A slight twist in the tale A selection of short stories by Alison T. Bond
slight twist in the tale
Contents The Conversation
Broken 6 Release 8 The Beautiful Child Part 1 10 The Beautiful Child Part 2 13 The Survivor
The Kingdom Of Heaven
The Ache And The Black Dog
The Monster And The Girl
And The Words Are Smooth
A Job For Life
The Conversation It was 3pm. He was sitting at the pavement cafĂŠ nervously waiting for his sweetheart when the sky quickly darkened, then the cloud burst and it rained down on him so hard he felt as if it was a stoning. If that was the punishment for this day, then he would take it and also for all the days to come, for all the things he had done wrong. And she was unsuspecting in her attendance. Just another afternoon meeting, just another coffee date: the holding of hands and the glowing blush after a light kiss. He was going to be brave, to tell all, to confess, to unburden himself of the cloud that followed him wherever he went. He had sought advice from the Reverend Father, and he had said that his conscience must lead him. She arrived and, as she sat and ordered her pleasure from the menu, so then, the conversation began. He faltered at first at her sheer beauty, the beauty that had always taken his breath away from the moment they met. He began to spill out the information and, in only just a few badly chosen, mumbled words, he cut her down like a wilted flower, took the joy from her, took all her hopes from her, took every last shred of her confidence from her, so all her world would change at just a few short sentences, stuttered from shame and veiled with sin and guilt, so unbearable for her to hear, so unbearable for him to have to say. And then the silence fell. What else was there to say other than the truth? So, he watched her walk away, almost running, her head hung so low to hide emotions so high. And as the rain finally stopped, the sun then appeared, as if to say that it would all turn out alright. 4
He told himself that this had been his only real choice; it had been the moral thing to do, it had been the only thing to do, that it had been the right thing to do and his conscience told himself so for many, many hours after the conversation ended, just so he could live with himself. The next day at breakfast, as he scanned the paper, still thinking that there had been no other choice, still certain he was right, still letting his brain tell him he was right, the report on one of the pages took his breath away. As he sat there at his kitchen table in his perfect living space, in his comfort zone, he wondered what all the noise was, and he found that the noise was him screaming, screaming in those perfect surroundings, screaming that she had gone from this earth forever. So be wary of your words, my friends. Because conversations kill.
Broken The drugs were a reminder of all her yesterdays, and they covered her with the promise of a better tomorrow. But like all promises made, they can be broken. They can be corrupted into the belief there is a reason for the change of heart. But she knew this was never the case. The demon inside was hers to keep forever. He was a liar. She couldn’t stop, she wouldn’t stop. She couldn’t change even though she wanted to. This was all she would ever be. It had been her father at first. When a small child she was never good enough; never bright enough, never pretty enough. But once she had blossomed into a teenager, he took what he wanted. Whatever orifice his pleasure required. Her mother didn’t acknowledge the betrayal. She was usually too drunk to care. She was probably just grateful it wasn’t her. And so into adulthood and the self-hatred which carried her through her twenties. The unprotected sex and the truly ungrateful sex, that defined those tortured years. Bent over backwards, never really caring what damage was done. Kneeling, bleeding and pleading, never thinking of a future of happiness, of children, or God forbid, of love. Then one night in the street outside her local haunt, still high, she had met him. He had not taken advantage of her inability to defend herself, nor had he shamed her into acts of debauchery to which she had become so accustomed. He offered her refuge. He had taken her home. He had sat with her. He had held her in his arms whilst she became projectile. Projectile in his living room; projectile in his stairwell, projectile in his bathroom and he 6
had washed her, dressed her and put her to bed. He had watched over her, whilst mopping sweat from her brow. He did so with the kind of attention she had never known. For once, here in his home she was safe. And she for one moment believed that everything would change. That it could change. That all those things she had only glimpsed, passing her by, as she was held in the heroin haze, an image seen as if beaming through sunlight and rain. A rainbow over a beautiful world. A world she had never had the opportunity to explore. Certainly, never to be part of. The need for a continued haze resurfaced. Convulsing and slamming into her brain. The buzzing of the demon played itâ€™s part, and dragged her away from the rainbow, under the darkness of the earth. She went back into the underbelly of insanity, and she ripped at her new found angel. She tore through his gentleness, through his tenderness; his kindness. She tore straight through his humanity. She stopped him where he sat, still trying desperately to save her. Still praying for her salvation. And so the chemical demon, the substance in her won the fight. And the good man of the cloth was lost. He was gone forever.
Release He didn’t care much for them. The women. They never took him by surprise, not in the way he hoped they would. They were all alike. All frigid. He’d watched as much porn as he could get his hands on. It was all the same; just pretend, none of them were really into it that much. They were just going through the motions to make a fast buck. It was distasteful to him. But he couldn’t stop himself, still, he watched it. The women he met and had sex with didn’t satisfy his libido. That made him angry, so angry with them, for his inability to cum. And possibly everything else which was wrong with his life. So the plan he formed inside his head, was, that after each encounter, if they disappointed him, which they surely would, he would end their misery. For surely misery was all they felt in their lack of ability to arouse him to ecstasy. They would be grateful for the release. The first was just a mess. He was enraged by her and his anger got the better of him. It was such a pain trying to clean it all up. The blood was sticky and quite hot, he hadn’t counted on that. He hadn’t counted on how much of it there would be either, just how fast and far it would travel. It was inconvenient. The loft would never be the same again. That made him angry all over again. But he’d made a vow. His mistakes would be few, if any. So the girls went missing, from many parts of the country. Always after a night out, always as they walked home down secluded lanes alone. No witnesses; no street cameras. He was always careful; he was clever. He became confident in this task of his. Clearing this blight of these low life women who did not truly succumb to his desires. The 8
desires of he and other men. It was a brotherhood, and he was doing this not just for himself, but for all of them. She was stunning and young. Dressed scantil,y as the young do these days, barely covered. As he pulled over, to ask her if she wanted a ride home, he realised just how stunning she was. This one might survive, if she did what he wanted. She got into his car without cajolement. She smelt of alcohol and nicotine, but he didnâ€™t care, that wasnâ€™t the issue. He gave her a drink from his opiate laced hip flask. She slept soundly throughout the journey home. In the loft she awoke to his caress. Not the caress of a gifted lover, but of a mad man. But she smiled. She indicated it was alright, that she would do whatever he wanted. He thought that at last he had found her; the one. The end of this compulsive, distracting need to kill for pleasure. As she mounted him, he relaxed. He realised this was his first true mistake. Her beauty was more than he had imagined in the dim light of the car, and, now that he had her in the light of the loft, she was unreal; ethereal, glowing almost. Her smile was unnaturally wide, her soft quiet voice was like a choir singing. It lulled him and he didnâ€™t feel anything at first, yet there he was, prone, unable to react to her agenda. His entrails grasped in her hands were a surprise to him. That he certainly had not expected. Those razor sharp nails had slit him open with minimum effort, but to maximum effect. As she rode him like a rodeo cowgirl, still smiling. He finally came. And at the very last he found the ultimate pleasure, without him taking another life. And so another death, his own, was the true price of his rapture.
The Beautiful Child Part 1 It had been years. Many, many painful years. Of trial and error. The error was the pain and distress of their failure. The constant thwarting of a long-held dream, to become a family unit. The IVF was their final hope, but to no avail. Thousands upon thousands from their savings dissolved into thin air. The one aim in their life, to further their genes, to live forever, immortality in an innocent, gurgling little bundle, a child of their own, their gift from God had been denied time after time. How hard they prayed each night before sleep, each Sunday amongst the congregation and suffered the sympathy and the pitying looks from family and friends alike, and so too from the Reverend Father. All he could offer was, ‘Ask and ye shall receive.’ Their hope was ebbing, slipping away into an ocean that would swallow them whole. No matter how strong their love for one another, their touches became less frequent, more forced. Their existence became almost mundane, automated. Until he arrived. They couldn’t remember his knocking at the door, they couldn’t remember answering the door, they couldn’t remember how he came to be in the house, they couldn’t remember asking him in or asking him to sit down, he just... appeared. He sat with them in their front room, drinking tea and happily chatting about the world. He had a friendly smile as bright as the sun itself. This small man with wavy dark hair, slightly greying at the temples, was a little dishevelled perhaps. Bearded, his face lined slightly, but animate and kind. His age and accent indeterminable. He had such piercing blue eyes as you could ever hope to see, such beautiful blue eyes for all to fall in love with. He seemed to shine and they couldn’t help but feel enthralled by him. 10
He had heard they were desperate for a child of their own to love and he could help them. He would help them, and he would help them now. To let them live the dream of family; a prayer come true. No, no need for recompense, no need for gratitude; just happy to help. A loving home required for a needy child left all alone in the world by an unfortunate circumstance, a twist of fate. So very soon after that meeting, the child arrived. A beautiful boy child. Small, tiny in-fact. Quiet, so very quiet, the child slept right through the night. No sleep deprivation in the new family home. This perfect, beautiful child, brought to them to give them such joy. And so the years passed and the child grew, the child evolved. The child was still a little small for his age, but intelligent. So clever and stunning, so very, very beautiful, with his dark, wavy hair and piercing blue eyes. He reminded them of someone, someone they couldn’t quite recall now they came to think of it, but it didn’t matter because he was theirs and theirs alone. Their beautiful, perfect blue-eyed boy. So, as the child grew and began to explore this world, his world, he also began to pull the legs off insects. It was just childish curiosity, the parents had thought. As the child cut into the toad, dissecting each part of it, a scientific and analytical mind, they’d imagined. As the child strangled and gutted next door’s cat, well, the damn thing did wail all night long, keeping everyone awake, so, a service to the neighbourhood, they’d conceded. As the child reached pubescence, as his hormones raged and his temper became hot and difficult to deal with, he was still their baby, still their beloved beautiful blue-eyed boy, and viewed by them as wonderful and perfect in every way. One day everything changed. 11
The police concluded that a murderous intruder must have broken into the family home in the night and committed the abhorrent crime. The bodies had been so brutally savaged, broken out of shape by a vicious monster, snapped and ripped apart, strewn, skinned and scattered like torn pages from an unloved novel. The child was found hiding; he had tucked himself away in the cellar in order to survive. The child was so traumatised he was vacant, rocking and silent. The officials bundled the child off to social services, tasking them to find a home for this sweet, innocent, beautiful but traumatised child, with the big blue eyes to fall in love with. Let some good, kind folk help him to overcome this damage to his life. Let someone mend this poor, broken child. But this child, the beautiful blue-eyed boy, such beautiful blue eyes to fall in love with, is not broken, he is merely fashioned that way. The child is truly his fatherâ€™s son. He had returned their love in the only way he understood. The sins of the father are visited upon the son and, as we all know... the Devil is in the detail.
The Beautiful Child Part 2: Hell Is Empty Alone on a dark road, many miles from home, stood a beautiful man with piercing blue eyes. All his family in constant attendance, all his knowledge contained within each atom of his eternal existence. When the light of the morning came, his shining smile brought all creatures out from their hiding to bathe in his beauty, the man with the piercing blue eyes and face so animate and kind. To sit back, to kick back, just let it all slide and to become less than he had been. To pass the torch on. How long had that taken? So very long. With all his family meeting his every need, his every whim, this beautiful man with the piercing blue eyes. The boy was grown. He was in the world, this child of his seed. The boy was beautiful just like the man. The boy with the piercing blue eyes for all to fall in love with, as millions had fallen in love with the man before him, the father, the small dishevelled bearded man, beautiful from the moment of his creation, a beauty still in his prime and even now millennia later, ancient in time and space, generations of history reflected in those beautiful piercing blue eyes and the face so animate, so kind. Reviled, loved, hated, honoured, yet dishonoured and so very, very lonely. The argument never ceasing with the one he loved. He was so weary and longing for home, longing to return unto Him. Now to pass the torch, so the child could shine, the beautiful boy with the piercing blue eyes. Yet, here the man was at the dawning of a new day, and the bearer of the beautiful child, the one who had given his faith back to him. She shone too, not as the man shone, but as the moonlight shines upon a river of souls, shone through the darkness in him, in his 13
old-man’s heart, shone through all his sins, washed them away with the goodness in her, and in doing so, she gave the man a pathway which led back to Him, in the Kingdom of Heaven. And the child was so very clever, and the child was strong in body and strong in will. He was afterall his father’s child. So beautiful that he made the world cry just to lay eyes upon him. But there was no shining from the child, no radiance; only bleakness, only rage, betrayal and hatred. The man had poured himself into the child and all the darkness he had held within him had become flesh. And all that the man ever was became real and was showered upon the innocents of the earth with such malice, such cruelty, and all living creatures feared the world was coming to an end. The boy was the recipient of a prophecy so old that even time had forgotten the true horror of it. This boy, ripping through the fabric of all that bore hope, that bore love, burying it under poison and bile from his tortured consciousness. And then the child, who was beautiful and so very, very clever, made his one and only mistake. When he took the bearer of his flesh, the bearer who shone, shone like moonlight upon a river of souls, he turned her to dust. The child could not see what the man had held back, still within him. Could not have known. This was the very first time they had met, but the child’s eyes widened in fear as he saw himself reflected in his creator, the love, the hate, the auroral shining and sheer power of such an ancient being. All the child could have ever been was at an end, as the man took the child’s soul and set it ablaze with all the formidable fires of Hell, turned him to cinder, made it as if the child had never been. The man, the father, became the executioner. 14
So then, all that the child was, poured back into the man, the father, the beautiful man with the piercing blue eyes, the man with the face so animate and kind. Any love inspired by the bearer who shone, shone like moonlight upon a river of souls, the female who had stolen the heart of the man, who had opened up the pathway of hope, who had promised the beautiful man with the piercing blue eyes, to love, to honour and to obey, all that was now gone. All that was to have been his was lost. The path to Him was once again closed. So, here, on this scarred earth, the Bard tells us in his wisdom that â€˜Hell is empty and all the devils are hereâ€™.
The Survivor Flying was never the issue for him. It was the plummeting out of the sky at velocity down to the earth that made him nervous. Every flight was the same: he’d be fighting the need to hurl, and sweating profusely. Even on the occasions he had had the sheer luck to be upgraded, with a choice of films, menu and leg room, the idea of crashing kept him ridged in his seat. No matter how the cabin crew pandered to him, in their wisdom from years of nervous passengers, their soothing abilities were wasted on him. He had to ‘get’ to New York, ‘get’ to the meeting, ‘get’ to screw some people out of their hard-earned cash, ‘get’ to the airport, ‘get’ back onto another flying death-trap and then ‘get’ to pocket the commission like the shameless capitalist he was. Oh yes, a real ‘go-getter’ he was. If it weren’t for the air travel involved, he’d would just love screwing people even more. He was sitting next to a small, slightly podgy middle-aged man with an unkempt beard. He was wearing dark-lens sunglasses. The man gave him a smile and reluctantly he smiled back, just to be polite. His neighbour told him that there was no need to worry, ‘No need at all; these babies don’t often crash. In fact they only ever crash the one time.’ The smile widened and evolved into a hearty laugh. How irritating is this? A jolly japer to sit next to for ten hours. This is going to be more hellish than usual. I’m going to need to kiss that tarmac at the other side of the pond. The engines roared and the plane lurched up into the air, pressing everyone’s backs into their seats. His intestines did their very own version of the Riverdance, unaided by nourishment, which he had left back in the facilities at Heathrow airport. 16
‘Please God, please, don’t let it crash. Please let me survive, I’m not even thirty yet. I want to see a few more years. I promise to be a good boy.’ Or words to that effect ran around in his head. “Well, I’m listening.” He was stunned, couldn’t believe his ears. Did his prayer come out loud by mistake? How did the man hear? ‘I hear everything.’ Shit, shit, shit! He’s some sort of conjurer, a trickster, a psychic, a fortune teller. Well, maybe it’s going to be ok then, because surely if he could see the future, he wouldn’t be on a plane that’ll crash, would he? Would he? ‘Well, you see, to be honest with you, I am really quite partial to a little bit of drama.’ I’m dreaming. I managed somehow to fall asleep; that’s the answer, isn’t it? Isn’t it? The thought was racing through his mind. ‘You’re still awake,’ the man was smiling still, and somehow the smile was soothing. Even when not smiling, the man’s lips curled up slightly at the sides. Happy lips, as it were. I really have gone mad, haven’t I? ‘You’re not mad,’ the man said as he sipped his vodka and tonic, with those smiling, happy lips. He thought, well then, I might as well have a drink too. It couldn’t possibly get any more bizarre, so why not just let go and get myself off my tits on alcohol. That might actually make this flight bearable. Sit and drink my nerves away, sitting next to the middle-aged, shabby-looking magician with the happy lips, or whatever the hell he bloody well is. ‘I’m no magician. I was just listening. Listening to your prayer, and your wish to survive.’ 17
Wasn’t I just praying to God? He must be God, oh shit! I’m on a plane, with God! He is smiling at me with his smiley face and his smiley happy lips and drinking a smiley VAT. How could I ever describe this back at work? They’d put me away for sure!
‘So how did your business meeting go mate’ ‘Well God told me He was listening as He sat next to me in Business Class, with our VATs and our luxury dinner and a show at any time we wanted sir, and, definitely better than being with the fodder in the cheap seats, because obviously God wouldn’t be in the cheap seats, would He? Actually, I thought He’d be in First Class, being really important and all that, but there you have it, a humble God in Business Class, and yeah, the meeting went great, thanks mate.’ ‘So, you’re with God, are you? And, you want to survive, do you? Well, I’m sure that can be arranged, but unfortunately the plane is going down, my friend, it’s going into free fall and there’s nothing you nor I can do now to stop it. In fact, I think, unless I’m very sadly mistaken, it has already begun.’ The lights flickered in the cabin. He laughed loudly, ‘Oh bollocks, God’s just condemned us. This is it. He’s right, it’s started.’ The engine noise changed and the lights went out completely as the plane was caught by turbulence and plummeted several hundred feet in a millisecond. The ice flew out of his vodka upwards and fell back smashing around him like shards of glass as it hit the cabin floor. People were screaming; it was chaos. God, He said He was listening. I don’t want it all to end! ‘I’m listening. I can make sure you survive, my friend. It doesn’t have to end here and now. But I have to tell you that there is a price for everything: your soul will be mine for eternity. Do we have a deal?’ 18
‘My soul, just my soul? Not bad; give my soul to God. I’d hoped to get to heaven one day anyway. Seems like a fair deal. I’ll take it. Just let me survive.’ ‘Very well then, we have a deal. You will survive, my friend.’ The plane hit the ground in a ball of flames. They were red hot and raged and raged. He seemed just to be standing within those flames and they just didn’t seem to go down as he walked through them, even though he could see fire crew and ambulances, emergency services streaming around trying to put out the blaze, dressed up in fully protective gear, trying to get through the acrid smoke that was billowing in the high winds. No, no possibility of survivors, nothing left of the plane, nothing can be done, must inform the families asap. News crews were now arriving to find out what had occurred and to report this freak accident, this terrible tragedy to the world. ‘But I’m here. Look, look at me, I’m here. I’m right here. Look, I’m waving my arms around. Why can’t you see me? Why can’t you fucking see me? I was sitting on the plane with God for fuck’s sake and he told me to my face I’d live. I’m still alive. Tell my mum, I’m here, tell her I’m alive...’ The Man said, ‘Assumption is not fact. Survival is not living. Your survival is guaranteed for eternity, but, to live on, to stay alive, well, as I recall, you didn’t actually ask for that and by the way... I never said I was God.’ The man was leaning against the burning fuselage, and, as he removed his sunglasses to reveal the beautiful piercing blue eyes, he winked and his happy lips smiled, ‘I have many names, my friend, but you, you can call me Old Nick, for short.’
The Dance Rushing through clouds of despair, the girl with the beautiful golden hair ran through the waist-high grass, grasses of green, buttercups of yellow, daisies of white, enriched in the cover of a sun-induced haze. She ran, ran away, tears streaming, tears blinding, no clear sight as she ran through fields of green, of yellow, of white and enriched in the cover of a sun-induced haze. Ran from the world she couldnâ€™t understand, ran from herself, ran to the end of her life, ran so fast to the end of the hollow state of mind she had never quite been able to leave behind. No-one to stop her, no-one to block her path to the brink, the brink down to the crashing waves, she ran, she ran as fast as she could, ran to run over the edge. But there he was, come to block her path, the boy from the surf, laughing, spinning and dancing up ahead, to block her escape from her life of never learning to smile. And he stopped her, stopped her in her tracks, the boy from the surf, laughing and dancing. â€˜Stay with me a while, play here with me a while, let me teach you
to smile, while we dance in this field of green, of yellow, of white and in the cover of a sun induced haze.â€™
Nothing could be done, as the dance had already begun, in the haze of the summer field of green, of yellow, of white, she finally learned to smile. And she laughed, instead of feeling fear, because there was now nothing to fear, no worries to tear away her soul, in the cover of a sun-induced haze. She danced as a child would, never having known pain, never having known trials, never knowing shame, never knowing guilt or 20
sorrow. She danced and danced and spun, again and again. They danced all day, they danced all night and, all through the following day, they danced so fast they almost took flight. And the girl with the beautiful golden hair was euphoric as she and the boy from the surf danced over the edge and crashed into the waves, dragging them under and sweeping them away. On summer evenings, enriched in the cover of a sun-induced haze, you can hear them laughing as they dance, dance and spin through the waves, the boy from the surf and the girl with the beautiful golden hair. The girl who learnt to smile at the very end of her days, in a field of green, of yellow, of white and in the cover of a sun-induced haze.
The Kingdom Of Heaven He was alone. He knocked. Nobody there, not one single soul to ask. St Peter, does he get time off? Does he need R&R? Does he ever need to take a leak? Does he ever leave a sign; ‘Gone to lunch, back in five minutes?’ He knocked again. Knocked in the otherwise silent environment. Knocked apologetically. Rapped impatiently. Why was no answer forthcoming? Why couldn’t he get in? This isn’t how it is supposed to be, is it? No, this isn’t right, not at all right. The gates creaked open. Creaked with age. Creaked with weight. Creaked like an old chain-smoking man’s cough. A wrinkled face peered out of the small opening in those ancient gates. Not St. Peter. A tiny old woman, with a steely gaze.
What is it my son? Entry, of course, what else?
Have you been a good man? Yes, of course. I am a priest. How could it not be so? That I was a good man in life.
How do you know you were a good priest? Did you minister to the people? Did you shelter the poor? Did you nurse the weak? Did you wash the filth and stench from beggars? Did you speak the truth? Did you always show humility? Did you always keep yourself from sin? Were you truly a good man?
Yes, I was a priest. I did the right thing. I lead those who needed to follow. I guided those who were lost.
And are you lost now, Priest? Lost without those earthly bounds? No, I’m not lost. I’m on the path to the Kingdom of Heaven. To serve God, in this life as I did in the last. Why do you stand in my way?
So, here too, in the Kingdom of Heaven, Will you minister to the people? Will you shelter the poor? Will you nurse the weak? Will you wash the filth and stench from beggars? Will you speak the truth? Will you always show humility? Will you always keep yourself from sin? Will you show yourself to be a truly good man, here, in the Kingdom of Heaven?
I don’t understand. Surely there can be no weak souls? No beggars; no stench, filth, sufferering. No requirement for such humility?
You chose the path to minister, a path so long that it can never end. It must never end. And no heaven shall be a haven until you see this truth. The truth of your place in the scheme of all things. You are welcome, yet need time to learn that it never ends. The congregation continues until the end of time. For here now is your enlightenment; that the tunnel is long and that the light is not at the end, but, that it was at the beginning... ...this day is your daily bread. This trespass of arrogance and ignorance is yours to repent. For ever and ever. I have been sent here to tell you, Priest... the gates were closed behind you when you left.
The Ache And The Black Dog The Ache was burning. Drastic measures were required. Burning too hot; that could not be allowed to go on. Not when he was this close. Not when his plan was finally being realised. The Ache was burning and there was no time for him to step back and reassess. The Ache was burning. That dreadful pit of spite, that true hell that he had found for himself. Or did it seek him out? How the Ache burned, and then the Black Dog would pounce. The Ache at first, when he was a child, took weeks to rise, sometimes months, but now, only days. All of his 47 years on this earth, blighted by the Ache and the Black Dog. When the Ache rose, he was hot, then cold, then shivering, curled up in a ball, circling back to hot, sobbing into his pillow. The Ache kept him in bed, he could not rise, could not function. The Ache burned him from within and it drove him mad. It coursed through his veins like a drug, a drug that changed him from the sweet boy he once had the promise to be into the wretched, perverse creature he had become. When the Black Dog followed, it began to howl. After the first days of the Ache, it forced him from his bed and onto the streets. Into the night-time world, like an afterlife held within a vacuum, trapping the air, making it stale, making it smell of the death he would cause, whilst he grappled with the Ache and the Black Dog. The Ache was the torturer and the Black Dog the commander, one or the other taking it in turns to pierce his humanity, his empathy, his morality, and they let the blackened slug of his soul out, to creep and crawl over the young men he encountered along the way. They were mere boys, suffocated in his varied effluence. They died crying for their mothers.
Whoever found the bodies never could rest easy afterwards, the stench of evil always overcame them, pulsed through their sleep, causing night terrors and cold sweats, screaming, waking the household, waking the whole street. So his plan was to end it all, put an end to the Ache and the Black Dog, put an end to it before the next bout, before the burning of the Ache began, cut off the way in for the Black Dog. The roof was high, high enough, and the concrete was hard, hard enough – crack the bones, crack the skull, crack open his body, this vessel, so that the Ache could no longer burn and the Black Dog could no longer howl. How then did he come not to be alone on this high, secluded roof top? The officer was there in his professional capacity, trying to talk him down, talk him away from the edge. ‘Fuck off!’ was the reply, indicating no words were required, no words were good enough, no words were strong enough; nothing to say to talk him down. The officer remained calm, his face unfathomable. The Ache started to burn, hot and bright, threatened by his plan, singeing the air around him, so hot surely even the Black Dog would burn, but then he felt the rush from the fall. The Ache stopped burning as he hit the ground, his insides splayed around him, blood oozing, his consciousness ebbing away, looking upwards to the sky in his final moments, realising why he had not been alone. The officer and his Ache still remained calm, his face still unfathomable, silent and motionless, then the burning stopped and the howling stopped, subsided for respite after the kill. Do you too feel the Ache? The Black Dog is coiled and ready within us all, just waiting to howl.
The Monster And The Girl Under the bed. She dare not look. Surely it would be there. Not sleeping but waiting, waiting and ready to grab her and drag her under the bed. Possibly drag her into another dimension. A dimension of horrors, scary monsters and demons, hoping to rip her into tiny little pieces and devour her. If she had not been in her twenties, this image may have been acceptable. She could tell people of her fears if she had still been only five or six, not twenty six. How ridiculous. She had seen that episode of Dr Who, with the clockwork man waiting for the girl to be ‘ready’, so someone, somewhere must at least think of these things. Not just her – surely? And yet there it was, the nagging doubt, the gnarling fear that the creature was still waiting for her. Her very own monster under the bed. She lived alone, not through choice. She hated being alone, but because her boyfriend, the boyfriend she had dreamed she would spend all her life with, had left her. Left her for another woman, who could match his requirements better: a pretty, delicate woman with perfect hair, perfect nails and perfect make-up. Oh yes, and the money, pots of the stuff. He’d tired of their mundane life together, their one-bedroomed flat with barely headroom because of the eaves, with the bathroom you could only just swing a cat in, a living space you couldn’t entertain the boss in. Couldn’t afford anything bigger; it was holding him back, she was holding him back. The new one, his fiancée, was pretty and rich and connected. She just couldn’t compete. As a child, her older sister was the one who got all the love from their parents. The one daddy called ‘His Little Princess’, the one mummy called ‘Darling Dear’. She tended to just get a sneer and a reluctant nod. She had been an accident, an unwelcome addition to what should have been the perfect family of three. 26
Her sister was tall, slim, pretty and bright, did well at school, was in the sports team, could sing and dance, was in all the school plays. She was loved. Not like her, the chubby, mousy girl, too embarrassed to speak because of a stutter, nervous and clumsy. Teased and rebuked in equal measure. Even the only two friends she ever made were much smarter and better looking than her, got boyfriends on a regular basis, sometimes more than one at once. She had only had the one boyfriend ever and now even he was gone. Left the mousy girl with the irrational fear of the monster under the bed, the monster that didnâ€™t exist, silly, so he told her. So the girl with the irrational fear decided maybe it was time not to be irrational about it anymore, but to accept the monster, for the child within her that it was, what it represented to her. As she remembered all the times she had let herself go before, let the monster under the bed out, let the monster inhabit her and do all the things she could not do without his influence, all the things she dreamt of doing, she smiled; such satisfying memories. Her mother, her father, her sister, her friends, her boyfriend with his floosie girlfriend with the huge bank balance, they all found the monster under the bed, unaware of the danger they had been in all along. She smiled a little more, for here in the institution, strapped up and sedated, she imagined the inmates more pretty and popular than her were just queuing up to meet the monster under the bed, to find her secret. The secret that the green-eyed monster keeps, so...
She let the green-eyed monster in. She let the green-eyed monster out She let the green-eyed monster win.
And The Words Are Smooth And the words are smooth, riddled with emotion, the kind of pain only the broken can feel. It rips at the soul and wrenches the child within each of us out into the open, falling down on summer grasses, splayed, helpless, with misplaced fear and loathing of our changing bodies, setting those words into our still developing minds, delivering unmarked crossroads at the newly forming pathways, turning us into the adults we will surely become. The lovers, the winners, the losers, the pious, the sinners, the devious, the poor souls who commit crimes of passion and the cruel calculating serial killers. And the words are smooth, driven by passion. They are whispered like propaganda, building and compounding, manipulating, forcing goodness, warmth, love, wonder from within us into the oncoming stream of darkness. And the words are smooth, encased in velvet tones, leading to the addictions of all our tomorrows, all our destinies, all our hopes and our fears. The words descend from a great height that is a fatal precipice, a fall from grace, just a single step away from the end, just a notion of eternity and the right of passage into the kingdom of heaven. And the words are smooth and he speaks them with clarity, with a tempered rapture that can only be called from the depths of the sorrow he holds in his heart, and only he can emote, he can cry for the fallen, the still falling and those who are about to blindly step over the edge. And the words are smooth, crystal clear, daunting, wrecking any hope of salvation. He compels us to hear him and he takes us by the hand, with our permission, yet without ever a need for any physical contact. And the words are smooth. He leads us and we must follow, and all things with him shall be with us, and we shall fall into him as he envelopes us with his very being. 28
And the words are now smoother, lower, as he comes to the end and we wait, stunned and heartbroken at this ending, bereft at his leaving, speechless after his words. And then he and the smooth words are finally ended. The curtain falls. He exits... stage left.
The Songbird The Songbird, she sang, she sang each and every day, she sang all day and even in some of the places she wasnâ€™t supposed to sing, she sang out loud and in her head, tunes of her life, tunes that were memories, tunes that she felt were meaningful, and some songs that bore no consequence at all. She sang loudly in the services and so Sundays were a dream; happy just to be singing, just to be with others so it would seem, in this little church where she had found the way. The Songbird she sat by the old ladies, dressed even when it was mild and warm in their woolly hats and scarves, in darned stockings and comfy shoes, their brooches, hat pins and their twinkling antique charms, in this little church where they had found their way. The Songbird she sang as loudly as she could for the joys of life and of living, and she made up for all the congregation who were perhaps less than capable of such vocal giving. The Songbird had always found her joy in song and the company of others and had found within this little parish a substitute for the distance of a long-absent mother. When she had lost her one true love in some misguided conflict, 29
she had busied herself in the institution of the church, the cake baking, the biscuits and the teas, the tombolas, the jumble sales and jamborees, and she had found her calling, and she had turned a corner, and she could now help others, showing them the way. So the Songbird, she sings all the hymns with grace, in full voice, still in the embrace of the church; she sings for all the flock, she sings for all the people, even those who do not believe and so deride and mock. And the Songbird she sings on loudly, even when the parishioners have all gone home to their daily lives, to their families. And then she finds she has a pew all of her own in this little church where she had found the way, to sit and continue to sing and shine. So the Songbird, the ghost of this fine parish sings tunes of happy memories and of moments of tremendous joy, of the nearest, of the dearest, the lost ones and those of the grand old days gone by, in this little church where she had found the way.
A Job For Life The thing is, I didn’t apply for the job. I didn’t really want it. But there you have it. The family business, but, without the family, and without the handing the job down through the generations part. I just got it. It was mine from the word go. Thankless task really. No-one appreciates just what you have to go through to get the job done. And I’m all by myself, all the details to check. Not just that, but let’s face it, it is all the bloody running around. I’m not getting any younger either. It’s all a bit tiring if I’m honest. Some of my clients can be a bit evasive too. They don’t want to do the business, but the job has got to be done. I take great pride in my work. It isn’t my doing that they become my clients, it’s not like it’s a personal vendetta or anything. Just the nature of the work. Do you know that there is a lot of planning to do, lots of geography involved. Statistics like you wouldn’t believe. I can barely keep up with it all. My boss is really quite understanding to a point, very patient. But the job has still got to be done. Sometimes, it is easier than others, there’s quite a high level of satisfaction. But sometimes in my one-to-one with my boss, well I have to tell him, I don’t always agree with his schedule. Yeah, yeah cos like, those are the times when I’d like to give it up and just, well, let it all slide. Book a couple of weeks in Albufeira. You know, catch a few rays, have a couple of cocktails, chat up some girls. But, no, I have to get the job done. Keep things moving along, otherwise, well, I can’t even imagine what would happen. I don’t get much sleep either. Well, none actually. I’m here, always ready, poised, checking the list. Whether I like it or not. And, let me tell you, there aren’t many perks to this job either... oh, well, except for the free scythe. 31
A slight twist in the tal
ÂŠ Alison T. Bond 2013 email: firstname.lastname@example.org twitter: @AlisonTBond
Several short stories