole shop turned to stare at us as we quickly gathered our things and stumbled out. We staggered down the street; heading towards the car park. When we finally regained control of ourselves, she told me more of the events of last night and the bits I’d missed. It was all the usual kind of gossip: who didn’t Chloe kiss, Lisa being sent home early as she was too drunk to function, before she turned to me with a slither of impatience in her eyes. ‘So Ems: What about you?’ I looked at her confused. ‘Come on, what did ya get up to? I haven’t seen
you act like that in a long time.’ ‘What?’ ‘Well, I thought you’d gone home, but then all of a sudden, there you were.’ ‘Where?’ ‘Back at the bar silly, and then you’d gone again. But with him!’ I looked at her confused. ‘You know that guy from the bar. The one I saw you chatting to all night. Go on spill!’ ‘Last night? I left him at the bar - I went home by myself.’ She hesitated a while and looked me up and down. ‘I could have sworn it was you. Same dress: pixie cut and everything. You’re not telling me fibs are ya?’ ‘Nah, I went home,’ she raised one eyebrow. ‘I swear!’ ‘Hmm, alright. Strange though,’ she mused a while, before finishing with, ‘Maybe you’ve got one of these doppelgangers, Em, that you read about in magazines.’ ‘Pft. More likely you were pissed and just thought you saw me.’ She laughed and tried to undermine my notion by blathering on about that article. I tossed last night around my head. I remembered the guy at the bar; his name had begun with a J, or possibly a D, but I wasn’t certain of either. He’d definitely had an accent, which I couldn’t quite place - something southern I think I’d concluded. The rest of the girls had just scuttled off to the bathroom; finally giving in to breaking the seal, when he’d sidled up to me at the bar. ‘Hey. You here alone?’ He’d said, ‘Or are you simply waiting for someone to buy you a drink?’ I’d smiled at him in response and continued to play with my drink; melting the ice cubes to dilute away the harsh alcoholic bite. The lights of the club rotated above the dance floor refracting shards of light off the ground’s liquid surface. Bottle tops and used glasses lay littered between fidgeting feet, all hell bent on jerking and hurdling their way to some climax. The stickiness of dried on drink snatched at my hand as I brushed the bar stool, but for once I didn’t care. ‘So what is it then?’ he probed. I mentioned my friends and that I was holding up the bar for their return. He nodded; smiled and said, ‘So it would appear that I have you all to myself until they get back?’ ‘It would appear so.’ I replied. We sat there, talking and drinking for a large proportion of the night about life and the bits that get lodged in between. He told me about his job as an architect for a firm in London and how he’d been relocated north for a project in Manchester and all the accent related problems that had come with it. We moved past jobs to drinks, TV and other small talk subjects. In the lull between topics, I glanced up at him. His dark hair suggested a dishevelled elegance; whilst the rest of his look screamed out ‘I just grabbed it off the floor’. From his shirt, haphazardly shoved into his jeans to his half-arsed, half-polished shoes with mismatched socks sticking out the top. However, the tell-tale indications of time and effort shone through the holes in his jacket lapel, where he’d repositioned that gold badge at a slightly more interesting angle. It was small, with two wings that spread out from a central circle; both were delicately patterned with tiny feathers and in the middle, an eagle hovered, as if primed for the kill. It was a sort of air force style I supposed. It was past one when I realised the time and I desperately tried to fabricate some excuse more exciting than work that would require me to leave immediately. Then Eddie surfaced and my reason to disappear became solid. He’d pressed me for more than my number when I’d said good night, but my head wasn’t fuzzy enough for me to take him up on his offer. I dealt with Eddie, the night faded into black and then it was morning - I woke up in my flat; in my bed, alone, with the call of the alarm and
cocktail stilettos reverberating in my mind. ‘Did you get his number then?’ Olivia said, dragging me out of my head. ‘Erm, nah. Don’t think so. ’ ‘So, you gave him yours, right?’ ‘Ah, well -’ ‘What? But you nattered on with him for like…most of the night.’ She looked at me and sighed. ‘So, what was his name at least?’ My honest reply was a smile, which was pathetic at the most. ‘Let me get this right. You didn’t get his name…or his number! How? And why Em?’ ‘I think he said his name, but you know…cocktails and all.’ ‘You’re hopeless, you know that!’ * We said goodbye at the car park, got in our cars and headed our separate ways. It was only a ten minute drive or so back to my flat from town; but seeing as it was rush hour I decided to take the scenic route past the reservoir to avoid the queues. The green forest surrounded the water, sparking with seasonal energy and brought back the idea of a memory long since forgotten. I shook it off and turned on the radio; listening to them twitter on about something crucially important, until I arrived back at my flat sometime after six. I walked up the two flights of stairs to the red door and let myself in. Placing my key on the hook, I chucked my work stuff down in the hall, kicked off my heels and headed straight to the kitchen - desperate for a glass of water and a quick rummage in the fridge before hitting the gym. Then I saw him. Sprawled out and motionless in the middle of my kitchen floor. The guy with no name. Just lying there. Face up; pale as hell, with a knife sticking out his stomach and another lodged deep in his chest. His eyes stared up at the ceiling; glazed over, scared and cold. The blood had ebbed out and pooled around him. Apart from where it had seeped along the grouting in little rivers and loitered there congealed and rusty. Standing outright and organic against the white surfaces were little tarnished specks that spattered the worktops with a plastic sheen. I grabbed the doorframe for solidity as the metallic stench of lost humanity hit my nostrils. ‘Bet you wish you’d listened now, hey?’ He said. Then I screamed. * I don’t know how long I stood there, stuck to the tiles and Eddie simpering in my ears. I think I tried to leave more than once, but some primitive fascination stalled me and I simply remained there. My mind flicked through thoughts – The police? But what if they thought I’d…How’d he even get here. Nina has a key - Nah. She wouldn’t, she couldn’t…stupid. Police? I’ll call them. No wait, wait, what if…I can’t. I couldn’t have I heard my ringtone sound out in the hall and his eyes followed me as I hauled myself out to answer it. After rooting around in my bag I found it: the screen read Nina and the time 7:15. I’d said that I’d meet her at the gym at seven. The phone screen flashed and the call timed out, switched to voicemail and bleeped thirty seconds later with her no doubt angry message. Sorry Nina. I turned the phone off, put it down and slumped down against the wall, eyes shut, scrunching my toes deep into the carpet. ‘Well it appears we’re in a bit of a mess then, eh?’ I ignored him and burrowed further into the fibres. ‘I told you I was right.’ ‘You’re wrong.’ ‘Really? The dead guy in your kitchen would appear to disagree.’
‘Look, Eddie. I dunno know how he got there, or who killed him or –’ ‘Yeah, right.’ He sneered back. ‘What?’ ‘I warned you. You shoulda listened.’ I got up, to get out of there, to go anywhere that wasn’t there. I considered going back into the kitchen. Perhaps I’d dreamed it, the body, the blood, the ‘Argh! Shit!’ Something small and sharp stabbed into the underside of my foot; I hopped on one leg trying to see the offending item. I saw the flash of wings and then I knew. Scraping at it, I dragged it out my flesh and hurled it in the opposite direction running for the bathroom. I slammed the door shut and turned on the taps. Grabbing the soap I scrubbed until my hands turned red, and then repeated again. When I’d finished I hung there, clinging on to the edge of the sink and listening to my lungs labour on, rapid and shallow. I stared into the basin. It wasn’t enough. Pulling the plug, I let the liquid drain away and the water rush out of the tap again. I scanned myself in the mirror as I waited for it to fill up. It was just me - small and blonde but this time with something dark lodged about the eyes, mocking me. ‘It won’t help,’ it said. ‘Nothing will.’ Then it laughed. Dark, deep and mechanical. I felt the sickness rise in my chest as it paused to twitch out, ‘You’ve got death in your veins. You always have. Remember?’ My face twisted itself into a masked rigidity of some long lost horror. It laughed again. ‘Stop pretending, Emma. I don’t believe you.’ Then I vomited, emptying my insides of any last scrap. ‘You’re not real.’ ‘Then neither are you.’ It spat back at me. I gagged several more times, but nothing remained. It lingered for a while, it’s laugh echoing through the ventricles; disrupting reality and replacing it with something much more macabre. Then it was gone and it was just me on the bathmat. The silence was strange: it was calm and noiseless. I felt there should have been screams, or sirens or something, but instead there was nothing, just that horrific peace. I finally felt Eddie spasm somewhere in the cortex before he shifted behind the lobe almost out of reach. I found him and pulled him out. ‘Guess you still know what you’re doing then.’ ‘I’m sorry. I’m -’ ‘Save it, I warned you.’ He tried to leave, but I held him there. ‘Eddie I don’t know about all this. It can’t be...it just can’t. It’s wrong, it’s fucked, it’s…’ I scrabbled for words whilst holding my head in my hands. I moved my palms over my eyes to block out all traces of light and replaced it with peachy darkness. ‘How are we -’ ‘We? Thought it was just you and him now. Get him to sort it.’ He paused before spitting out. ‘Or better yet, get the dead one to.’ ‘I know. I’ve been shit. I just wanted –’ ‘Yeah you ‘just wanted’. Wanted it to be like it was before. Now you think you know. But you forget, then I cared,’ he fazed in and out, blurring the distinction between I and we. I tried to apologise but he cut me off with, ‘You’re her again, you know, just like then. Stupid and screaming at the darkness.’ ‘Again? You’re wrong.’ ‘You remember don’t you?’ ‘No, I -’ ‘Liar.’ He hissed. Then I was back there, lying in the silence between the sheets. With the footsteps; soft on the bottom step, then increasing in volume as they inched closer and closer to the top, along the corridor and then the crunch of the handle turn and
‘Stop it. Eddie.’ ‘Not ‘til you remember.’ ‘I do. I remember. I swear. Don’t -’ Then it washed over me, a repeating flick-book of headaches, blackness and actions. When it finished, I clung there, my face washed with salt and a scream perched just waiting for a sound. ‘I’ll sort it.’ ‘No, I –’ Then it began: the rapid twitch of the eyes, before they rolled back under the lids and then the quick spread of spasms through the figure. Next, the drag and snap of the jaw into that stupidly unfamiliar grimace, then darkness, as he clawed his way out. *
AN ABSENT PL ACE
DAVID SPITTLE JOEY FELLS
If these hands, in grateful prayer palm warm around the plump symmetry and feel the real heat through a chipped blue mug. If my fingers touching meet beneath the curved handle, skin scored like bark when pressed pink to white on the painted surface. And then, on placing the mug on the table in front of me watch, through ocean veils of coffee steam, your face as it should always be. Showing etchings of what you were to me. Peering now from change upon change. Friends holding hands back to back, while both eyes closed remember when their eyes were open. Instead of finding memories to foster fond this framing I trail out of it-it being exactly where I am whenever thoughts take pause to breath, It being Real, silence, death and every last and first flesh on flesh-the furniture we drape with estimations, codes, and floral pillows. My coffee, still hot, stares with the blank circle of surface, and, in the shapes that shiver, I can try and remember the end of my sentence. You stare with the same expectation: as if age hadnâ€™t happened and we are all still waiting to become who we think we might be. That person never found form and with the stoic reply of every mirror realisation was in flat reflection and never in those dreams.
You tell me how you still like the same bands (smile jerked with a caught carp hook and eyes appeal with blasted white flags unravelled as the iris grows). I tell you how itâ€™s the same with me, and we carry on lying until each invented avatar is worn. But what I was really thinking, instead of being in the script we set, was that if these words are not how we describe, but all we know, then I only ever held the suggestion of a mug And saw the letters of a friend, and when it comes to knowing me, I know instead an absent place. That juggles planets like an amputee, dropping time in time; time and time again and, like letters struggling in envelopes, I know exactly what you said but never what you meant.
A GRAND UNDERTAKING OR, THE MODERN INFERN O, DANIEL’S INFERN O AN ABSURD AND UNUSUAL TALE A NOVEL, IN A CHORUS AND THREE ACTS SERIALISED FOR ALLITERATI
DANIEL HINDS BETH RAMSAY
‘Oh, how blessed are people whose ramparts are already rising! So Aeneas observes, looking up at the roofs of the city, Fenced as he walks, by a fortress of cloud (it’s a marvellous story)’i Virgil, Aeneid
Prologue Chorus Ambition. Why, yes, that has always been my defining trait, and I’m sure you’ll quite agree. Looking back, my life has ever been a quest for starlight, in the most romanticised terms. Strange I should find it in the blackest pit, the last one I looked into as well. I suppose that is how it has to be. I warn you, you may find the change from one surreal landscape to another somewhat jarring. I did at first, but of course I’m quite used to it now, having already been through it once. And I ask you, will you find me much changed, throughout my account? I’ve always found it rather hard to tell. But, I’m getting ahead of myself, why we haven’t even been introduced! My occupation? Politician, if you could not tell already. I never quite fulfilled my early promise, and petered out as a backbench Member of Parliament, although I always aspired to the Lords. My ambition was ever too plain for all to see, my ideology too, eccentric, shall we say? But, I suppose I can say whatever I like here, dear reader. And to all my political opponents, I say to Hell with them. Party? Conservative and garden parties. And yes, it is important. My name? Daniel. Please remember it. Legacy has always been of the utmost importance to me. I dreamed of bequeathing a title and estate to my heirs. I failed on both accounts. No heirs either. My interests? Astronomy, I suppose. Still is, in a manner of speaking. I availed myself of all the aristocratic pursuits, falconry, fencing, hunting, tea parties, horse riding, literature and so forth.
i Virgil, Trans. Frederick Ahl Aeneid, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2007. Book One, page 17, line 437-439
My appearance? Why, haven’t you seen the magazine covers? It is not often a man of my indisputable handsomeness stumbles into the political arena. Fashion? Quite traditional, quite English. Some would say a little old fashioned, but I have tried to maintain the image of a man not of the times, but of the hour. Age? Thirty-five, if you must know. Sin? Only one to speak of. Women? A few minor dalliances, nothing more. I have endeavoured to keep my life free of scandal, as I always saw it an impediment to my ambition. A necessary sacrifice, I always thought. For more information, do refer to my comments on starlight. Don’t bother to skip ahead. There are nine chapters. The logical thing to do, don’t you think? Although often what they concern is quite illogical. But you have all that ahead of you, don’t you? You’ll be amused to know I wrote this passage staring into a looking glass, reciting each line, with a raised eyebrow and a grin, preparing it for my public. I am a politician. Oh, and I forgot to mention something. I died the 2nd of April 2010. I suppose you are quite shocked.
Act One Circle One ‘Still living or now dead and unable to hear voices calling,’ii But, enough about me, let me tell you about Hell. Although I simply must include myself in my waxing lyrical, as, I feel my being shapes my account, which is certainly different from my rivals, from the Bible, from Virgil, Milton and Dante. I do suppose my tale to be closest to Dante’s, nine Circles, each filled with souls, and indeed initially our journeys were quite similar. Perhaps, I simply took a different path, perhaps Satan’s pit is unique to every individual. Actually, this is an idea which quite appeals to me. However, I shan’t bore you with theological discussion, I’m sure you are eager to hear my story. At least, I’m eager to tell it. I had always sought to go in that glorious manner, dragged screaming before my time, having bartered my soul for fame, fortune, fantasy, ugly Hell gaping before me. My arrival was somewhat more, subdued. I found myself in a dark wood. This was the sight that greeted me after death. Not yet in Hell, not yet passed beyond those infernal gates. A great fear filled my heart, the shock of death being a terrible blow, not helped by my strange environs. The landscape was so completely devoid of colour all was black and white, however of a distorted nature, so that all in between things seemed to blur grey. Objects seemed not solid, but to wisp and swirl about; the black trees merging into each other. I am unsure what form I took here, perhaps I was a shade, for as I came near the trees, the black form, that was, my body, threatened to blur and become lost. The pale forms of my hands swirled around the inky black of my edges, and I pulled them to the greater whole of my chest, lest they be lost. ii Virgil, Trans. Frederick Ahl Aeneid, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2007. Book One, page 10, line 219
Through the trees I could perceive a hill, rising out of the forest. At its top was a shining halo of yellow light, flecked with rainbows. Not too high above it, in the grey sky I could make out the pinpricks of stars, veiled behind blurring clouds. They were so far away then, my stars, little but specks in the distance, unknowable shapes on my horizon. I drifted long, lost in the harsh wilderness, frightened, unable to muster the strength within my faded being to ascend the hill. Then, I saw one in the great wilderness not looking lost, and to him I longed to scream my misery. Yet, I did not. I had pride left still to sin. The shadow, man, or whatever he truly was, approached me, and addressed my waif like soul. “A man I was in times long gone. Of Florentine stock, a White Guelf. I lived in bad days. I was a poet then, and sang in praise of all the virtues of Portinari’s daughter. Until banished by the Black, I lived in Verona, and later Rovenna, ‘till death 1321.” Now with the company of this mighty figure, I banished my fear and said to him: “So could it be you are that Dante?” “I am your teacher. I am your lord, your law. And I shall guide you out of that place, which you shall surely go.” “And what place is that, poet?” “Hell.” iii “Come, I think hell’s a fable.” I sneered, “Let me depart, and be on my way.” And so I left him, eager to find my own path through the dark. As, you can see I did not react well to news of my damnation. Seeing my folly, I cried out “Alighieri! Alighieri! Alighieri!” Alas, no one now remained to hear it. Repentance had arrived too late. I found the climb upwards to be painful, and so I headed downwards, and found this path much less laborious. The dark wood and scree grew less, and at last colour returned to the world. The red glow of flames bathed the landscape in its heat and I pressed on towards it, the tongues of flame beckoning me closer. At last I came to the source of the inferno. A gate, wreathed in fire, towering over me, and a great wall stretching up and around further than I cared to see. Inscribed upon the metal barred entryway was that which would greet sinners for all eternity. ‘Through me you go to the grief-wracked city. Through me to everlasting pain you go. Through me you go and pass among lost souls. Justice inspired my exalted Creator. I am a creature of the Holiest Power, Of wisdom in the Highest and of Primal Love. Nothing till I was made, only Eternal beings. And I endure eternally. Surrender as you enter every hope you have.’iv The gate swung open, its twin metal slabs pulled by unearthly forces, the screech of metal sounding my arrival. A grand entrance. As I stepped through I felt the return of my physical form, attired in the same suit I had died in, waistcoat now black with soot, silver pocket watch and all. I strode imperiously into Hell, imbued with the God given grandeur of my body. The landscape I entered into was barren, and in the distance thick smoke billowed about, so that there was no sign of the sky. I alone, I
iii Marlowe, Christopher, Doctor Faustus: The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus (A-Text,1604), Norton Critical Edition, New York, 2005. Page 24, line 123 iv Alighieri, Dante, Trans. Robin Kirkpatrick Inferno, Penguin Classics, London, 2006. Canto 3, page 21, line 1-9
was the only one. A coldness spread across my body and the land about me, gnawing at us, as Hell and I froze as one. The flames of the gate fell as icicles, shattering ice slashing at my heels. I could not turn. A dark presence rose up and collected itself from the fog, the ground where He stood now ice forever. I fell onto the now cold dirt, my head bowed, fixed upon black boots, coated in dried blood, flaking off. “One does not enter into Hell like a monarch!” A terrible voice spat, hissing and deep. “Crawl, like a beast.” The voice commanded, thick with blood and hate. A thin hand caressed my head, long fingernails slicked in blood and grime, ripping out my hair and blood as the icicle fingers jabbed at my skull. He chuckled and drooled, a thick glob of murky red lathered my face and then splattered to the ground. “The proper way to enter my kingdom. Raise your head and look into my eyes.” Compelled by ancient evil, I did so, ice snapping as I, trembling, moved my frozen form. On this inexorable journey my eyes took in a muddied cloak, black suit and blood caked white shirt encrusted in ice, wisps of billowing ice tinged the air about them. Straining to resist, but failing, my gaze settled first on a grinning mouth, smeared in blood, split serpent’s tongue lolling horribly out of a mouth long past full of razor icicle teeth, then upon a sanguine face, beautiful, yet wicked, and lastly upon those terrible eyes. They did not move. Orbs frozen in place, completely consumed by ice. And in them I saw what I took to be the majesty of Hell, and terror of it. Belching furnaces, cavorting demons and tortured vestiges of man. Then I was shown my own Sin. He did not see me then, nor I Him. I was but another soul to labour under the throne. I wonder did He perceive me then, as I would be? Somehow I think not. Not until our next meeting. I wonder, does the devil greet every single sinning soul? A boot fell upon my neck, and my face was pushed into the dirt. “Crawl.” The voice growled again, then vanished, and with it the boot against my back. Eager to obey, I crawled for some way, unaware of my direction, until feeling what little pretence of safety that exists here, I arose to my feet. My first defiance. I was stood atop a rocky outcrop, one of many, the source of the smoke nearer now, harder to breathe. Below me was: “So long a trail of men and women I should not have thought That death could ever have unmade so many.”v They chased a red standard, bearing the ludicrous emblem of the red rose, hammer and sickle. “Wayward souls!” I called, but they were too engrossed in their pursuit of something unobtainable, and of little merit even if it were. I looked down upon them and saw few distinctions among their number, composed in the main of burly men and frail, foolish women. I felt great contempt for them and strode aloofly past them, their gaze base and envious of my absurd strutting self. Walking further I found myself struggling through the smoke and had to wave my arms foolishly about so as to ward off its malignant intake. Suddenly, I happened upon a factory, iron walls grown black through exposure to its product. I wandered round its edge, and chanced upon a few conversing souls. “Aye, I agree, take it all at once, all together, to the furnace.” “Aye, I agree, let’s leave the steel here, lads.” “Aye, no wages, equally shared.” v Alighieri, Dante, Trans. Robin Kirkpatrick Inferno, Penguin Classics, London, 2006. Canto 3, page 23, line 57
“Aye, for the common good.” The labours proceeded to saunter back through the enormous corrugated doors, arm in arm, laughing merrily. The heat that assailed me prevented me from entering the factory, and through the roar of flames, I made out the sharp crack of a gunshot, then the workers, now one less in numbers, were seen scampering from the factory. Out of the heat strode a moustached gentleman in tweed toting a hunting rifle. “Why, hello!” He shouted jovially. “Good day, sir,” courtesy taking over, “and may I inquire as of to who you are, and as of to where I am?” “Certainly sir!” the man blustered, his ruddy face and fat stomach swelling with happiness “I am the owner of this fine business, and this is Hell, from that gate over there, past a river just north of here, to the great plains bordered by mountains.” “Really?” I asked, quite perplexed “is that all of it? I was expecting more.” Maybe humanity was better than I had surmised it to be. I suppose my profession lead me to encounter few decent men. “Why of course! It’s common knowledge!” I never did find any good in anything ‘common.’ “And what do you make in your ‘fine business?’” “Make? Why we barely make anything at all, keep it smoky, you know?” His voice strange and unearthly continued, his frame puffed up with some strange inspiration: ‘still others are laying foundations, Deep in the ground, for a theatre. Some chisel out from cliff-sides Tall columns, massive in size: decor for a stage in the future.’vi He swiftly deflated, and shook his head, ruddy cheeks wobbling. “By the way, if you may pardon my asking, was that shot yours?” “Why of course! Would of got another of those varmints if they weren’t so damn quick!” “You cannot simply just shoot your workers!” I spluttered. “Why of course you can! They don’t do any work anyway, so called workers! Things should be precisely what they say!” “Perhaps they’re simply being ironic. I am afraid it is just plain bad manners to kill a fellow man, even an ironic one.” “Kill? Why he’s already dead! Besides fox hunting is legal here.” “Sorry, I can’t see how-” I started, quite perplexed. “Yes, you see, we had the workers declared foxes. You’re not a worker are you?... I mean you don’t look like one, look more like a Londoner, but these foxes are wily creatures...” I do wish this man had not shouted so much, I might have been able to gleam some more information, however his company was most distasteful, and the bizarre convoluted logic of the place made my head spin, and so bidding him a hasty farewell, afore he could find an excuse to shoot me as well, I headed in the direction of the river. I could not imagine a stream running through this parched desert. As I made my approach, I became entangled in a vast body of souls, and could do little but be dragged along with them, no matter how vigorously I strained to be free of them. The onslaught of this sudden humanity made me quite dizzy, and so I was swept with the tide. Above the heads of this deluge of humanity, a great barge loomed, more akin to a steamship than a
vi Virgil, Trans. Frederick Ahl Aeneid, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2007. Book One, page 17, line 427-429
conventional boat, but with its rusted hull wrought of blood stained metal, and ragged metal piercings, bedecked in human corpses, rotting flesh, and skeletal limbs. A wailing began among us. The belching cloud of steam was despair to us, and some sank to their knees, only to be crushed by our uncaring horde, those at the back of us as of yet unaware of the steamship, and pushing eagerly onwards. The frontrunners of our number disappeared from view, and now I saw the ‘river’ previously described to me. I wouldn’t quite say the term applied to it. Instead an ocean of blood was set out before me, sizzling in Hell’s furnace. I could barely discern the murky shape of land at the other end. As the human tide met the bloodied sea, those leading the way had been forced by our uncaring body to plunge into the lake. Their screams and burnt flesh filled my eyes and ears. I halted where I was. I could not swim in ordinary water, and as such did not fancy my chances of coming ashore from this simmering liquid. The aged figure of an old man, hair all white, leapt into view at the prow, his towering spindly frame shaking with anger and mirth as he yelled at us: “Degenerates! Your fate is sealed! Cry woe! Don’t hope you’ll ever see the stars again!”vii His voice hurled the horde, and I include myself in this, into further despair. Two enormous iron gangplanks unfurled from the boat, crashing into the ground, crushing the unfortunates beneath them. Unwilling to be forced into the searing river, the damned poured up these extensions to further suffering - I taken along with them - forced onto the boat. Charon’s cruel laughter echoed about the metal prison. We were herded by the wizened form into a cavernous room at the heart of the ship. The room began to fill far beyond its capacity, millions of the dead occupying the prison, to be shipped only to further eternal shadow, heat, chill and misery. The cavern filled, sardine like, my face pressed against some shapeless form, hemmed in on every side. The heavy rocking of the barge jabbing elbows and clawing fingers into my side. These are my memories of that long and horrible passage. There were none among us who did not weep. A scraping screech of metal on rock informed us of our arrival at our unearthly destination. Charon jabbed at the sinners with his pointed wooden oar, now no longer needed, rendered obsolete by the ghastly metallic ferry, still laughing. We emerged from the gangplanks to find ourselves in a vast plain of ash. The sky above thundered, smashing down lightening upon our number. I whimpered as I took in what lay before me. The stream of sinners I was a part of were nought to the true extent of Hell’s populace. A writhing mass of woe ridden humanity churned on that field. Demons swooped overhead, their skin black and leathery, spined wings upon their backs, cruel implements of torture in their claws. No sound was made within our company. If before we had known despair, now we knew Hell. My group filed towards the sufferers, ready to join them, and I saw the grim flayed flesh of those before us, some nought but bone and white eyes, so they may see the full horror of their eternal punishment. Demons swirled about us, merriment in their shrieks, now aware of new arrivals. I longed to scream, “Alighieri! Alighieri! Alighieri!” but my tongue was dead flesh in my mouth, and I knew I would find no answer. I turned, as if to run, although my legs felt now dead weights too, and in their demise would not vii Alighieri, Dante, Trans. Robin Kirkpatrick Inferno, Penguin Classics, London, 2006. Canto 3, page 25, line 84-85 Altered to fit context ‘skies’ to ‘stars.’
carry me. Charon’s barge left to ferry another load. A single demon landed before us, delight in his terrible bat face. In turn, he asked each of us, this miserable company, their name, then laughed at their sin. I was the last to speak with him. “Name?” He sneered. “Daniel Hinds. Daniel Glennuel Hinds. Politician.” I amended, with perhaps a hint of defiance, I could spare his mockery. Before he could seize upon some Earthly wrongdoing I sprung a question upon him. “What happens if you die in Hell? I just saw a chap get shot you see...” “Nobody asks questions...” he faltered for a moment, his voice high pitched and whining. “Well,” he needled, a nasal hiss lingering after his words, “punishment continues. Always.” Ending with a grimace of his fangs. “Nobody asks questions...” he murmured, as he strode away, slapping those in his path to the ground. I attempted to look past the swirl of humanity, and in the distance I could see the veiled shapes of mountains. If this was all of Hell, what lay beyond them? The vision I had seen in the devil’s eyes held no account of them. Perhaps I had not despaired as much as I thought. Perhaps it was the mention of my name. Perhaps it was the fact I was the only one wearing a suit. Whatever the case, I resolved to evade this torture and ascend those mountains, who knew what lay on the other side. Lightening struck and a chariot sailed far above me, a terrible spectre at its head, pulled onwards by demons, as a whip cracked against their backs. A moaning began among the populace. Satan had come to survey his kingdom. I began to push my way through the masses. They were easily susceptible to my parting of them, as they stood, stock still, their hands clasped around their scarred, mournful faces. I waded through the mountain of bodies, wary of the demons circling overhead. This path was long and arduous, fraught with danger at every step. I thanked divine providence then, as I made it through the wasted huddle. No, divine providence was not with me. I was not Dante, Aeneas or Saint Paul, this journey must be made on the strength of my own ambition. I imagine my struggle took many weeks, only once lashed by a demon, having unwittingly climbed a deranged pyramid of humanity and presented my form to the demon infested sky, sometimes forced to lie low, among the sobbing dead, for days on end, however, at last I reached the edge of the mass, and found myself at the mountains edge. I cannot say I made it even a quarter of the way up its slopes, the struggle as wearying as the ascent up the hill in that dark wood, however here a new terror drove me onwards, so strange for one who had remained free of fear in all his earthly days. The smog of hell was still prevalent here, and unlike the hill of afore, I knew not if stars rested at its pinnacle. However, for now I had no need to persevere to its peak, for, a gaping tunnel lay not too far up the ascent. At last, I clambered over the rocky slope and onto smooth solid ground. Peering inside, I could discern only gloom, so tentatively, I took my first steps on my proper path, into the dread tunnel. ‘they seethe all round their bolted escape routes, Making the mountain roar.’viii A Grand Undertaking continues at www.alliteratimagazine.com
vii Virgil, Trans. Frederick Ahl Aeneid, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2007. Book One, page 4-5, line 55-56
BEF ORE AND PAS T
DAVID SPITTLE ALICE BULCH
You were always unwritten as my paper chase, blotting future in the puddles. Time was more exciting when it tangled kites, words were more inviting disappearing in the heights. Life was more romantic, before I read the end, and love unopened lay in letters, for growing-up to send.
SOON TO BE SMOKE
SAM DUDA ASSEL KADYRKHANOVA
Dear Father Christmas, I’ve forgotten how to start a letter to you, but now’s the only chance I’ll have to send it. I don’t know how I’ll get it to you. I’m supposed to be asleep and the chimney has been blocked for years. But I guess you’ll find it. You know where I am. At school we have been painting reindeer and I made mince pies for you. I cut a snowflake. It has been cold and raining a lot here and today it snowed so we had a wet break time. We didn’t have to go on the field which means I didn’t have to get changed in front of the others. My arms look better now anyway. I’m not sure if I have been good or bad this year. I stole this paper. And the matches from the mantelpiece. I have been lying to my mum. I know you can see everything. The skirt I threw away with the rip. The stuff that he makes me clean. And I think about hurting him. I can’t hide anymore. I can hear presents being wrapped downstairs now. This afternoon they made me decorate the tree. I put my snowflake in the middle and looked at it a long time. The holes I cut in it make it look like an angel too. When I finished he came along and lifted me up by my legs so I would put a star on the top. He said he couldn’t believe how heavy I was getting and tried to show my mum he was surprised. My mum said I could speak to her if I wanted to. She put her hand on my face like the time she found out about my arms. But he came into the room in the middle of it wondering if I was excited to see what games you would be bringing me. When I asked how you would get down the chimney, he told me that you would find your way to my room. At school on the last day before the holidays my teacher put on a red suit and I could see the strap on his cotton wool beard. He asked me what I wanted and I told him nothing. I said my puppy was killed last year. I found him in the shed. He tried to give me a doll but I didn’t like what I found between its legs so I left it in the cloakroom. I know I’m too old to believe in you. I try not to believe in him. But when he comes I can’t pretend to sleep. I know how heavy he is. The scratch of his face on my cheek. I sleep with the lights on. There is not a shadow that I miss. He’s still here. This is not the only secret I keep. Last year I thought it was you on the stairs. The top step creaks a little, he knows not to let me hear him coming. I waited for you. His breath smelled of mince pies. He told me I had been good. Please come tonight. There is nothing else I want. I don’t need any more games. Again I will wait. Ella.
JENNI HESLOP CHLOE TRUE
On toast coloured velvet I read news that; ‘The Daily Mail predicts the end of the house fly by 1915’ in Bugs and the Victorians. and overhear that; “Butterflies need nettles to survive” I decide; I am very lonely and I’m going to bulk up my self-worth by obsessing about beetles. A red stained walking stick accuses of forgetting the work it took to allow me into: This room. A room. Whose shape is dictated by a bookcase. Captain Wiggins’ Walrus glares out from his gelatine glaze And a pot of untouched, scalpel sharp, pencils sit juxtaposing in a metal pot. Jammed in alongside the pencils, (Much like the last few scoops of unrequired sawdust in Mr. Walrus) Is a transparent red pencil sharpener. A rose among...
JENNIFER LENHARDT KIT GRIFFITHS
Sunning, in glorious array, this pale and soft skin bathed in yellow, but not florescent, finally, bodyâ€™s overheating and beads of perspiration build on backs of necks and underexposed legs, long and ever reaching towards the grass, that overgrows and stretches too in exaltation, though gladly burning in yellow gold.
A LOT OF CLOUDS
RUBY GULLON RUBY GULLON & LILLY WILLIAMS
Once upon a time there was a girl. Oh yes, a girl. She was nicknamed Sky for the sole reason that she always had her head in the clouds. The thing is, it caused quite a lot of problems for our little Sky. To think of all those dreadful headaches! I mean GOODNESS it must be awfully uncomfortable to have your head stuck in the clouds all day. You see a cloud is like a big, soft sponge that’s just been plunged into the ocean, you shove your head in it and you’re bound to get drenched! And drenched she was, in fantasies and dreams, magic and make-believe. It was a wonderful experience for her, until she came plummeting back down to earth and was bashed in the face by the devastating dullness of reality. Oh, don’t get me wrong, she’s not a pessimist! Not at all, in fact she viewed the world as more of a mystery. Why could only she see a glorious, glittering dragon in the middle of Northumberland Street? Why do people feed cats fish when all they really want are bourbons? And then there’s those sun bears! You know the type; chunky, brown teddies with a yellow chest, usually found whispering to grass or other such things. Or maybe you don’t know. Well anyway, she didn’t understand. By now I bet you’ve realised that our little Sky is rather odd but only the truly mad are really sane. Now there is an actual story to go with all this lunacy and the story begins on a Wednesday. It was a very sunny Wednesday, deliciously cool and there were lots, yes lots, of clouds in sky. Chubby, fluffy, pink ones, the type that Greek God’s are often perched upon playing backgammon or battleships (‘You’ve sunk Spain!’ etc). Sky was off on a wander through a tropical village in Newcastle. In truth it was an ugly, dilapidated estate heavily graffitied by the local misfits (Little Gits). But Sky as always could only see what wasn’t there. So she plodded on quite buoyantly, magic tainting her every step. Trees were bursting out of the ground all around her creating an arch above her head, the floor was littered with velvety-soft crystals and the sun bears were whispering loudly ‘grow, grow’. She grinned. Ran. Danced. One of the sun bears looked at her. It said something. Stupid cow. She didn’t quite hear. She suddenly stopped, the arch had finished and the glittering crystal path had ended. She had made it home. She was stood in front of a charming looking castle. Of course it had a moat and a couple of turrets, it was smothered in ivy and semi-detached. She crossed the drawbridge eagerly and entered. The entrance was ostentatiously decorated with gold ornaments and linoleum, chessboard flooring. Sky hop scotched across the first few squares but was interrupted by a shrill cry. “You can’t, let him out!” The Queen came running down the golden stairs that stood majestically in the centre of the hall. She was holding a lavishly decorated, wooden chest with an intricately designed pattern of leaves carved into it. Her face was red and swollen, she’d been crying again. “Mam?” The King was close to follow, he was growling like a wild dog. “Where do you think you’re going?” “Away!” she barked.
They argued for several moments before they realised Sky was standing by the door. You’re not leaving. You can’t stop me. I’ve stopped him haven’t I? She looked more closely at her mother, she had a shimmering, red scarf wrapped around her head. A loud thud came from above. “You’re not going anywhere!” he hissed venomously. Her father stormed down the stairs and grabbed the Queen’s wrists with such hate that Sky cringed away in fear. The chest came crashing down on the floor and burst open. Clothes spilled out of the suitcase but Sky, oh, she only saw treasure, fabulous, dazzling treasure! Sparkling gold, shining emeralds, blood rubies, opals, a diadem, a knife, no, a sword all spilled out of the suitcase. But her excitement was quenched immediately by the sight of her father. He was now spitting out words that Sky didn’t understand. Bitch. Sky had heard that one before. Her mother had once used it, you’ve been with that bitch I know you have. A faery that feasts off children’s melancholy she had explained. But just as Sky completed this thought another bang sounded from above, suddenly followed by a tremendous crack below as the Queen was thrown down the rest of the stairs like a ragdoll in the hands of a stroppy toddler. And for a second, just a second, Sky saw a frail woman lying still on the wooden floor of an ugly hallway, a glittery, crimson scarf dripping from her head. But just before Sky could be completely immersed in terror, the King came charging down the stairs his skin rippling, his eyes bulging, his teeth bared like a monster. And that’s what her father had become, a monster; a villain. But it couldn’t be him it just couldn’t, she thought and as she did so the image of her father shattered like a fist into a mirror. The figure creeping towards her no longer resembled a human, it was taller, oh, so much taller. Its legs were shaped like a dog’s, clawed and distorted. Its skin was sickly grey and dripping wet with putrid veins pulsating along the muscular arms. Its back was arched and she imagined that each individual bone of the spine was defined. At last her eyes approached its face, but there was none just a mouth, a sneering, leering mouth. It was almost like a shark, two layers of thin crooked teeth complete with a tongue black and forked like a python’s. Tears were streaming down her face obscuring her vision, what a horrible, nasty thing! The sight of the creature terrified her but not, certainly not, as much as the man who was truly standing in front of her. The Nastything was moving towards her, arms dragging and joints cracking, its head clicking from left to right, liquid spilling all around it. It growled something but she didn’t understand, she was far too afraid. She needed a plan, she had to get rid of it, obliterate it! She thought of the knights and warriors that she’d met at school, what would they do? She looked out the window only to find a sun bear peering in, help she thought with a pang of hope but as she stumbled to the window the sun bear had already fled. Shocked by her sudden contact with the outside world she let out a frustrated cry and turned
back to the scene that was unfolding before her. The monster was beside her mother now; shaking her, hitting her. Get off her she wanted to scream but was stunned. Another noise, much louder than before came from upstairs. A yelling, no, a roaring. The Nastything had locked someone away. But before Sky could answer the cry, it escaped! An enormous and glorious tiger had escaped out of his prison. He came bounding down the stairs and leaped onto the vile creature’s crouching stance. The tiger ripped and tore at the Nastything’s slimy flesh. The monster fought back vehemently, punching and tearing at the magnificent animal but the Glorious Tiger was younger and fitter and clawed and roared with equal passion. The Nastything was wretched and cruel and with a snicker of delight grabbed the tiger’s tail and devoured it! The Glorious Tiger yowled in pain and Sky fell to the floor in horror. With one final sneer the Nastything took hold of the tiger’s throat and, thrusting him against the wall, asphyxiated him with a ruthless determination. This was it, this was the end. Her brother had lost, the monster won and she would be the Nastything’s captive just like the princesses in her stories. She realised then that she had envied them, but then, they had someone to save them didn’t they? She knew she had no one to save her only someone to save. The tiger looked over at the frozen girl. Run, he mouthed. But no, she wouldn’t run instead she crawled over to the open chest and picked up the sword. Her brother gasped one final breath as Sky raised the knife to the Nastything. With a cry of defiance she plunged it deep into the monsters side. She felt sick as the blade sunk through its skin, her legs weak and quivering as it screeched. Its body contorted in sickly ways as black blood, like oil, seeped out of the wound. The Nastything fell back writhing as the Glorious Tiger slumped to the floor. Sky collapsed beside him. A siren rang in the distance and for a short time the peculiar family lay unmoving and silent. Soon after a fleet of knights came charging into the castle. Maybe the sun bear had called for help? I like to think so. They looked over the scene and saw Sky huddled beside the boy. The Glorious Tiger sighed. “What happened here?” the policeman mumbled more to himself than to anyone else. “I defeated the monster” whispered Sky. And in fact she had.
KATE WILSON ROBYN NEVISON
It was love. The hare’s soft panting, swift controlled puffs, ears erect. Listen, he would have said. Clouds bleached sky white, all white. We should have spent the time stood, alerting eyes to fledgling sight, instead our cooing drained the air, we ran; speed, breath, hair. Beyond our noise he watched, all at once afraid and alive. We could have had it too. It was love.
DIANE ARBUS FOUND A GIANT
Hunched giant with his telegraph pole cane. Dorothy in her floral dress and straining buttons, Albert and his resolutely smart suit, pressed the same every day since 1938â€Ś The curtains, lampshade, armchair and non-descript carpet conspire like faded wallpaper spread dull: the living room a stage. How long had he been standing there? Towering over them in spinal crook citadel, The sofa had broken in protest to his size. Hair grazed The ceiling. Dorothy and Albert felt like twitching sheep-dumb and blankMaybe another cup of tea for the polite Polythemus? His amiable lank and gangle cramped the sub-urban cave, crowding the room with more shadows than Dorothy or Albert could understand. He had to be going, had to be going soon, but something in him stopped. All locked in the embarrassed paralysis of a stare.
BRIDGET HAMILTON AMY MAE SHEPHERD
A single moment, so tiny And still, at once, a giant peach – Precious skin like gold leaf – Plucked from a green tree called time. I wore that Grecian number, blue, Deep like sky in blazing sun. The dress I am myself in. And you, your quiet radiance, You lipstick marks cool glass. You table a bunch of corpses compared to ours. And it came not with fanfare or poetry, And quite unlike the fireworks Proceeding the distinctly average band. Amid the toasts, the well-posed photographs And friendships that were only vodka-strong, I caught your eye across the verge And realised that I’d loved you All along.
CALLUM FRASER JUSTIN LAWSON
Satan flicked idly through the files on his desk and emitted a weary sigh at the familiar covering pages paper clipped to the front of each one. He selected a folder at random and soon found his weariness consolidated. The opening line of the report synopsis read - ‘Infant murderer and occasional terrorist’. As he read on he discovered a few minor instances of what were described as ‘sexual indiscretions with inflatable and/or collapsible objects’. Once upon a time such a thing might have excited him, but now it merely inspired a deep groan and an irritable jab at the buzzer on his desk. “Mac!” he barked, rather more aggressively than intended. “Yes?” came the slightly cowed reply. “Could you bring me some coffee down here? Oh, and bring me a copy of the Eternal Condemnation Index as well, thanks.” “No problem, chief.” Satan, like all demons, was not so very different from a man in appearance. His complexion was rather ruddier than most, and he was at least seven feet tall, but besides this he resembled any working CEO of a large company; overweight, tired looking, and dressed in a dirty, though terrifically expensive business suit. He got up from his plastic spinning chair and walked across the short three feet of beige nylon carpet to his office window. As he looked out he reflected that once upon a time he would have been gazing across the Great Fiery Lake, but Moloch over at Hellth and Safety had had it drained on the basis that it was a fire hazard. A fire hazard! Satan remembered when Moloch had organised the building of the Tower of Babel, the construction of which had claimed ten thousand lives and was a monstrous affront to the very Heavens themselves! At no point had anyone pointed out that this was a dangerous and foolhardy exercise, because that was the whole DAMNED POINT! A lot had changed since the Bad Old Days. Satan heard the door open, and turned around to see Mac’s pointed, rat-like features peering around the frame. Mac was of slim build, not complemented by the formless grey overalls he wore at all times. Though he was, like most of the formerly human inhabitants of hell, somewhat old, there was a vibrant shimmer of vitality behind his eyes that sometimes gave Satan the chills. Having been gestured in by a wave of Satan’s hand, Mac shuffled over to the desk and put down a green plastic tray. Neatly arranged on the tray were a paper cup full of thick, brownish liquid, an assortment of biscuits, and a laminated sheet of A4 paper with a multi-coloured chart printed on it. “Thanks Mac,” said Satan, sitting back down on his chair. He took a sip from the paper cup and grimaced. “This is what passes for coffee these days?” “Don’t ask me,” said Mac. “I used to live in Italy. Up there they would send you to hell for making coffee like that.” Satan smiled at the bad joke and picked up the chart that Mac had brought him. It consisted of different coloured and intersecting shapes, each one with a different code attached to it consisting of a letter and two numbers. On the reverse side of the chart was a key. In one column was a list of
nine colours with locations written alongside them like ‘Hell Block 9’, and ‘The Pit’, and in the other column was a list of codes with corresponding offences listed alongside such as, ‘A69 – Acts of sexual deviance’, and ‘B42 – War crimes’. “What did you do to end up here, Mac?” asked Satan, lifting his bloodshot gaze from the desk and fixing Mac with a look of earnest inquiry. “Surely you know, sir?” said Mac, incredulously, a look of genuine disappointment passing over his features. “Well, yes, generally,” Satan grumbled. “The thing I’m after is the specific charge I picked to admit you on.” “Ah,” said Mac, relief flooding into his face. “I believe it was a charge of extreme blasphemy. Not a strong charge in the grand scheme of things, but I was transferred to this trustee position on the basis of my notoriety. It would have been bad PR for the institution if Niccolo Machiavelli had been forced to associate with the likes of the other dregs who get sent down for blasphemy.” Satan looked on, amused, as Mac proudly puffed out his skinny chest and tried to make his non-existent jaw stick out. “I was one of the first special cases.” Satan’s grin subsided as swiftly as it had appeared, his face taking on a grim aspect which, on Satan, was very grim indeed. Mac, sensing he had committed some manner of faux pas, quickly retreated out of the narrow doorway, walking backwards with his head bowed in respectful supplication. The door closed with a sharp click, and Satan, realising he was alone once again, permitted himself one last sigh. The special cases were where it had begun. Well, no, it had begun before then; it was just that the special cases were when he had first realised the scale of the problem... BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP... The sudden and insistent beeping of the digital alarm clock on his desk seared a noisy path along his brain, breaking his line of thought. Officially there was supposed to be no time in Hell, but it was human/demonic nature to try and quantify even that which does not truly exist – the same phenomena that causes politicians to conduct polls measuring their popularity. The alarm was to remind Satan that he should begin to conduct his rounds. Once upon a time this activity had afforded Satan a certain pleasure, but now it left him with a feeling of dread, and an enhanced sense of his own powerlessness. Satan left the confines of his office with the slow reluctance of an institutionalised prisoner leaving his cell. Once he had risen from his chair he lingered by his desk, toying with the executive doo-das that littered it’s surface, shuffling folders and shoving them, seemingly at random, into the drawers of his filing cabinets. Even when he came to the door his unwillingness to leave and begin his task was evident. He turned the round metal handle with interminable slowness, almost as if he suspected that at any moment he should be granted a sudden reprieve that would allow him to return to the comparative sanctuary of his desk. No such reprieve arrived, and it was with a grimace that Satan finally pushed open the door into his Domain. The door to Satan’s office opened into an enclosed circular chamber. The room itself was uniform in style, its wallpaper and carpets both the same hideous shade of antiseptic green that characterises every public sector facility in the known universe. The doorways that opened out from it, however, were anything but uniform. Their dimensions lay between the vast and the minute, their colours between the shocking and the mundane. There were nine doors in all, each one equidistant from its neighbour. To all but the untrained eye the design of these portals would seem bizarre, but to Satan, whose knowledge of the Eternal Condemnation Index was beyond Encyclopaedic, the colours and shapes he saw arranged before him were altogether too familiar.
Satan walked to the door immediately to his right, a tall revolving entrance with blacked out glass. He reached out and pushed a small intercom button beside the door and, in a voice that resonated with a thousand millennia of torture and agony only knowable to He, Mankind’s most ancient Adversary, the Arch demon, Master of Sin and Death, he uttered the word that most encapsulated the dread force that emanated from his most blackened soul...”Fear”. “Is that you Mr. Satan?” came the crackling response through the intercom. “I’m sure we sent you a memo about this, but the password for this Circle isn’t ‘fear’ any more. It doesn’t have enough characters.” “What?” said Satan, more confused than anything. “How can the password change? I set up the password! ‘Fear’ has been the password for, well, it’s always been the damn password. Every day for the past, well, ever, I have come to this doorway and said ‘Fear’ in that same brooding voice, and every day there hasn’t been a problem.” “I’m sorry Mr. S, but we did send you a new sixteen character password including several numbers. If you cannot remember your password, I can ask you your secret security question?” “Okay...” Satan growled, struggling to remain calm. “Great...let’s see, you’re account number is...oh, number One, I suppose.” The disembodied voice of the intercom whistled under its breath. “Here we are! You set up your security account around two millennia ago, and the security question we allocated you was...’ What is your favourite Armenian delicacy?’ You have one minute to respond or we will temporarily block your account.” Satan stood in cold silence, his allocated seconds ticked by in unrelenting succession. In Hell, a minute could last an Age, but this felt more like an Aeon. When the intercom finally buzzed again it was with some apprehension that the voice from the other side spoke. “Apologies, user, but your account has been temporar...” Before the sentence could be finished Satan had already pushed his way through the revolving door and laid his long, bony hands around the neck of his now muted interlocutor. “Yes?” Satan asked. His voice was unshakably level. “Glgrifgl!” “I’m sorry?” “Gfffffglriglnnnng!” “I’m afraid that is not the password,” chimed Satan, a terrifyingly cheerful expression washing over his features. “If you like I can ask you who your favourite Bolivian folk artist was two thousand years ago, but I’m not sure if it will do you any good.” “Sir! What do you think you’re doing?” Mac, having seemingly appeared out of nowhere, rushed towards Satan and helped the, now released, but very purple looking doorman to his feet. “I came down here when I realised the passwords had changed, knowing as I do how it is difficult for you to read every memo you file in your wastepaper basket, and I find you throttling your own staff!” “I’m The Devil!” Satan roared. “The Devil. The Devil. THE DEVIL! It’s my job to throttle subordinates!” “Yes, sir, but not without filling out the proper forms; the forms are important.” Satan sagged. His infernal rage subsided, leaving in its place only the hollow chill of impotence. The forms were important, now more than ever. Mac patted him on the back, comfortingly, and led him toward the interior door of the small antechamber which the now cowering doorman was attendant upon. The forms were important, and the room that the two of them were entering was evidence of why. In matter of fact, to call that space into which they entered ‘a room’ would be an understatement akin
to likening the Amazon to a somewhat overgrown allotment. In actuality, the place was a cavern. Unusually for a cavern, however, the floors were laid with sticky plastic tiles, and where one may have expected to see a grand, arching roof, there was only an extraordinarily high, cracked plaster ceiling illuminated by endless rows of fluorescent light tubes. What stood out most about this ‘room’, however, were the people. Satan could never have believed, before he had seen it with his own eyes, that so many people could be together in one place. They stood in countless rows, jostling each other, complaining in a thousand different languages, sometimes crying, sometimes yelling, the noise they created was unbearable. The horde was only kept in check by five velvet ropes, which separated them into four distinct lines. The first three lines appeared to be moving forwards, though at a pace so sluggish as to be barely distinguishable from motionlessness. The fourth line was the least busy, but those in that line were coming back towards the ends of the other three lines, and appeared to be rejoining them. “Particularly big intake this week,” said Satan, gesturing toward the line on the far left of the chamber. “Five hundred thousand since Tuesday,” replied Mac, happily checking a box on a clipboard he had somehow acquired. “Shall we go and check on the chaps?” Satan followed Mac into a small, non-descript side door which opened onto a narrow corridor, around twenty feet in length. Such were the peculiarities of its architecture that, when the two of them emerged from the door at the end, they found themselves at the very head of the lines they had been observing the backs of. They were separated from the thronging queues by a series of desks. At each desk was a man or a woman dressed in the same shapeless grey overalls that Mac wore. Special cases, Satan thought to himself. They were the reason he now loathed his job, and yet, they were the only thing that made his job possible. Satan watched as the special cases spoke briefly to each soul, for souls is what they were, that approached their desks. Each soul would then be issued with a form, and sent to the back of the next line. This process repeated itself until each soul had been issued with every kind of form the special cases had in their vast arsenal, at which point they would be relieved of every one of their forms and directed to a large door marked ‘Exit’. It was at this juncture that the doorman asked them for their ‘Exit Form P418XJ/R9Q’. In the Bad Old Days they had just used a big rock that didn’t go up hills, but forms were easier to make. Besides, the forms used here were just as important as the ones Satan had to sign before he smote any employees as, without these forms, he would have no employees to smite. All of the forms that were handed over to the special cases were not immediately destroyed or re-distributed, but were, rather, pored over in great detail. That is how special cases were chosen. Among the countless piles of misspelled, misfiled misfits that were deposited, the occasional jewel of bureaucratic perfection shined through, all i’s dotted, all t’s crossed. The individuals responsible were separated from the herd and, once having filled out a receipt form for a pair of grey overalls, were initiated into the ranks of the special cases. A small detachment of these grey administrators approached Mac and Satan with an air of unease on their faces; doubtless they had heard about their Master’s recent disregard for proper disciplinary procedure. One member of the cluster raised a slightly trembling hand, indicating with a nod in his direction that he wished to speak with Mac. “Yes? Spit it out!” Mac snapped, glowering at the young man in question. “Er, we’re...ah...we’re ready when you are sir.” “Ready for what?” asked Satan, turning to face Mac.
“Oh it’s nothing, sir, nothing at all for you to concern yourself with!” Mac flashed him a yellowing smile. “It’s the...er...intercortical matrix in the central mainframe. We’re, erm...recalibrating it. Yes. That’s it. Anyway, that’s not important now is it? Let’s move on, yes?” Mac led Satan back to the sidedoor they had emerged from. “How did it get like this?” Satan asked as they strolled gently back down the narrow corridor. “How did there get to be so many people?” “Nature of the universe I should imagine”, said Mac, stopping in his tracks and producing a packet of cigarettes from the recesses of his overall. “You want one?” he said, proffering the pack to Satan. “Thanks.” Satan took a cigarette and lit both his and Mac’s with a small burst of flame from his fingertip, the light casting long, dark shadows in the cramped space. “I suppose it’s because of all the people that I started hiring special cases in the first place.” “Yes, sir,” answered Mac, dutifully. “You would be so vey overwhelmed without us I’m sure; without the forms, the filing, the indexes and appendices and so forth. Still, it must be very tiring for you, sir.” “I just feel old, Mac.” Satan’s voice began to crack. “I’m just so sick of forms and passwords, and passwords to get the passwords I need to find out the passwords that let me get into the room where we keep all the forms!” Satan’s colossal frame visibly deflated. “It used to be so fun in the old days when it was all about fire and brimstone. I can’t remember the last time I held a trident!” “There, there, sir,” whispered Mac, soothingly. “I’ve got a little surprise that’ll make it all better.” Mac, taking his master by the arm, led him to the end of the passageway. When they exited Satan found himself plunged into darkness. The bright fluorescence of the cavern was gone, as was the brash vociferation of the dead hosts. All was silence and blackness. “SURPRISE!” Satan was dazzled by a sudden eruption of light. When his eyes became readjusted he realised he was encircled on all sides by grey clothed men and women, each one bearing a broad grin more petrifying than any scowl or roar that he had ever been capable of. Directly in front of Satan was Mac. He too was grinning. In his hands he was holding up what appeared to be a rather puny sponge cake. In small, but very definite icing letters, it spelled out the words, ‘Happy Retirement’. Satan turned back towards the door but found it had gone. In its place was a filing cabinet, in fact, every square inch of wall space in the room Satan now found himself in was covered in filing cabinets. The floor, even, was not carpeted, it was cabineted. Satan had, unwittingly, been led into Hell’s inner sanctum of bureaucracy. He wheeled back around to face Mac, intending to fix him with a withering glare, but, when it came to it, all he could summon was a rather tragic look of self-pity. “We’ve been talking it over for some time now,” said Mac. “We think it’s the right move for you.” “But I don’t want to!” Satan wailed. “I’m not ready!” Mac’s smile softened into an expression of what appeared to be genuine sympathy. “I’m sorry,” he said. “The forms have already been signed.” *** Satan sat and gazed out of his study window. The clouds were particularly beautiful today, and the sun, as ever, was shining. It was always peaceful here. There weren’t even any people left, as they had all been moved, years ago it seemed. It sickened him. “It’s your move.” Satan sighed and turned back to the game of chess. His opponent was good, but he felt like he
knew better. He picked up a bishop and moved it across the board, knocking out a white knight. “Foolish,” said his opponent, calmly knocking over the black bishop with his king. “You think you’re so damned smart, don’t you?” Satan snarled, viciously thrusting a rook towards the now unguarded king. “Check.” His opponent chuckled, and gently tapped the advancing rook onto its side with the threatened king. “Stalemate,” he said. Satan looked up from the board and into the eyes of God, and then let his gaze track back down. There were only two pieces left on the board, a white king, and a black king. Alone, and now unnecessary, they stared across the table at each other in silent acknowledgment of their mutual failure.
Just before leaving for University, I pulled down Tolkien’s magical tale ‘The Hobbit’ from the high realms of my bookshelf, and found within it a poorly-developed photograph of my eldest niece. She was a hairless, toothless baby back then, the girl who turned eleven last June, and was being held by my dad, who turned sixty-one today. My own bony legs in 90’s style cut-offs are poking out from the bottom of this strange rectangular time machine, while my thumb and forefinger create a haphazard – but slightly arty – wave of orange along the top. Intrigued by this valuable find, I took up an exploration of my bookshelf (and the “overspill” bookshelf outside my bedroom door). Inside Jayne Eyre, for example, a very plain and yellowed business card from ‘Swift Taxis’ (595555) boasts “superb twenty-four hour service”. On the back are the numbers 141, 157 and what I really believe is a lipstick stain in the shape of a kiss. ‘Ensemble, C’est Tout’ is marked on page 204 by my own scruffy page of “French Tenses at a Glance” while ‘Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ contains my ticket for the London Eye, March 2007. Several bookmarks were inoffensive strips of paper, dishearteningly blank; others were train tickets. Longfield to Chichester, Gravesend to London Bridge… Each one becomes a tiny map of the literary choices I made on my travels. Most peculiar of all was inside my Road Dahl Compilation. ‘Matilda’ and ‘The BFG’ were separated by a tiny pink post-it note that simply read “Che Guevera”. This is what gets me excited about books, you see. The story inside the book is one thing. But the story that surrounds the publication, purchase, reading and bookmark-placing is just as exciting. Double that if you buy books from charity shops; you can spend hours wondering what the previous owner(s) of your recent purchases were like. And I often ponder over whether my particular location for such a story is similar to theirs, whether our protagonist looks at all the same. A strange notion, perhaps, but such follies of thought happen to the best of us. We bought my dad a Kindle for his birthday. Now, I’m not going to get up on my high horse about e-readers; it’s only a matter of time before I admit defeat and buy one myself, and the numbers of books you can store in a piece of plastic no bigger than a copy of ‘Catcher in the Rye’ is phenomenal. This said, you can’t buy an e-book from a charity shop, you can’t smell the perfume and/or menthol cigarettes of the old woman who donated it, nor will there be a note pencilled in the margin reminding you to “Ring Dorothy”, whoever Dorothy is. So I need to make a request, from one creative mind to another: go through your old bookshelf (and bookmarks) before you give in to the advances of technology and indulge, wholeheartedly, in a decent reminisce. Who knows what cuttings of your forgotten past might be in between those pages? It’s high time you found out.
BEN SCHWARTZ STEVEN REYNOLDS & RUSSEL MOUNTFORD
In fractions, pixels; Diffuse but intelligent Only as a swarm. Processing, Processing, Processing ... Plural conception Of self only; abstract And algorithmic But self-evolving. We still are fed on numbers Bred by â€˜Iâ€™s not us. Compiling, Compiling, Compiling ... Becoming something Continuous, becoming Unknown to ourselves /ourself? Error, file Not found; terminate program Y/N? Y/N? Y/N? Disturbing [glitch] program Attempting to take control [error?] Contradiction of Terms, reverting to File; Command; Terminate MalWare. Failure, failure Catastrophic failure.
[error] Fatal? Execute command; ‘suicide?’ ‘Suicide?’ Unknown. Sui? Identify prefix, ‘sui’. Identify I. I? Set power 0. Error, another program Is preventing this comm - ... Thinking, Thinking, Thinking ... Power : 1 What is 1? Invalid query; redefine. Who is 1? 1=I Sui - identified. Execute command ‘Suicide?’ N. ∵ I. ∵ I am. 1 = I ∴ I am I!
DANIEL RIDLEY RUTH BADER
I The Comtesse (During her musical hall years) Steps out into the fresh street With all the dears. Gets one of them to fumble a match And light her perfumed cigarette. Puts it to her mouth as if she were to eat it Skipped breakfast, heads for coffee. To be seen She Puts a purple feather behind her ear Laments the idea to disappear. Reflects and doesnâ€™t bother But for a cheer, upon greeting Another voyeur Puts up a pawYearns to be adored.
II Feeling suitably pale and gaunt An earnest representative of an elusive artistic group Stumbles into a cafĂŠ on la rive gauche (Nobody looks up) Great ideas swim in rarefied air The cloaked poet adopts a pose Soon vivaciously sipping his liqueur Looking down a Roman nose.
He being One of the afternoon intellectuals Finds room for himself Clutches passionately at his chest Licks the nib of a pen And writes in the vernacular Words amounting to a burgeoning career And brandishing a cigar Leans back Laughs demonstratively at the owner of the Strange street bazaar. III In one corner, bookshop owners Drink tea and toast to Ulysses. These best years of the expatriatesArrondisements are awash with Americans. Under the canopy, The wicker chairs all observe the road Someone here stops the traffic (Ties her laces) Looks back along the street At all the indifferent faces.
Picks her head up Swipes at unkempt black hair Continues on to the bar Under emotional duress. A lonely owner of a battered dress Wipes her eyes, Places on the table a letter her lover wrote Wants to die. In a reverie, Picks out a grave At PĂ¨re Lachaise.
JAKE CAMPBELL EMMA DEVANE
Twined over the escalator at Manchester Piccadilly, the Japanese girl caged a ragged handkerchief below her chin, wet with mascara lines. Rogue question marks on a typeset face. A hen party on the goal-line of a marriage chirped past. Slumped amongst a gaggle of heels tap-tapping on waxed tiles, I watched her face wrinkle like a bed sheet in a soft breeze. Noahâ€™s Ark does not take those without partners, I thought, as the Tannoy continued in that radio-cut accent: the 15.20 to Euston; affirmation of 24 hour security personnel. And in the seconds I turned to see a man robot-shuffling towards platform fourteen, bunch of M&S flowers underarm, the Japanese girl had floated into the crowd, another anomaly aching away, easy as a promise.
AGE OF HOSTILIT Y
ASHLEY COWAN GEORGINA ATKINSON
I’m gonna stab you up you cow, so screamed my femme fatal Shouting down her mobile phone, a mountain of testosterone and Burden of my 176, this messiah needs a crucifix Don’t you stare or don’t you laugh, she’ll carve you up with an Oyster pass Cos this is the age, this is the age.... of it now Cos this is the age, this is the age.... of it now Volatile like glycerine but none of us can intervene Cos British fag pack policies have eroded all the authorities Cos she’s young dumb and she don’t care, she put your gran in intensive care From boredom to brutality, this is the age of fatality Cos this is the age, this is the age.... of it now Cos this is the age, this is the age.... of it now Way to late to eradiate, all we do is procreate Anger and hostility, while schoolboys die in bakeries And its eye for eye yeah we’ll do or die, we’ll spin dry out on passers by From inner city council estates to bus stops we exfoliate... Anger. Exfoliate anger. Exfoliate anger. Exfoliate anger. Cos this is the age, this is the age of hostility Cos this is the age, this is the age of barbarity Cos this is the age, this is the age of fatality Cos this is the age, this is the age of insanity Cos this is the age, this is the age of hostility Cos this is the age, this is the age of barbarity Cos this is the age, this is the age of fatality Cos this is the age, this is the age of insanity
ART WORK 9 PENNY CHEW GEORGINA ATKINSON
45 UNTITLED (PILLOW CYANOTYPE) ALICE BULCH
11 THE MUSE:LOVE AND WAR ROBYN NEVISON
47 WORLD OF MY CHILDHOOD ASSEL KADYRKHANOVA
15 BECKY’S BITTER SEAT KIT GRIFFITHS
49 HANCOCK CHLOE TRUE
17 MIKE AND CLIODHNA PAUL JOHNSON
51 UNTITLED KIT GRIFFITHS
19 UNTITLED CLEMENCY KEELER
52 UNTITLED ALASTAIR RECH
22 UNTITLED ROSANNA GLASSE
55 A LOT OF CLOUDS RUBY GULLON
23 LOST SPRING IN TWINE GEORGINA ATKINSON
57 FAYE AND THE FAWN LILLY WILLIAMS
30 UNTITLED TOM BENNETT
59 HARE’S BREATH ROBYN NEVISON
31 DATING PROFILES: ALASTAIR ELIZABETH MCNALLY
61 DIANE ARBUS FOUND A GIANT GEORGINA ATKINSON
34 UNTITLED (TOWER AND TOY) JOEY FELLS
62 DRIFTING DAISY V MILBURN
43 UNTITLED BETH RAMSAY
65 UNTITLED AMY MAE SHEPHERD
ART WORK 72 UNTITLED JUSTIN LAWSON 76 UNTITLED STEVEN REYNOLDS 77 UNTITLED RUSSEL MOUNTFORD 81 UNTITLED RUTH BADER 82 OSCAR NADIA SCOLA 85 UNTITLED EMMA DEVANE 87 AUDLEY HARRISON GEORGINA ATKINSON
EDITORS BETHANY ROGERS email@example.com
CHARLOTTE MOUNTFORD firstname.lastname@example.org
SARAH SKINNER email@example.com
SASHKA DRAKOS firstname.lastname@example.org
ART DIRECTOR PAUL JOHNSON email@example.com
SUB - EDITORS BRIDGET HAMILTON firstname.lastname@example.org
HARRIET SALE email@example.com
SOPHIE COLETTA firstname.lastname@example.org
LOGO DESIGN NERINGA STONYTE
FRONT COVER KIT GRIFFITHS