Writers Unblocked An Anthology From Bath Spa Universityâ€™s Third - Year Creative Writing Students
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without the written permission of the contributor. This book is published by Bath Spa University, Newton Park, Bath, BA2 9BN, United Kingdom Editor Kelly Woolford Assistant Editor Kelly Mullins, In Detail Editorial Services Cover Designed by Kelly Woolford Printed and bound in the UK by Antony Rowe, CPI Books. First Edition May 2014
An online version of this anthology can be found at ISSUU.com
Contents Acknowledgements 9
Short Stories 142
Acknowledgements Iâ€™d like to thank everyone who was involved in the publication of this anthology. The students for their contributions. My assistant editor, Kelly Mullins of In Detail Editorial Services, for her never-ending hard work, (and for correcting me a few times). Dr Mimi Thebo, for this amazing opportunity and her constant encouragement and enthusiasm. Dr Paul Meyer, for the opportunity and trust with creative freedom. Katharine Reeve, for her constructive guidance and wisdom, and for being there with answers when I was ready to give up. Gemma Matthews, for her creative template design and guidance over publishers and print. The Editor, Kelly Woolford
Foreword Kelly Woolford
Grasping this opportunity and being able to work on something so esteemed, is a true honour. Bath Spa University is bursting with talent, and the pieces within this anthology are a testament to the depth of variety and style, that this course brings out in its writers. I have loved creating every minute of this publication, and I hope the passion and dedication that has gone into this, is conveyed when reading. Enjoy.
Games Of The Year 2013 Edition Oscar Taylor-Kent
Everything that happens annually is great. My birthday? Amazing. A date with someone of the opposite sex? I mean, it’s okay I guess, but then so are dates with the same sex. An invasive full-body cavity search just to make sure you aren’t accidentally hiding anything? It feels so good, so reassuring. But what I also love is end-of-the-year lists of things. Karl Frampton’s list of the top six nights out this year? A real classic. I printed it off and put it on my wall. But this isn’t about Karl, you cheeky knave, this is about the video games. Last year I wrote a month-by-month breakdown of my favourite games of the year, and then picked my game of the year. That was on Tumblr Some of the images aren’t linked properly now, because I was young and naïve. This time it will be different. This time it will be posted on this website and then properly reposted on Tumblr. That’s how you do websites, right? The same rules as last time apply: ‘Gonna give game of the month and then an overall, providing I played a game that came out that month. Not going to include ports or re-releases unless there is a significant difference.’ With the added rule that these don’t have to be followed if I forget or mess up or something. Because that happened last year anyway. January Okay, well, I didn’t really play anything that came out this month. January is mostly about releasing ports of games that came out in the end of 2012. The only game that properly came out in January that I have played is DmC: Devil May Cry, and it’s really not very good. But I guess it wins this month by default. At one point one of the main protagonists gives a woman a sniper-abortion. There is also a massive amount of dubstep, and a combat system with none of the nuance or depth I had previously come to love of the Devil May Cry series. This is the sort of game your fourteen-year 15
old cousin would be all over for his Xbox 360 and would get for his birthday, his greasy hands gleefully tearing away the wrapping paper. It’s fine if you like it, but it’s not for me I guess. What a fantastic winner. As an aside, the Windows version of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed came out this month. The PC version is pretty much the definitive version of the game, with extra and free bonus characters such as Football Manager or General Winter, and gorgeous visuals. Not to mention this game is so rad it makes Mario Kart look like Sonic Drift. February For someone like me who prefers to talk about video games and look forward to playing them over actually playing them, I’m honestly surprised at how tricky it is to pick my best game for February. Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time was a long-awaited followup to one of the best cartoon platformer series of all time. It wasn’t made by Sucker Punch Productions because they were too busy with their edgy Infamous series, but Sanzaru Games instead, and their obvious love for the franchise really shines through with their take on the series. The visuals are so gorgeous they almost make my brain hurt after coming from The Sly Collection, the HD-remastering of the original trilogy done under Sanzaru’s caring, eagle-like wings. With that said, I never really had the drive to finish Theives in Time, so I guess I won’t pick it. Sorry to waste your time. No, the actual winner of this month is Platinum Games’ Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, for being everything that DmC was not. You see that entry up there? January? Copy and paste it into a word document and delete it. Let’s forget it happened. While I really don’t care if you like DmC, it wasn’t a Devil May Cry game insofar as it simply wasn’t in the stylish action genre that originated with the first Devil May Cry. Platinum Games? They are the Kings of that genre, and that shows in Revengeance with the constant barrage of over-the-top action sequences, and the tough yet nuanced combat system that encourages replay.
March I know what you’re thinking: It’s a tough month to pick a favourite again. You’ve got three major modern classics vying for attention here: Tomb Raider, BioShock Infinite, and of course the finely crafted The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct. It would be close except it isn’t, as Tomb Raider is simply the better game. BioShock Infinite was pretty great, sure, but it felt like a game really confined by having to stick to the FPS roots of the franchise. The best bits of that game were where your guns vanished into your (fashionable) trousers. Tomb Raider instead throws out the rough gameplay and other caveats of its previous iterations for a fresh and fantastic reboot. No more sniping gorillas for two to three minutes from raised rocks or slowly pushing around large cubes. Now Lara runs and jumps around like Nathan Drake from Uncharted and scrambles all over the island she’s trapped on, utilising new gear to find collectables, like Batman from his Arkham series. Also, she has his detective vision for some reason. But you know what; Uncharted and Arkham are both great video game series’. Also, Tomb Raider is well-written, being penned by Rhianna Pratchett, Terry Pratchett’s daughter, so as to not be dumb and instead make Lara an actual character. April While Guacamelee!, Don’t Starve, and Papa & Yo (though this came out for PSN much earlier in August, 2012) are all great games, I haven’t really played them enough to give them the April spot over Telltale’s simply fantastic Poker Night 2. If anything, the game’s amazingness can be proved through the simple fact that Claptrap, the representative at the table for Gearbox’s Borderlands series, isn’t extremely annoying, but is actually kind of nice and fun. When you can make the writing in Borderlands actually work, you know you’re onto a winner. Also at the table is Brock Samson of The Venture Bros.,(the best show on Adult Swim), whose voice acting is reprised by the ever-fantastic Patrick Warburton. There is also Ash from the Evil Dead film series and Sam from Telltale’s own brilliant Sam & Max adventure game series. The table itself is controlled by GLaDOS, who takes the role of the dealer. If this combination of characters shooting 17
while playing poker doesn’t excite you on some level then you probably have no soul. Also, the poker is pretty well put together, and I like poker. May This month comes down to an almost thematic Wild West standoff between Call of Juarez: Gunslinger and Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine. They’re both pretty different games, but they’re both on the smaller budget side of things, which is probably why both could afford to ooze so much charm and originality. Gunslinger was fantastically stylised, both with the gorgeous visuals and the narrative. The whole game is narrated by Silas Greaves in a saloon, and the fact that he’s an unreliable narrator comes into play a few times in the actual gameplay, such as exaggerating the amount of enemies, or springing a Native Indian attack on himself to check if someone is paying attention to what he’s saying. But I’ve really got to give this month to Monaco even though the only lengthy session I’ve spent with it was playing the entire normal campaign through in one evening with my pal George. It’s a top-down heist game where you get to pick from a bunch of different characters with a bunch of different skills. With just the two of us as opposed to the maximum four, we sometimes had to give it a few tries to find the right combination to bumble our way through our thefts, but it was great fun. June This was another nice gaming month for me, as quite a few things came out that I’ve managed to play. But what will I pick as my number one? Will it be Marvel Heroes, the free-to-play MMORPG that wasn’t very good when it came out but is much better now I swear, and I know I said ‘free-to-play’ but I’ve spent upwards of £30 on it because it’s so addictive? Will it be Deadpool, a game that’s only possible to enjoy if you’re already a Deadpool fan and can somehow convince yourself that the combination of Daniel Way’s usual lowest common denominator mediocre writing of the character and the sub-par Devil May Cryesque gameplay actually sort of kind of work together? Or maybe it will be Layton Brothers: Mystery Room, a charming Professor 18
Layton spin-off for tablets that plays sort of like Ace Attorney if it vomited out all of its excess charm and story after a weekend binging on meth and salty noodles? Nah. It’s gonna be Gunpoint, an amazing indie game developed by Tom Francis where you play a noir detective who can hurl himself great distances with his Bullfrog Hypertrousers. The infiltration gameplay is tight, and the writing is stellar. Gunpoint is a game that will leave you more Charmed than my DVD shelf (and I have all eight seasons). July Easy. Hands down The Smurfs 2 for Nintendo DS. Yeah, that’s right there’s no ‘3’ there. This game didn’t come out for Nintendo 3DS, despite being released in July 2013, about two-and-a-half years after the Nintendo 3DS came out. I didn’t even know The Smurfs 2 movie came out, but I guess it did. So what is The Smurfs 2 for Nintendo DS? It’s like a collection of mini games in a storybook format, nothing like the awful platformer that came out on home consoles. Yeah, you’re right, I didn’t play this game. But I didn’t play anything else in July so whatever, stop complaining. August What is this, the year of the indie? Some fantastic indie games released in August. The fantastically atmospheric Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, developed by Starbreeze Studios and Swedish film director Josef Fares; the gorgeous oppressiveness and forceful moral narrative of Lucas Pope’s ingenious Papers, Please; and the special Wii/Wii U edition of Angry Birds: Trilogy, that particular version being developed by Fun Labs, the team behind the Cabela series. Naturally I have to give this month to Papers, Please. While Brothers was a wonderful experience and the gameplay is pretty much unique, I find Papers, Please to be actually more distinctive in that it makes paperwork compelling, dangerous, tense, and more than anything incredibly more-ish. Everyone would be able to tell Brothers would probably be quite nice on paper, but it takes real skill to bring a game like Papers, Please off the paper … Some sort of paper metaphor or something. It’s a joke. 19
September What even came out in September? Rayman Legends? All right, then. October October! What can you say about October? Chilly. But video game-wise? Sonic Lost World. But what can you say without throwing up while you do so? Oh, well, in that case:Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Batman: Arkham Origins, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, Pokémon X and Y. Now we’re talking. But let’s break it down. Assassin’s Creed IV: A welcome return to form after the worst entry in the series, but a bit stale and probably not the pinnacle of the franchise. Batman: Arkham Origins: More like Batman: Arkham City.5. It’s a fun game but it’s hardly the best in the series. LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, though? It’s easily the best LEGO game yet. It took what worked with LEGO Batman 2, and rolled it up into a fantastically refined Marvel package. I haven’t played Pokémon X and Y, so whatever. I can only really in good conscience let LEGO Marvel Super Heroes come out on top for this month. November If I was one of the six people who owns a Wii U then maybe I’d put Super Mario 3D World in for the running here, as it looks pretty good and I hear it’s amazing. But I don’t. But even if I had played SM3DW, I doubt it’d hold a torch to The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. A direct sequel to A Link to the Past (it’s even calledZelda no Densetsu: Kamigami no Triforce 2 in Japan), the game is packed full of more nostalgia than a cake baked from actual flakes of your dead skin from when you were a baby. It’s one of only a handful of 3DS games where the 3D actually feels beneficial, and you’d be missing out playing this in 2D, the subtle depth not only looking great, but also helping to judge falldistance for gameplay purposes. The best Zelda in a long time, handheld or otherwise.
December December was an awful month. Let’s forget it happened, and just move on. Overall Game of the Year (just for this year) While there were some undoubtedly solid AAA releases this year which show that stale is still a few best-before dates away for some franchises, 2013 was definitely the year of the indie game. Indie gaming has swooped past the Renaissance that arguably occurred around the time Braid and Castle Crashers came out on XBLA, did a series of flips through the flaming sky-ring of Steam’s Greenlight, and has now landed gracefully in the field that it’s in now. So my Game of the Year is a bit of a cop-out, then. I’m awarding it to the combined might of Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine; Gunpoint; Papers, Please; and tentatively Poker Night 2, which sort of counts as an indie game. These have been breaths of fresh air; welcome vistas emerging from a foggy cliff that shows creativity and innovation still exists. But if I really had to pick just one of them to recommend for the year it would be Monaco, unless you don’t have any friends, in which case I would recommend socialising more. Just think of it like The Sims.
Adam Randall Cheryl Thomas Jack Tinmouth Natasha Baer Oscar Taylor-Kent Owen Harry Reiss McGuinness
How Bernard Stole Christmas! Adam Randall
Bernard was a very bad man. He did all a bad man can. As he walked across a winter scene, in his head was a festive diabolical scheme! It was the middle of the night when he reached Santa’s house, where not a creature was stirring not even a mouse. Over his shoulder was a large empty sack. He knew that the presents were kept at the back. Something for girls and something for boys, not a thing was spared he took all the toys! And off with the presents he went with a grin, it seemed this time the bad guys might win! Next day, Santa woke up and readied his sleigh, but finding everything gone he cried out in dismay! What was he to do? What could be done? It seemed, this Christmas nobody would have fun! Unsure what to do, he pulled out his phone, he called an old friend and hoped he was home! ‘Hello, this is Gordon. How can I help?’ ‘The presents are gone!’ Santa said with a yelp! ;Well don’t you worry a single hair on your beard, we’ll find every present! There’s nothing to be feared!’ ‘I hope you’re right, I hope you’re not wrong!’ ‘I’ll be over in a second, I won’t be long.’ A minute later there was a knock on the door, Santa would not have to wait anymore. In Gordon came with a smile on his face. ‘We’ll find the presents for the whole human race!’ So out these friends went to save the day, without even any time for the two of them to play. The first place they checked was an old, deep, dark cave, Gordon held Santa’s hand, they were both slightly afraid. 24
They dodged stalagmites, bats and other cave things, and then Gordon’s Present Detector went ‘ping’! Something was near, something was close. Perhaps it was Little Jimmy’s brand new goal post? The two found a deep hole and looked down inside, here some presents Bernard had chosen to hide! With some of their work done, they headed off again, maybe now they should check Spain? A few minutes later they were in snow covered Madrid, they hoped that here some presents were hid! They found a strange building that looked kind of odd, it turned out to be the Temple of Debod. Inside they went, not expecting a thing, but then, again, the Present Detector went ‘ping’! They checked everywhere, they checked all around, then another few presents they happily found! ‘Hooray, we found more, this’ll be done fast, and to top it all off I’m having a blast!’ ‘Don’t celebrate yet, we may not be done soon, my Detector is telling me there are presents on the moon!’ ‘You worry far too much, my white dressed friend, my sleigh is space-worthy, this obstacle’s not the end!’ So back to the North Pole, they went in a flash. Santa was excited and full of furore, he’d never been into outer space before! They put space helmets on the reindeers and hopped in the sleigh, in a couple of minutes they were each on their way! With very little gravity they found they could float, it felt like they were in water without a boat! They saw some footprints heading to a large crater, that some presents were inside they’d happily wager. And in there they were, the last of the presents! 25
Santa and Gordon were two happy gents. And so their adventure had come to an end, Santa and Gordon were now better friends. But while Santa went off to deliver the toys, and ensure a happy Christmas for all girls and boys, Gordon still felt he had something to do, Bernard was a bad man, and should be punished too! It didn’t take long for Gordon to find his foe, seeing him, Bernard cried out in woe! ‘You’re evil and bad… well, you get the gist, you’re not getting out of this with less than a slapped wrist!’ ‘I’m sorry Gordon, but I did have a reason! this isn’t a flat-out act of yuletide treason!’ ‘Well please explain, I’m eager to hear, But don’t expect me to go easy due to the time of year!’ ‘Well, while I may have done something, that wasn’t very nice, I’m begging you please; don’t put me on ice! I like you Gordon; you’re a good friend of mine, but you ignore me and do heroic things all the time, so my plan was, if I did something bad, perhaps you’d spend with me some of the time you had! Basically, I just wanted your attention, the problem is I was just too ashamed to mention.’ ‘Well, don’t worry Bernard’, Gordon said with a smile. ‘I forgive you in full, so let’s hangout awhile! What do you say to a good Christmas dinner? We can invite Santa too, then everyone’s a winner!’ ‘Well then, let’s go! Quickly, let’s make no delay! I’m so excited! I can’t wait! Hooray!’ So off then they went, back to the North Pole, they made a full Christmas dinner, with a turkey whole! When Santa came home, he had a very happy surprise, sprouts, stuffing, potatoes, and even mince pies, ‘How kind of you both, I can’t wait to eat, it all looks so lovely, let me take my seat!’ So these three friends enjoy a lovely meal, and were overcome with a jolly Christmas feel. They talked, they sang, and they joked, 26
and despite so much eating, nobody chocked! ‘I’m so lucky to know you two nice young men, perhaps sometime next year we could do this again? This is my two-thousand and eleventh Christmas day, and never before have I spent one in such a fun way. But before the day ends, I have something more to say, to all you boys and girls, who have enjoyed hearing of this day, the one that your mummy or daddy has just very kindly read, a merry Christmas to you too, it just has to be said!’
Sonnet Of The Moonlight Sonata Adam Randall
The composer robbed of the sense of sound, who persisted with his music creation ‘til the end, to the bias of hearing he was explicitly not bound, nor on the sense of sound did he need to depend, was visited once by the suited man in white, who wandered freely in all creation, he gave the composer’s ears true sight, and allowed him to hear creation’s musical manifestation, with this the suited man left his world forevermore, but his presence caused great inspiration, the composer would write many great a musical score, two hundred years later his music would be listened again, for the song he wrote was ‘Moonlight Sonata’, and its legacy will last forever after.
GOD And The Gorilla Cheryl Thomas
GOD got up early and went to meet the new arrival. He’d heard that the latest inmate, Warwick, was a gorilla. GOD knew that he’d been moved from his last place because he kept ambushing the keepers and setting traps for his inmates. He had a reputation as a guerrilla gorilla. What GOD didn’t know, which was not surprising, was that Warwick was gay. Because he was dyslexic, GOD sometimes got things mixed up. For instance, he was a Jack Russell, not an omniscient being.
Watching Clocks Jack Tinmouth
He was a minute hand, turning circles day after day. Always five minutes late or one hour early for everything. Never stopping, never slowing, only going where he had to, scared of ever being on time for anything. I just tick along like the hours, just longing to reach five. I amble through life while he speeds past me every day, going through the motions. He kept repeating, kept repeating, kept repeating himself so many times to try and get things right but twenty-four hours still wasn’t enough because he felt like he only had sixty minutes for each task he attempted. He just couldn’t open his eyes wide enough to see that time was not a limited luxury but something to be spent and revelled in … Then his clock stopped. So when his time ran out, I rang out the bells twelve times and used my hour-sized hands to help carry his coffin. I read W H Auden at his grave-side. When I got home I took all the minute 30
hands out of any clocks I could find, leaving only hours to tick by because I didn’t want to see time moving so quickly and think of how he used to tell me ‘Time is a luxury. It’s better to be a star for a minute, than stare at them for an hour.’
Earthporn Natasha Baer
On the shoulder of the island, the creepers and vines are barbed and tight. One man with creased knees waits with an extra lens. He fears the overtaking night; he knows a puma is about. A tepid air hangs below the canopy, and the man continues his prayer to the stone. A bush rustle must be a chimera, a snapped twig is truly a pack of wishhounds. His arm-hair flexes for action. Havenâ€™t you heard there is a puma about? The moss and lichen point west, a droplet hits an ever-leaf. The camera engages the shutter, and the man hushes itâ€™s noise with a flushed heart and a wincing eye. Quicker than Zeus could strike, new heat on the shrub floor, the camera man takes the click. It ejects an all red picture. 32
Flowerhouse Triptych Natasha Baer
Pennyworth pansies; fixed to racks like sequins on a gown’s décolletage, when night comes foxgloves form unlikely shadows which dye the floor a new shade of purple. Grandpa’s Wellington boots have been filled with soil; they wait in the corner with absent minds. * If I hide from the rain for long enough my sadness will pass. I’m hungry, and fill my mouth with courgette flowers; happy yellow with a velvet swallow. Then wild garlic, hot and tangy. I pluck out the stems and suck fuchsias for tea. * Glass tincture, silver dawn, the rain brings diamonds for caterpillars to cut their throats on. The blooms of chrysanthemums play a drum beat and for the first time in a century a rose is red.
This Is Bath Natasha Baer
He scooped her up from the benches of Kingsmead Square. She didn’t think she was going to answer him, not at first, not until a crusty-looking bloke with a parka that smelled of piss walked over and asked them both for change, swearing that he didn’t do drugs, and he was looking for a bed in the night-shelter. To which the guy who had sat down next to her replied with a doff of his head, ‘night shelter’s already closed, mate.’ And the crusty-looking bloke left, he shuffled off with a limp, and cursed to Maud, his girlfriend, who was sat under a tree, with a duvet and a dog that was chained round the neck. He turned around to her, then winked and clicked his tongue, and said, ‘I bet I’ve slept on these stones more times than he has.’ He got up and left, making her feel like she had missed the opportunity for her heart to race. Only he returned five minutes later with some bottles and cans, and asked her if she wanted to get the hell out of here. So, she let him in, and let herself be taken by the hand on a night walk through the town and around the town, on the routes he had already taken. He clutched his dented bottle of Devon Village (now discontinued), or was it Cheddar Valley, or Black Rat? And out of breath they stepped up, with a fag in their hands, past the streets named after author’s, Shakespeare Avenue, Shelley Way, and Byron Drive, as inspiration to the tutored kids who lived in these expensive houses, until a-top the hill in the heights of Alexandra Park was the view. The view of the town, the view of all of it. She hugged him for the pleasure of standing in-between Jacob’s Ladder and Devil’s Drop – the only way’s down. He undid his fly and pissed off the edge,
swinging his dick from side to side and shouting ‘the council’s a cunt.’ Together they raised a can to Kingsmead and the cul-de-sacs of Innox Park, Twerton, where he had grown up. He pointed out places he had lived, all about really, including the stubby tower-blocks of Snow Hill, his used to be the one with the red and white anarchist flag. Then he traced with her finger the key in the old buildings, a conspiracy of the Freemasons; who paid for the stone to be dug from the hills of the valley. Then, they walked to the point where the houses were sliding down the hill, here was the entrance to the underground tunnels, bunkers for HM the Queen, which lead all the way to a field in Box. Once, after a free-party he fell down that entrance in Box and missioned all the way back to college in the centre of town. Together they walked on, and he showed her the crumbling graveyard of Perrymead, where as a school-kid in a blazer, he went to go smoke reefers, and do etchings in his art-book. Shortly after he finished at the all-boys academy, he told her about the stint in Hillview, where ‘our Tanya’ still was. You must have seen her about, big frizzy orange hair, real short she is, shouts about her dead baby at the bottom of Milsom street, which scares all the shoppers with their moneyed smiles. Just below Milsom street is Pigeon Park. No pigeons actually went there, but he had been there to puke-up Beesting behind the memorial to the people who lost their lives on the roads. Which wasn’t as bad as the time he almost fell in the river, down round Sainsbury’s. He wasn’t a student, though, there were three of them who died, one body was found 35
by some little girlies who were dropping Ecstasy tabs, and thought they were tripping, but pulled on a trainer in the mud flaps, to find that it was connected to a foot, then a leg, then the whole body of the engineering graduate. He pointed out old Cadillac’s nightclub, the ‘shit-pit’ and warned her of the most famous story, made the papers for months it did, because the woman was a curvy blonde nurse. She got followed and murdered, only to turn up thirteen years later reduced to a bag of bones. ‘Literally’, he chuckles. He lights the last toke of his cigarette, and offers it to her. She declines because the she can taste metal in her throat, undecided whether she is going to go back, or step into the shaking insecurity of not knowing where in this town tomorrow will start.
Assorted Haiku Ocsar Taylor-Kent
A cold cheese sandwich: Encased in tightened cling-film. I will not eat it. There is free sugar, at the cheap uni café. It’s all you can eat. Soft, bespectacled, master at being not him. Cheers, Gary Oldman. Fast food happy meal: There’s a special prize inside. The prize is sadness. This is a haiku. But is it really a haiku? That’s debatable. Shall I compare thee, to a Summer’s Day? No thanks – it’s alright. Thin Tesco paper. Ink bleeds through to the next page, turn, and read again. A rogue sheep Banksy, spray-canning, loose in the herd. Blue dots all over. Robert Downey Jr. 37
But the gain was too high, now heâ€™s lost in visual noise. He flies down his list of tricks. Thereâ€™s a chance he can make it passable.
Mother’s Day – One Year And Three Years On Oscar Taylor-Kent
She comes downstairs at 7 a.m. An omelette again, cup of tea again. Sits in her armchair – TV news. Omelette half gone, teabag removed, tea sipped, she hears the clock tick. The mantelpiece calls. Curtain-dimmed morning sun crawls up. It is illuminated. The clock next to dusty never-forgotten photographs and a dusty never forgotten card. Then she looks away – back to TV news. Sips her tea. Finishes her omelette.
Oscar Taylor-Kent WHERE IS MY ORANGE JUICE? Do you expect me to believe it was stolen by a moose? ZOUNDS, TELL ME THE TRUTH, tell me just how we’ve lost track of some juice? I WILL SET THE DOGS LOOSE, if you think me so naïve to consider a thieving moose. LET ME ALONE IN MY BOOTH I am saddened and I grieve for the loss of my sweet juice. WAIT, THERE ON THE SLUICE! Through shrubbery he cleaves, carrying aloft my juice, that damned mischievous moose!
Unwordsworthian Oscar Taylor-Kent
I am scared of new. I am scared of university but I go there anyway, I catch the bus part way. I am scared of being eaten by wolves on country lanes. I am also scared of packed buses. So I walk and hope there are no wolves. The music of Frank O’Hara rings through the lecture hall blaring through word document speakers. ‘Lunch poems’ that fill the space not filled by the beef roll. ‘The poetry of buying things’, reminds me: I am scared of spiders. And in the courtyard, by the Cafe (with its 80p cappuccino And 17p Milky Bars) there are thousands of spiders as invisible as their webs. O’Harian: ‘Cut-up’; a jumble of words; a bit of a mess. Apt to describe me, I find. the lecturer also calls this style: ‘Pavement level’; ‘gutter level’; ‘Un-Wordsworthian’. 41
But the sun is so hot in the sky, and the grass is green all around, cows mooing every which way and no sign of wolves (howling obscured by my MP3). The possibility of new friends Writers, dare colleagues somewhat. I am not as lonely as a cloud. And I realise being Unwordsworthian can be quite profound.
Bardonniaeth Owen Harry
I wish I could speak in that wise other tongue: That great voice of fiction, that great voice of song. Some words I can bluff and some phrases are known, but sometimes it feels I should leave well alone. I gasp and I curse for the verses to come and search for the fountain where lyrics flow from. Throughout all my life I have searched for a truth – a fact that will save me from my mortal youth – a hint to what I am so destined to be when soon I am cast out as life’s enlistee. To find myself in this new land far from home, I cling to my ramparts of pride and aplomb. Yet how can I say that this is what I am when all of my feelings are naught but a sham?
Fertilising Daffodils Owen Harry
I am a stone. I don’t do much but sit alone: No sight or touch. I can’t enjoy the sandy beach, I cannot hear the seagull’s screech. I could be high atop a hill: I would not know, at least until broken loose from my firm place, I tumble down with rapid pace. But then I’d still be numb to sense the gusty gale about myself. A thousand years I’ve lived this way, a thousand more I still must stay. I am a man. My life is not quite long enough to do a lot. With every single dying flicker, time runs out quicker and quicker. This fate is cruel; I am not done: My spell spent trying to outrun the end, which (now I’m here to meet) leaves me with a sense of defeat. These vast regrets, they fill my heart: Such vain attempts to leave my mark. I wasted decades with my aim to take as long as I could claim. I am a fly. In weeks I’m gone: I see the sights and don’t dwell on things I cannot hope to change when I can view this world so strange. I bask in glories of the realm, in things which shock and overwhelm. 44
I am but spider prey, I know, but can I not still see the show? My counsel thus, I do advise to live for lows as well as highs. Heed my advice or come a cropper: Enjoy the world, donâ€™t fear the swatter.
I’ll Meet You At The Cheapest Pub In Town Owen Harry
I’ll meet you at the cheapest pub in town where we can view existence through a haze; I promise that I will not let you down. Again we’ll play the fighter and the clown; once more we will evoke immortal days. I’ll meet you at the cheapest pub in town. In wistfulness and lager we will drown, and ardently through memories we’ll graze: I promise that I will not let you down. This time I will relieve you of your frown and set your features suddenly ablaze; I’ll meet you at the cheapest pub in town. My absence among friends has gained renown: Such infamy is what I seek to raze; I promise that I will not let you down. I’ll call on you the next time I’m around. I’m sorry for the unceasing delays. I’ll meet you at the cheapest pub in town. I promise that I will not let you down.
Lines To Prevent The Future Owen Harry
I’ll find you in the old folk’s home, I’ll stop and squint and say, ‘I knew you once; when we were young I saw you every day’. I’ll wrack my brain and scour my thoughts for pictures of you there, ‘But,’ I’ll say, ‘you were shorter then, and you had purple hair’. Our drunken nights out on the town, blissful and chaotic, were often, when I came to write, my most favoured topics. We often talked of how we’d grow and keep to the same path, but I left Wales for good one year on the first train to Bath. Whatever happened to your life? I missed you terribly. Our contact broke around the time I fled across the sea. I knew you’d follow me out here To find me now bereft, I waited for you all these years, ‘I’m sorry that I left!’
You’ll look at me in puzzlement and shoulder-shrug and frown, ‘I’m sorry, Sir, my hair was black and I’m from Allentown’. The nurse will say with tight-knit lips, as I am rolled away: ‘That man is not the one from home That you saw every day’. ‘We’ve been through this so many times; he died when you weren’t there. The boy you knew when you were young, The boy with purple hair’.
Bed-Time Maniac Reiss McGuinness
Every night, after I had finished brushing my teeth, I would walk into the bedroom, during which she would hide herself under the covers. I could never see her outline, she was too small. I would threaten to sit on her: ‘What a nice spot this looks like’. She would scream. And then, when crawling into bed, she would, for at least one minute, tickle me furiously, bite, kick and begin scream-laughing like a banshee until she had exhausted her pre-sleep rush then fall asleep on my chest like a baby squirrel too exhausted to carry on playing. The puma is about.
Our Lakeside Meeting Reiss McGuinness
There is a white face and hands without a body hovering above the ground; she is stroking a foraging hedgehog who sniffed out the berries in her hands; bats take rest on her shoulders and moths come to her like an open fire at night.
Remembering A Relationship Past
(in the eyes of a girl who looked like her) Reiss McGuinness She reminds me of the steam rising from a cup of strong chai we’d sip to keep warm in winter nights: We always came back late from long walks, so ate the leftovers of dinner in the kitchen while the family watched telly. After eating we would go up stairs to my room to talk and kiss. When everyone else was in bed, we’d creep back downstairs, sit in the living room leaving the lights off, and talk in whispers whilst looking out the window. She always sat on the arm of the chair, just above me. I remember the moonlight reflected in her glasses, and when she’d take them off, her eyes. I stood in the café and watched this girl with glasses sip tea next to the window then sit back and look into space. The seat opposite her was free, and I assumed she expected no company. I wondered if I should waste my time. I asked the waiter behind the counter for a cup of old times.
Selection Of Haiku Reiss McGuinness
Night rain the warmth she left, on the bed * Children on the hill, their silhouettes between my thumb and finger * Her reflection in the window, a long silence â€“ her eyes * Her reflection in the window, a long silence before â€Ś * After a long talk, she looks away her eyes in the window * Her reflection in the window, we have talked too much, the silence
Moonlit bats skim the water should I touch her
All I ever hear, my own voice, bouncing off dandelions
On the bus ride home, the woman hums her favourite song
Selection Of Tanka Reiss McGuinness
Heavy rain upon the snow â€“ a past lover introduces herself to the scent of Spring On an empty bough in the sooner sunset of autumn, a solitary crow looks at me, looking at it
The Hermit Comes To Find The Witch Recluse Reiss McGuinness
I reached the house in the middle of nowhere. I went to knock, but hesitated. Suppose she answered, what would I say through the catch chain-gap of her door? Suppose her face appeared in the top-floor window, where she should be reading the night away, what would I do? Would I shout and disturb the silence of the valley? Would I plead with her; would she need pleading with? I waited at the front door like a child too nervous to apologise for what he had done. So I went to walk round the lake behind the house. I wanted to think things over. I watched the moon ripple in the water as something skimmed the surface. I looked at the peak of the hills which shined in the moon light. There are no lights here. There are no cars here. I had to walk all this way, after four trains and hitching a lift, and now I chose to question my actions! I had come to the point at which I had started my walk round the lake. I was back behind her house. A light was on in the back window: the bathroom. I went round the front, knocked on the door, placed an ear to the cold wood, and listened for the sounds of footsteps.
The Shed-Ghost Reiss McGuinness
I met a girl in my shed who said she’d been living on solid air. She crouched under dead pheasants, holding something on a box she had used as a table. ‘Well, come in, you look like you’ve been on a stretcher.’ She brushed her silver hair over the shoulder of her white dress. Why wasn’t she stained with the dust and dirt of the shed? Her face was marble-white. She stood up and came into the house. Her footsteps made no sound. She followed me into the kitchen. I was already cooking dinner, four pots bubbled on the stove. Steam filled the room and blurred the windows. Her nostrils twitched, she closed her eyes, as if remembering something. She sat down on the rustic wooden table in the centre of the kitchen. She had a thing for avoiding chairs. I knew there was a reason I had put two pheasants in the oven, string-tied and stuffed with herbs. I served us a plate each. She ate the food, making sure to try every sauce and chutney on the table. She had a thing for the horseradish. After a while the steam faded from the windows, the heat left the room and the shadows of the jars of sauce stretched across the table.
Watching Lucinda In The Bathroom Reiss McGuinness
She brushes her teeth in the mirror. Around his finger he twists the knife and stabs tobacco crumbs on the sink, mixing it with toothpaste foam. From his mouth, like wheat, he lights the cigarette that hangs. The lights go out. All I can see is the rising smoke, the orange glow of his cigarette, the black of her hair in the moonlight, and she stays there, brushing her teeth till her gums bleed; what else could that sound be, but blood, dripping into the sink?
Adam Randall Glen Sanders Jacob Saunders Louise Thomas Oscar Taylor-Kent Robert Bull
Bernard Being Bad Adam Randall
Bernard Adams Dobson appeared in the middle of a sleepy neighbourhood. The road he stood on stretched out far ahead, on each side there were seemingly endless rows of near identical houses. He chuckled and reached into the pocket of his black blazer. He pulled out a skeleton key, he himself had crafted. In what can only be called a cliché choice, he had crafted the head of the key as a small skull. He tossed the key in the air. The little tink of metal against concrete echoed around the whole neighbourhood, and seemed much louder than it would have done in the same place, in the middle of the day. Once on the ground, the house it seemed to be pointing at would be the one he would enter. As he reached the front door of his unfortunate victim, he carefully and quietly opened the door. Sure, he could go running in with a chainsaw, wake up the whole neighbourhood and become the villain of a 1980s horror movie, he could even drive a tank through the wall of the house, but where was the fun in that? Bernard preferred the more subtle approach; sneak into somebody’s house, gently wake them up, toy with them a little, let them know you’re malicious, make them think they stand a chance of survival, kill their loved ones, and then them. Not bad. Especially if done with some originality. Inside the house, the halls which would usually be welcoming and familiar were now shrouded in darkness giving them an almost edgy feel. Bernard crept forward in a manner akin to a cartoon villain, tiptoeing in an over emphasised way and grinning like a Cheshire cat. ‘You shouldn’t have come here.’ Bernard’s ears pricked up in a feline-esc way. A voice had come from the living room, obviously somebody was going to try and stand up to him. ‘Oh really?’ he asked as he wandered into the longue, finding 60
the source of the voice to be an average looking man. ‘And why is that? Should I not have come here because you want to enjoy the rest of your life, rather than having to attend all significant events in your loved ones’ lives as nothing more than a memory?’ ‘No, Bernard.’ ‘You know my name? Well congratulations, I really feel that I must applaud you. You’re ability to research urban myths (such as myself!) via the internet really is astounding. Only the top university professors can use the likes of Wikipedia, that’s why they tell kids not to use it at school: They don’t have that privilege yet.’ ‘I warned you’, The man said again. ‘Yes, I suppose you did’, Bernard replied with a solemn nod. ‘I guess I should also warn you that I am heavily armed and about to turn your beautiful human face, into a decaying lifeless piece of meat.’ Bernard reached into his pocket and pulled out a large and futuristic looking gun. ‘Have it your way!’ Bernard reached into his pocket and found it to be empty. ‘Wait, what?’ Bernard said, now somewhat confused. ‘Am I losing my mind here, or did you do that?’ ‘As I say, you should not have come here. I have dominion over the realm of words.’ ‘Well, you have made my weapon disappear, but I’m not that impressed. I’m sure Houdini would do something similar if I snuck into his house at night and tried to kill him. What you are forgetting is that I am physically powerful and can easily deal with you without a weapon. And yes, I know I’m just blowing my own trumpet here, but it’s a nice trumpet! It needs to be blown constantly, so that the world can hear its beautiful music.’ Bernard Adams Dobson appeared in the middle of a sleepy 61
neighbourhood. The road he stood on stretched out far ahead, on each side there were seemingly endless rows of near identical houses. Bernard, now back inside the dark room confronting the man, looked around, his confident demeanour beginning to shatter. ‘What did you just do?’ ‘I have dominion. I do as I please, and it pleases me to unravel you.’ Bernard sipped it and looked around the room, he saw a skinny young woman, she had big blue eyes and long blonde hair. She was the typical attractive young woman. He raised an eyebrow and smiled suggestively, before strolling over to her. And then he was back in the room. ‘What are you doing to me?’ Bernard now sounded very frightened. ‘That happened ages ago, how are you making me relive my past?’ ‘Listen to me. I have dominion. It pleases me to unravel you; you are only here due to a sequence of words. Words I can rearrange and control. When a human being reads, it causes something to happen. That something allows me to manifest, and now I am here!’ ‘Reading? What does that boring nonsense have to do with anything? There isn’t a book in sight!’ said Bernard. ‘You are unable to comprehend the nature of your existence. I do now as I please.’ ‘But I don’t understand!’ ‘I am tired of your voice.’ ‘oooooooooooooooooooo’ said Bernard. ‘ooooooooooooooo ooooooooooooo.’ Bernard, now voiceless, decided it was And now only I remain.
Adam Randall An email: Hey Lisa, That thing down at the community centre this weekend was awesome. They had the whole thing set out like an actual nightclub, it was so cool! I mean, I’ve got to wait another two years before I can legally go clubbing, so this’ll have to do for now (unless I can get a fake ID!). It was pretty cool there though; they had really good music and everything. What was awesome was that I got served at the bar!! I only had a couple though, enough to enjoy myself but not so many that it ruined the night. Steve was being really stupid, he kept trying to dance around just to impress me, but I ignored him. He stopped annoying me in the end when this really hot guy started giving me some attention, he kind of acted casual at first when he came up to me, then he started grinding on me and then a little while later we made out right there in the middle of the dance-floor!! There’s a bit of gossip for you ;) From, Jane xxx A Journal Entry: That party down at the community centre the other day wasn’t very fun. I only went because I knew Jane was going to be there and I hoped we could hang out, but really it turned out terrible. I saw that Jane was served at the bar, so I thought I’d go there and buy some alcohol too. Unfortunately, the barman asked me to show him some ID which, being sixteen, wouldn’t have helped me. So, annoyingly I couldn’t impress Jane by drinking some alcohol in front of her. With the beer drinking plan a failure, I decided I would try my luck on the dance-floor. I hoped that if I went over and danced around near her that she’d think my dance moves were so cool, 63
that I must be really cool too, and so give me a hug or something nice like that. But I guess I’m not a very good dancer because she wasn’t impressed by this at all, in fact, she got angry and told me to leave her alone. So I decided I probably should keep my distance for a while in case I should accidentally damage our bestfriendship and risk our chances of becoming a couple. I sat in the corner for a little while and subtly watched her from a distance, but I had to look away when she started dancing around with this weird looking guy. I had to do something, so I changed my regular expression to a scowl, while she is a perfect person; it’s rude to totally ignore your best friend for a stranger. What got me really angry was when they kissed each other … While I may not be a man for revenge, I wasn’t going to let this idiot take advantage of Jane like that. So I decided I’d hang around in the shadows at the back of the building … needless to say that when the night came to an end, I taught him a very serious lesson. A Text Message: Sup bro? Dat fing down at the CC was alright some rly ugly grl grabbed me n tried to kiss me, bt i pushed her away den on the way home this really weedy guy tried to punch me but he rly hurt his hand and ran off cryin LOL
Morris And The Premonition Adam Randall
Alone in the dark. Cold. In the woods. A woman is walking along, un-phased by the harsh environment. A man is hiding in the bushes, his intentions are evil. She gets closer and closer. He emerges, armed with a knife, she screams. There is a struggle; he’s trying to rob her. She gets the upper hand, and kicks him hard in the face. A knife is used; she is stabbed in the arm. As she recovers, he grabs her from behind. The knife runs across her pale neck. At first there is only the faintest line, but then a waterfall of blood pours down her body. The man escapes with her money, the woman falls dying to the ground. Her frightened eyes stare up to the night sky and she realises she’ll never see the sun again … * Oh, thought Morris, lying in bed. That was a strange dream. But Morris didn’t think much of it, by the time he’d changed out of his pyjamas and into his every day clothes the dream was pretty much entirely out of his mind. Indeed, the only thing that would bring it back to his mind, would be if he happened to see something that reminded him of it. Of course, an average day for Morris consisted of sharpening his pencils, writing reminders on post-it notes (such as to make sure his pencils were sharp tomorrow), doing the shopping and other similar things. Nothing even remotely similar to what he’d dreamt about, so he wasn’t likely to receive a reminder. However, at 8pm once it was getting dark outside and Morris was preparing to go to bed, he realised that there was no milk left in his fridge. Without this, he’d have to have toast for breakfast in the morning, and he already knew that he was going to feel like cereal. As such, he grabbed his jacket and headed out into the town. It was dark outside and a little chilly, but it felt nice. Morris could take the ten minute route to the shops down the roads, or he could take the twenty minute route down a country path. This 65
was a path which, for Morris, was definitely the one less taken. He always took the route down the road, so this really was a big deal for Morris. As Morris wandered along past the woods, he realised he was getting a strong sensation of déjà vu. This was cemented a few seconds later when he saw a woman walking along the path towards him; it was the woman from his dream! Morris grinned and approached her. ‘Hello!’ he said to her. ‘My name is Morris and I had a dream last night and you were in it.; ‘Oh … right. Okay then’, she said, frowning. She walked on. ‘So where are you going?’ asked Morris, diverting his own route to talk to this woman. ‘I’m just out taking a walk. I always do.’ ‘What’s your name?”’ he asked, persisting with the questions like a child. ‘What? Well, uh’, she paused. ‘It’s Kirsty.’ ‘It is nice to meet you Kirsty’, said Morris. ‘My name is … ’ Morris quickly looked behind them, he’d heard something. He smiled. ‘ … Morris’, he continued. ‘Oh wait. I already told you what my name is. Heh. That is funny.’ ‘Yeah …’ said Kirsty, rubbing her hand against her forehead. A few feet ahead of them, they heard a rustling in the bush. It was pitch dark, but they could both see that a man had jumped out in front of them. A stray beam of light reflected off of his weapon: A knife. Before either this man or Kirsty could act, Morris stepped forward. ‘Oh!’ Morris said excitedly. ‘I know you. You were in my dream, and so was this nice lady here. It is very nice that you both turned out to be real. But, anyway, I had better be going. I need to get some milk.’ 66
And so Morris left, heading back towards the shops. Both Kirsty and the attacker seemed to ignore Morris as if he was some kind of bizarre anomaly, not quite part of real life. For a second after he had gone, the pair of them seemed to freeze, merely staring at one another. Then the man leapt forward, pinning her to the muddy forest floor. She retaliated quickly, giving him a sharp kick which pushed him backward. He approached her again, this time preparing to use his weapon. He held it, ready to swipe. Kirsty didn’t know how to react, any attack would likely end up hurting her more than him, so she stared, just as a rabbit stares at an oncoming car. But before he got to her, another person leaped through the air and tackled him. He banged his head on the floor and was knocked unconscious. Kirsty let out a huge breath, realising she’d not been breathing steadily during the whole ordeal. ‘Um, thank you, I guess!’ she replied very gratefully. ‘I’m not quite sure what to say’, she forced a small laugh. ‘Well I wasn’t going to stand back and let him gut you with that knife was I?’ the man replied. ‘No’, she said. ‘No I suppose not. But how were you … I mean, how did you know this was even happening? All the way out here in the middle of the woods.’ ‘I was out for my evening jog, when I saw that other guy come over and start talking to you. Seemed like he was giving you some unwanted attention, so I thought I’d better keep an eye on things, then all of this happened …’ Meanwhile, not too far away Morris found, to his delight, that the milk was half price.
The Old One Glen Sanders
Notes, I hear notes. They have woken me. How long ago was I imprisoned here? Now those notes wake me but from whom do they come? My eyes ache adjusting to the darkness, as I lie here on this hard surface. I start to move but it is painful. If I remain here I will surely die. This wooden prison cannot keep me. Age has weakened it; even in my withered state I am strong enough to break out and emerge from this tomb. Stumbling into my surroundings, my legs struggle with my weight and threaten to collapse. This prison is old and decrepit, a primitive attempt to conceal me from history; it was futile. Those sweet notes lure me onward, beckoning every fibre of me. The surrounding wood and metal cannot endure time like I, there are gaps in this pitiful cage; through them I can feel a petty breeze swiping at my imperfect body. That breeze carries with it a particular smell, how I yearn for its innocence; my head swarms, my hunger is roused to an agony I cannot endure. Earthâ€™s movements have threatened this cave. Starlight shows me the way out. So I walk into the open where this world can insult all my senses at once. I curse the failings of He who fell, why do you torment me thus? These trees are old and reek of youth to me, and that smell; it is intolerable, I must make it go away. The watchful moon casts its suspicious silver rays upon the treetops, they penetrate through to the Earth beneath my feet which is soft and full of vibrant colour and life I cannot condone. My feet churn the soil as I move onwards to the source of those notes, that incessant sweetness. I move slowly now, my very bones yearn to know the strength they once possessed. These trees contain many a creature not worth my time. Why fill this world with anything but the deserving? You undermine your own creation. I can see a clearing, narrow in nature. No, not nature but manipulation. The surface has been tormented. I can hear beating 68
footsteps on it. The surface is marked with lines for a reason alien to me. How you desecrate your own womb, the land that gave you life. I stumble and fall, my very core is shattered and I cannot recover. No. No I remember. Yes. I am he. Move. There. My legs return my height to me, I must move on. Her notes are louder now, my ears transfer this ecstasy to my being; there it is. She is young. She smells divine, untouched, my belly seethes. I shall have her before all is undone. Those tones will not leave me be. Memories flash themselves before my eyes, assaulting me; go away. My broken form shakes and I shriek in anticipation. The world provides. Her pace quickens but I am quicker, her gorgeous neck turns, her eyes inform her of her fate; yes you have no name for me, she assaults the stars with her screams. They cannot help you. She turns away as if ignorance will soften my resolve. It will not. And I am on her. She screams no more. I drag this sustenance into the woods where I consume the innocent flesh, the misguided mind, the hollow soul. As the last of her bloody warmth dissipates unto the Earth I stand and am defiant of His will. My hunger haunts me still, and I will be fulfilled.
Great Chieftain O’ The Puddin-Race Jacob Saunders
Two figures lay, flat on their stomachs, amongst the scraggy Highland forest foliage. The only sounds were of their hushed breathing and of snow settling. They were so silent, in fact, that, if it wasn’t for the gun barrel poking into the clearing, someone could’ve had a picnic there and never noticed them. The smaller of the pair, a boy so wrapped up in Winter clothing that only his thin, freckled face was discernible, blew into his partially-gloved hands. It was like a cannon shot there. The larger figure – a tall, broad-shouldered man in a thick coat and kilt – leaned over and clipped him round the ear. ‘Quiet, lad’, he said. ‘We don’t want to scare them off.’ ‘But I’m freezing my nuts off, Dad’, replied the boy. ‘We’ve been lying on this bleeding mountain for hours and we haven’t seen nothing. Can’t we just go home?’ ‘It’s cold, aye’, conceded the father. ‘I lost feeling in everything below my buttocks about an hour ago. But we cannae give up now! Imagine coming home on Burns’ Night empty- handed, with not a scrap to go with the neeps and tatties. I wouldn’t stand for it.’ ‘But-’ ‘That’s enough, Angus. We’re staying up here ‘til we get one and that’s that.’ The silence resumed, broken only by the father brushing flecks of snow from his bushy, ginger beard. They lay there for a few minutes, eyes trained on the clearing beyond the bush and ears listening out for the slightest sound. As nothing continued to happen, Angus started to fidget in the snow. ‘Quiet, you’, said the father. ‘But I admit this is taking a while. Tell you what Angus, why don’t you try your bagpipes? That lures them in sometimes.’ ‘If you say so’, said Angus, and grabbed the sagging, wheezing sack lying between them. He propped himself up on one 70
knee as silently as humanly possible whilst cradling a groaning bag of pipes and moved to start playing, then hesitated. ‘What song?’ he said. ‘Er … try “Scotland the Brave”, they seem to like that one.’ Angus nodded, squeezed out the drone and began to play. The gasping notes echoed far across the silent forest, bouncing between the trees and across the mountains to create a cacophony of piping, as though it were a Scots military parade up there, rather than just Angus. As he was hitting the second chorus, the sharp sound of a twig snapping came from beyond the clearing. ‘Stop’, said the father. ‘I think I heard something.’ Angus cut off the song mid-flow with a parp. ‘I didnae hear anything’, he said. ‘Quiet’, the father hissed. ‘Do you hear that?’ Angus threw the bagpipes aside – sending out a smattering of discordant notes as it hit the snow – and lowered himself back down. The unmistakable sound of foraging carried over from the clearing. ‘Oh, aye, I do’, he said. ‘Is it one of them?’ ‘I bloody well hope so’, said his father. ‘But we’ll never find out if we don’t take a wee peek will we?’ As stealthily as they could manage, the two of them peered through the bush into the clearing. ‘Saints be praised!’ said the father, slapping Angus heartily on the back. ‘There it is, laddie! The Great Chieftain O’ the Puddin-Race! Isn’t it magnificent?’ Magnificent may not have been the word to describe the creature standing before them, but it was impressive, in its own, gangly way. Standing on four legs, it rose to about half a short man’s height, it’s long, spindly limbs (the left ones being longer than the right) giving way to a plump, kidney-shaped body, covered in thick brown fur. It possessed neither tail, nor hoof (its feet were like a small child’s), nor, it seemed, a head; it was as though God had simply stuck its face – with its small eyes and 71
pointed snout – on the end of its torso. It tottered awkwardly around the clearing, occasionally stopping to sniff amongst the undergrowth. Angus stared with his mouth agape. ‘That’s a haggis?’ he said. ‘Aye, that it is, son’, said his father, in hushed tones. ‘And a fine specimen it is, too. Now, the wild haggis is a timid beastie, so be extra quiet, now.’ He hoisted the gun towards Angus, who dropped it heavily on the snow. They both held their breath as the haggis looked up in alarm, before apparently shrugging it off. ‘Shush!’ said the father, clipping Angus round the ear. ‘You almost scared it off.’ ‘Sorry, Dad’, said Angus. ‘But what’d you give me the gun for?’ ‘Why’d you think I brought you up here? You’re thirteen now, Angus, and it’s time you bagged your first haggis.’ ‘You want me to do it?’ ‘Of course I do. I shot my first when I was your age. Piece of piss anyway, just point the gun at its fat belly and shoot.’ Angus gulped and propped up the heavy firearm. Fingering the trigger with one hand and steadying the gun with the other, he aimed at the haggis. ‘What’re you waiting for?’ said his father. ‘I cannae tell what part’s the belly’, said Angus. ‘The whole bleeding thing’s belly. Just pull the trigger, already.’ With his teeth clenched and eyes shut, Angus squeezed the trigger. The shot rang out for miles around, blasting into a tree across the clearing as the haggis squealed and fled as fast as its mismatched legs would carry it. ‘God damn it’, said Angus, after prying his eyes open and seeing no haggis carcass lying before him. ‘I bleeding missed.’ He threw the still-smoking firearm onto the floor and his head into his hands. His father picked up the gun and patted him on the back. ‘Ach, don’t you worry about it, son’, he said. ‘I did the same on my first go. You’ll get the next one for sure. So how about giving the bagpipes another go, eh?’ 72
BIC: On The Worktop, In A Day. Louise Thomas
Hold me and let me speak. I have words I know how. This day I am in your hand: Ian and I can feel your skin on my bones. You make the words flow. I know things I didn’t before. I know about AMY and I know about DENTIST! 1 PM. Tell me more and make me move, I watch what your/you’re speaking. And when you put me down I lie and wait and wait for your/you’re return. Writing is in me: I am BIC. And I wait still, Ian for you to come and hold me. I speak, I know about AMY. She took me once and taught me more: my name is amy and i am twelve. i go to oldfield school and today jack told harry that he fancyd me. i think i like jack tho i know kate said harry was thinking of asking me out! In the dark I (or is it i?) get lonely. i lie still and watch the cold. i feel other skins on my bones. It warms my skin but it isn’t you: Ian. i still wait and wait for you: Ian to come back. If walls could speak i hear someone say, and know. If i!! could speak i would tell you to tell me more WORDS. When i know more WORDS i will be able to tell you: Ian things instead. Still i lie here and wait. Someone holds me and makes me move: Just gone to get Amy from tap. Be back around 5, Laura x Laura x leaves me alone, again and i lie still anticipating: Ian (my biggest word). i want you to feel me like i feel you. i love to feel you around my body and when you hold me i know you use me. i love to be used to watch you speak. When we are alone you tell me secrets, i will always keep. i can never tell. You are my oldest skin. Someone is here!!!! it’s you: IAN. But you hold me too fast. Too hard, my bones are weak
Alice, don’t contact me again … Too strong, you squeeze. I can’t keep up with your WORDS Don’t think I won’t do it you You hold me, I am hot. Faster and harder and harder and my skin!! it splits. I can’t feel anymore, but my blood shivers, and when I SPIT, I stain your skin
The Estuary Louise Thomas
Sam stood somewhere between the half darkness. His stare thrown cold like a stone, his hair greyed by a wind which came in sharp and fierce across the pier. In the woollen threads of memory, his skin becomes mottled into a colour it never could have been. Blue where blue should have been pink, but as ashen as the sky and everything else in between. He stands in a picture which will last only as long and as accurate as my head allows. Lips grey, parted and caught on the beginning of a breath which never arrives. He stands beneath clouds low and heavy. I catch his eyes again as mine close and the memory slips forward like looking through water, clear and yet never exactly true. Eyes which I know were brown but which here are always blue. The sea falls long and vast behind him. I look away. And when the rain comes, he is gone. Darkling I wait, the image comes and goes. Sound grey silence fills the spaces here where images used to be. A drowsy numbness comes and I fade away into the dim. It’s never my intention to sit and think but the world runs on too fast. I was cooking something, but now here I am, still. Still - I wait, for the image to come back to me like a wave and take me. Sometimes I feel it like it’s alive. A body which looks cold but is always hot comes around and into me like liquid. My blood rushes and I feel it under my skin, thin and watery white. And when the moment is over, I’m sitting still, still on the same chair or bed or stair. I feel the wooden slats under me. The pan on the hob spits. But whatever is now, was never how it used to be, and the seriousness of this crowds in. I feel a feeling which could only be dread and again the image comes back like nausea. Sam looked at me because he was alive. Because the light and the air and the wind compelled him to stare. Because the sea flared up like fire and spat in our faces, until we slanted our eyes away and the noise drowned out anything which may have been said. I close my eyes, here. 75
Heat comes into my throat. Sam stares but the sea rises quickly around us. I touch his skin as the rain comes down and burns everything until there is nothing left. I feel him and the devotion solders me to him like iron. The beach is gone, hidden away under the greasy remains of the black estuary. I didnâ€™t look away. The rain comes, and weâ€™re gone.
A Close Brush With Soda Oscar Taylor-Kent
‘I’m sorry’, said the Doctor. She continued speaking, with her morose face, and put her hand on Billy’s shoulder to reassure him. His brain didn’t process any of her words after ‘sorry.’ It was preoccupied. It felt like it was going to shut down, to just give up, but it was too busy trying desperately to make sense of what the rest of Billy’s body was doing. It seemed to order them into some sort of abstract list that Billy saw vividly in front of his eyes. It was in third-person, which Billy thought was odd, but it sort of made sense given that he felt removed from himself, almost ‘outof-body’: His stomach was clenched, making him want to vomit, though not making him feel like he was going to vomit. He wanted to vomit, to eject his sadness as some kind of rejection of what had just happened, like some sort of bizarre self-sacrifice. He became acutely aware he looked pale, in that strange way that you can’t really explain, that you just know to be fact. The lack of colour in his cheeks must have happened so suddenly that his cheeks let out some sort of surprised tingle that had alerted him. (This one was just blank, and Billy didn’t know why). He felt himself break out into a cold-sweat. At first, just on his palms. It was a sort of tingle, almost as if he felt his pores ejecting the liquid fear. He was shaking ever so slightly. He didn’t hold out his arm, but he felt sure if he had, it would have been all over the place. He had to exert too much energy on his jaw muscles, just stopping them from chattering like in a cartoon. That was the end of his list, and Billy drew a small amount of his attention, about five percent (no, maybe less, like three percent?), back to the doctor. She was still talking. ‘We do have Pepsi, though’, she said. ‘Fine, I guess I’ll take it’, replied Billy, still upset at 77
the absence of his first choice, Coca-Cola. He didn’t want Pepsi, but his wife had been in child-labour for three hours, and he hadn’t drunk for five. He knew his hatred of Pepsi was stupid, irrational. He closed his eyes. He had to forget. But he couldn’t forget that man – in the novelty Pepsi can suit – on the day his dad was murdered.
Do Not Leave Unattended Oscar Taylor-Kent Do not leave unattended, thought the mug, quoting from the coffee machine, despite being unable to read the instructions from where it sat. Do not leave unattended, re-quoted the mug. After being in this daily grind for well over a year now (the coffee machine having arrived on the man’s birthday before last), the mug proudly had the entire set of instructions committed to memory. Do not leave unattended, the mug thought a third time, more irritated than the two times prior. Where was the man? He was always going off, leaving the mug quite alone to be filled to the brim yet again. No doubt the man was wiling away his time on the ‘best game ever!’ as he had so excitably called it through his ever present smartphone the day earlier. What if today was the day something awful happened? Really now, thought the mug to itself. No respect. No appreciation for me. I was there when a Turkish tribe settled in the Volga Delta, for the mug was indeed of Turkish origin. Much to the mug’s irritation, the man seemed to have no idea of its royal heritage. Not to say the mug was used by royalty, but it was made by a potter whose ancestor had once made a mug that was used by the Turkish sultan himself. The mug found this fact quite empowering. When it had first been presented to the man only to find it would simply be a coffee holder it had been quite humbling. Another thing that irked the mug, besides being left alone, and the man being unaware of his royal heritage, was that it was actually a reincarnation of the famous magician, Fantastico Strangebeen. Quite how he came to be reincarnated as a mug, it had no idea. However, the mug had a nearly perfect recollection of its past life, and would often think of it on quiet summer days spent lounging in the cupboard. It found it comforting to lament on its achievements accomplished more than a lifetime ago. Often its thoughts would linger on the issue of its previous death, which for some reason it couldn’t quite recall. As Fantastico, he had 79
never believed in reincarnation, and had thought it stupid. But retrospectively, why should an audience believe in magic? A sudden wave of pain wrapped around the mug and jolted it out of its pondering. It must have been almost a full minute since the hot coffee began to fill its insides. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong. Do not leave unattended! shouted the mug inwardly, I knew this would happen! Due to a malfunction in the coffee machine, the water had boiled far hotter than should ever have been allowed. The mug was aware of this, because the coffee that poured into it scolded to the very core of its ceramic. The mug felt light-headed, dizzy, and in pain as the coffee rose higher and higher towards its rim. With each millimetre gained by the coffee, the mug felt like it was being drowned under a scolding, yet delicious wave, a metaphor drawn from its past life. The coffee continued to rise. Then it stopped, suddenly. It had reached the brim. The mug tried to pull itself together. It could handle this. It could make it through this. The coffee would cool down. The mug just needed to hold out. The door opened, and the man entered the kitchen, his eyes fixed on his smartphone. With but a hasty glance away from his phone, he reached for the mug. As soon as this action was set into motion, the mug knew what was going to happen. It cursed inwardly at its poor luck; if only the man had been distracted by his games for a just a little while longer. Scolding his hand on the mug, the man yelped, and dropped the mug. As the mug hurtled to the ground, its whole life flashed before its eyes. Being made out of clay; chatting to the new mugs on display; learning the ropes of being a hard-working coffee mug. To a close inspector of the scene, one would have perhaps seen a single tear of coffee, sprouting from an odd dimple in the mug. Crash. The mug shattered. In its last moments, it felt the hot coffee enveloping its pieces. Then it remembered. It remembered how it had died last time: Drowning in a vat of coffee, as he tried to escape in a crazy stunt, sponsored by the leading brand of coffee at the time. And it wasnâ€™t even his favourite. Then it was over. 80
The mugâ€™s fragments were quickly swept up by the man, and it was put into the bin. This is awful, thought Fantastico, ex-mug, as bacon and egg were heaped onto its face. It was another breakfast time, and it prepared itself to yet again be covered in egg yolk and grease. Really now, thought the plate to itself. No respect. No appreciation for me. I was there when a Spanish colony settled in South America, for the plate was indeed of Spanish origin.
Smoke & Mirror Oscar Taylor-Kent
I couldn’t help but think the whole thing was just smoke and mirrors. I sucked at my cigarette gratefully, satiating my throbbing head. It either actually helped, or just took my mind off of it. But all that mattered was that it did what it did. In the end the final results are all that really matter. It was the one mirror in the damned funhouse that didn’t portray me as either a stout midget or a skeletal, gaunt mess of a man. Somewhere in between. A normal reflection? Maybe … but what’s normal? Something caught my eye behind the smoke in the mirror. A typewriter, next to the desk lamp. My name was written there. Pieces of me dipped in ink and then slammed against a piece of paper. Could I be so easily captured? The string of half-lying clients; the women; the other vices? The trying my best to conclude questions that meant little to me personally, wanting that breath of fresh air at the end, but consistently being forced back under? Of course it was that easy. It wasn’t my story alone. It was the stories of hundreds before me and it will be the stories of hundreds more. Be it my name to fall under the keys or the names of anybody else. I turned and walked to the desk, removed the paper. Not my name at all. Records that at first seemed familiar, but the financial figures were much different. This was it all right. For a second, I thought I had been close to seeing the story for what it was. Briefly, I pondered what the ending might have been, if there even was one. I had found what I was looking for in some sense, but in another, perhaps I’d just about lost it.
Swaying In The Wind Oscar Taylor-Kent
Never really done much with my life. Never really cared to try. Guess you could say I’m just the type content to lounge in the sun all day and just sway in the wind. And I’m not the only one. Out here that’s like our mantra. ‘Welcome to Lake Pleasant Park’, and underneath: ‘Monarchiam in ventum’ or whatever it is. I can’t attest to being well educated, but this girl used to hang around me a lot, she’d read her Latin text books; do her school homework, that sort of thing. You pick up a thing or two around that. Because, yeah, me and the rest around here don’t like to do much. We’re just not too sociable by nature. It’s not like we hate people, though. Lake Pleasant is pretty rural, but sunny and titularly pleasant enough that a fair amount of people like to come around. Maybe they hang out, read their books in the sun or look at the stars in the night, or maybe they just walk on by and we watch them silently and let them be on their way. So naturally when this jackass shows up nobody really thinks much of it at first. He arrives on the scene in a beat up pick-up truck with an ageing, scratchy bright red paint job that almost literally screams ‘hillbilly’, but whatever. It’s what’s on the inside that counts, right? We’re all just water underneath. The beer and the shotgun are what really tick the boxes on the jackass box. When he swings his legs out of the door he slides the final beer out of a six pack and swigs it, holding his shotgun as he does. When he’s finished he throws the parched husk onto the ground; stamps on it, grabs another six pack, carries it round to the back of the truck, and grabs a folded chair. For a while it seems like maybe he’s just going to slam down a few beers sitting in the sun. Foolishly everyone begins to rationalise the presence of the shotgun, to throw it away. Not that we really could have done anything otherwise. The shooting begins as the sun sets. It’s a shock, but it’s nothing terrible at first. The man just 83
seems to be shooting his shotgun into the sky. Perhaps aiming at imaginary birds. As the sky gets darker, however, so does his intent. Eventually he turns the gun on one of my friends, the closest to him, and pulls the trigger. This shot, more than those preceding it, echoes a thousand times more intently through the surroundings. Then it’s followed by the sickly sound of a cactus slumping to the ground: A soft cracking as it loses its grip on the rest of its body followed by a soft snap; then a heavy dull thud as its pins stick into the ground, no bouncing; then the water begins to leak out, like the bubbling of a small creek. Systematically he moves onto the next. His beginner’s luck has worn off, replaced by alcohol, and it takes him a few shots to fell the next, and the one after that. I see his path of destruction will lead him to me. And then beyond me. I am forced to wait while the slaughtering takes place. He reaches me, and levels his shotgun, a mean grin on his face. I see my fate in those two black barrels. He shoots and misses. It’s then that I realise what I must do. He reloads and aims again. I watch him intently, standing him down. He has a tell, an easy one. A twitch above his right eye, just before he pulls the trigger. As he does, I sway away from the direction he’s pointing. Another miss. He reloads hastily, and only takes a few seconds to aim this time. Again, I sway away. This happens another few times, and the man curses. He swears as he reloads the shotgun. Then he pauses. He smirks, chuckles, and looks at me. He takes a few steps closer to me. Right next to me, he is below me, being significantly smaller. If the sun was still out, he would be well within my shadow. But it isn’t, and we are all in the dark. He puts the cold barrel of the gun against my mottled, hard, green skin, between my pins. He pulls the trigger. There is a dull, wet explosion, and the man yells, shielding his eyes from the chunks of my meat. Blinded like this, he does not see me begin to fall, falling forward. I am lunging forward instead of slumping backward. I will not simply collapse and die. As he feels my weight he lets out another scream. It echoes, but 84
not as much as the explosions from his gun. It is a much weaker noise altogether. So I lie here, pinning him to the ground. He is silent and unmoving, and I know my spines have tasted his blood. They are wet and gooey. I can’t move. I can’t feel myself sway. For the first time in my life I feel heavy and solid. A trickle is the only thing that tickles my senses. A trickle of water, steadily flowing out of me. We are all water underneath. As the water of life leaves me, and pours into the dry earth, I slowly begin to lose myself. As I fade away I can see the remains of my lost friends, but I can also see those that remain standing proud around me. I saved them. And now they can keep on swaying.
Oscar Taylor-Kent Jerry’s eyes opened wide – or would have – if he had any. Ideally, his face would have contorted into that of surprise, and he would have perhaps taken a startled step back. But he could not. He was a clock. All he could do was tick away the seconds, hour after hour, day after day. Someone with perhaps very acute hearing would have been able to make out the slightly higher pitched ‘tick’ that Jerry made when he walked through the door. But no one did. It’s easy to empathise with Jerry. Well, as easy as empathising with a clock ever is. The man that walked through the door was that one man with the slicked back, jet-black hair, a waxed moustache and a very flamboyant and garish pink and red gentleman’s overcoat. As strange a character as the man obviously was, this is not what caused Jerry shock. Moreover, Jerry was shocked because this was the very man he had seen last night; he had pushed the mistress of the house over the banister of the grand staircase that Jerry was accustomed to overlooking. Afterwards she had lain silent and unmoving, a cheap souvenir version of her usually lively and dynamic self. The man had busied himself with frantically running about, doing god only knew what to try and cover his tracks, while Jerry tried to come to terms with the tragedy he had seen. It was tragic, Jerry knew this much, which, for a clock, is quite impressive, especially seeing as this was the first death he had ever seen. Whether other clocks see murder and death regularly was of little consequence to him. He didn’t get about much, anyway. The butler had discovered the body early in the morning, and had immediately telephoned the police, followed by other persons of note, on the little telephone that stood on a small writing desk not three feet away from Jerry. The telephone was called Jack, and was a decent sort of fellow. He was always in use by someone in the house, and had afforded Jerry some degree of company over 86
the years. Jerry couldn’t help but feel a bit jealous of the amount of attention Jack got compared to him, though. Jack was always being talked to and sat by, sometimes for hours at a time. Besides from the winding he was given regularly by the butler, Jerry didn’t usually get more than a glance. A short while after the butler and Jack had alerted the police and persons of note, the police and persons of note arrived. The persons of note were primarily friends of the mistress, familiar faces to Jerry as they had walked past him frequently. The man, however, was unexpected, as Jerry’s silent shock conveyed. Why was he here? Jerry didn’t find out why the man was there until the mistress’ wake, which the man also attended. The wake was a morbid affair, but Jerry was glad of the company, as he was in one of the rooms used for the occasion. He overheard a group of the mistress’ friends talking, in the hushed tones of gossip, right in front of his face. ‘She left everything to him, apparently’, said one friend, who was a young and baby-faced man. ‘Really?’ enquired a lady friend in an over-curious sort of way. ‘You mean Lord Evelton?’ asked a bearded friend. ‘Yes’, confirmed the first friend. ‘The house, her fortune, everything.’ ‘Quite odd. They have only known each other, what? Three months?’ said the lady friend. ‘Four. But yes, it’s quite clear he charmed her out of it’, explained the first friend. ‘Sad business, really. Nothing to be done. Poor Ethel’, stated the bearded friend. After this, the conversation trailed off to fox hunting and 87
other fancies. It was clear to Jerry what had happened. The man had somehow managed to charm the mistress out of her worldly good fortunes, and then had knocked her off. Awful! Jerry wished he could do something about it, but he knew he could not. ‘Jeeves’, addressed a servant to the butler, as they passed beneath Jerry the day after the wake. ‘Did the lady leave anything about her servants in the will?’ ‘No, Susan. I’m afraid not.’ ‘I see. I will have to seek employment elsewhere right away.’ ‘But I might inform you, dear Susan, that the lord does plan to take this manor up as a second home.’ ‘Oh?’ ‘Well, a first home, really. His current abode will be more of a second. He inherited everything, you know. I suppose he plans to take up her mantle, so to speak.”’ ‘I see. Marvellous for him.’ ‘And marvellous for you, Susan. And myself. He plans to keep all of the present staff.’ ‘How very generous!’ exclaimed Susan joyously. ‘And when will the good Lord be moving in?’ ‘Why, the Tuesday after next. I understand he has some business to take care of in town before then.’ With a sad demeanour, Jerry awaited for the man to move in. Jerry was resolute, he knew what he would do, the only thing he could do to defy this horrible, horrible, murderer of a man. When the man next crossed the house’s threshold, his new place of residence, he checked the time on Jerry. It was exact, and the man conducted himself about his day. The man also checked Jerry just before bed. ‘Confounded, stupid clock’, he muttered. ‘It’s broken.’ Jerry’s face remained the same as when the man had checked him the first time. After being checked by the butler, no source of the problem could be found. From a mechanical standpoint, Jerry was perfectly sound. Since that day, Jerry never ticked nor tocked again.
2/10/1998 Robert Bull
It’s sad to think that one of my earliest memories is also my saddest one. That for a start, is wrong. Early memories should be happy; first time riding a bike, new toys, a trip to a fair, a kiss even. Not in my case. My memory doesn’t exactly begin in a typical manner. It begins with a sandwich. Lunchtime at primary school. Home-lunch people and cooked-lunch people are separated, like some bizarre camp ruling. Smells mix into a heavy stench of processed meats and soggy chips. Sat at my table are friends which I probably don’t know, remember or talk to anymore. They are busy discussing something innocent and simple – like any five year old would. I take my first and last bite into a peanut butter sandwich. A woman in business attire approaches our table and puts a hand on my back. ‘It’s Robert, isn’t it?’ She asks, with a heavily sweet voice. I only nod dumbly at her, and replace the lonely sandwich back into its rightful box. ‘I need you to come with me a minute’, she continues. I was a very timid child, never one to disobey an order from an authority figure. Silently, I pack up my lunch, collect my belongings and stand up. She leads me out of a door very close nearby, out into the car park joining the two sections of the school. We head towards the main building, where four wooden doors mark the entrance. I notice a small security device on the door the woman reaches for. ‘It’ll just make a strange noise’, she says. The overly sweet voice has returned. She’s right; the device beeps in a way which had yet to enter my undeveloped mind. ‘Just through here’, she points and leads me through a door marked ‘Headmaster’. 89
Inside are several different faces, some that I should recognise immediately. Two that I do recognise – Mother and Brother – are not how I expect them to be. Red, tear-streaked eyes. Slightly puffy faces. Far too much sniffling and wiping tissues across the noses. These are not the faces I know; they are ugly, disfigured copies designed to trick me. Two new faces join us. Again, ones I should recognise, but have been ruined by the same inflictions. My aunt and uncle enter from a side room. She looks at me and begins to cry, her face getting more and more distorted. He, Uncle, pulls her close and wraps an arm around her. ‘Where’s Debbie?’ a face asks. ‘Coming’, Mother replies, ‘they have to collect her from Harrow Way.’ Now my sister is coming to join us. Will she have the same terrifying, new faces as everyone else? Mother moves towards me, taking an extra step as I try and move away from her. ‘Rob’, she whispers, crouching to look into my eyes. She pulls me closer, this new, saddened face now closer than ever. ‘Oh Rob’, she says, her voice husky. Whatever this new emotion is, it’s powerful. ‘Oh Rob, your daddy …’ She pauses, taking several extra gasps. ‘Your daddy’s died.’ She goes on, trying to explain and try and comfort me – trying to soften the blow. Obviously not an easy task, given the situation, and she breaks down again. By now, Mother easily gets taken into the arms of Uncle, crying and sobbing again. Brother comes closer, trying to reassure me. But one of the saddest parts of the memory is this: There was nothing wrong with me. Not yet anyway. ‘Dead’ wasn’t properly in my vocabulary. Why would it be, at only five years old? Children only learn about death if it happens to someone around them; if not, education seems to cover it a few years later. In my case, lesson one had begun. So far, all I knew ‘dead’ meant was every other family member now had a new face; a reddened, teary and changed version from the last. Did Father have it too? Maybe he caught this illness of the face first; maybe that’s what it meant. ‘Where is daddy?’ I venture. The innocence of my asking 90
proves too much; more sobs and sniffles echo around the room. Then, the aunt on Father’s side arrives behind me. Gently, delicately, she tells me that it’s time to go now. We have to go home so things can be … sorted. The last word comes to her with difficulty, and I turn to Mother who nods slowly. I go with the newly arrived aunt, with Brother following behind, his head hung low and breathing ragged. I, on the other hand, considered new aunt with interest. She had a similarly saddened face as well, which had an unfortunate effect on her make-up. Still, I needed more information about this ‘dead’ word, this new word in my world. Maybe she also knew where Father was. But seeing as asking that question before had just resulted in more noise, I hung my head, like Brother’s manner, got into my aunt’s car, and was allowed to be driven home. It is difficult to recollect the rest of the day from there. Besides the former, I recollect being in Brother’s room. The only source of light coming in from the window was from a fluorescent lamp, which now and again caught the tears and made them shine a dull orange. Stood around me were just Brother and the second Aunt. Their exact definition of ‘death’ has been lost from my mind over time, but the phrase ‘daddy won’t be around anymore’ seems to have stubbornly remained. It was enough for my young mind to comprehend and enough to bring fresh tears to my eyes. Although ‘dead’ may have not been in my conscious mind, I believe to this day that evolution gave us a basic understanding of the concept, for when it unexpectedly arrives. Otherwise, due to my very young age, I may have never really understood the true happenings of that day. That bleak day in October.
Fantasies Versus Fears Robert Bull
‘So, here we are again’, Dream muttered. ‘Must you say that every night?’ ‘Well, of course I must! You know how much Tommy loves dramatics!’ Dream and Nightmare stood eye-to-eye on the ethereal dreamscape of the child’s mind. There were a few tufts of imagination strewn about, but overall, it was still and eerie. ‘He must be watching cartoons. Everything shuts down in here when the TV’s on.’ ‘Well then, it’s nearly time. Cartoons and then bed.’ ‘Indeed. So, how do we decide tonight? With a great battle?!’ Dream’s white robes twisted into glistening armour of a Viking leader, completed by him pointing a sword, between Nightmare’s dark eyes. ‘I had a much simpler idea. Why don’t we just talk?’ With a slight huff, Dream’s armour melted back into his usual robes and cloak. ‘Can’t stand to watch me beat you again, Night, is that it?’ ‘Tommy’s a ten-year old. Even my greatest works often struggle against his vivid imagination. Did you know the other day he beat my monster under the bed with a flaming, turtle-shooting tank?’ Dream sniggered. ‘I was pretty pleased with that one.’ Nightmare sneered and kicked at a ball of creativity rolling past. Dream just looked off into the distance. ‘You got the last one’, Nightmare muttered. Dream looked back angrily. ‘I did not! You got him last night with that army of dinosaurs.’ ‘You still got the last one. Remember, the flying one right before he woke up?’ ‘That doesn’t count; he didn’t even remember that one! And 92
what kid doesn’t dream about flying?’ It was Nightmare’s turn to snort. Dream took a deep breath. ‘Look’, he said quietly, ‘he’s just ten. If you keep smashing this place up all the time, he’s gonna feel the brunt of it. Kids need dreams, brother, you know that.’ ‘Children also need reality. It’s all very well letting them fight dragons every night, but sometimes, the dragon has to win. Sometimes the parents have to disappear suddenly. Because real life is harsh.’ ‘So let them dream! Let them escape the harshness of the waking world!’ Nightmare flared up and prepared to play his best card. ‘And what about when they wake up? After I work, they wake up into relief. With yours, they wake into disappointment. Real life can’t be as bad as bad dreams, but it can’t be nearly as good as good dreams.’ Dream slumped. His robes started slowly swaying as a low wind start to blow through the landscape. Small bundles of thought began appearing and bouncing around. Nightmare licked a finger and held it aloft. ‘Cartoons are over. And it seems like Tommy has an idea of what to dream about tonight.’ New clusters of aliens and spacemen started dissolving into view. Nightmare considered his downhearted sibling. ‘I’ll let you have tonight. Just don’t go too far. He’s got a spelling test tomorrow. Try to crowbar that in somehow. I’ll scare him tomorrow.’ Dream instantly brightened up and shook his brother’s hand. ‘Thanks Nightmare. You can be a good guy sometimes.’ His brother nodded stiffly and vanished in a black puff of smoke. Dream grinned. ‘Sucker.’
Useless Letters Robert Bull
Late evening in The Alphabet, and near everything was closed. The Vowel Emporium was shut for the night, Capitals Club was locked up and the Handwriting Salon was equally out of business hours. The only place left open at a time like this was the UsedLess Pub, down a back alley towards the bottom end of town. At around eight o’clock, X appeared, silhouetted in the light coming from the pub, and walked towards the front door. J arrived behind him. He saw X and removed his long, horizontal hat. ‘Alright J?’ X asked. ‘Yeah, not bad thanks. Been a fairly quiet day for me. You?’ X sighed. ‘I’ll tell you and the guys about it inside.’ J’s dot of a head nodded, as X turned to knock one of his arms against the door. A small panel slid open, and Z’s head poked out. ‘Ah, zere you are. We almozt thought you weren’t coming.’ Z’s head retreated back through the slot, there was a click as the panel shut; another as the door unlocked, and it slid open. X walked in without a word. J stopped to look at Z. ‘You can try all that S to Z stuff all you like, but you know his S-ness won’t be impressssssssed.” Z looked highly affronted. ‘I’ve abzolutely no idea what you’re talking about, Mizter J.’ J sighed and went to sit at the table with X. As he sat down, K, Q and V turned to welcome him. Z took his place at the head of the table and they all looked to him. ‘Hello again everyone. How iz the Alphabet’z forgotten community today?’ Almost all the letters grumbled slightly to themselves. V, for once, looked rather pleased with herself. X took notice. ‘Something to say, V?’ She giggled and squirmed slightly. Every other letter rolled 94
their eyes at her, but she chose to ignore it. ‘Pretty good day for me, actually.’ ‘Do tell’, Q snapped, leaning her head on her tail. ‘Well, earlier this morning, I got a great deal of use. I was there to tell one motorist what another really thought of him. Must have been used at least five times, speeding down the motorway. How many of you have been used at that speed?’ ‘I got used in a packet of travel Scrabble on a plane once’, K remarked. V looked sour and snapped her points together to bring the barman over. A small & came bustling over, noticeably nervous. ‘I’ll have some wine, please’, V said, and added: ‘I mean, I make the vineyards, right?’ No-one laughed except the barman. Q ordered some expensive absinthe, Z asked for some ‘zpiritz’ and K, X and J ordered nothing. The & barman whisked off. “’Not bad, that barman’, J said. ‘Well he’d have to be’, Q retorted, ‘you all know how hard punctuation has to work in our world. I mean really, there are enough of the damn marks.’ J decided not to join in with this letter elitism and instead turned to X. ‘So X’, he began, ‘you said you had a bad day?’ The & barman had returned with their drinks. With all settled, they turned to the new speaker. ‘Well, I’m just tired of how I’m being used now’, X declared. All nodded sympathetically as he went on. ‘I mean, in the old days I had things like ‘x-ray’ and ‘xylophone.’ Alphabet books everywhere struggled with me, and I’d always get a laugh with parents trying to teach kids the point of my existence. I liked my independence and rather quiet life. I mean except for ‘triple-X’ of course, and that ‘adult’ stuff. That’s quite a large mark against me. But I suppose I have a duty.’ ‘A job’s a job’, V whispered, and sniggered loudly into her wine. 95
X returned a patronising look and went on. ‘But then technology comes along, all this speech-as-typed-words stuff and suddenly I come into a world of my own, what with all the damn … kisses.’ X sighed, and the others mumbled respectively. ‘I’m not joking, I must have been used over a million times today just for one couple to say goodbye to each other on that chat website thing.’ ‘Facebook?’ ‘Yeah. Bloody outrageous. If my use keeps climbing like this, I’m gonna find myself elbowing it up with the ABC lot.’ Around the table, all started muttering darkly and with slight anger. Even the & barman winced. ‘Sorry’, X added hastily, ‘I know we try not to mention them in here. Freaking high-rollers.’ Z shuffled his chair around. ‘I know it’z unlikely you’ll do that X, but I pleaze azk you not to. I already lozt Y becauze he got a voluntary pozition in the Vowel Emporium. Without you, XYZ iz juzt Z. And what have I got? Zebra. Zoo. Zodiac. Two, three pagez in a dictionary, topz.’ X managed a smile. ‘Don’t worry, Z, that’s not going to happen.’ Content, Z relaxed back in his chair. ‘Hey X’, J cut in, ‘remember X-Men 3? Remember how angry you were when that came along and you were plastered all over it?’ ‘Oh man yeah!’ X laughed aloud, and the others joined in. Amongst their giggling, they’d chip in a remark or fond memory and the laughter would continue. Even the & barman managed to join in for a bit. When the merriment finally quietened down again, Z stood up again. ‘I think we can end thiz meeting there, don’t you? End on a higher note for once?’ Each letter nodded their agreement and stood up to leave. The usual stuff was said in the hubbub, same time next week, stay positive and above all: ‘Never feel forgotten’. The letters parted ways one by one, with the weekly reminder that even if they were at the bottom of the letter chain, they were important somewhere. 96
Michael Hayward Scott Wilson Oscar Taylor-Kent
Michael Hayward and Scott Wilson PERCY Look, I’m not saying she’s a gold digger … JUDE Spit it out, Percy. PERCY But she ain’t messing with no broke n- gentleman. JUDE Look, I knew she was trouble when she walked in - Ah! Trouble. Trouble. Trouble! PERCY (as if finishing his sentence) She didn’t have to cut you off, make out like it never happened and that you were nothing. JUDE Thank you good sir, that’s quite … PERCY And that she doesn’t even need your love, she treats you like a stranger, and that must feel so rough. No, she didn’t have to stoop so low; have your friends - including me - collect your records and then change your number. But I guess you don’t need that. Now, you’re just somebody that she used to know … (there’s a long, painful pause) 99
JUDE That’s quite a speech … PERCY … somebody that she used to know. JUDE Yes … PERCY Somebody that she used to know. JUDE … I get it. (brief pause) PERCY Look, if you’re having girl problems, I feel bad for you … JUDE Now stop right there! Your love life isn’t exactly a pile of roses. What happened to Deniz? PERCY Oh, she’s a maniac! MANIAC! On the floor of all places. JUDE What about Roxanne? PERCY Roxanne? JUDE Roxanne. 100
PERCY She ignored that red light, to her demise. JUDE Look, I’m sorry I’m dragging back these memories. PERCY Nonsense! Besides, today is going to be the day that I’m going to throw it back to you. By now, you should have – somehow – realised what I’m going to do. JUDE I don’t believe … PERCY No, Jude, I don’t believe that anybody feels the way I do, about you. (beat) Now. If we take Roxanne as an example … JUDE Go on. PERCY Well, Roxanne, she’s up all night ’til the sun – I’m up all night to get some. Do you see the distinction? She’s up all night for good fun – I’m up all night … JUDE To get lucky? PERCY Yes, to get lucky. Hmm, reminds me of that song … 101
JUDE Beethoven’s Fifth? PERCY Yes, that’s the ticket. In short Jude, it was about the sex. But she always wanted it harder, better, faster, stronger! Which is it Roxy? (Percy breaks down. Jude tries to console him) JUDE Percy? Percy, Percy old boy! Come now, we can’t dwell on these things. Can you hear me? PERCY I see trees of green … JUDE You’re delirious. We’re indoors … PERCY Red roses, too. JUDE You’re colour-blind Percy. Snap out of it man. (Jude hits Percy) PERCY (snapping back to) Hey Jude! Nah, nah, nah … hey Jude! But look on the bright side – no woman, no cry. END
Michael Hayward and Scott Wilson KEVIN approaches a shady individual (PIRATE), who is covered in a blanket. KEVIN I’m looking for a file. Are you from the Bay? PIRATE First off, what be your username, lad? KEVIN Kevin_1234. Why does that matter? PIRATE Second, could you read out these two totally unrelated words for me? You know, just to prove you’re human. (the Pirate hands over a small piece of paper) KEVIN (Reading) Arse … Bucket. (PIRATE removes blanket to reveal – with a flourish – his full pirate regalia) PIRATE Welcome aboard, master Kevin! A fine name for a buccaneer! What treasure do you seek? KEVIN You got a copy of the uhh, you know the pha, the phant …
KEVIN Mate, are you the one who gave me The Phantom Menace? PIRATE Username, young master. KEVIN Kevin_1234. We’ve been through this. PIRATE Could you read out these two fine words for me. You know, just to prove you’re human. KEVIN MILF … Tapestry? PIRATE Arr! Young Kevin! Are you back for the ‘Attack of the Poorly Made Sequels’? KEVIN No, listen. This movie looks like it was shot during an earthquake. And it’s in Spanish … with Spanish subtitles. PIRATE A complaint? Well, you should have read the fine print m’lad. Of course, there is no print, and that’s fine. KEVIN (sighing) Let’s hope Episode TWO is better. PIRATE I wouldn’t work up ‘A New Hope’ for that one.
KEVIN You’re really not selling this to me, mate. (Beat) PIRATE That very much be the point of me services. KEVIN What? How does the Pirate Bay even stay afloat with this sort of service? PIRATE Hear that? It be that blasted ticking again! KEVIN Why are you so nervous? Crocodiles don’t exist here. PIRATE It’s not a real crocodile, it’s a … you wouldn’t understand it. I have enemies, master Kevin. Let’s leave it at that. (something in him snaps) Now take your shitty sequel! KEVIN Pirates don’t say ‘shitty’! PIRATE Kevins don’t have numbers in their name. Don’t talk to me about authenticity. (beat) Blistering Blue Barnacles! It’s getting louder! (A MAN HOLDING A CROCODILE above him walks on PIRATE) Ha! ‘tis only a metaphor … surely. 106
KEVIN Nope. That looks like a real crocodile to me. CROCODILE I don’t get paid enough for this.
PIRATE It’s been sent by the service providers! They be trying to sink us! This’d be an excellent time to run, m’lad. END.
Michael Hayward and Scott Wilson LAUREN sits at a table in a cafe waiting and idly looking out of the window. BEN, after some brief stretching and mouthing of words, enters the cafe carrying a SCRIPT. LAUREN Hey Ben, what kept you? (BEN sits opposite down next to LAUREN. He hands her a SCRIPT. TIM’s voice is heard from offstage) TIM Ben hands Lauren the script. LAUREN What is this? (Tim enters, script also in hand) TIM She said suspiciously. The narrator enters the cafe, and sits down on a conveniently-vacant chair. BEN (reading carefully) Hi Lauren, thank you for agreeing to see me again. I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve just finished scripting this date. Please feel free to follow along for maximum romance. This is my friend Tim here, who will be reading out the stage directions.
TIM Tim waves enthusiastically. (BEAT. TIM looks up from the script. TIM waves enthusiastically. LAUREN leafs through the script in disgust) LAUREN I’m not going along with this, this is mental Ben. BEN So you’re saying you need evidence … TIM Page two continued (all flip pages) BEN … of my brilliance? TIM A couple enter the cafe, and proceed to compliment the brilliance of Ben. MATT AND ROHANDRA enter. They also have scripts. ROHANDRA Benjamin, as I live and breathe! You’re back from your mining mission to Mars then? Matt, look who it is! MATT I can see that … (peering at script) Rohandra? I haven’t seen Ben since … well, since you set fire to that orphanage … (Ben frantically hands his script to Matt.) 109
MATT (cont’d) I mean, saved all those children from that orphanage you set on fire. BEN (shrugging) As you can see Lauren, it’s been a hell of a month. MATT Anyway, must dash, great catching up with you! (Matt and Rohandra leave the cafe. Ben chases them to reclaim his script) TIM As Matt and Rohandra prance merrily out of the cafe having served their purpose, and given appropriate level of exposition, a waiter arrives, carrying Lauren’s favourite flower. (a WAITER arrives, carrying Lauren’s favourite flower, LAUREN looks on with disbelief) LAUREN How did you … did you break into my flat? BEN (still reading) We’ve been dancing around this for too long Lauren, I think we should take this relationship further. (Lauren looks incredulously at the SCRIPT) BEN (cont’d) I want you to be my film star, my one and only. TIM Ben reaches across the table and touches 110
Lauren in a daring, if foolish, manner.Ben holds Lauren’s face. BEN The one who’ll play all the parts, play any position I need. You know what I mean … TIM Lauren looks, understandably, agitated. She hands the flowers to the narrator. (What Tim said) LAUREN Freak. (Lauren leaves) TIM Lauren storms out, leaving Ben’s shattered soul behind her. Tears begin to well on his unlovable face and suddenly he is overwhelmed with a sense of loneliness and dread as he stares into the void. Looking up with rage, he begins to wonder why he brought Tim along. BEN Shut up Tim! I can see that. TIM Tim gets up, hands Ben his script and gives his resignation. (TIM storms off) END.
THE LEFT SHOE SHOP
Michael Hayward and Scott Wilson A CUSTOMER approaches an ASSISTANT. ASSISTANT Good afternoon, sir. I see you’ve picked up one of our ’personality shoes.’ Do you like it? CUSTOMER Yes, I rather do. ASSISTANT Well, you’re in luck – that particular item is on sale. CUSTOMER Goodie. Could I try on the other shoe please? ASSISTANT Other shoe? CUSTOMER The one to match. ASSISTANT One to match? CUSTOMER Yes, the right, in size nine. ASSISTANT Size nine? 112
CUSTOMER Yes, you parrot. I’d like to try on the pair. ASSISTANT Ah. Did sir not read the name of this shop? CUSTOMER The err … ASSISTANT ’The Ethical Left Shoe Shop’ We treat all our left shoes as individuals. With respect. CUSTOMER So, no right shoes at all? ASSISTANT Certainly not, sir. We don’t agree with pairing shoes up against their will. CUSTOMER (angrily) But this shoe surely came with a right shoe? Right? ASSISTANT Now, now, I heard you the first time. Of course it arrived like that, but we prefer our shoes to find it themselves. CUSTOMER Find what? ASSISTANT Well, their sole mates.
CUSTOMER (beat) Get lost. ASSISTANT Sir? CUSTOMER You’re having me on. I’m in the wrong shop, aren’t I? ASSISTANT No sir, you’re in the right shop. The right left shoe shop. CUSTOMER That’s a useless shop. (The ASSISTANT begins to breakdown, clutching the Customer’s leg) ASSISTANT You think I don’t know that? You think I wanted this? This was it! This was the sale I rested my career on. My dance instructor said I had two left feet, so I thought I had a viable business! Now, I’m going to be jobless, my wife is going to leave me and my right foot is cold. CUSTOMER Your wife is going to leave you? ASSISTANT Oh, she’s been having an affair. It’s unrelated to the shoe shop, but it doesn’t help. 114
CUSTOMER I’m so sorry … have you thought about getting into socks? ASSISTANT Have you heard anything I said? I don’t believe in pairing things up. CUSTOMER But there aren’t left and right socks. They work on both feet. ASSISTANT They do? I … just thought I got it right every time. Thank you sir, you’ve turned my life around. Where’s the sock shop, I’ll apply right away! CUSTOMER Out the door, to your right. ASSISTANT Fantastic. To my left right? CUSTOMER Sure. It’s to the right of the right left shoe shop. ASSISTANT Thank you, sir! END
Oscar Taylor-Kent INT. HOUSE, FRONT ROOM – DAY The décor is quite colourful and PHOTOGRAPHS of a family of four adorn the mantelpiece and walls. There are nice, RED CURTAINS on the windows, but they are pulled aside to let in light. MAUDE is doing some tidying in the front room. She is alone in the house. There is a ring at the doorbell and MAUDE goes to get the door. The door is opened to the SALESMAN. He’s dressed smartly, yet tackily. He carries a LARGE DOCTOR’S BAG. MAUDE Hello? SALESMAN Good evening, ma’am. MAUDE It’s the afternoon. SALESMAN I know, I just always like to wish people well with their futures. 116
MAUDE Oh, I see. Well thank you, good evening. Can I help with something? SALESMAN Can you help me? Well I’m about to help you. MAUDE Oh, you’re not a salesman are you? SALESMAN I prefer the term ‘one who trades helpful goods for monetary reward’. MAUDE I don’t want to buy anything. MAUDE goes to shut the door but the SALESMAN catches it at the last second. SALESMAN Look, just hear me out. MAUDE (relenting on the door) Fine. What are you selling? With a grin the Salesman bursts jovially into the house, MAUDE is so taken aback that she jumps back to let him in. SALESMAN (pacing, as if addressing a crowd) What am I selling? The lady wants to know what I’m selling? What aren’t I selling?
MAUDE Courgettes? SALESMAN I am not selling courgettes. I sell dreams – I sell ways of life. MAUDE But specifically what are you selling? SALESMAN (leaning in secretively) Right now? MAUDE Right now. SALESMAN (proudly) Well, at this very instance I’m selling curtains, and I happened to notice you require some. MAUDE I have curtains. Anyone with two eyes can see that. SALESMAN I have the best two eyes in the business. I noticed you have the curtains open. MAUDE To let in light and be able to look out. SALESMAN Exactly, and you opened them because your current curtains would be a hindrance to both of those goals, yes? 118
MAUDE Well yes, of course. SALESMAN Then my goods may be of interest to you. MAUDE How are you selling the absence of curtains? I can very well just open them whenever I like. SALESMAN Quite so, but with these curtains, you won’t have to! (the SALESMAN places his bag on a side-table, opens it and pulls out some CLEAR CURTAINS from his bag. They are a sort of see-through plastic, like shower curtains) MAUDE What’s that? SALESMAN Curtains, ma’am, made from the finest nonopaque materials this side of Italy. MAUDE Non-opaque curtains? SALESMAN Precisely. MAUDE Why would I want non-opaque curtains? SALESMAN Well ma’am, with non-opaque curtains you never need open your curtains again. You would 119
be able to let in light and look outside, all while still having your curtains drawn. MAUDE Well I needn’t look outside the window all the time, and what about when it isn’t light outside? SALESMAN When it’s dark, you mean? MAUDE When it’s dark, yes. SALESMAN Awful things come out in the dark. Like monsters and … perverts and things. MAUDE And why on earth would I want to let them look in? SALESMAN You mean to tell me that you would rather not know when they’re outside watching you? MAUDE It would be preferable. SALESMAN So, if an axeman came to murder your family at night, you’d rather just go about your business in complete ignorance? The SALESMAN strides over to the RED CURTAINS, dramatically rips them down and hooks up the CLEAR CURTAINS with startling efficiency. MAUDE is stunned. 120
SALESMAN Installation is free. (he winks) With these non-opaque curtains, you would always be able to see any threat to the happiness and well-being of your family. MAUDE (picking the RED CURTAINS up from the floor) Well, what am I meant to do with these curtains? It seems a tremendous waste. SALESMAN (pulling the RED CURTAINS from MAUDE) Aha! I will dispose of them, don’t you worry, ma’am. MAUDE Just throw them away? It seems such a waste. SALESMAN There you are mistaken, ma’am. (he puts his arm around MAUDE) You see, there are poor unfortunate souls that can’t afford luxury non-opaque curtains for their tiny, unkempt shacks. MAUDE Oh, you’ll donate them? SALESMAN I shall indeed. I am the president of Curtains for the Really Absolutely Poor – C.R.A.P. – and I will make sure these curtains – as unluxurious as they are – reach windows in need.
MAUDE Well, it does seem to be a noble cause. SALESMAN Truly very noble. MAUDE But I really am very fond of my red curtains. And I really don’t see the benefit of these see-through curtains. SALESMAN Non-opaque curtains. (the SALESMAN suddenly withdraws from MAUDE. He turns to the CLEAR CURTAINS, and tosses the RED CURTAINS to MAUDE over his shoulder. He begins slowly and carefully to take down the CLEAR CURTAINS) SALESMAN (coldly) Very well. MAUDE Very well? SALESMAN If, ma’am, you can’t see the benefit in not having to draw your curtains, in being able to protect your family, in them not fading in the sun, in them not needing to be laundered, in them being immune to cat-clambering, and – most importantly – giving you the upper-hand in games of hide-and-seek, then I must bid you good eve, ma’am. (the SALESMAN has the CLEAR CURTAINS in his 122
hand now. The window is curtain-less. He is facing MAUDE) MAUDE I’m really very sorry. I don’t like the idea of salesmen being able to see if I’m home or not. SALESMAN Why, just lie on the floor like I do. (there is a pause as they stare at one another, each holding their CURTAINS) MAUDE (sighs) Very well, I will take your non-opaque curtains. (MAUDE starts looking through her purse.) SALESMAN I also sell shower curtains. END.
Oscar Taylor-Kent INT. NORTHERN PUB – DAY The pub is in Yorkshire. It’s a stereotypically rural pub, with lots of wooden furniture and low ceilings. The pub is quite quiet, with maybe THREE OR FOUR PATRONS. ADRIAN is sat at the bar, taking his time over a HALF-FINISHED PINT. BRIAN enters the pub, sits next to ADRIAN, and orders a PINT. BRIAN Alright, Ade? ADRIAN I’m alright, Brian. How’s tricks with you? BRIAN Same as, Ade. ADRIAN How’s your missus doing? BRIAN She’s doing alright. How’s your missus, she get over that cold? ADRIAN She got over that cold fine, Brian. Thanks for asking. Not-half chilly these days. 124
BRIAN She alright for her birthday and all? ADRIAN She was alright for her birthday and all, aye. BRIAN You do much? ADRIAN Not a lot, Brian, not a lot. Quiet and that. BRIAN Ah, quiet and that. Lovely. ADRIAN I’ll tell you what, though. BRIAN You’ll tell me what, Ade? ADRIAN We went to this new ‘restaurant’ in town. BRIAN In the town, ey? Which one? ADRIAN The new one. BRIAN Oh aye, the new one, aye. Bit exotic, ain’t it? ADRIAN Aye, all foreign food and all that. BRIAN 125
Any good? ADRIAN We shared this one starter. BRIAN This one starter, right. ADRIAN ‘Camen-burt’. BRIAN ‘Camen-burt’? ADRIAN ‘Camen-burt’. BRIAN Never heard of it. What is that? Like, camel or something? (winces) ADRIAN No, Bri. Apparently it’s some kind of cheese. BRIAN Like a camel cheese? ADRIAN It was a bit weird so maybe. Aye, that’d make sense actually. BRIAN And what was with this ‘Camen-burt’? ADRIAN Naught. BRIAN 126
Naught? ADRIAN Naught. BRIAN Not even any bread or anything like for a sandwich? ADRIAN There was a little of that long bread. We were meant to dip in the cheese I think. BRIAN Hold on, Ade – the cheese were melted? ADRIAN Aye. And it didn’t half reek. BRIAN That sounds awful. ADRIAN Aye, I wouldn’t recommend going there. BRIAN Well, what did you have for your main? ADRIAN (speaking the French perfectly) Oh, well I had a Tartiflette of course, and the missues had some Gargonschnov Tripoux and Escargots de Bourgogne – our favourites. BRIAN Grand. END 127
ICEBURG SPECIAL Oscar Taylor-Kent
INT. ICE CORP. BUILDING – DUSK We follow FINKLEY as he walks through the corridors of Ice Corp., GENERIC OFFICE NOISE AND MOVEMENT GOING ON around him. His suit is dark, dull grey. He is holding a LOOSE FOLDER filled with papers. The corridors reveal no natural light. All of the windows are covered over with blinds. FINKLEY reaches a door labelled ‘Mr Ice – CEO’ and enters. INT. MR ICE’S OFFICE – DUSK No lights are on in the office. The desk is in front of a window that has open blinds. The desk chair is facing away. We can make out Mr Ice’s form, but it is cast in shadow. FINKLEY Mr Ice, Sir? MR ICE About time. You brought the notes for the meeting? FINKLEY 128
Yes, Mr Ice, Sir. (Finkley moves forward and places the FOLDER on the desk) FINKLEY And what of the girl, Sir? MR ICE What about the girl, Finkley? FINKLEY Did she, um … (he looks around sheepishly) Did she say yes? (Mr Ice swivels around. He is in a white, well-cut suit, with a black shirt and ice-blue tie. His face is cold and hard. He wears his ever-present, large, dark sunglasses) MR ICE Of course she did, Finkley. FINKLEY (pumping the air) Alright! Way to go, Sir! I got you this! (Finkley reveals an ENVELOPE, and hands it to Mr Ice. Mr Ice sighs, takes it, and opens it, unemotionally. The card has some sort of cutesy animal design on it and reads ‘Happy Engagement’) (Mr Ice grimaces) MR ICE Thank you, Finkley. 129
(He tentatively places it into the bin underneath his desk) MR ICE As you are aware, with Betty Warmth’s assets from the Warmth Company practically mine, the board meeting will now invariably work in my favour. That’llteach them to question my assets … for trying to diminish my equity … FINKLEY Yes Sir, yes Sir. MR ICE How many bags are there? FINKLEY Three bags full, Sir. (Finkley gestures to the THREE BAGS PACKED WITH ENVELOPES at the back of the office) MR ICE Excellent. Once those wedding invitations are sent, everyone will know about the engagement. Now all we have to do is wait for Grandpa Warmth to kick the bucket. FINKLEY Poor man – he is very ill. MR ICE And where is Betty now, Finkley? FINKLEY She left in a hurry, Sir. She wants to get a burger on her way home – from her favourite place, before the place closes. 130
MR ICE Favourite place? FINKLEY Yes, Sir. Eric’s Burgs. CUT TO: EXT. ‘ERIC’S BURGS’ BURGER TRUCK – DUSK We see the burger truck sign: ‘Eric’s Burgs’. ERIC, an average looking man with glasses, is mopping his brow with a cloth. ERIC turns off the GRILL, and closes up TWO CARDBOARD BOXES marked ‘burgs’ and ‘buns’. He then begins to mop down the counter whilst whistling. ERIC stops, and looks up to the wall. ERIC Odd, she didn’t come by for a burger today, October. (we now see that Eric was talking to a calendar, which shows a large, happy man grilling burgers on a barbecue. ‘October’ is written underneath the photo) ERIC Y’know the one. Betty I think she’s called. I dunno man, I think she might be into me. She’s always making small talk, giving me looks. (he gets back to mopping the counter) Smiling at me, y’know.
BETTY (O.O.S.) Stop! (Eric looks up. We see Betty, a young, pretty woman running towards the burger truck. Eric frowns with curiosity. ) BETTY (out of breath) I know it’s late … but is there any chance … I can still get … a burg? (Eric continues to frown) ERIC Um … Betty, isn’t it? (Betty nods) CUT TO: EXT. ‘ERIC’S BURGS’ BURGER TRUCK – NIGHT ERIC and BETTY sit at a picnic bench next to the food truck, illuminated by a street lamp. The sound of nearby traffic can be heard, but it sounds far away enough to be removed from this moment – to highlight its distance. Both of them hold UNEATEN BURGERS in napkins. BETTY (reaching into her pocket for her purse) How much do I owe you? (As she withdraws her purse, an ICE CUBE with an ENGAGMENT RING sealed within it drops from her pocket and clatters onto the floor)
(BETTY picks up the ice cube, LOOKS AT IT WITHOUT EMOTION, and places it onto the table, next to her purse.) ERIC What is that thing? BETTY Oh, it’s my engagement ring. Just got engaged – today, actually. I guess – (it’s sealed within an ice cube) – it should thaw out just before the wedding. ERIC Well, that’s kinda weird, but okay. Congratulations by the way. The burger’s on the house for the lucky lady. BETTY Thanks. ERIC You don’t seem too stoked about it? BETTY Oh it’s just … I was thinking of my Grandpa. Wondering what he’d want me to do. He’s kind of ill at the moment … ERIC He wanted you to get married to Mr Freeze? BETTY (smiling) Mr Ice, actually. But yeah, not Ice specifically, but he’d want me to – I think.
ERIC Well, sometimes you’ve just gotta follow your own dream, y’know. Whether that’s marrying Jack Frost or, I don’t know … (he looks at his burger truck) making your old burger truck into something … more. (they eat in silence for a few seconds) (as BETTY looks down to bite into her burger ERIC opens his mouth to say something, frowns, and closes it again – unsure of what to say) (Betty looks up, and swallows) BETTY (Samuel L. Jackson impression) This is a tasty burger. (the two share a laugh) ERIC Oh man, Pulp Fiction. Love early Tarantino. (waving the burger in front of him a bit) ‘This is some serious gourmet shit’ (Betty laughs) BETTY Good … good. Not … not quite (gesturing a height with her free hand) Samuel L. Jackson tier, though. ERIC Nah, not there yet. I’m working on it. Everyone needs a dream though – like I said.
BETTY A Samuel L. Jackson dream? ERIC Yeah, Samuel L. Jackson impersonators have gotta be making some pretty decent cash. Hollywood calls. BETTY Oh, but you can’t do that now. ERIC How come? I think I could make it. I think I could be the first major white black-man impersonator. BETTY I think minstrels have had their hey-day. But if you moved to LA or whatever, where would I get this ‘gourmet shit’? (Eric laughs it off.) ERIC Ah, come on now, you’re just saying that. Don’t think I’ll let you get burgers off the clock every day just with some sweet talk. JUMP CUT TO: Betty is leaving. ERIC Well, I’ve got to finish up here. We can do coffee some time?
BETTY Yeah – I’d like that. ERIC Get home safe, y’hear? BETTY Bye, Eric. (BETTY leaves.) (ERIC turns to the food truck and puts his hands on his hips.) (a FIGURE appears behind Eric in shadow) MR ICE Mr Eric Burgalow? (ERIC jumps a mile. He turns and MR ICE steps out of the shadows) ERIC Oh, um, yes. Oh, hey, you’re that Mr Ice guy from Ice Corp. right? (Eric holds out his hand. Mr Ice looks at it, but does not move) MR ICE I see you’ve met my fiancée, Ms Betty Warmth? ERIC (runs his hand through his hair) Oh, um, yeah – she comes here a lot … how long have you been in those shadows anyway, man? I dunno man, it was just a burg, man, y’know?
(Mr Ice laughs) MR ICE Think nothing of it, Eric. It’s quite alright. I understand she is a big fan of your little establishment here? ERIC I, um … I think so, yeah. MR ICE Excellent. That’s why I am buying you out. (to off-screen) Boys. (two LADDERMEN run on with a STEP-LADDER and a SIGN) ERIC Wait, what? My truck isn’t a publicly traded company, you can’t do that! (the LADDERMEN set-up their STEP-LADDER in front of the truck) MR ICE I’m a hyperbolic businessman, Eric. I think I can. Here, (he hands Eric a MASSIVE FOLDER of papers) read this thoroughly and you might begin to understand. Don’t worry though, you can still work in my truck. It’ll just be named slightly differently now. (the two LADDERMEN append their SIGN to Eric’s original sign. It now reads ‘Eric’s ICEBurgs’)
(Eric is speechless) MR ICE Ah, yes. There is an important board meeting I need you to cater for tomorrow. Make it good. 6 p.m. sharp. I’ll be seeing you. (MR ICE and the two LADDERMEN leave Eric looking stunned. CUT TO: INT. LATE-NIGHT COFFEE SHOP – NIGHT Eric sits at a window booth, nursing a MUG OF BLACK COFFEE. His brow is heavy. He sighs and looks out into the night. A GHOSTLY FIGURE flashes past him on the other side of the window and he jumps. He looks back out the window but there is nothing there. GEOFF (O.O.S.) Hey, man. What’s up? (ERIC turns around to see the ghostly figure of GEOFF FOREMAN stood next to him – the mirror image of his brother, George Foreman.) ERIC George Foreman? But you’re not dead. GEOFF (sitting down) Nah, son. Geoff Foreman. Not many people know 138
about me since George made off with my grill idea. ERIC Are you dead? GEOFF What? (he looks himself over, and then realises) Oh yeah. Nah – I just left a fancy dress party. ERIC Oh. Well, um. I don’t mean to be rude but … but why are you here Geoff Foreman? GEOFF Come on, Eric. I know a fellow burgersmith when I see one. It’s in the eyes. Back when I was a young burgersmith – tinkering away with my ‘Mean Lean Reducing Fat Grill Machine’ I too had that look. But something’s up, son – I can see that too. So I ask again, what’s up? ERIC Well, one of the greatest girls I’ve ever met is engaged to some creepy douche-bag who bought out my truck. This ‘Mr Ice’ guy. GEOFF Oh that is not cool, son. ERIC And on top of that he’s making me cater for some big board meeting thing tomorrow evening. (he looks Geoff in the eyes) I’m thinking of giving up burgering, Geoff. 139
GEOFF I see what’s up. That’s some heavy shit, son. This Mr Ice guy sounds like a real jerk. But if there’s one thing I learned in the International Burger Championships 2010, it’s that no matter how much the Man tries – he can never truly control burgering. (Eric looks at Geoff crookedly) GEOFF (continued) You see, something I never understood when I was making the Foreman Grill – something that George doesn’t understand now – is that burgersmiths have been making great burgers even before the invention of great new grills. The Man can make as many commercialised grills as he wants – but that don’t change the way of a true burgersmith. ERIC I think I see what you’re saying. GEOFF I had a dream like you once, Eric. But I let George take that away from me. Don’t be like me. Don’t make my mistakes. Go take that burger dream. ERIC (smiling) Alright. Here’s what I’m thinking … (Eric looks around, and then leans in towards Geoff – whispering unheard secrets)
CUT TO: INT. ICE CORP BOARD ROOM – EVENING, 5.55 P.M. MR ICE sits at the head of a long table in front of a projector that displays a graph. BOARD MEMBERS ONE–SIX are also sat around the table. All have OPEN FOLDERS. FINKLEY stands off to the side. MR ICE … and so you can see. The projected figures are very impressive. Any questions? (BOARD MEMBER THREE raises his hand. Mr Ice nods at him) BOARD MEMBER THREE Sorry, but that’s slightly ambiguous. Are those figures a projection of the future, or do you just mean that they are being projected now? MR ICE (smiling falsely) Both. BOARD MEMBER ONE (CLOSING his FOLDER) Well, I think I speak for the entire board when I say we’re very impressed, Ice. This, combined with your engagement is very, very good. BOARD MEMBER TWO Yes, we’re sorry if we worried you last time by suggesting we diminish your equity it was just … 141
BOARD MEMBER ONE But it’s fine now! Where’s that grub you promised anyway, Ice? I’m starved. MR ICE (to Finkley) Finkley – bring in the ‘burgs’. (a WHEELIE TRAY with burgs on it is brought in and FINKLEY begins to distribute them amongst the board members) MR ICE The catering is by my latest acquisition: ‘Eric’s Iceburgs’. It’s special to me and Betty – it’s where we first met. (he falsely sighs in a romantic way) (the burgs have all been distributed and BOARD MEMBER ONE takes a bite, then wrinkles his face in disgust, dribbling burger out of his mouth in a hideous display of rejection) BOARD MEMBER ONE What is the meaning of this, Mr Ice? (the other members are reacting in similarly disgusted ways. MR ICE looks perplexed) BOARD MEMBER ONE If I didn’t know better I’d say we’d been pranked with these clearly sub-quality burgers. (suddenly MR ICE looks furious and waves his fist in the air)
MR ICE Eric Burgalow! CUT TO: EXT. ICE CORP. BUILDING – EVENING The exterior of the Ice Corp. Building is a generic building. ERIC bursts out of the doors, and runs out of shot. After a few seconds MR ICE follows. Before he can get far MR ICE is blocked by the large and imposing figure of GEOFF FOREMAN. MR ICE Get out of my way! (then he notices exactly who is blocking him) Wait … George Foreman?! Geoff nods. GEOFF Yeah, that’s right. (he raises a balled up fist) And I’ve got something to show you Mr Ice. (MR ICE’S eyes widen and he flinches away) (Geoff opens his hand to reveal an ENGAGEMENT RING amongst crushed ice from the ice cube) GEOFF I found this on the floor out here. Next to this: (Geoff reveals an ENVELOPE with ‘To Mr Ice’ on 143
it. It has been opened) It explains quite clearly and concisely why Betty is breaking off her engagement with you. (MR ICE shakes his head in disbelief. There is no sadness in his eyes – only surprise and shock) MR ICE Betty. No. CUT TO: INT. ‘ERIC’S BURGS’ BURGER TRUCK – EVENING, SUNSET Eric is driving the truck away. The ‘Ice’ sign has been removed. He turns onto the motorway. It is now that we see that Betty sits next to him. ERIC I hope LA is ready for ‘Samuel L. Jackson Burger’, Betty. BETTY I’m not sure they ever will be. But at the very least, we can say we tried. CUT TO: EXT. A HILL NEAR A HARBOUR – DAY Geoff Foreman stands on the hill, watching a ship leave the harbour.
Geoff sheds a single tear. As it rolls down his cheek, he says: GEOFF Godspeed, Eric. Godspeed. END
Emma Darcy Glen Sanders James Riley Susanne Collette Lord
Emma Darcy The amount of information online about poisons was truly shocking. It left no room for excuses or sloppy management, for which Vee was glad. She had to make it look like suicide, and it had to be quick. She would prefer painful, but that would be a bonus. Either way, Brute had to die. She’d had enough. Cyanide looked like the best option, if a little faster than she would have liked. It would be all too easy to slip some into Brute’s tea, but it was difficult to get, especially because she had to make it look like her brother was the one ordering it. Everything else was too difficult though: foxglove and oleander were like rat poison – the taste would give it away, and the game would be up. Everything else was too slow. She needed Brute to be dead in minutes so that he wouldn’t have the chance to attack her or call for help. If it was faster, it would also look more feasible. Who would give themselves a painful, slow-acting poison? She researched everything on his computer, in snatches here and there when he was home, but not online. It was difficult, but she was patient. At least ordering whatever she needed was easier from Brute’s account – he had turned eighteen two years ago and had plenty of money, whereas she had yet to turn seventeen. Kitten’s death weighed heavily on her mind. That had been the last straw for her. Brute had thought it out, planned it carefully, tying the mewling cat in the drive by a string from each side of her collar so she couldn’t move. And then he had reversed their father’s car over her. Vee planned Brute’s death in the same cold, calculated way he had planned Kitten’s, and when the cyanide arrived, she was ready. ‘OI!’ Vee looked up from her seat in the kitchen and her chest tightened as Brute stepped in. He was a large teenager, nineteen 148
now, his T-shirt stretched taut over his chest and belly. He disgusted her in every way, especially when he sneered at her and stepped into the kitchen to flick her ear. She flinched and closed her eyes as he pressed his lips to her cheek. ‘Tea, bitch. What do you say?’ ‘Love you, Bruce,’ Vee murmured, and waited for him to bite her earlobe before she moved away. Their routine was as old as she was. Violence, caress, violence. He tripped her as she walked past him and caught her by the arm as she stumbled, yanking her back and grinding his hips into hers from behind. ‘Your birthday tomorrow.’ He grinned and ran a hand up the front of her body. She didn’t shudder, too used to his assaults by now. ‘Midnight tonight. I’m going to give you a surprise.’ ‘Thanks, Bruce,’ Vee whispered, closing her eyes and running over her plan in her head. Her present would be the same as it always was. Their father ignored the way Bruce always snuck into her bedroom after hours – he was usually passed out by ten anyway, if he wasn’t down the pub. ‘What do you say?’ Brute licked her cheek and twisted the skin of her upper arms, simultaneously digging his nails in. ‘Love you, Bruce,’ Vee recited, and waited until he let go of her before going to the kettle and setting it to boil. This was it. She could feel her heart in her chest, and she watched Brute out of the corner of her eye as she bent to get a mug out of the cupboard under the sink. He was flicking through the book she had been reading, not watching her. She touched the tiny paper twist in her pocket. No bigger than a sugar lump, it contained more than enough potassium cyanide to kill her brother in under an hour. He would lose consciousness in less than a minute, if the accounts she had read online were right. Her father was still at work, the house was empty, Brute was 149
her unsuspecting victim. It was both exhilarating and terrifying to be the one with the power for once, and Vee tried to keep her hands from shaking as she collected the milk from the fridge. The red light on the kettle turned off as it finished boiling, and she returned to it quickly, sneaking a glance at Brute as she dropped a teabag into the mug and poured water on top of it. He was oblivious, fiddling with his phone. She didn’t wait for the tea to brew but used a spoon to hook the teabag straight out, looking at Brute once more before pulling the twist of paper from her pocket and pouring the white powder straight into the mug, picking up the milk with her other hand to disguise the movement and pouring some in. The tea turned milky and she stirred it with growing anticipation. ‘Can I have some tea?’ She asked as she took the mug over to the table and set it carefully in front of Brute. He pursed his thick lips, considering it as he curled his fingers through the handle. ‘Maybe later,’ he decided, smirking as he lifted the tea up to his mouth. He liked it scalding hot, which Vee hoped would mask any taste of the cyanide. She leaned against the countertop and watched him as he sipped and then slurped, taking a large gulp as he grew used to the heat. He exhaled heavily through his nose and took another gulp. Vee’s eyes widened as he paused and frowned, putting his mug down unsteadily. ‘What … ’ He trailed off, blinking quickly. He didn’t look at her, focusing his gaze on the table instead as his breathing turned oddly hoarse and quick. He choked, coughed, apparently unable to get enough air into his lungs, and Vee watched in silence as his eyes rolled back in his head and he slumped forward across the table. His arm flew out gracelessly, knocking the mug over and spilling tea all over the surface. Vee didn’t move for a long moment, drinking in the sight. Brute was usually so loud, filling the space around him and pushing everyone else out to the edges with his constant moving and talking and fiddling. He was motionless now, not even twitching, and the only sound in the kitchen was the steady drip-drip-drip of tea hitting the floor. 150
When she spoke, her voice was quiet. ‘Can you hear me, Brute? I hope you can. I hope you can hear me so that you know I was the one who did this. I was really careful, Brute. I ordered the poison on your card, made sure everything looks like it was you. And I want you to know that if you hadn’t killed Kitten, I would never have done this. I wouldn’t have had the nerve. But she was the one good thing in my whole shitty life, and you went and killed her. So now I’ve killed you, Brute. I hope it hurts,’ she added viciously, her shoes making only the smallest of sounds as she walked to the door and looked over her shoulder at her dying brother. ‘Happy birthday to me,’ she said, almost as an afterthought, and she smiled a tight little smile before turning to leave. She told the paramedics summoned by her father that she had been upstairs in her bedroom the whole time. There was no evidence to the contrary, or to even suggest that there had been foul play. Vee watched the proceedings as her brother’s cold corpse was loaded onto a stretcher and wheeled out of the house. There were people in the streets, gaping and staring. Vee slipped back upstairs and went back to her bedroom, closing the door behind her. Would she get Brute’s laptop now, she wondered. Perhaps she could sell some of his stuff to pay for new clothes, new makeup and bed sheets. New, clean, uncontaminated things, unsullied by her brother’s touch. Fresh, bright, pretty things he would never have allowed her to own. Vee looked at herself in her mirror and smiled, feeling a great weight lift from her shoulders. ‘My name is Vanessa Tilton,’ she whispered to herself, tasting the words and savouring them. ‘Only child.’
Death Before Dawn Glen Sanders
I had that dream again and had soaked another set of bed sheets in sweat. Turning over I saw red LED lights piercing the darkness, four a.m. coming into focus. Slats of light from the street lamps outside slid through the blinds, highlighting the files on my desk, which had dominated the last four years of my life. My Beretta lay on the table, cool and precise with its distinguished metallic features. I wasn’t going to lie there for another six hours unable to sleep. Uplifting my dead weight out of bed the routine kicked in again. My feet paced the hall of my apartment to the soundtrack of my next-door neighbours beating the shit out of each other. They had only moved in last week but by the sounds of it they were fitting in well. The fridge had a cold one ready, and it tasted good at the window-side table. The table terrain looked like a battle field, the take out pots were advancing on the dollar bills, ready to unload their ammo, while the empty bottles sat and waited like cavalry, watching for the right time to charge. I flicked on the TV and static ballooned into the room. The bookcase lit up like it was trying to signal me, but in those days I always dove into the bottle before a book. Besides, some of those books were hers; I wouldn’t open them. I changed through the channels and found some bullshit reality show filmed in the city about rich kids whose mouths were as big as their bank accounts. A very curvy woman was arguing with a guy about respecting her: fucking hypocrite, if you wanted respect you wouldn’t parade yourself on this shit. I turned the TV off, stood up and peered into the alley from my third floor window. Some crack-head with a scruff of a beard was getting his fix from a pathetic dealer. The dealer had his hood drawn tight like a real badass as he dangled the bag in front of the homeless punk. It took me a while to realise the bearded guy was Peters. I couldn’t remember his first name but I had arrested him 152
before, for possession. I was sure he would’ve mugged somebody to get the green needed for his poison. A few deaths back I gave up on thinking about how people fell through the cracks. It wasn’t my job anymore. Not in three years. Then came the heavy feeling, so much weight latched onto every part of my body, I often got that implosion inside. It preceded images of myself hanging from the ceiling fan, or bleeding out in the bath, or lying on my bed with an excess of pills. My eyes remained dry in protest; the tear ducts went on strike long ago, a blessing really. My phone rang from the hall, derailing my train of thought. I ignored it for six rings but it wouldn’t stop. I reluctantly picked up the machine. ‘What?’ ‘Hey guardsman, I’m bored.’ It was Cindy, the ex hooker who I got to talking to one night in Frank’s bar. After many vodkas she proceeded to tell me how all men are jerks, after that cliché and some more vodka she told me how I was different, which went to show how little she really knew. She’d recently decided she’d had enough of taking money from the kinds of men who paid to get between her legs. She started teasing me with the name guardsman on account of my being in security. A friend of hers had got her a trial run at Omega, a big new nightclub. That got me thinking about what my daughter would have been like. I washed that thought down with the rest of my whisky and that night, Cindy and I offered each other mutual comfort. ‘Cindy, it’s half four.’ ‘I just got in from the club and I want you to plug me.’ Sirens went by on the street and I stood in the dark hallway thinking about how much I didn’t want to plug Cindy. ‘I’ll be round in twenty’. I dropped the phone into the slot. I always fell for the same blunt come on. Every time she wanted it I felt inclined to give it to her. It was like a drug, and I was no better than that hobo in the alley. It was her fault for dealing, and it was my fault for falling. Outside I shifted my weight along the sidewalk as droplets of rain clashed with the concrete. I had no shame in what I was doing, I was beyond that – it was a concept that meant something 153
to people who still thought that things mattered, who still had something to lose. Her apartment was not far from mine; I never had to go far for my vices. But walking in my neighbourhood at night wasn’t without its own troubles. I did my best to avoid the gang kids who strut down shaded alleys and wolf whistle at returning partygoers. They wore bright red items of clothing as their gang colour, not the most discreet of people; to me they looked like some wannabe boy band. I’d often hear a ‘hey man’ or a ‘fuck you up’ coming from their direction but I never deviated from my path of desire, which so far had worked out. My occupied holster was with me everywhere I went back then. I was sure the world wouldn’t have missed a gangbanger if one turned up in the garbage. On the job I learnt that no matter how many lowlifes you take down, there are always more to take their place, it’s like trying to cut the head off the mythical Hydra. They seem to increase exponentially, like a virus, while the suits sit in their nice homes deciding whether they want to treat it or prevent it. It’s a bad joke. They wouldn’t last long in places like this. On reaching Cindy’s apartment building I could see the lights of her place beckoning; I knew I was a moth to the flame, but that did nothing to turn me around. The door to the building was missing; it hadn’t been replaced since someone set fire to the last one. I saw no reason to suspect anything other than the usual – the usual being run-down anyway. Of course the lift didn’t work either, and I had to climb the five flights of stairs, past all the graffiti, past all the empty glass bottles, and past all the needles. I had offered Cindy to crash round my place on more than one occasion, before this building and its denizens saw her crash indefinitely. The place stank. The fifth floor could have fooled me for home with all the shouting I was hearing. Approaching Cindy’s door, there was no doubt the raised voices were coming from inside. The bashed-in door let me grasp what was going on, although you didn’t have to be a genius to figure it out. Cindy was crying and she couldn’t get a word out; the owner of a deep South African voice was the prominent presence in the apartment. Her history had returned. ‘Didn’t I tell you what would happen? No girl walks out on 154
me; I will see them dead first.’ A smacking sound encouraged more cries. Peering through what was left of the doorway, I could see a tall man past the kitchen counter, but he wasn’t the one talking. He was attentive to the centre of the apartment, which experience told me was the bed. ‘Cindy, I’d rather you not be so bruised for your next client. You come back with me. We will make it all right together. You don’t have to get hurt. What do you say?’ ‘Fuck … you.’ Those two words were buried in spit and tears. She sounded in pain; I couldn’t leave her to this. I manoeuvred my way into her place, crouched down behind the counter a little way from the door. I could see that Cindy’s hands were bound behind her back. They had her sat on the end of the bed with a loose rag clung to her neck. There were three men in all, each with their back to me; the one leering down on her was the talker. The other two stood either side just sneered; they must’ve been getting off on the masculine display. My hand was attached to the Beretta on my hip before I knew it, old habits. ‘Fine, looks like you still need some education. Hold her down.’ Like a scene from every degenerate playbook he held a knife to her throat as his cronies held her down – his other hand unzipped himself. At that point my blood screamed for their blood. I stood and aimed. I can’t remember who shot first. The thunder cracks ended when they hugged the floor, bullet holes draining red ooze. I’d been caught in my right side but didn’t really feel it. I wasn’t important. I staggered to her. I thought I’d played the hero and saved the girl. But the knife protruded from her stomach like a jagged tower. She fought for breath as her bed turned red, and gave me what I thought was an accusing look, until her hand reached out for mine. Tears stung my eyes, making an unwelcome return, but I guess before the end she saw there was someone who would cry for her. I remembered then how I told her once, lying in bed, that I’d protect her if she wanted. That pimp had killed her rather than let her go. He had kept his word; guess he was the only man she knew that did.
James Riley My mother used to tell me stories of a childhood spent exploring the village with her friends, always on the lookout for an adventure. She was always thrown by how I could ever be happy at home, withdrawn from outside. She would say that when she was my age she couldn’t be kept still, and that any life worth living was spent outside. As a little girl she would do handstands in the courtyard outside of her mother’s house with her friend Maria, and passers by would throw pesetas. She said she would link arms with her friends and parade the streets at night, singing as loud as she could, and even when it rained she would go outside to meet everyone, and they’d sit in the crevasses of windows, plugged in with umbrellas and listen to the streets turn into streams. With their knees bent into their chests, they would chat; each satisfied to have found a different place to be. She was a cabacilla, like her father before her. She had the blood of leadership in her veins, or so she was told. She definitely had enough pride for the job. I was always happy in a cage, as long as it was mine, and safe. She never told me why she chose to come to England, but she did, and met my father and started a family. She had a gift for making friends, even in her broken English. Thirty years had passed since her childhood in the village, but every summer we returned, and it was as if she had never left. She would know every face in every street and meet every smile, and greet everyone willing with different names every time. The day we moved to Fitero was a sad one. It marked the beginning of my adventure, although I didn’t want it. My younger siblings were in tears at the airport; I couldn’t cry. We were to fly by ourselves to Zaragoza. The heat was scorching as we left the aeroplane; the white concrete shone with an intensity that hurt my eyes. I was the oldest at eleven; my brother was nine and my sister, seven. We were helped by a pretty stewardess in blue, with kind eyes. Tia Carmen and her husband Tio Felix were to pick us 156
up. A different woman ushered us through the arrivals gate, each of us pulling along our suitcases with uneasy looks on our podgy faces. We were seen with stranger’s eyes before Tia Carmen came running with her arms out wide, gushing. ‘Ay, chicillos!’ She embraced us three and burst into tears. We cried too. She looked so much like mother. After an hour of silence and Elvis Presley, Tio Felix’s black and dusty Renault pulled up in front of Yaya and Yayo’s house. It was a tall building, or so it seemed to us. It was so different from our terraced house in England. It was the first house to be seen in a clearing from a narrow side path, which branched off from the main street and was only about half a mile long, running straight through the village onto another road to another place. It had two cars parked in front, either side of a blue glass-paned door that was hidden by an aluminium-chain fly-screen, which gleamed in the sunlight. Its chains were brilliant to play with but not to be swung on. The windows were long rectangles, each with blue frames and blue shutters separated by yellow rectangular bricks stacked one on top of the other in rows of five. When the shutters opened in the evening the house seemed to me like a tired face; the dark maroon render underneath each half-open window were like black bags under eyes. Yaya and Yayo were happy to see us. They had lived alone before we came. Yayo was a farmer like his father and his father’s father, and spent his days in the fields tending his crops while Yaya would tend the house and sell surplus fruit and vegetables to regulars through the back door, where there were scales and change in a draw. She would tell us off for playing with the differently sized weights because they were ‘dangerous’. Our Spanish was poor but we learnt quickly, especially around the dinner table. The nights were sweaty and my dreams were terrifying. I would wake up more than once during the night with images of mother. Crying, I walked up wonky, 157
creaky stairs to Yaya’s bed, only to find my brother had done the same. My sister slept far too much for a seven-year-old. After the first month, the smell of Fitero began to lose its scary and foreign implications. Squeezed orange juice and odd sounding cartoons became a typical morning. Yayo would sometimes take us out to the field with him to pick green beans for our own plastic buckets; he’d let us ride on the back of his old packhorse of a motorbike, sandwiched between his flannel shirt and empty crates. Tia Carmen and Felix were always coming round, living so close, and would bring over our cousin Irene who was my sister’s age. They were best friends instantly. I would fight with my brother over the ‘Gameboy’ but we never made each other cry like we had in England. We were best friends unconditionally and circumstantially. We went on walks around the village and played on the swings in the square. We didn’t talk to the other children; we felt them staring though. Spring was over soon and the full heat of summer descended and burnt our skins without us noticing. The local pool opened and we were all excited. We went there one exceptionally hot morning with Irene and Tia Carmen; she was expecting a baby son for Christmas time. Carmen sat at the bar in her swimming costume with her girlfriends, sipping coke and ice while we four practiced our diving in the swimming pool. There were other kids in the pool too, dark and loud Spanish looking kids. My sister and I were both fair and light skinned, but my brother blended in. Irene left the pool first and went running off to Carmen to pester her for money to buy sweets, and my sister followed. I started to pretend I was a shark and stalk my brother underwater, popping up unexpectedly and grabbing him. Under the water I could hear one of the Spanish kids saying something to us. He said my English name but with an accent. I wanted to ignore it by going under water but he called me again when I surfaced. He looked about the same age as me and had a round face and light brown hair, which was almost the same colour as his skin. ‘Do you want to play football with us down below?’ The boy asked in Spanish, shouting over the commotion of the pool. He sounded friendly. He pointed through the bar to towards the green below it. 158
‘Er … Okay.’ I said in Spanish. I looked at my brother and told him the situation. He didn’t want to go and struggled away when I grabbed his arm. ‘You can go in goal. Come, or you’ll be left here.’ He came by himself when I stopped trying to make him. He liked to go in goal. I used to pretend to train him as a goalkeeper on the green outside our old house. We used the back of a garage as the goal. I used to kick the ball in silly ways to test him and make him laugh. The boy waited for us in the bar as we showered the chlorine off our bodies and grabbed our towels off of the rail around the pool. He told us his name was Javi. Walking down the wide gravelpaved stairs I saw a view of the vast and bumpy green dotted with white stone tables, and olive trees surrounded by sharp blades of green grass. At the bottom of the stairs there was a smooth path, which led to a large cemented area with piles of firewood next to stone barbeques. In the centre was a giant green plastic structure that looked like a caravan without wheels. I noticed the word ‘books’ on its side. We followed Javi to the left onto an open part of green. The grass wasn’t like it was in England. It prickled the soles of our feet. Javi introduced us to his friends. There was Adrian, who was my brothers age and had glasses and a minipony tail that stuck out of his red cap. He offered his hand to each of us jokingly, then hugged us hard, calling us neighbours. Then there was Guillermo who was the biggest of the group, about my age and had just hoofed the ball towards Miguel who seemed the smallest and youngest. Miguel noticed us and started shouting something incomprehensible about us being English; Guillermo joined in and concluded that we were invading. Then there was Iquer who was Javi’s twin brother who didn’t greet us but told us that we were on Javi’s team. It was to be three on three. We made goals from two conveniently placed plants and used our towels and Miguel’s T-shirt as the other goal. Javi was happy to let my brother go in goal. ‘Lets do this!’ I said to my brother, with a hint of forced excitement. Ten minutes later I had slide tackled Iquer, which upset him. He started to rough me up and push me, so I pushed him back, hard, 159
and he fell and slid on the grass. He got up in a rage and came at me but I grabbed and twisted him away. I was bigger and stronger. Javi had seen everything and he came running. I let him push me. I felt my throat catching. ‘Go back to England!’ He said, followed by a flurry of obscenities, which kids value so much. My brother just stared awkwardly. I looked at him for a split second and then without a word took off up the stairs. I walked home feeling angry and ashamed. I didn’t talk to anyone at dinner. At nine p.m. there was a knock at the door. It was Javi asking for us to come. Yaya called us to her. Javi had a football underneath one arm and beamed at us. He didn’t seem to have held a grudge. We were allowed out with Javi to play in the courtyard in front of the monastery with all of the other kids. The courtyard was smooth flat concrete. We played football overlooked by elderly women and men sat on benches, chatting amongst themselves and occasionally shouting what sounded like encouragement. I made sure not to slide tackle anyone this time. After half an hour I noticed Iquer walking alone from around the side of the monastery carrying a guitar in his hand. I stopped and watched. He sat down on a step and started strumming. I was memorised, but I felt shy about earlier that day. I decided to approach him; he frowned when he looked at him. ‘You play really well, I like a lot.’ He didn’t say anything for a while, but we sat watching the other kids run and shout. ‘I’m sorry about earlier’, I say. He doesn’t respond, but carries on strumming. ‘Will you let me?’ I ask pointing to the classical Spanish guitar. He looks at me angrily. ‘You don’t know how to play,’ he says, annoyed. ‘Yes, I do.’ I said, and gestured with open hands. He continued to frown but handed over the guitar. It was light for its size, and had a smooth, laminated feel. I rested its bottom curve on the inside of my left thigh and got into position. I played to him, slowly, a ‘Spanish Romance’ by some unknown composer. He was shocked, but his face seemed to have undertones of excitement. I played the whole song. I caught a few eyes of the 160
boys that were playing football, but Iquer was the most enthralled. When I finished the song, the last note rang out, and then he snatched his guitar from my hands and told me to follow him, and I did. Iquer’s house was tall like Yaya’s but had modern furnishing inside. Iquer was pounced upon by his black and white Shepard dog, ‘Pili’, who also jumped up at my chest. I forced a smile. Dogs made me uneasy. In his kitchen an old man with black and silver hair tied back in a ponytail with a jet-black beard sat at the kitchen table, sipping a glass of brandy and watching the TV. He turned to look at us. He was indifferent before he saw Iquer’s guitar. ‘Iquer! What are you doing with my guitar huh?’ He got up and moved swiftly towards us and snatched his guitar from his son’s hand. ‘What have I told you huh? What have I told you about taking my guitar?’ He slaps Iquer around the head and snatches the guitar. ‘But Dad, this English can play ‘Spanish Romance’’ Iquer said pointing at me. ‘English? What are you talking about?’ He looks at me. ‘What’s your name?’ He asked in English. ‘Michael Yanguas.’ I said. ‘Yanguas?’ He asked. ‘You’re the son of Nati! And you’re new to the village! And, Iquer, you invited him to our house! You were good to!’ He said grabbing his son and rustling his hair. ‘Come, if you can play guitar like your mother then I will be impressed, she was one of a kind.’ And we played music for hours. Alfonso was the man’s name. He spoke with the same audacity as someone with some knowledge of the world. He was like mother. ‘Listen Michael, never give up your dreams, and you too Iquer. One day you will become the world’s greatest guitar players. Follow your heart, your passions. And love Iquer, Michael, love him.’ Alfonso had tears in his eyes. ‘I’m proud of you all,’ he said faintly before falling asleep. Iquer and I laughed. I got back to Yaya’s at two a.m. She was furious, but I was the happiest I had ever been.
Saint Fermin James Riley
His village bustles noisily inbetween and along the fringes of the main street. Lengths of red wooden barricade, six feet in height, block all entries into the street. His tribe makes music like a rainstorm. Not a single patter takes precedence – everyone plays their own tune like raindrops exploding across the badlands. Even the slightest of murmurs composes the symphony of ‘la fiesta de la juventud’. In one provincial bar an old man barks, thumps his fist on a table, rattling glass; a young woman yelps then bursts with laughter, and in the mix someone’s singing a vowel – it’s just a boy looking for a light to burn his stick. Words aren’t always necessary; but there’s always music. Fermin dances and sings with his love high up on the terrace of a friend. At the borders of the world live brown rocky hills behind dry coloured greens and squares of yellow crop, which all cling to a cloudless sky. Noon’s beams brighten a million roof tiles of motley coloured clay on sloped offbeat buildings of beige and shadow – a commune of freewheeling tessellations. BANG! An artificial cloud floats above the swaying of the red and white sweethearts. The street below clears except for the brave. ‘Look,’ she points. ‘Let’s go!’ She takes his large hand and they fly downstairs and they become the brave. Little boys run up to fences and climb; big boys vault over fences in time for the news to reach ears. ‘They’re coming! They’re coming!’ There’s excitement and fear. The rattling of a cowbell and the galloping of heavy hooves draws near. Men bait and then dodge horns, and make their escape into houses, behind buildings that jut into the pavement. More men beat sticks on hard cement ground and drive the mute beasts with animal sounds. They are seconds away now – staying until the last, Fermin sidesteps into a house. She follows, her arm trailing behind. Indoors, apart, Fermin runs diagonally through the free-for-all foyer and then upstairs, to the right, around a corner. 162
Soon after, she chooses a door to the left but it’s locked, and a beast was letting itself in. She turns and a difficult fear paralyses her. She screams something but no one’s left to help her. The beast struggles in and its giant head crashes into her chest, ploughing her backwards, its horns goring air and then wallpaper. She manages to push it away and scramble free on her knees, avoiding the beast’s second frenzy. It stops still after a few seconds and stiffens, frozen; its breathing is violent through its nostrils and its muscles quiver. Its black eyes half stare into hers. She feels her life surrender to it before she hears the sound of rapid footsteps approaching, which are soon engulfed by a war cry. Fermin slams into the beast’s side like a battering ram. He clasps his hairy hands around each horn; his eyes are like fire balls. She thinks to call for help but her lips move in prayer. Fermin survives on the cusp of each movement. They dance for a moment. The beast smashes him into boxes of wine and glass fragments pierce the flesh of his hands and arms, but he doesn’t let go. Their dance is fleeting but the music doesn’t stop; the music never stops. Men soon flood in with voices that are braver than their bodies, but within seconds nine surround the beast and pull it back into the street. It runs along once more, only once more. Half an hour later, they’re home. The village doctor tends their wounds in the kitchen. The red and white sweethearts have changed their tune. With bandaged hands, Fermin picks a small peach from a pile in a crate and bites it whole with golden teeth, spitting out its core into his palm. His love nods and winces as she gossips with the doctor. She’s fine. He hears the crying of a baby from upstairs. He swallows the peach, plants its seed safely into his pocket, then gets to his feet and leaps upstairs. Walking briskly into his bedroom he halts and bears over a wooden cot. Fermin’s mother was up on the terrace hanging clothes to dry. My mother lay in the cot, crying and wriggling, red faced. He lifts her into his arms and dances her around the room, singing a love song. 163
Clarence’s Moment Of Triumph Susanne Collete Lord
Good evening good ladies and gentlemen. I have recently accepted the invitation – even the utter inevitability – of my reading unto you a colourful extract of my complex family’s historical saga, and presenting you with my best meandering and illuminative prose, which I hope will be fit for this most illustrious occasion. And I beg your leave, that you will consider my tale to be altogether worthy of your esteemed and respected attention, notwithstanding the fact that my humble self has never before this fine day been granted the privilege of having my poor written wanderings heard by such illustrious and venerable folk, such as your good selves. You, my dear, dear friends, represent a most superlative audience, here in the mightily beautiful village of Evercreech, and I implore you to pay best attention to my tale, as I am occasionally prone to wandering off down some literary backwater irrelevancy. In other words, my dear listeners, I am exceedingly grateful for your interest in this ancient tale of an aged grandparent’s dangerous coal mining experience, that includes his dying canary. A tale of attempted murder of a grandmother most fair and industrious, whose injuries to this very day necessitate the wearing of high collar clothing, as to conceal the disagreeable scars to her poor ravaged gullet. A mischievous and wanton tale of illegal gambling in the back streets of Shepton Mallet wherein the outraged female victim was condemned, and indeed castigated, by her most foulest of husband who tried to steal her long-awaited and rightly-awarded inheritance. And a gripping tale concerning the duplicitously stolen furniture and other meagre goods, so cruelly taken from Clarence’s tiny cottage whilst he and his beauteous young wife honeymooned in that famous, yet genteel, seaside-resort of Clevedon. My comic tale will then drift into the realms of 164
tragedy concerning an account of a furtive bicycle ride by our hero Clarence, whose cycling expertise, or lack of such, did most unexpectedly and most noxiously land him in brutal incarceration within a large accumulation of steaming horse ordure, in a field off Prestleigh Road. Of which it would pain me to describe further here, in case the maiden aunts amongst you were to suffer the vapours, but which episode plays a large, and definitely malodorous part in the ensuing adventures of the said Uncle Clarence. Although this is a complex tale, ladies and gentlemen, it is nevertheless a tale of excitement and adventure, the like of which you will be unable to read even in the esteemed Somerset Guardian. I implore you to use your finest concentration, listen well, and if necessary, call upon your nearest and dearest, who you may wish to ask the meaning of this meandering journey towards, around, or up and down, to the truth and adventure which I present to you here. But, I digress dear Reader, please let me begin my tale about the illustrious Clarence Shufflebottom. Let me take you to the starting line of this great journey in the flicker of a dying oil lamp. And speaking of oil lamps, which I wasn’t … but I will, our hero would generally have needed a full wick in order to exercise the habits of which we will learn in due course, but, Clarence was not as adept at lighting such wicks as his servant Clara, who was on holiday with her puppy dog in the vale of Batcombe. Dear Listener, kindly give me the wink, and a fierce shaking of your esteemed and wise heads, should I begin to digress yet again from our tale … it is a habit which I can rarely forgo … So, to the point, Uncle Clarence, being a short dumpy little buffoon of a red-nosed man, had been given information about gentlemen’s personal hygiene habits by his Great Aunt Sarah Jane, who in turn had been instructed by her Great Grandma Ellen from Ditcheat. Yet on this very day we are discoursing about, he 165
had been unable to fulfil his toiletry duties in the required regular evacuatory manner to which he was daily accustomed, and which generally brought him such relief. This lack of a positive result from his straining and labours, did make his digestive system feel very out of sorts, and, as his morning progressed, his flatulence became most noxious, not only to his family, but, he himself was utterly unable to tolerate its most putrid consequences. However, you, discerning and intelligent audience that you are, you must NOT laugh at the dilemma of our hero, as if indeed, you had suffered the same refusal of your body to let go of its toxic cargo to the drains and pipes of underground Evercreech, you would understand the discomfort poor Clarence was in. He did not know what to do with himself. Discussing his predicament with his beautiful nearest and dearest, was a trifle … ah-hmm … embarrassing, so, Clarence, in search of counsel for his problem, betook himself in a timely, but rapid manner down to the beer house known as The Bell Inn, which, as you all know so well, lies on the main thoroughfare to Bruton and beyond. Even tho’ the hour was but ten of the morn, The Bell Inn already had several drinkers installed in’t, all sat in front of foaming, frothy, pewter tankards of that good and wholesome porter ale which, when made with extra hops, engenders such an enliveningly bitter flavour, it can be likened, misleadingly, to a sumptuously rich-tasting, bitter-aloes-with-stout-and-honey sort of a beverage, but with the alcoholic kick of a stallion on heat. Before the bloated and uncomfortable Clarence could say ‘enema’ – but after his greedy consumption of a fourth glass of mellifluous and lubricative alcoholic swill – the reverberations and grumbles – not to mention, the growls and booms – which began to emanate from Clarence’s guts were to be heard as far abroad as Oxford Street, and had clearly not been kept within the confines of this, your ecclesiastical quarter of the village. It rapidly became extremely clear to our hero that he must adjourn with all possible speed towards the lavvy, to prevent the grossly inconceivable embarrassment of appearing to have matters of the scatological variety, on the outside of his pants. Inside … nay, that was frequently a private occurrence, but one that only he, 166
his Good Lady Wife, the laundress, and God knew about. But in public? NEVER! The shame would kill him, they would have to move house, change their name, hang their heads … Such projected depths of Clarence’s possible future degradation were not, however, to become fact. Clarence, with as much aplomb as he could muster, and with such speed as belied his portly middle-aged figure, was indeed able to scurry to the rear of the public house. Here he was able to arrange his nether regions over the earth closet in the back yard (lavatory for those of a younger generation here in our audience), in due time for the ensuing noisy, reverberative, but oh so relieving evacuation … ahhhh. Taking place over several minutes and conducted by an internal bowel-grumbling of such tympanic and titanic proportions, the tone, rhythm and timbre of Clarence’s anal sounds accompanying the efforts of his faecal discharge found such musicality that – had he been present – George Frideric Handel would enthusiastically have notated it for his next Symphony as to make other composers envious. All of which noise, loud as it was, drifting in from the lavvy into the lounge, made the Bell’s regular customers roar with laughter. Oh, the relief! The joy! The smile that appeared upon Clarence’s face, as the last remnants of his digestive input, became his digestive output, could be seen in Doulting. Clarence returned to the Snug – ‘Barman: drinks on me, for all these fine fellows please’.
Susanne Collette Lord Jake used his dirty, calloused right thumb to scratch his festering left nipple. It was leaking out through an extra large hole in his ten-year-old grey string vest. He sat precariously on the front step of the council house he’d lived in for forty-eight years, smoking roll-ups and gobbing onto the area normally called a garden. It was strewn with old toys, dolls, a broken slide, a smashed up toddler’s plastic car, two tiny trampolines with no canvas in them, one of which was resting at an unenergetic forty-five degree angle against the unruly and untrimmed hedge. A 1950s pram had been partially dismantled and lay strewn across the ‘lawn’. The broken avocado-green lavatory lent against the pram’s rear wheel. On closer inspection, the pan showed a complete and utter lack of cleanliness to a degree never before witnessed on the Estate. The worst aspect though was the Dog-shit Monument. In the height of summer, it made passers by want to vomit – many retched. The stench was truly nauseating. Jake was forty-eight, had never worked in his life, and was, at twenty-five stones, clinically and morbidly obese. Once seated on the step, he needed help to get up again, and it was obvious from his voluminous stained trousers, that he had ‘missed’ the toilet once or twice. His right index finger was as brown as dark shit, where he’d held home-rolled cigarettes between it and his middle finger, letting the toxic, duty-free, smoke curl lugubriously betwixt the two digits for hours at a time, soiling them on a daily basis. His gobby and highly productive throat clearing could be heard in Mason Road. It had a disgustingly aural, guttural, and nasal quality to it, as if a hundred emphysema patients were in competition with each other for the title of ‘The 1992 Loudest Squelchiest Cougher Award. Once the ‘product’ neared its bodily exit, his swirling mouth, puckering lips, deep breathing, and careful aim, meant that his 168
family and neighbours kept their distance, and a long distance at that, in case a â€˜gobâ€™ landed on their skin. When that had happened to Marlene, from number twenty nine last summer, the whole street heard her screams of horror and disgust as she tried to get rid of it from the back of her neck. Jake had a good aim.
Susanna Collette Lord It’s his eight consecutive Monday attendance. The front-desk sergeant signs him in, he’s searched, processed and locked in a cell while the custody team phone the local prisons for a bed for him. He’s bundled into a security van and imprisoned for another five days. Like Androcles, it had all started with a thorn. Paul had rescued Fennel, an abused basset hound, from PDSA. He loved the breed, and adored her huge black eyes that melted his heart. Her look of sorrow and fear caused his pulse to quicken, and he knew he could successfully rehabilitate her. Initially, he groomed her daily, accustoming her to his smell, walked her in the forest, trained her on and off lead, and after several weeks she tentatively ventured out for solitary sniffing, before returning to his call. She became a loyal big lump of a dog, who welcomed him home with a furore of loving exuberance he’d rarely had from other animals. This dog became the love of his life. Everything was fine for about three years, until Fennel got a rose thorn in her paw. He thought he’d got it out with the tweezers, but over the next few days, the paw-pad became badly swollen. She limped and winced when Paul bathed it in TCP several times. It gradually got worse. Clearly Fennel needed a vet, but Paul had little money, having only just started a minimum wage job, after ten year’s unemployment. The PDSA, had closed, and he didn’t know where else to go. Finally, he took her to a new vet who examined her, and prescribed some medication. Paul wrote a cheque, which he knew would bounce, took her home, and waited. The pills didn’t work. Soon her foot was twice its normal size, she had a temperature and was not eating. A friend took him to yet another vet who said there was only a slight risk in amputating the paw, then fitting a prosthetic foot in a couple of months. Paul felt reassured. 170
They operated the same afternoon. Fennel never came round from the anaesthetic. When they phoned to tell him, Paul went into shock. His whole life had revolved around her. She’d given him the love and affection his ex-wife never had; had looked at him with an unconditional adoration; and patiently heard his solitary depressive rants. At such times she’d lick his face gently. She always protected him from other dogs with a deep-seated loyalty rarely found in his few human friendships. They’d been soul mates. He felt cold and sick at her loss. That night, he walked through their woods, stumbling to their special spot, weeping in isolated misery and remembering her favourite trees, her gambolling in the crackling autumnally coloured carpet of crispiness. Damn that bloody vet. He’d killed her; he’d killed her alright. He collected her body, dug a hole deep in the wood, laid her tenderly in the bottom with her favourite toys, said a few words, then covered her with soil. In his rage, he stayed with her all night, tearful and embittered. Just as he’d started to get his life back on track, just as he’d got his head together, just as he’d found a great job, just as he’d given in his notice in his appalling flat – this. Her loss made him feel like a small child again; his most precious friend had been taken away for no good reason, it was so unfair. If that bloody vet thought he was getting his bill paid, for murdering his Fennel, he’d got another bloody think coming. Somehow his life continued, he came home from work, ate, drank some cider, went to bed, got up, went back to work. He knew he must move on, so found a much better new flat, but all he could think about was Fennel. A couple of months later, he received a letter from the local County Court. The killer vet was suing him for £895, plus court costs. He ripped it up. A month later another letter arrived, instructing him to attend court. He ripped that up. Paul continued to grieve, frequently making pilgrimages 171
to the wood, while enviously watching other dog owners. He saw them smile as their animals chased derelict sticks. He longed for that lost feeling of being needed and loved when Fennel had galloped back with hers, as if she had found Aladdin’s treasure. She’d leapt at him, while panting like some half-throttled maniac, in her attempts to please. His new job wasn’t as satisfying as he’d hoped; the flat was damp; Fennel was gone and his life was empty. The knock on the door was the bailiffs. They showed him a warrant allowing them to take Paul’s goods. He let them. Everything of value had been sold during those years of unemployment. He owned almost nothing, living with a minimum of second-hand stuff that he’d got free from Freecycle. They went away empty handed. He thought that was an end to it. Two months later the police came to arrest him. The Judge asked him who he worked for. He said nothing. He asked him again. Paul refused to speak. ‘You are in contempt of this court Mr Bird. I will not tolerate it. Take him down.’ He was taken to the cells to reflect. Some hours later, he was taken back up but remained silent. Before he knew it, he was on his way to Horfield Prison. His weekly incarceration continued for several weeks, with Paul spending weekends at home, and weekdays in the nick. What Paul didn’t know was that his barking-mad story had reached the Bristol Evening Post news hounds, and he’d become a minor celebrity. There were letters from animal lovers all over the south-west, writing to congratulate him on his stand: ‘Outraged of Wootton Bassett’ wrote to condemn ‘bestially-high vets’ fees; ‘Tail-wagger from Jack Russell Close expressed sympathy at the consequences of Paul’s ‘philanthropic dogitarian behaviour’; while ‘Red Setter’ wanted to organise a RFM (Release Fennel’s Master) March through the city centre. It had all got hideously, but hilariously, out of control. By the time he next left prison the journalistic silly season was well and truly in full doggy flow. Several film crews met him outside the gate, demanding interviews. Paul recognised David, a local TV newsman, who explained his story had touched many hearts and a Fennel Fund had been set up to pay his fine, but best of all, Fennel’s original owner was waiting to meet him at the 172
Studio. Before he knew it, he was in make-up, then hurried into a brightly lit studio, and told to sit and wait. The bustle around him was alien, and when he heard someone counting down from five to one, the significance didn’t impact on him. As he looked around nervously listening to David introducing the news, he suddenly understood he was on live TV. Oh My God! One of the crew smiled at him and put his index finger over his lips. Paul couldn’t have spoken anyway. Before he could collect himself, David came over, and sat in the chair next to his, smiling broadly, and telling the camera the Fennel story. ‘So Paul, tell me how you came to own Fennell?’ Paul swallowed. ‘I got her from the dog’s home, she’d been abandoned.’ ‘And how long had you looked after her before she became ill?’ ‘About three years.’ Paul was beginning to relax. ‘She were the most loving dog you could ever meet, she were scared and frightened when I got ‘er, an’ I loved her and looked after her. She were my friend.’ David’s tone changed. ‘So why didn’t you pay her vet’s bill, why have you refused to pay the man who tried for hours to save her?’ Paul felt attacked, betrayed. The purple cyclone of rage he’d felt for weeks burst out of him. ‘Why? Why? Why didn’t I pay? Because he’s not a proper vet, that’s the why, he ain’t got the right qualifications, he’s a con-man, and if you’d done your job you’d know that.’ Paul saw someone wearing headphones, crazily sawing his hand across his throat, but he was on a roll now. ‘You should be asking who else has lost a pet that could have been saved? Who else’s life has this man destroyed with his “Do It Yourself Surgery”?’ His campaign against the vet suddenly felt supremely important and he was determined not to be cut off in his prime. ‘How come he’s been allowed to practise all this time? I never found him on any of the websites for proper vets, but I found him on scammer sites.’ ‘Well thank you, Paul’ David quickly interrupted. ‘Never mind “thank you Paul”, are you going to investigate him or not? It’s all on the Internet; it’s not rocket science. He’s the 173
one should have been in court. I ain’t paying no con-man’s bill. I’d rather go back to nick.’ ‘I’m sure this story will rumble on and on, but now over to the weather.’ Paul was quickly escorted out of the studio. He sat in the green room angry and trembling, trying to control himself, his breath coming in choking spurts. The frail, grey-haired man sitting by the window looked at him with an impassive face, but with sharp eyes. He wore a faded homburg hat, a pin-striped navy suit with large turn-ups, very wide trousers, a double breasted jacket with several missing buttons and made from fabric which shone from decades of wear. ‘You alright mate?’ He asked. ‘Do I look alright? Sorry, didn’t mean to snap at you.’ Paul calmed himself, realising he shouldn’t take it out on this old guy. ‘I thought that David Garstrang was ok, but he stitched me up like my bloody grandma’s liberty-bodice, made me out to be in the wrong, ‘stead of that bloomin’ vet.’ He paused to look out the window and calm down. ‘What are you here to talk about?’ ‘That dog.’ ‘My dog?’ ‘Your dog? Fennel?’ Paul had no idea what else to say. ‘I don’t suppose they’ll want to interview you now I’ve blown it will they?’ The old man sighed. The pained silence between them grew into a tangible discomfort. Eventually Paul asked ‘So what happened with you and the dog then?’ ‘We had her twelve years, and after my wife died, I was rushed into hospital, but there was no one to look after the dog. I was in a coma for two months, so I never knew what happened ‘til I saw her photo on the news a few nights ago. I called the TV people and here I am.’ He paused uncertainly. ‘Why did she die – my dog?’ How could Paul explain, how could he break this man’s heart? Finally he just blurted out the whole story, his divorce, unemployment, poverty, new job, finding Fennel, the joy she’d brought him, her loyalty and fun, the rose thorn in her paw, his lack of money for vets and the devastation he felt when she’d died. He left nothing out. The old man looked at him sadly with a 174
few tears in his eyes. ‘Sounds like you loved her as much as we did.’ ‘Reckon I did.’ They looked at each other with a new understanding. ‘How much is the bill?’ ‘Nearly £500.’ ‘Well, I reckon I should pay that. I owe you that much.’ Paul nodded his thanks; he’d had enough of prison life. They left the Green Room together. Maybe he’d found a human friend at last.
Have you heard anything I said? I don’t believe in pairing things up. CUSTOMER But there aren’t left and right socks. They work on both feet. ASSISTANT They do? I … just thought I got it right every time. Thank you sir, you’ve turned my life around. Where’s the sock shop, I’ll apply right away! CUSTOMER Out the door, to your right. ASSISTANT Fantastic. To my left right? CUSTOMER Sure. It’s to the right of the right left shoe shop. ASSISTANT Thank you, sir! END