“Eh, move your fat fucking arse mate!” yelled Ray at the prostrate form in front of us. I sighed and began pacing up and down the court, bouncing the shuttle cock against my racket. My paws clenched tightly around the pine as my tongue ran across my jowly lips. I regained composure and glanced back at Ray, who was still raging, still screaming in his strong northern accent at the mass of brownie-grey fat that was sprawled across the centre court. The empty bottle by its trunk betrayed the beast’s condition. I was about ready to give up and go home, “Leave it Ray” I bellowed at the distant, blurry form of my companion, now lost in the great canvass of leathery flesh, thudding his small paws against the great hide. The elephant was not awakened, rudely or otherwise, by Ray’s fit of rage and so was evidently quite sedated. One wondered quite how the intoxicated creature had found its way through the considerably smaller doors that led to the indoor courts. It didn’t do to dwell on the logic, it made my brain hurt. I marched over to Ray, who was now pounding so vigorously at the elephant that sweat soaked his fur and ran down his back, leaving a large bedraggled patch just above his arse. “He’s being a reet bastard, loike” he exclaimed through wheezing breaths. I convinced him to yield, forced him to stop, despite many protestations. The question of how to spend the rest of the day now reared into contention. As we sat in the changing rooms, removing our head and wrist sweat bands, Ray was clearly dejected and frustrated “I was reet oop fer that game, Terry lad, naw what the fuck we gonna do?” I heard the low murmur of misery in his voice and noted the glassy appearance of his round, black eyes. I sat in a slump down beside him on the bench. I put a comforting paw on his shoulder, then slowly withdrew it as i recalled his overriding irrational homophobia. I sat there in silence, struggling to think of an activity, something to do on a rainy Tuesday afternoon. “Ive got it!” I exclaimed with glee, “lets go to the Sealife centre!” Ray met this with a sigh “I fucking hate living in Scarborough”.
Tag: short story
I left the cafe, lightly buzzing from the extraneous coffee, and began to wander down the highstreet. It was a wednesday afternoon and the cobbles were hot with the footsteps of hundreds of shoppers, browsers, window shoppers, malingering youths and pensioners. The pensioners weren’t contributing to the “hot footsteps”, they bleated and mumbled, wandering and meandering in front of all others, seemingly intent on impressing onto the youngsters just how meaningless and aimless their trip to the shops was. They were counting down the days til death and were at pains to demonstrate the paucity of their existence. I pushed roughly past one such pensioner, a woman whose cracked and withered body seemed to imply that she was devolving into some variety of goblin-like creature and that the transformation was near to complete. After passing the butchers it occurred to me that I was not in a rush to be anywhere, and had in fact nowhere to go. It was only then that I realised that the flat I shared with Jade up until about twenty minutes earlier was no longer my home and that I had only to return there to collect the cliched black bin bags of clothing that were sure to litter the front lawn. Having very few clothing items of value and even fewer reasons to see Jade again that day I decided that my first port of call was to be Jeff’s house. I turned left by the newsagents and down the narrow passage, past a group of chavs who attempted to intimidate me by pulling their t-shirts up over their faces and shouting racial slurs which were more bafflingly inaccurate than offensive.
Five uneventful minutes later I arrived at Jeff’s abode, rang the faux Victorian bell and waited on the step, taking in the rich oaky scent of the door and admiring the small cabbage patch covering the garden in lieu of a flower bed. After an appropriate amount of time the door swung open and the haggard shell of Jeff stood before me. He’d put on weight, not dangerously, but enough to notice, a bit around the chin, a ripple on his belly, visible under the pastel blue shirt and inoffensive brown jacket. His hair line had moved back, again, not significantly, but enough that I noticed. He seemed to be looking to compensate for this through his lush spouting of facial hair, thick and soft, a “real” beard as Jade’s mother would no doubt have said. One not normally worn by a man of 30 years, not a fashion statement but not a mess, it framed his face and covered his acne marks and the scar he’d taken from the glass fight in his student days. He look tired. He didn’t disguise his surprise at seeing me.
“Peter, what the fuck, Peter?”
His eyes narrowed and he laughed loudly before grabbing me by the shoulder and effectively dragging me inside. I followed the brutish scholar into his study (first door on the right, cabbage patch view), it was simple and utilitarian in design, it felt cold and clinical, much like a therapist’s office. A desk sat in the far right corner, piled high with books yet none were open and the stack was precise and clean. The whole of one wall was a built in bookcase with all manner of dusty, leather bound, frayed tomes of varying importance, reputation and obscurity. The only other item in the room was a mahogany and leather sofa, on which we both sat. He turned in to face me and began as though he were continuing a recent conversation.
“Well, where the fuck was my invite then?”
“To what?” I replied. There were many events over the past two years (had it been that long?) that i’d neglected to invite Jeff to, more out of apathy than vindiction.
“To what? To what? The launch, the bloody book launch! The biggest occasion of your life, the biggest party of my life, and you didn’t invite me? I mean, sod the book, Sir David Frost was there, wasn’t he?”
“And Robert Winstone” I muttered, though perhaps not wisely.
“You prick, I bet you had hundreds of tickets, and I know you, I bet it was just you and Jade, and she only went because she opened the envelope and you only went because she made you!”
“Damn the book Jeff, the book was a bomb. They tore it to shreds, it was that bloody Newsnight Review, once any one of those urbanite, wealthy, pretentious arses watched it being bled on tv they wouldn’t touch it. That Craig Thomas in The Guardian sai…
I was cut off.
“…that ‘for a work so steeped in it’s apparent convictions, Seraca not only lacks any real substance but also patronises and condescends it’s readership. It preaches to a choir, one which is thankfully choking and dying in the pews’. He splashed four stars on the Twilight book yes, but he’s also a bloody good historical scholar. His paper on The Winter’s Tale lit up a whole new discussion on Shakespeare’s body of work. He’s bloody good Peter, maybe he got it right about Seraca, maybe he didn’t, but he definitely read the bloody thing and that’s to be applauded. 982 pages man!..
“986, without foreword”
A Bloodmoon’s Zenith
‘Lieutenant, we must discuss Hanan’, there was a tremor in the king’s voice.
Fergus knew that this wasn’t going to be a casual conversation. No talk of Hanan was ever casual, an island of such infamy that many folk dared not mention it, unless absolutely necessary. Evidently the king had found it necessary to call one of his commander’s to his personal chambers and to disturb an otherwise enchanted evening. Hanan, the volcanic island, was a haven for pirates and criminals, where decadence and corruption reigned. Fergus had heard it said that in the slums of Koros, capital of Hanan and seat of the Triumvirate, one could acquire any item, whether through purchase or pilfering. Koros was the final destination for many of the world’s greatest treasures, cities had been sacked, societies wiped out for their wonders. The Gold Tree of the Phlanos Empire had been transplanted to the palace grounds of Koros, a grim ghost of itself. The once iridescent foliage rotten and withered, a decaying monument to a grim conquest and an elegy to one of the first empires.
To rule over a land of such depravity and hedonism necessitated a strong standing army, martial law and a severe judicial system kept the population just within the check of agreed Hananian norms. However, many a murder would occur without so much of a batting of a legionnaires eyelid and pub closing time would often see the streets of Kauston painted thick with claret. Fergus had heard that the mantra of the legion was “no riots, no resistance”, they tended not to concern themselves with policing such trivial disputes as murders and gang skirmishes. The island had been ruled by pirate captains, self styled mayors, gang bosses and guilds for centuries until the three minks took control of the city. In the course of a day and a night every captain, kingpin, mayor or objector was slain by the guild of the Four Shadows. The event was known as the Reckoning and it’s anniversary is celebrated raucously in Koros, from fear and respect.
Three young mink emerged from the Reckoning, noteworthy for the parts that they played. Wernin, who had been merely an initiate in the guild, was solely credited with slaying Hajal-Keld of the Green Tongues and his honour guard, thus securing the coal quarter of Koros.
Kjarno Riktooth, who had been unknown prior to the Reckoning made his name at the battle for Kauston barracks. The barracks had historically been held by the Southern Military junta, a kind of unofficial army who controlled and manipulated all trade in the south of Hanan. Kjarno, a guildbrother of no fixed distinction, defied his chapter master’s planned subterfuge. The young mink slit his master’s throat in the night and urged his guild into a direct assault on the garrison. Wave after wave of brothers died against the gates and high walls, yet Kjarno led every assault, urging his comrades on, crossbow bolts thudding deep into his broad shoulders as he roared. Eventually the walls fell, Kjarno had sacrificed hundreds of his brothers in open assault, yet this was not how his part was remembered. His brothers were victorious, the militia were killed or inducted and all who survived the day would tell of a powerful mink with a huge battleaxe standing knee deep in blood and roaring for the cause as he suffered wound after wound and the dead piled up at his feet. A movement needs a banner and he became it.
Granos, for his part, was no berserker, no slaughterer. He was a diplomat and a shrewd politician. He consulted with the self elected governors and mayors of Koros, Kauston and Naur Province. Some were happy to pledge their support to the Four Shadows, once they learnt of the guild’s growing power, others took more persuading. Granos learnt that everybody has a price, whether that price is five hundred coins or their infant child’s life. He became known as Granos The Treacherous and then, several abductions and assassinations later, as Granos The Valiant.
The Slaughterer, The Berserker and The Valiant. Fergus shuddered at the thought of them. Yet here he was, with his king. Lennox played with the hem of his tunic idly, it had been some time since King Braus had spoken and his commanding officer had been standing silently, staring into middle distance. This was a surprisingly frequent occurrence so Lennox didn’t mind.
“Peace time is, as always, desperately short and psychologically demanding. It is now two years since the battle of Black Creek”
Fergus needn’t be reminded of the battle of Black Creek, no creature on Brausinia did. The last attack on Brausinia, two years ago, had been driven back at a bitter cost. The Hananian minks had sent waves upon waves of marten warriors, almost three thousand of them. Fergus had lost a brother at Black Creek, Lennox had lost an eye. Such ferocious and regular assaults were common practice for the armies of Hanan so it made little sense that there had been no news of marten troops for two years. Such bitter peace was both welcome and unnerving for Braus. His fur was showing unseasonal signs of whiting, his teeth seemed to be yellower and more prominent by the week; the king was tiring.
Fur and Thunder I
The beginning to a novel I began writing at age 12 and revised at age 15. Untouched and unedited since then, I just thought it would be an interesting post. I imagine that there are quite a few typos and cliches but it is ten years old…
Ferguson Falkirk stared out of the window in his room in the north tower of castle Loyan. A soft, cooling, dusk breeze teased his clothing, causing his brown dungarees to flap lightly against his slight, muscular frame and stir his gold hoop earring. He took in the glorious summer scene below him, young hares somersaulting in the rich green grass and the last rays of sunlight flooding in through the window casting a distorted shadow on the stone floor behind him. Suddenly this vision of tranquillity was shattered as the ferret’s weasel sergeant rushed in, tripped over the lion-skin rug and would have rolled out of the window had Ferguson (or Fergus as he sometimes was known) not have caught him in time.
‘Yes Lennox?’ enquired the albino ferret, casually as if it was normal for a weasel to attempt to fly out of a window.
‘Sir, his majesty wants ter see yer’ replied the weasel in his gruff northern voice.
Fergus followed his sergeant down the long winding staircases leading down to the battlements. Upon reaching the battlements Fergus sat and admired the rare beauty of the sunset, two doves could be seen courting, dancing in the crimson sky. The weasel sergeant was becoming impatient, the king wanted to see the lieutenant urgently and the throne room was directly below them. To get there it was a good five-minute walk around south tower and down a long corridor. Suddenly the lithe ferret stiffened up and leapt over the battlements, did a smart somersault, grabbed on to the wall and slid through the window into the throne room. Lennox Xanicus (for that was the sergeant’s name) shook his head in disbelief and followed his example.
His Royal Highness, king Braus was pacing the throne room. He was a most majestic and elegant sight, wrapped around his lithe, sinewy frame was a beautiful cape of deepest aqua blue, over his torso he wore a plate of gold armour and a gold helmet with a dove feather plume was covering his regal head. As the ferret and the weasel rolled in through the circular window he looked up, not in the least bit taken back by the fact that Fergus had smashed the stained glass pane upon entering and that Lennox had further more spread the priceless glass when he shook himself.
‘Lieutenant, do you know of Hanan?’ Enquired the king in a casual manner
Fergus like every fighting mammal knew of Hanan, the volcanic island ruled over by the mink triumvirate Wernin the slaughterer, Kjarno Riktooth the berserk psycho and Granos the valiant. Braus and the rulers of Hanan were in constant conflict. The minks were persistently sending their captains over to Brausinia (the small island where Fergus lived) to overthrow Braus and make Brausinia part of their growing empire. The last attack on Brausinia, two years ago had been driven back at a bitter cost, the minks had sent waves upon waves of marten warriors, almost three thousand of them. Such ferocious and regular assaults were common practice for the armies of Hanan so it made little sense that there had been no news of marten troops for two years. Such bitter peace was both welcome and unnerving for Braus. Unfortunately, peace time was, as always, desperately short and psychologically consuming.
‘Yes sir’ Replied Ferguson after a short delay.
‘You also know that, James Saint-Verlese, the heir to the throne of Brausinia is in a high security prison falsely charged of high treason?’
‘Yes sir’ Ferguson, like most well informed members of Brausinia society knew of Saint-Verlese’s recent diplomatic summit with the triumvirate, a summit which was of course an elaborate trick, resulting in the capture of the young prince. Ferguson often wondered why on earth he had been the only creature with the foresight to warn Braus and Saint-Verlese against this venture.
‘I fear that the current state of peace may be more to do with the Hananian’s plans for Saint-Verlese and less to do with any mercy they may feel towards our ailing nation. Thus Ferguson, in the interests of retaining our nation’s pride, I charge you with a rescue mission. I have had the cooks prepare your supplies; you will march south and gather troops to sail to Hanan. You will report back here with the force and I will prepare a galleon for you. You will rescue Saint-Verlese and bring him back to the castle. Now go and tell ‘The Empires Vagabonds’, you will march at dawn’
Fergus bowed quickly and scurried out of the open oaken door followed by Lennox. Ferguson was deep in thought; such an order was drastic and shockingly sudden. How long had Braus been planning such an excursion, and why send the Vagabond’s? Fergus’ platoon wasn’t often entrusted with rescue missions due to their erratic nature and wild spirit.
Lennox was thinking too, though his mind was only concerned with finding a solution to the age old problem of fur dye. He preferred his winter white fur but was frustrated by the fact that as soon as it had appeared it was a matter of weeks before the dull brown of summer returned; if only he could find a way to make white fur last longer, or, better still, make it permanent. Lennox often dwelled upon such trivial matters and was viewed, mistakenly by some, who when conversing with him had often found him to be preoccupied and muttering about fur, to be absent minded.
As the pair crossed the vast banquet hall a pretty female stoat, a friend of Lennox’s, stopped them.
‘Fergus I heard you’re sailing to the volcanic island’ she said quietly in the controlled, soothing voice endowed to those rare figures that embody serenity.
Lennox replied for Fergus ‘Yep that’s right Relmin’.
‘I assume then you’ll need as many warriors as you can recruit? My brother’s warrior tribe, the Wichinars will help you; they live in the Goldiern Parida’.
And with that she left heading down a staircase towards the gymnasium.
Fergus and Lennox made their way across the hall and across the grounds to the barracks where Fergus’ regiment ‘The Empires Vagabonds’ were lounging around, playing cards, sleeping, sharpening blades and generally being idle. Naturally, all forty weasels leapt to attention as their lieutenant entered.
‘Weasel’s, we must prepare to march at dawn, we’re going recruiting!’ commanded Fergus in his rich, baritone voice. As soon as the command had left his mouth the troops ran over to their bunks, strapped on their steel breastplates, pulled on their gum boots and started polishing their shields. Satisfied, and shocked by this obedience Fergus left Lennox to inform the Vagabonds of the mission’s details and left for his quarters, in the north tower.
As he strolled along the dark, quiet corridors, contemplating the events of the day Fergus decided to stop and lean heavily on the stone wall. He often paused to digest some of the more pressing issues of the day. As is usual in such a situation, the ferret’s eyes roved around his immediate surroundings until they fixed on a large hole, just above his head height on the opposite, external wall. The curious ferret decided to investigate. The gap was about a foot across and a foot high, enough for a creature to enter. He gazed into the hole and noticed it soon became a tunnel and, by the darkness emitting from said tunnel, it seemed to go on for some way. Fergus wondered how long there had been a hole in this wall. This ground floor corridor led up to the main hall and he’d walked down here many times earlier in the day without noticing such an obvious opening. Curiosity overcame him and he was just climbing up to the opening when he heard a call.
‘Sir, what are you doing?’
Ferguson Falkirk turned to see three of his Vagabonds. Likya, a young, kind, and cheerful female healer weasel, Marvin Quickpaw, an agile and muscular weasel who was renowned for his skill and accuracy at throwing blades and Yangfur, the wrestling weasel who bore as many scars and wounds as Lennox.
Ferguson explained to the youngsters and motioned for them to follow him. Fergus was the first to clamber in; the air was cold and still as though it had been frozen in time. Fergus waited for the others to join him and then led the group down the dark tunnel. After roughly thirty yards, Fergus reasoned that they must be underground now, though whether they were under the foundations of Loyan he did not know, the tunnel got higher and broader to the extent that all four creatures straightened up and stalked along on their rear paws. Ferguson drew a short dagger that he kept in his boot. It was basic instinct and he was glad of it when the procession turned a sharp corner.
Ferguson didn’t see the beast until it was upon him, snarling, suffocating him. Yangfur leapt at the attacker and pounded away with his powerful fists. In the pitch darkness confusion ensued and the wrestling weasel landed as many blows on Fergus as on the attacker. The creature was at least twice Fergus’ weight and had a strong grip on the ferret’s neck. Fergus was thrashing wildly at his assailant and with Yangfur’s help he wriggled from the creature’s grasp. Yangfur was having problems, he felt as though he was hitting bone, his knuckles were raw and he was getting tired. With Fergus loose the creature turned its attention to the small weasel, Yangfur. Meanwhile Marvin, who had been searching for a blade in the darkness, drew a long dagger and thrust it at the hulking monster; he felt the weapon drive through soft flesh, warm blood ran onto his paws and he heard the piercing shriek of the animal as it collapsed. All this time Likya had been trying to strike a light, she finally succeeded and the glow was quite sufficient. Likya lifted the blazing torch and took in the scene around her. The tunnel ended abruptly a few feet ahead of her and outside on the grass laid a large creature and her three companions. Fergus, who had been soothing the sharp cuts in his neck where the beast’s claws had pierced, went over to the large form. He inspected the creature.
‘It appears to be an armadillo’ he announced. Likya scurried out from the tunnel to join the others, they were now outside of the castle grounds, by the northern wall. The armadillo was still breathing and Fergus, mercifully, asked Likya to treat its wounds. Fergus thanked the weasels and then helped them bind the Armadillo. Fergus prided himself on the fact that he did all the work that his soldiers did, which was why he would not accept the rank of general as the other commanders had done. He felt that the other commanders, Mawr of the Starlights, Rener of the Purple Dawn, Leinad of the Riladers and Kluron of the Legin Valiats, had become distanced from their platoons and viewed them as plebians. Fergus understood the value of his troops being able to identify with him. That wasn’t to say Ferguson disliked any of the commanders, with the exception of Kluron who was always getting his arrogant troopers to mock and jeer the Empires Vagabonds, he actually found Mawr in particular to be quite enthralling company. As for the Legin Valiats, Ferguson was comfortable in the knowledge that these nobles and princes were poor soldiers and preferred to lead an infantry division that he had assembled on merit rather than social standing.
She was making a right hash of it, the milk wasn’t frothy, the coffee had ran down the side of the mug. The boss was leaning on the counter, his chin wagging rhythmically, keeping time with the low drone of his voice while the frankly plain object of his affections giggled sycophantically. And still the girl persevered with the milk, each…
“…and you’re not even fucking listening again! This is exactly what I was talking about, you just aren’t ‘here’, you’re never even present anymore. I mean, that’s the least I could ask for and you can’t even do that, you can’t even be here.”
My thoughts had been interrupted, again. I glanced back to the defiant face in front of me, rounder than it had been three years ago (when had that started happening? It must have been pretty gradual, a gradual transformation from a waif to a walrus. ‘Curvy’ they called it in her magazines), her eyes were narrowed and her brow furrowed in a way which she must have imagined to be appropriate for conveying her disaffection but struck me as merely comical. I suppressed a smile. Poorly.
“What are you fucking laughing about? I’ve had it with you. I don’t want this, you hardly say a word and when you do it’s something sarky.”
“I choose my words carefully to suit the moment.”
Breaking my silence seemed to infuriate her further.
“You always have to be so contrary, is it hard being you? Is it hard? You were born with this great gift, this supposedly great mind and what do you do with it? You sit around idly and make others feel small when you’ve accomplished so little with your life. I used to like that about you, no, I used to tolerate that. I used to tell Sarah and mum, when they said things, that you were a genius and one day you’d do something great and then they would see what I saw in you. But now I think they’re right, you are a loser. If anything you’re worse than a loser, you’re worse than those Jeremy Kyle scum because you have the ability and potential to be so much more, you see that don’t you? Of course you see that, that’s the main problem, how fucking aware you are of your superiority, how you sit in quiet judgment, looking down imperiously at everyone else yet you’ve done nothing with your life. You have this gift and you piss on it and piss on all of us ‘normal’ people who would do anything to have your mind, you could study anywhere, teach anywhere, work anywhere and i’m sick of all your bullshit excuses. You’re a boy, you’re an idiotic boy and after all these years I thought you would’ve become a man, I’ve changed and maybe th…”
My concentration wavered, she had repeated herself several times now and I knew where the rant was going, some kind of ‘shape up or ship out’ nonsense. I wondered where that expression came from, a maritime phrase I imagined, one possibly born out of the days of empire, when we ruled the waves, or maybe it was another of those misleading sayings. Like the one about hell having no fury like a woman scorned, that was never in the bible, maybe shaping up and shipping out had nothing to do with naval maintenance.
The girl had finished ruining a cappuccino and was now idly wiping the table nearest to us. Her short brown hair and slightly-too-short-for-work skirt reminded me a little of Jade when I had first met her, that seemed more of an age ago than a period measurable in years. Her clothing was somewhere between playfully suggestive and awkwardly outgrown, which matched her lanky, slender frame. She continued cleaning, looking a cross between a newborn deer and a harlot.
“…as though you understood everything about me and that the rose symbolised that, was I wrong? I look back at things now and I realise that everything I had thought was symbolic was just something you chucked together, I applied meaning to them afterwards. I was in love with the You that I created in my mind, never really you. Do you agree?”
I was suddenly on the spot. I didn’t care. Sometimes people say that they don’t care in order to seem relaxed or somehow, by exhibiting apathy, a better person. I genuinely did not care, I had begun to view Jade as a minor irritant whose presence served no practical purpose, much like a laconic fly which lands on your cheek just as you are drifting off to sleep then buzzes away, inconsequentially, to a corner of the room only to flyby your ear the next time sleep approaches. I shrugged at Jade. She stood up quietly, adjusted the neck of her top, looked at me with something between pity and hatred, then walked past and out of the cafe door. My eyes followed her slightly larger frame out of the door before returning to the table. The specials menu, a small blackboard hung on a piece of stringy rope above the counter, featured “scons and butter”. I took each and every spelling mistake as a mild personal insult. The girl had finished her time wasting cleaning display and approached my table, grabbing at both my empty mug and Jade’s abandoned tea cup. Her green eyes radiated from her pretty, sharp face, flooding colour over her porcelain skin as her thin lips idly offered “another drink?” in a thick Norse accent. I held her gaze and smiled, she blushed a little.
“A cappuccino, sweetie”
I chase the chicken across the still, dank moor. I grip the spear tightly with my right, my left clenches my Nokia. I’m waiting, I’m always waiting to hear your voice, but the fowl, the poultry is fleeing. She waits for no one, no calls. I chase the chicken.
She said five words, she spoke clearly yet I refused to listen. I refused to do anything but stare. I stared across the bay, looking over the top of huts, sodden and rotted but with a hint, with a trace, of some former glory. They stood garish and with age decayed. Beyond this and beyond them my eyes met the skyline, the horizon. Bring me a boat, a raft, a galley, a pedalo, bring me anything, I thought, but get me out of here, away from her and her endless complaints.
Just one large chicken and a belly to fill. I’m Ray Mears-ing it tonight, building a grill fit for a bear, dressing it bare and placing chicken down for a light sear. The phone rings, my hand shakes, the other stiffens, I throw the spear.
I sought the beach, the sand; I wished to bury myself in that sodden, damp ground. I yearned to dig a hole as I had done as a boy, beneath a burning sun. The sun was not there; we sat under darkened skies and tasted the misery of rain.
The chicken’s dead, I wipe the blood from its breast then wash it and cover it with bread crumbs. Off the feathers come. Your voice on the phone ‘are you eating well?’. No, I’m eating Will, the chicken you bought me, I slaughtered and sautéed her.
I long to hold a spade again, to retreat in to the earth, and not hear those words, that question, ‘do you still love me?’.
I glanced at her with cynical eyes. Here she was, another fucking shrink, sat there with crossed legs and a clipboard, dressed in a pinstriped jacket and an appropriately long skirt. Everything about her screamed establishment, everything from her subtle features to her sombre glasses. The look of consternation she had evidently practiced in the bathroom mirror of her studio flat made me cringe. I looked away, at the wall. I admired the smooth wall with its faint shade of cream emulsion. Plain and smooth, it didn’t judge me. It didn’t question me or consider me a danger.
‘I want to addr-’ she began, in her clipped, neutral accent.
‘Fuck off’ I interjected
She took this calmly. They always did, they had trained for years to be calm, so fucking calm in the face of everything. They didn’t feel. The numb people, the ones who show no emotion, they think I have problems.
‘I appreciate you expressing yourself.’
She was so polite. The falseness sickened me.
‘I understand you’ve been having visions again?’
She didn’t ‘understand’, she’d been told by the police, by the doctor, by whichever bureaucratic wanker they’d put in charge of monitoring my every incident. I kept staring at the wall. There is something quite timeless, something beautiful, about cream emulsion.
‘I would like to remind you that this session is voluntary, you can leave whenever you like.’
That was a lie. Sure, the door was unlocked. I could just walk out, walk down the hallway with its sterile smell and pastel shades. I could walk out of the oaken door, down the stone steps and out onto the street. I could walk around the chewing gum and the dog shit, I could cut through into Hyde Park. I could leave the path, take off my shoes and walk through the grass barefoot. I could lie down in the dew. I could sleep a while under pale blue skies. But when I wake up I’ll still be me. I’ll be the same wretched man. I’ll still have the seizures, the visions. I’ll see things no man has ever seen or should see. My eyes will greet the trembling darkness, the fear, the awe. I’ll feel the terror, the true terror of not knowing whether you’ll regain consciousness. She doesn’t know how it feels to fall to your knees, collapsing in public and screaming.
It was the screaming that got me here. They recommended I come here. To this shitty little calming room with this twenty-something Imperial graduate trying to probe my childhood for a clue to my problems. Frau Freud could try all she liked. She couldn’t talk a seizure out of me. Only the drugs did that. But drugs don’t sit well with judges and doctors. No, he must attend therapy, they say. Limit the drugs, try something less dangerous. I still have the seizures. It’s still dangerous. I was shopping on Bond Street last time. My head hit the pavement. I have twelve stitches now.
She’d been talking. I hadn’t heard a word of it. Experience told me I would not have missed much. She was making notes. She was scrawling something down in shorthand, looking straight at me as she did so. Perhaps it was another prescription. I doubted that. Probably a note stating that I was being difficult and resisting therapy. She didn’t know what I knew. She’d never seen the things I’d seen. I saw beyond all of life. I’ve seen it; how my life ends. I’ve seen how all life ends. I’ve seen all of time and space, stretched out before me in a perfect continuum. It’ll be one hell of a party, though I won’t be around to see it. Tonight I drown myself.
‘So then, is this it?’ He asked and took me by surprise. I had been quite far away in my thoughts and as my mind raced back into the room he’d already began walking away.
‘Wait’ I called and he turned slowly with a look of sheer contempt etched over his lips.
‘For what, for hell to freeze over and you to make your mind up?’
‘Oh, drop the clichés Ryan. ‘I retorted.
He was pretty upset so maybe being a pedant wasn’t the best approach but I couldn’t let it drop. Ryan has this way of using the sort of language my grandparents would use as they joked between themselves in the kitchen on those placid Sunday afternoons when I was a child. I believe my granddad was the first person I heard to use that particular chestnut, concerning the slim chances of a fairytale dimension being extinguished under frost. He had a habit of using it in relation to public figures, ‘I’ll vote for Major when hell freezes over’ being a particularly overused one. The significance of the statement never really struck me. It wasn’t that I couldn’t envisage eternal flames being snuffed out by a torrent of ice, it was because hell was so fantastical in the first place that it’s distinctly improbable existence mattered more to me than its capacity to freeze. Grandma was religious herself and it was sitting in the kitchen, feeling the warmth of the oven and taking in the glorious stench of gravy that she would attempt to instil in me the disciplines that the vicar had stumbled and bumbled through in the earlier sermon. Anyway, back to the conversation. I really pissed him off by criticising his overly familiar phrasing and he just launched into a rant. When his speech had slowed enough to be distinct and his skin had flushed red he reiterated his earlier point.
‘Where do you get off? This is so hard for me and you’re just criticising my phrasing, what the hell is it with you?’
‘Ryan, look, I’m sorry. You know me. That’s how I am. I can’t talk seriously’ I admitted.
‘I do know you, you’re right. I know you better than you think. I know that you don’t mean this’ His voice was cracking and I could see his hazel eyes glint as half a tear glazed his iris.
I had been pacing a little bit and found myself at the window. The single glazing showed the signs of damp and rot, despite Greg’s best efforts to paint over it. It looked shit. White emulsion stained the edges of the pane. I mean, who has single glazing these days? The draft was refreshing at least. On the lawn I could see Kim playing with a football. Greg wasn’t around to discourage it, wasn’t around to force a Barbie into her hands and mutter something about gender roles. I kind of envied her, it would be a good few years yet before she had to break some wet guy’s heart. I was brought back into the room by that plaintive, wretched tremor of his voice.
‘You say that this isn’t working, well tell me how to make it work. I can’t change this if you won’t let me know how to.’
But, how do you tell someone that they can’t change how you feel, how do you tell them that the root of it all is that you don’t feel a thing for them anymore?
Grey Stars Over The Potomac
‘What do ya think o’ that Schaeffer?’ asked Peterson, sprawled out over the dry grass, his beige jacket laid over his chest.
‘All I know is that it ain’t got nothing to do with me, this whole black folk thing’ the gruff private muttered.
‘Aye, an i don’t think it has much to do with old Lincoln either’ added Vincken, shuffling his back up against the gnarled bark.
‘True, now, an don’t get me wrong ere’, I don’t hold no problems against any peoples’ remarked Peterson, stuffing tobacco into his father’s hand carved pipe.
‘Well, that’s agreed’ Vincken added lazily.
‘What I have a problem with is them in the North, with their fine and dandy lives trying to go about and tell us what we can and cannot do, I think that’s the issue’ Peterson said, shuffling in his coat for a misplaced match.
‘How about you, Cap’n, what are you fighting for?’ Vincken called over to the officer sharing Peterson’s tobacco.
‘Well, I’m not fighting for slavery or nothing like that, I don’t have me much land and I farm it myself just fine. No I’m fighting because I have to, because some rich folk in Rhode Island, some factory owner in Maine, some diplomat in Washington is trying to run our country. If men like us don’t stand up to the aggressors then who will, I’ll die for my country, my Virginia.’ The former school teacher was stirred with passion.
The other three men grunted their agreement. Schaeffer turned to the fifth, the boy on his left.
‘You’re quiet Hicks, what are you thinking of sonny?’
Hicks gazed up into the sky; the night was perfectly bright even in the absence of camp fires. He didn’t care much for talk of politics. The way he saw it, the only thing to focus on was oneself, the wider scope of the conflict didn’t concern him, couldn’t concern him.
‘My ma, she can see them stars back home, she’s probably sitting out on the porch right now with Mary and little Albert. That’s what I’m fighting for, to get these damn Yankees to let us go home and stop bothering us’
The men all fell silent. More than anything they had said, every last one of them wanted to be back in Norfolk, back in Richmond, back in Chesapeake.
The sound of hooves approached as a young officer rode through the camp.
‘Captain Shawcross, captain?’ cried the adjutant.
‘Aye, here’, replied the captain, patting Peterson’s chest as way of thanks for the smoke.
‘Captain Sir, I bring word from General Pickett. The good general has received word from General Lee’ he said, dismounting.
‘Ah, what is the command of the old fox?’ the captain stood up and shook the lieutenant’s leather-bound hand.
‘General Lee is a few days north of here sir, he has urged the General to push forward post post-haste and join up with the main body. We move at first light ‘
‘Why such haste lieutenant?’
‘The enemy has been sighted sir, we believe Meade has taken command, General Lee intends to meet him on good ground, a small town’
‘Will the good General Pickett allow me the name of the town?’
‘Ay sir, Gettysburg’
Dreams and Sacrifice (part 2 – the starving artist
‘Well?’ she enquired, in hopeful anticipation.
Gavin looked at his friend blankly.
‘Is it supposed to be funny or like a court drama or what?’
Jen sighed and fell back onto her bed, putting her pillow over her face in frustration.
‘What’s the matter babe? It’s all good and stuff, especially the bit about the hamsters, that gave me chills.’
‘Gave you chills? It’s a comedy, the hamsters aren’t even important, it’s just a joke’ came the strained reply from beneath the pillow.
Jen sat up; the pillow fell from her face. Gavin noted the dejection carved into her gaunt yet attractive features. He changed the topic, searching for positives.
‘It’s not about me though is it; I’m not your tutor. Will he like it?’
Jen’s features softened a little as she considered this, ‘well, I think he’s looking for originality most of all.’
She looked up at the white matte ceiling as though searching its surface for her answer before continuing slowly
‘Yeah it’s all been done before. All of comedy has been done before, countless times. Nothing is original or truly original anymore. Nothing pushes boundaries except maybe meta-humour.’
Gavin was clearly puzzled by this. He was out of his depth anyway and becoming quite bored. It had become clear to him in the previous few minutes that sex wasn’t on the menu tonight. She really had asked him round to ‘read my coursework’. No innuendo, no metaphor. He might as well just go back to his block and jack it. Eliot had told him about a good site and he’d wanted to check it out for a while. Alas, for now, he would have to continue the charade, the charade of giving a fuck.
‘What’s meta-humour?’ he asked with false alacrity.
‘It’s really weird, you know, like retrospective ironic humour, like for example if I wrote about a comedy writer in a funny way or something.’
Jen fought for each word; attempting to do justice to a subject she had only vague conceptions of.
‘You don’t know do you?’ he enquired with a grin.
‘No, not really’ Jen admitted, her face fell.
‘I guess you’d have to be well clever to write like that.’ He was provoking her out of sheer frustration but his subtle delivery slipped under her radar.
Jen drew her legs up and leant her dainty chin on her knees. She looked straight at Gavin. She was deep in thought, struggling for answers. She wrestled with her issues; what did she need to do? How could she be original? If she drenched her writing in enough clichés would it be deemed a subversive ironic masterpiece? Why the fuck did she get involved with the complete idiot sitting opposite her? The idiot broke the silence.
‘Why don’t you draw upon your influences then?’
‘How do you mean?
‘Well, what’s your favourite comedy? Mine’s Big Bang Theory’ he offered.
Jen recoiled and, with blank bemusement chiselled across her usually expressive little face, uttered with poisonous indignation
‘Big Bang Theory, the contrived American middle-of-the-road sitcom that attempts to use pretentiously complex dialogue to fill the gaping holes in its plot? The show that plays on the ‘lovable geek’ stereotype to strangle some cheap laughs out of its degenerate fans and attempt to reassure them that they are somehow of above average intelligence through the transitive substance?’
‘What? I like it, it’s funny’
Jen seized on this, Gavin had struck a nerve. The frustration she’d felt whilst writing manifested itself as anger. Gavin was stupid, she would play with him a while, trap him and humiliate him.
‘Tell me, do you ever laugh without being cued by the incessant canned laughter?’
Gavin was startled by her grimace and her verbosity, though he doubtless wouldn’t have understood the word ‘verbose’.
‘What? No, it’s there for all the funny bits.’ He stuttered back to her.
‘Funny bits? If they’re funny they would needn’t a pre-recorded laughter track to prompt you to engage in what should be a reflex action.’
She paused. The onslaught continued.
‘So you’re telling me that you don’t find my writing funny but you like Big Bang Theory? I guess if anything that’s a compliment, it’s not really the audience I’d like to be associated with.’
She had sat up now, her straight back and relaxed posture in contrast to the bitterness in her expression.
‘Look I like it ok, I don’t have to think about it, I can just watch it. Not everyone wants to study a show like it was a fucking exam paper.’ Gavin’s milky blue eyes glared impotently at his tormentor.
‘You don’t have to think? That’s your best excuse? I don’t have to think to be stabbed but that doesn’t mean it’s somehow better than not being stabbed.’ Jen had run out of steam, her stabbing analogy was weak but it still had the desired effect.
‘Fuck off you pretentious prick, I hope you fail!’ Gavin yelled as he slammed the door on his way out.
‘Yeah, well time will tell won’t it, Gavin?!’
Then, more quietly, to herself ‘time will tell’.
Epilogues and Elegies
Jen sat alone in her room. She was angry, not because she had driven Gavin out, she didn’t care much for him and besides, that was repairable anyway. No, she was angry with her essay. She glared at it, she deconstructed it, and she ran over each and every word a dozen times. Were there any metaphorical stones left unturned? She searched for typographical errors, she found none but it was 4am. How would she know? She got off her bed, crossed the muddied carpet, opened the heavy fire door and went into the communal kitchen. The kettle boiled, the discount granules dissolved and the young woman stood by the open window smoking. Just two more hours, she thought, two more miserable hours then I’ll print this and get to sleep. Her phone buzzed. Gavin’s text simply read ‘Sorry babe r we ok?xxx’. Jen returned the Blackberry to its pouch. She would text him in the morning, if at all.
Back in her room with the nicotine and caffeine embracing her in their familiar way Jen worked through her first short story. She wondered whether it had ended too abruptly and if such an ending was truly plausible. Sure, people do strange and impulsive things but wasn’t the ending just a bit too optimistic, too positive in its tone? Maybe she should kill Tom off, have him hang himself in the outhouse, dangling from a noose made of guitar straps. Well that would’ve been far too humorous to be taken seriously, if she was going to do that she might as well go all out and have the unfortunate man shove his bass neck into the car’s exhaust and go out with an ironic twist. No, she resolved, I’m always ending my stories with a death or a portentous signifier of misery. Perhaps a story with a positive message would work better. Perhaps the message to take from all of this is that if you dare, if you take a risk, if you defy convention you can achieve great things, happiness and contentedness. Jen went over to the mirror by the door, did she have happiness, and was she content? She practiced her best Cheshire cat grin, it felt forced, it was forced. Was she happy?
Quietly to herself she whispered
‘Time Will Tell’.