Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Twelve Days [Parody]

On the first day of Christmas my dealer gave to me:
A big bag of smelly weed

On the second day of Christmas my dealer gave to me:
Two double doves
And a big bag of smelly weed

On the third day of Christmas my dealer gave to me:
Three acid trips
Two double doves
And a big bag of smelly weed

On the fourth day of Christmas my dealer gave to me:
Four lines of coke
Three acid trips
Two double doves
And a big bag of smelly weed

On the fifth day of Christmas my dealer gave to me:
Five rolled spliffs
Four lines of coke
Three acid trips
Two double doves
And a big bag of smelly weed

On the sixth day of Christmas my dealer gave to me:
Six wraps of crystal
Five rolled spliffs
Four lines of coke
Three acid trips
Two double doves
And a big bag of smelly weed

On the seventh day of Christmas my dealer gave to me:
Seven bombs of mushies
Six wraps of crystal
Five rolled spliffs
Four lines of coke
Three acid trips
Two double doves
And a big bag of smelly weed

On the eighth day of Christmas my dealer gave to me:
Eight lumps of hashish
Seven bombs of mushies
Six wraps of crystal
Five rolled spliffs
Four lines of coke
Three acid trips
Two double doves
And a big bag of smelly weed

On the ninth day of Christmas my dealer gave to me:
Nine hits of acid
Eight lumps of hashish
Seven bombs of mushies
Six wraps of crystal
Five rolled spliffs
Four lines of coke
Three acid trips
Two double doves
And a big bag of smelly weed

On the tenth day of Christmas my dealer gave to me:
Ten bags of speed
Nine hits of acid
Eight lumps of hashish
Seven bombs of mushies
Six wraps of crystal
Five rolled spliffs
Four lines of coke
Three acid trips
Two double doves
And a big bag of smelly weed

On the eleventh day of Christmas my dealer gave to me:
Eleven pipes of pot
Ten bags of speed
Nine hits of acid
Eight lumps of hashish
Seven bombs of mushies
Six wraps of crystal
Five rolled spliffs
Four lines of coke
Three acid trips
Two double doves
And a big bag of smelly weed

On the twelfth day of Christmas my dealer gave to me:
Twelve tabs of X
Eleven pipes of pot
Ten bags of speed
Nine hits of acid
Eight lumps of hashish
Seven bombs of mushies
Six wraps of crystal
Five rolled spliffs
Four lines of coke
Three acid trips
Two double doves
And a big bag of smelly weed

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The twist in the tale

All it takes is one quick twist and they snap. I am always surprised at how easy it is to break them, how simply the give up their heads. That satisfying snapping sound, that crack as my hands twist in one fluid movement.

Once that is done there is the beautiful sighing sound as they release their last breath. I could listen to that all day and never be bored.

I like to feel my grip tighten, to feel that slight burn as my fingers slip and my skin is rubbed raw. There is only that small amount of struggling, the minute amount of fighting back. It rarely lasts long before they succumb to the wrench of my two hands.

There have been times where I have not had the strength in my arms, my hands. A cloth wrapped around my hands seems to bring the urge to break, to sever. My eyes are bulging, the tendons in my hands are almost at the point of fracture and sweat breaks on my brow, but I don’t turn away from the job in hand. It must be done. I am thirsty for the feeling of satisfaction once the job is complete, once it lies broken in my hands.

It’s difficult to describe, but I know you’ve all felt the feeling at least once. Don’t deny it, we have evidence. As soon as we see red, we can’t help ourselves. Admit it. There is no need to feel remorse; the deed is done now, you can’t take it back. Ever.

Surely you know what I am speaking of, don't you?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Box

It is essential to this story that you understand we can only surmise what happened on 24 August 2005. As no one else was present, these details are taken from accounts presented by neighbours and associates, the diary of the deceased, as well as police reports and forensic evidence. However, we could also say: we may never know.

22 August 2005
It had been a long day, a day of humping boxes from my parents’ house to my new apartment. I was tired and my limbs were aching; I felt as if I’d spent half the day being beaten by strong men. I needed to sink into my comfy new couch and sip a glass of red wine, right away. The unpacking could wait.

I lit some candles and sat back to watch the flickering shadows dance across the room’s white-washed walls. Life was getting to be good. The red wine flowed and I felt the exhaustion of the day’s events take over. Soon I fell asleep, curled around a cushion.

23 August 2005
I was woken by the sun rising over the apartments opposite. I hadn’t yet got around to installing my blinds so the window let in the glare of the early morning sunshine. I squinted my eyes against the brightness, rubbed at the crick in my neck from where I’d slept awkwardly on the couch.

Surveying the room, I realised that I had a task ahead of me in clearing the many boxes stacked around the walls, some piles going back four boxes deep. With a sigh I pulled my aching body to its feet and began methodically sorting the boxes according to which room the various contents belonged. I stopped briefly to eat some breakfast, but chose not to get dressed or washed up until I’d moved each of the boxes to the correct room; the job of sorting them could come later.

This first job didn’t take long, as I’d had enough foresight to write the final resting place on the upper flap of each box. I tried to ignore the fact that I was, slowly but surely, turning into my mother. Somehow, I’d kidded myself that I wouldn’t, but no matter how much I tried to forge my own way I was still following in her footsteps. Shaking my head, I rose to my feet and began the arduous task of unpacking each box, of finding a place for everything in my new home.

It was dark before I’d finished unpacking. I took a shower, ate a small meal of scrambled eggs on toast and crashed out on the couch with another bottle of wine for company. Within minutes I was asleep again.

24 August 2005
This morning I was woken again by the first hint of the sun’s rays glinting through my window. I was determined to get some blinds up to shield me from these rude awakenings; it was my first task for the day, I had decided. After the weekend, I needed to get back to work – the mortgage wasn’t going to pay itself, as my father was fond of saying.

The cardboard boxes were piled up against the far wall, waiting for me to take them to the communal rubbish chute. I cursed as I realised I would need to rid the room of all detritus before I began to hang my screens. I manhandled the cardboard boxes out of my apartment and dragged them unceremoniously across the landing to the chute opening that led to the communal rubbish area housed beneath the building. I opened the flap to the chute and immediately my nose was bombarded by the stench of rotting food. I gagged slightly as I tipped in my own rubbish, finally letting the flap clang shut so I could breathe the sweeter air again.

No sooner had I shut the door when I spotted a lone box out of the corner of my eye. I could have sworn it wasn’t there but five minutes ago, that it had materialised as soon as my back was turned. I called out to see if anyone was in the apartment – I had after all given a key to my parents so that they could satisfy their own curiosity that I wasn’t living in a crack den or prostituting myself in order to pay the rental charges. No one answered my voice. I made a quick tour of the apartment, mostly to convince my own brain that I was alone, that no one had snuck in behind me and was waiting, sharpened knife in hand, to slice me up.

I looked again at the box. It had nothing written on the top or the sides that faced me. It had no branding printed on it, no postmark. It was blank on all sides. A thin line of brown parcel tape held the flaps down. How it had got there I had no idea. Approaching with caution, I took my time in bending down to pick it up. I shook it carefully, but it gave me no indication of what was inside. I knew it had something in it, as I could feel the weight of something, of whatever secret this box held. My heart was beating faster than it would after a workout; throat dry and legs that quivered I carried the box over to the small table I’d rescued from a thrift store two weeks’ previously. I backed away, deciding to leave the box for a day or two until I knew my interest would be piqued to such an extent that I would rip it open and discover its contents.

But, I couldn’t leave it alone. I needed to know what was contained within this cardboard shell. I thought about whether there was something I was missing, something that I hadn’t yet unpacked and put away in its designated place. I could think of nothing. I had this feeling that the box was urging me to open it, that somehow it had command of my body, my mind. It seems stupid to say that, but that’s how it felt.

Again, I approached the box with caution. There seems no reason for this unnerving feeling, but it’s as constant as my breath or my pulse. I watched, detached, as my hands grasped the box, a nail slipping under the tape that held it closed. I pulled up a corner and drew back the tape, my hands trembling as I pulled apart the top flaps of cardboard.

The top was open; I was able to look right in. Nervously, I stepped back, expecting some horror to explode from the box. Nothing happened. The clock I had mounted earlier clicked through each second. I held my breath. The urge took me again and I stepped forward, my face looking directly into the box.

Nothing prepared me for what I saw, the horror of it. I felt the sickness rising from my stomach, burning my throat. My legs gave way and I vomited on the floor.

It was out and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it, to prevent the inevitable disaster.

Can you find it in your heart to forgive me?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Holding breath

Long shadows fell over the airstrip. We were all craning our necks, searching the clouds for the silhouette of the aeroplane. I swear everyone held their breath at that moment, no one daring to breathe in case it had an effect on Davy and Jeremy.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let me backtrack slightly.

I’m Marianne. I’ve been married to Davy for a day; actually, it’s less than 24 hours. I didn’t want him to go up in the damn plane. I told him so, too. He chose not to listen.

“Honey, what could possibly go wrong?” he’d said.

It’s not as if I could simply list them out, ticking them off on my fingers as I went. Some of them he would have dismissed instantly, others he would have laughed at; some may have made him stop and think, but still he would have buried any fears and stepped on that plane, even if I’d lay on the ground and begged him to not to. Like I say, we’d only been married a short while.

We met while on a cruise of the South Pacific. That was back in 2001. We dated for the intervening years, bought a house, kept some pets (only the dog is left) and generally lived like we all do. Life got on with itself and we travelled along with it by clinging on to the coat tails of time. Now, I had the feeling it was going to shake us off and we’d land with a big bump.

This was going to be more than cuts and bruises.

There were cries from the others that stood around me, encircling me as if they could possibly protect me from… not sure what they thought I needed protecting from. I held my hand to my face, shielding my eyes from the low winter sun. The plane was twirling as it came towards the ground; I could hear the whine of the engines above the rustle of the wind in the trees and the gasps of the other spectators.

I instinctively looked away, pointing my gaze to the ground. I noticed things in those last seconds: bugs crawling through the grass, each separate blade an entire eco-system; I saw each granule of dirt, the tiny droplets of water clinging to the grains’ surface and the bacteria performing the front crawl in these bubbles of liquid.

I almost didn’t dare look back up. I forced myself to lift my eyes. At that point I saw Davy and Jeremy’s plane disappear behind the screen of trees that stood in the distance.

We all waited for the explosion, the flames and the column of smoke that is inevitable in these situations.

All I could think was: breathebreathebreathe.

Friday, November 18, 2005

An hour of walking

Boy stood on the pavement, holding a clipboard to his chest. He was dancing away in front of me, trying to attract my attention.

Stupid. Idiot.

I left him in a pool of his own blood, my spit and the shrieks of a thousand passers-by. Fingers pointing, I ducked into a doorway to light a cigarette.

...flickflickflick of the lighter wheel. The nicotine flooded into my system. I felt better; I almost went back to apologise, sign the form on his board, give up my bank details for some charity that prevented the torturing of dormice

of cats, dogs, whales, tuna fish, vulnerable children, disaster victims.

But I couldn't bear his girlish squeals. Hood pulled up, I rejoined the throng on the street, vanishing into the crush of Christmas shoppers, melting into the myriad bags, shirts, jackets, iPod headphones that litter every high street.

Step around last night's vomit. I stop for a second, see what pictures I can make out in the collection of dried pavement pizza. I turn away from the desiccated sweetcorntomatobeer combo, suddenly losing my appetite for food. Only for food, mind.

For pain it's insatiable.

I saw a psychiatrist once; he said I was using others' pain as a way of pushing my own deeper inside. His eyes widened when I cackled at his comment. It took me a full five minutes to stop. He didn't see me again. Wouldn't see me. Actually.

Somewhere lies a tape on which he recorded me describing the death of my parents. I stole a copy. Even I'm amazed at the lack of emotion. Not one single tear, not a sob, not a pause. Just matter-of-fact story-telling. Start to finish, barely pausing for breath.

Door slams. Hi honey, I'm home. Only the echo of my voice on the stairwell answering me with the same question.

If you asked me if I was lonely, the honest answer would be that I am. The shame of it is, I can't make relationships work. I'm too - what do the authorities refer to it as? I'm way too fucked up for that. If people manage to escape, they never return.

If they manage to escape.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

My final words

[Please record your message after the beep]

I can see it coming in through the low clouds. I marvel at how it hangs, almost weightless.

Suddenly, I’m reminded of how she tasted like strawberry yoghurt; how she moved in my arms. The faintness of her smile haunts me now. Her laughter follows me like a shadow, a stalker.

There is a roar. I am brought back to the now, the present situation. I know I’m going to die, I’ve accepted it. It comes to us all. I just never expected it now: I’m only 30.

It’s not as if someone has warned me, picked up the phone or ushered me into a wood-panelled office. Sat me in a leather chair and looked down at their hands while they construct the sentence in their head: I’m sorry to tell you [insert your name here], but you’ve got

inoperable heart disease
yellow fever

and there is no known cure.

I am watching my own death approaching. I can taste the noxious breath of death as I kiss her full on the lips. I have inserted my tongue.

I hear the screams above the roar. I see people fling themselves to – and here I laugh at my own thoughts – certain death.

Turning around I see that breakfast hasn’t been touched. Croissants, homemade jam, butter that has melted in the first rays of the morning sun; it’s all laid out on a white cloth that flutters in the breeze. I shiver, even though it’s not cold on this September day.

I could take the stairs, make a run for it. But I don’t.
I stay.
I watch.

I feel the urge to pray, although I’ve never believed in a God and now, well, it seems churlish to start believing. Even if He existed, would He save me? Would I save Him if our roles were reversed?

I think not.

The ground shakes as the plane hits. I feel the heat rising around the top of the building. I hear

glass shatter
people scream
sirens wail

And I can smell the burning flesh.

There is so much paper.

The shaking is getting worse. I don’t think there can be much time left.

Remember that I…

Thursday, November 03, 2005


The sound: grinding. That’s what stuck in his head for months afterwards.

The sucking, the whine; the screaming.

Remembered how the sun was high in the sky; clouds drifted and he described the shapes to keep himself conscious. Dog, plane, horse, a crab. His father. Amazed at his own imagination, his ability to project imagery.

He’d chewed the inside of his cheek. Blood flowed. Metallic taste; like a filling at the dentist, aged nine.

There was music playing in his head. A melody from long ago. Jazz. Off-beat timing. His foot tapped along. His head nodded. The wind whistled through the trees. Leaves rustled as they floated to the ground. It sounded like rain to the untrained ear. To city folk. To kids that had never seen cattle. Who thought grass was something you smoked to get high.

Eyes screwed tight. Lashes dripping tears; cheeks wet inside and out. Blood and salt.

Lying there, praying that he’d be found by humans, not the coyotes that roamed through the woods at night. Prayed to be out, darkened, when it came to feeding time.

But, this was all hours in front. It wasn’t now, that moment, distinct from all others. Hardened like a memory. Like arteries.

Thought: how hot it is in the sun when you can’t move. How relentless.

And still it was grinding, whining, sucking. Still he was screaming.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Under the Thumb

Even when they took his thumb off with the bolt cutters he didn’t even flinch. Some of the men were inwardly proud of his resolve, others horrified by it. Outwardly, they all retained their aggressive stance and implacable face. Only when they began on his left hand did his eyes dart back and forth, his poker face not as professional under pressure as he may have wanted. It was too late. Only Billy had noticed the slight change.

He ordered them to stop. His right hand was mutilated beyond repair, but he had his left. Billy placed a piece of paper in front of him, the rustling as it came to rest on his knee the only sound in the room; it was almost as if everyone were holding their breath until he had written something.

Instead of a pen, Billy picked up one of his digits and passed it to him to write with. He gave Billy a look of contempt, yet also compliance, but Billy ignored it. He continued to hold the digit until he was forced to take it. Billy’s nod ensured his mob quickly took up their jobs from the point where they had abandoned them earlier.

Again, the darting of the eyes. Billy smiled, held out the finger again.

He snatched it, bringing a stinging slap to the face. No one had yet spoken, but a murmur trickled around the room. Billy spun around, glaring. No one met his eye.

Then, the ping of the light bulb as the filament blew. Fuck; the curse coming from many mouths. Stumbling, more cursing. Then, a flick of his wrist and Billy had his lighter open and lit, casting a sphere of gold within a metre of his body.

He checked to make sure he was still seated. He was. Good boy.

One of the men left the room, having located a torch. He was off to see about finding the power, try to pinpoint the problem and get the lights back on. Billy wanted it done yesterday; asap; pronto. He always wanted it like that.

Billy looked down at the broken man in front of him. His blue shirt had turned red and purple as his blood had begun to soak in and dry. His trousers were sodden. Billy had seen many men break down in this chair, to find that their bowels and bladders loosened once the pain got too much. That smell. It brought back memories. Not this time, though. This time he couldn’t smell the fear. Not bad for a detective. They were usually the ones that squealed the most when they brought out the bolt cutters.

The lights came back on suddenly. A lacklustre cheer went up, silenced by a further glare from Billy. He motioned for his prisoner to carry on. The man seemed to smile up at his interrogator as he bent forward over the paper. Billy was unable to see what was being written on the paper.

A commotion was happening outside the room. Billy signalled for one of his henchmen to attend to it. They could do without any disturbance now that they were so close to finding out the piece of information they needed. The kind detective was going to give it to them.

The door to the room burst open and Billy instinctively pulled out his gun and pointed in the direction of the sound. Only his henchmen stood before him, there seemed to be no threat. Billy shrugged.

"There’s a fucking bomb in the cellar, boss. It goes off in less than a minute!" There was panic in his voice. Without waiting for his signal, people were trying to leave the building as soon as possible, trampling each other, kicking and punching.

Billy bent forward and snatched the paper from the hand of the policeman. This time he was greeted by a grin. Billy looked at the childish scrawl on the paper. One word written in blood.


Friday, October 21, 2005

Leap of Faith

The wind whipped through the gully almost knocking Peter off his feet and sending him cascading the hundreds of feet to the bottom of the gorge to his left. They had been walking for over two hours now and the weather was getting progressively worse the higher they climbed.

“Shouldn’t we be getting somewhere now?” remarked Jason, his face practically hidden behind the tight hood of his parka. His small body was cocooned by the coat; it was slightly too big and his hands barely made it out from the ends of the sleeves.

“I don’t know,” was all that he got in reply. Peter was concentrating on simply staying on his feet as the huge gusts of wind threatened to throw him to a premature death. Bent over low, he moved forward, slowly; anyone viewing them from the surrounding mountain passes would have been excused for assuming that he had a stomach pain, such was the way he bent double, his arms folded across his belly. Jason was performing a similar procedure, although he was protected by Peter’s larger frame.

“Do you think he’s dead?”
“What?” Peter said.
“Mr Jameson. Do you think he’s…?” There was a quivering to Jason’s voice, as if he were on the verge of tears. The rain that had scattered across the hills some hours back still clung to the contours of his face, so it was difficult to tell.

“I don’t want to talk about it, not right now. My primary concern is getting to base camp, crawling into a tent and having something hot to eat. Then, I want to sleep. After that we can talk about Mr Jameson.” Peter stalked off again, hoping that Jason was following in his footsteps.

They turned a sharp corner and were suddenly out of the wind and rain, sheltered by the immense rock faces that encircled them. Peter stopped to take a breather and Jason moved close to him, shivering in the cold and damp. Suddenly feeling paternal towards his younger friend, Peter put his arm around his shaking shoulders and hugged him closer.

“Look, Jason, things will be okay. I promise. I’m sure Mr Jameson is okay. If not, I guess that the fall might well have killed him, but we need to worry about us right now. Once we’re safe and can find help, we’ll raise the alarm. It can’t be far. Look, the path starts to drop now; we must surely be approaching the farm. Keep an eye out for lights.”

Jason said nothing. His whimpering kept Peter informed that he was alive, if not all that well. Seven hours they had been on the mountain now. If night fell – and that could only be an hour or two away – then they’d be stuffed. Then, they would become the next Mr Jameson: dead.

The sun began its descent and the air grew colder. Peter pushed on, not knowing for sure if they would get down from this mountain alive. If only he hadn’t been so stupid, they would never have found themselves in this predicament. It was all his fault; if Mr Jameson was alive, he would have to tell the authorities what had happened. Peter wasn’t sure what Jason had witnessed. Would he have to take decisive action? He decided that he had better cover his tracks. It would be for the best.

Picking up the pace, Peter hurried along the path. Jason looked up and could see the gap between them opening up. He called out, but Peter appeared not to have heard him. Suddenly, Peter disappeared into the mist.

Panic rose in Jason’s throat. He didn’t want to be alone. He hated being by himself, it always scared him. Swallowing hard, he moved forward to try and catch up with Peter, but when he made his way through the thickening mist, he was nowhere to be seen.

“Peter?” Jason tentatively called out to his friend. No answer came. “PETER!” he shouted, his voice breaking as the panic gripped him tight. Stumbling forward, he thought he saw a shape to his left. He could see little in any direction and could hear only the howling of the wind.

“Over here, Jason.” A voice called out from over to the left. Without thinking, Jason ran towards the source of the voice. He found himself tumbling down the side of the gorge, his feet no longer on firm ground.

“Help me, please. Someone! Anyone!
Help mmmmmmmmmmmmmmeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.”

Peter stepped out from behind a rock, his face twisted into a smile. He might be on his own now, but at least Jason wouldn’t be able to tell anyone about how Mr Jameson had come to fall. Only Peter would know.

It was funny, but Peter’s father had always said that ‘Jameson was a push over’. Well, Peter had proved his father right, had he not? One simple push. It had been even simpler to get rid of the whining Jason. How easy it was. Now, all he had to do was walk down this path, find the farm and raise the alarm. They would treat him like a hero; he would make the papers. Young boy finds his way off mountain after death of teacher. That would make a good headline. Peter hoped they would use the word perilous. He had always liked it.

The mist was getting thicker as the path twisted its way downward. It was hard going, but Peter kept his head and took it one step at a time. The sky had darkened now and stars were beginning to twinkle as the rain clouds cleared away. Soon, even these bright sparks of light were hard to distinguish through the soup of mist that enclosed him.

Suddenly, Peter stopped in his tracks. The mist swirled in every changing shapes, offering small glimpses of the mountainous environment.

“Who’s there? Hello? Is there anybody there?” Peter cocked his head to one side, wiping away the hair that had matted onto his forehead with one hand. There was nothing. It’s just a trick of the mist and fog, Peter thought, trying to convince himself he was alone and nothing or no one was following him.

As he was about to move off again, he heard a shout. Was it Jason? Perhaps the fall hadn’t been high enough and he was lying somewhere, his clothes sodden with rain and blood; perhaps he had broken his leg, or an arm. Peter couldn’t think straight. This hadn’t been in his plan.

Choosing to ignore the plight of his friend, whom he had surreptitiously led to his death, Peter strode on. He shivered, not from the cold but from a sense of foreboding. He was not usually one to be so apprehensive, but fear had somehow wriggled its way inside him and was eating at his conscience like cancer.

Blindly, Peter pressed on. It was getting more and more difficult to see where the path was leading him, but as it seemed to be dropping down Peter assumed that it was taking him away from trouble and towards the warmth of the farmhouse from which they’d set off on this ill-fated expedition.

Again, Peter stopped. He had definitely heard his name. He swung his head to one side, straining to hear through the wind. Turning his head back to the path, the mist cleared for a split second and there, stood in front of him, was Jason and Mr Jameson. They were waving. He stood, rooted to the spot. This could not be true. There was no way that either of them could have got in front of him, let alone survived the fall from such a great height.

Blinking, Peter looked again. They were gone. Without warning, Peter found himself lifted off his feet by a particularly strong gust and was deposited six feet away from where he had stood. Peter picked himself up from the floor, dusted off his hands and looked at his knees. A gash had opened up in his waterproof trousers and he could see his own blood flowing down his shin where the rough shale had cut his skin. He was limping now.

He heard his name being called again; he swore he could see the two figures of Jason and Mr Jameson ahead of him even though he knew it couldn’t really be true. He ran at them, but they always stayed the same distance away. Tears were running down his cheeks now, hot and salty.

“Please, please,” he begged, but they still summoned him towards them, mocking him with their eerie voices. Peter felt really cold all of a sudden. Rounding another corner, the ground dropped away sharply and Peter noticed a small opening in the rock face to his left. Crawling in, he pulled his hood up tight and placed his hands over his face. He was begging for forgiveness.

The first light of the day shone through the clouds and settled on the path, near to where Peter had crawled into the rocks. Voices were coming up the path, calling out. All that came back were echoes.

The first of the bodies had been found only a few hours before by the search and rescue team. Jason hadn’t survived the fall and his broken body, like a discarded marionette, lay at the base of the gorge. The dogs hadn’t taken long to discover him. The team had split up, taking different paths to the tor.

The radio crackled.

“We’ve got another one here. Looks like the leader of the group, a Mr Jameson. Had a nasty fall and he hasn’t made it. Anything with you, Jack? Over.”

“Nothing yet, we’re still searching,” Jack replied. Just then, one of his team shouted to get his attention. “Hang on Steve, I think we’ve found him.”

They had. Peter was curled into a ball, forced into the small aperture of the rock face. His face showed a look of terror. Jack ran over. It didn’t take a doctor to tell him that this little boy was going home in a box. There was note clasped tightly in the coiled fingers of the boy and Jack tore it from his deathly grasp.

“I killed them both. I pushed them. And then they wouldn’t leave me alone.”

Jack read the childish scrawl. He crumpled the note in his pocket before anyone else had noticed he had removed it. No one need know. Jack was sure that this poor child had written it in desperation. After all, he didn’t even have a pen. The note had been composed in blood.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Just to let you all know

I have added a new link, as signified by the [new] superscript. It's the first link.

If you can't see it then click here for older stories.

Why have I done this? Well, some newer visitors may not realise that way back when I started this blog I was only going to add stories and links to my commercial work. That changed.

I then thought about starting a new blog for stories only, but I never found the time.

Today I thought again. I created a page on my own server that will happily take you to other stories from the beginnings of this blog. I'm proud of them and I wouldn't want them to be missed. Hence, the new page. It will continue to be updated. Maybe!

So, please check it out. I'd really like to hear what you've got to say about them.

Read, think, comment...

purplesimon out...

Share and share alike

John was just falling asleep when a noise brought him back into full consciousness. He cursed under his breath. Glancing at the clock he saw it was just coming up to midnight. He had to be at work by 6am. There was little that pissed John off more than being tired when he had to give a company presentation.

That's what CEOs did, didn't they? Wasn't it his duty to win new business, to keep the money rolling in for the shareholders? He was one of them, holding several million shares and they had been rising lately, too. John wasn't about to be a majority shareholder for much longer. He knew others that had done the same and he wanted his share of the booty; he didn't care who got in his way, either. Which is why he didn't want to get up and investigate; this piece of business would ensure he was a billionaire instead of a mere millionaire. In the world he was looking to worm his way into, those kinds of details made all the difference when it came to acceptance. He'd always wondered what was on the menu at a White House dinner. He'd bet his whole fortune that it wasn't KFC.

Flicking on the bedside light, John reached for his spectacles. He was almost blind without them on. The room swam into focus and, as if to annoy him more, the noise began again. It certainly sounded like someone was rifling through the drawers of his desk. But, why hadn't the alarm gone off? John didn't have time to think about that as a powerful torchlight momentarily blinded him.

Two bullets later and John was joining a new club: the dead.


It was getting light when Frank locked up his garage and swept up the driveway with the broom he always kept by the front porch. Those damn leaves, why did God decide to let some lose them when winter approached, it was most distressing. Frank hated anything done by halves. It was this kind of thinking that had enabled him to build a modest concern into a national business. He was a rich man, but he'd worked hard for his fortune.

He stood below the tree in his front yard, leaning on the broom handle to support himself and looked out at a car sitting opposite his house. Where had he seen it before? Think, Frank. Think hard. He shook his head, the information couldn't be found in his brain's filing system. With a chuckle, Frank thought about whether he was losing it but not really believing that he was.

When the neighbours came out, sometime around 8am, Frank was hanging around his front drive. Literally. A rope held him close to six feet from the ground. Frank wasn't a small man and it would have taken some pulling to get him up that high, so one of the crowd was heard to remark.


Logan walked up to the ATM, fingering his cash card nervously. He slipped a glance left and right, as if he expected to be mugged at any moment. When it was his turn, he pushed the card into the slot, punched in his PIN and pressed the Account Balance button. In the back of his mind he knew that there would be a zero balance. Nothing prepared for it to be a cool £3 million.

People stared when Logan let out a whistle and a "fucking hell man". He punched in for a couple of hundred, took the notes and folded them into his pocket. He snatched his card away and walked off at a brisk pace, amazed at his luck.

It took him two more windfalls to believe it was really his account he was accessing.

The letter was waiting for Logan when he got home. He picked it off the mat and tore it open. If it was another threatening letter he knew now that he could happily tell them to kiss his hairy arse, he had the cash now. He been delighted to be able to tell other creditors the same recently. They took it rather well. Considering his choice of language.

Once the envelope was ripped away and fluttering to the floor like a dead moth, he opened up the letter. He had to re-read it again to make sure what it said was right.

Dear Mr Hart,
We hope that you have enjoyed your recent financial upswing and would like it continue.

It was us that provided you with this opportunity. As you know, nothing in life is free.

We do require some form of payment on your behalf. However, let us make it clear that the money you have is not welcome. What we require is something else entirely.

Someone will be in touch.

The Organisation

Fuck, said Logan. It was only now he wished he hadn't taken the money.


Logan tugged on the rope as Frank Mallon kicked and thrashed below his vantage point on the branch. There was just enough foliage to hide his crouching figure and he had been blessed that Frank was fastidious when it came to clearing leaves from his driveway. Blessed too that Frank had stopped to look at Logan's car parked across the house.

He tied the rope off and clambered down from the tree and backed away from the house, careful not to leave any footprints on the flower beds. He was back in his car and driving away just as the sun came up. He had fulfilled his promise to The Organisation. Now he would be free to live with his money, never again worrying about his financial status. He was a rich man and he would only get richer.


It was a different Logan Hart that could be found in his office. The preceding twenty years had been kind to him, but lines still flowed through his face and he now wore a denture plate. He was also one of the richest men in the world. He'd made that initial bounty grow and grow. Now, he made money for others, the shareholders in his business.

The Organisation seemed such a long way back. He wondered if they were still going, whether they were proud of what he had become. A cough made him swing around in his chair. In front of him stood a scruffy youth pointing a gun at his temple.

What the fuck?

Hello Logan. The Organisation wants you to know how proud they are of you.

Two quick pulls on the trigger and Logan had his answer.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The regime

From the outside the building didn’t look much. The iron had long ago rusted and was as brittle as ice; the brick façade was pitted – not just from the bullet holes that shattered the town centre during the ill-conceived military coup back in 1997, but also from the many stones that had missed the windows (the original targets) and crashed against the brickwork. Since the fire last week, part of the roof had collapsed.

Sara wondered what it was like inside, whether there were still remnants of the occupation: papers, clothing, torture devices. Daniel claimed to have climbed in through the fourth floor window, but at a distance of – it was here that Sara had to approximate – at least thirty-five feet from the ground she very much doubted he was telling the truth.

Her grandfather would have been proud that she’d used the old measurement system to gauge the height of the window and had not taken up with the metric nonsense that had come with the new regime. As much as possible, Sara and her family had resisted.

Until they had come for Joey.

A shiver ran down Sara’s spine whenever she thought of that night, the screams from her mother, the pleading; the shouts of her father, whom they had taken aside and calmly executed with a single bullet to the head. They had dragged Joey, kicking and screaming (the words they used in the newspapers the following day) and she had simply stared. One of the soldiers told her mother to remove her from the scene lest he want some child-flesh to feast upon. He had leered at.

Sara had stuck out her tongue when the soldier wasn’t looking. Well, she thought he wasn’t. She hadn’t counted on him checking himself out in the mirror that hung by the front door, angled so that father could check himself each morning without looking sideways. The soldier had clicked his tongue and turned around slowly.

Somehow the rest of the ordeal was buried deep inside Sara. She shivered again.

Now, the regime had taken over the city, the country, quite possibly the world for all Sara knew. Newspapers were one of the many banned forms of communication.

All Sara knew now was that, if Daniel had climbed up and made his way through the building, she had to follow his route, to find out what she needed to in order to move on. Long ago she had held ideas of overthrowing the regime, of finding a way to destroy it. Now, all she wanted was some peace.

Even that came at a price.

Of course, having her father and Joey back would be best, but deep down Sara knew they were as good as dead. What the regime had done with political prisoner, Sara had little idea, but her imagination played on in her dreams and often she found herself bathed in a cold sweat when she awoke with a start in the middle of the night. Making them dead was easier to accept than them being alive and continually tortured.

Moving around the back of the building, the bullet marks were worse, red dust lay on the grass and the surrounding scrubland was littered with lumps of masonry. Picking her way, as if the floor were mined, Sara crept close to the wall until she found what Daniel had described to her.

She found the next hand and footholds quickly and within seconds she was at the window ledge. Perhaps Daniel had been telling the truth that day in class and he had made it in. She had wanted to ask him more, but his family had moved away during the school holidays. Or so she assumed.

Carefully avoiding the sprinkling of glass on the ledge, Sara lowered herself into the cavernous space that had once housed the King. She found herself standing on a staircase. It led up only a further four feet, at which point it ended in a broken step where at some point a bomb, presumably, had opened up a gash in the stone. The steps down were intact and Sara walked down into the darkness, not sure of what she might find, but hoping that it would be better than that offered by the sunlight that was diminishing the further into the depths she went.

Catch me if you can

The phosphorescence of the marches was visible from the window. Robyn peered out into the darkness and watched the flickering lights dance across the waterlogged ground opposite her hotel. She was hot and had stripped down to her bra and panties to try and cool down. Hotel management reported a problem with the heating system; somehow, the winter settings were being used even though it was the height of summer. Robyn wiped the sweat from her face and dabbed at her torso with a damp towel.

The lights in the marsh were hypnotic, flitting back and forth as if they could hear some tune to which the human ear was deaf. Robyn had never seen anything so pretty in all her life; she had to admit that being in the police force had enabled her to see some exciting, and often grisly, things, but nothing was this - she struggled to find the words to describe it, finally settling on beautiful and serene. She'd never been good at English. Give her a Colt .45 and then she'd be able to display a high level of skill.

Hoping that her assignment might take more than the scheduled two days, Robyn hummed a tune to herself as she watched. She began to go through the facts of the case in her head, trying to find the connection between the apparently disparate murders that had occurred in town over recent weeks. The only connection so far was that all the murders had been vicious.

The initial victim was a young girl, aged 18. Slashed to pieces with a sharp blade. The photos showed her skin hanging off her body like ribbons. The second had been strangled with her own intestines, suffering one of the nastiest - and according to the pathologist's report one of the longest - deaths. Then there was the local heart throb, Steven Neilson. He had been run over by a unidentified vehicle. But, it hadn't stopped there. The killer had got out of the vehicle and beat Steven with an iron bar. The local sheriff was sure it was more than one person, but the FBI weren't as easy to fool. Something linked these killings, it was just a matter of time before it was worked out and a local miscreant was hauled in for questioning. It was Robyn's job to find them before they killed again.

Just what was the connection?

Robyn shook her head. It was late and she wanted to watch the dancing marsh lights. The case could wait until the morning when things might become clearer. These lights, however, couldn't be ignored. They were so, so hypnotic, so entrancing, so...


The following morning, Robyn was lying in bed, the sheets pulled up to her neck. The curtains were still open where she'd been looking out over the marsh. An eerie mist hung, the opaque slabs of water moving slowly across the wetland.

There was a knock at the door, tentative at first and then more insistent. A voice called out, but Robyn didn't stir. A key was placed in the lock and the handle moved. The door opened slowly and a head appeared around the door. Still Robyn didn't shift.

The reason became obvious when the chambermaid pulled back the covers. Robyn's head wasn't attached to her shoulders.

The note they found alongside the body stated, simply: catch me if you can.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Not for your eyes

I heard the thump of something coming through the letterbox and landing on the mat, the one that said welcome. Rarely is that sentiment true. I don’t like visitors. I like letters even less.

I don’t subscribe to anything, no marketing lists, no catalogues, nothing. I don’t write to anyone; not ever. So, the sound of a weighty envelope hitting the floor was slightly disconcerting. Who had my name, my details and wanted to write to me?

I dragged myself out from the comfort of my bed, reaching for a towel to help me keep my modesty. I’d had complaints that Mrs Barnsley over in number 56 had seen things she hadn’t seen for years. I didn’t reply. I simply stuck a sign in my bedroom window that read: Stop looking into my house you fucking bitch.

The complaints stopped. I took the sign down a few weeks later at the request of the local governor. I’ve never seen him, but I heard his voice shouting through my letterbox, threatening me with jail and other unspeakable acts. To think that my neighbours voted for him, too.

I don’t go out. I had nothing to do with it.

I sat at the top of the stairs and looked at the package lying on the doormat. It looked fairly large; the edge was ripped where the postman had forced it through the slit in the front door. He knew better than to knock. Anything that didn’t fit through he simply threw in the bin or left it propped outside my door until one of the local lads stole it. Two kids had lost hands and the stealing had stopped. Word got around that someone had it in for me. No one admitted it, but I knew someone was out to get me.

That’s why I chose a self-imposed prison sentence.

It’s also the reason I didn’t pick up the package. What could be in it? Who might have sent it? Would it go off if I picked it up? I was frozen on the spot, not sure what to do next. I didn’t feel safe in my home anymore. Like I’d been burgled or assaulted, or narrowly escaped death. I was scared.

I stood up but my knees buckled and I had to sit down again before I fainted and fell headlong down the flight of stairs. I read my name on the package again and again. It was written in thick black marker, my name spelled out in childish printing. There was no address. Hand delivered.

I must have sat there for hours, the cold slowly reaching into my bones. I didn't move once. I needed to get up, make some tea, to warm up.

Just then, the letterbox flap rose and another package slapped on top of the previous delivery. This one simply said: Open immediately. It was the same size, the same dimensions and it had the same childish scrawl.


I shouted out. The shadow at the door moved. The flap was released. The metal clanged as it shut. I sat there for another hour.

I'd made it down to the front door. In a fit of anger I ran to the bottom of the stars, seizing the packages. I waited for the flash, the pain and the smell of burning flesh. I waited to be killed. Nothing happened.

I took the two parcels to the kitchen, laying them on the table carefully and flicking the switch on the kettle. While the water boiled I retrieved a knife from the drawer and poked at the first of the two packages. Again, nothing happened. The click of the kettle made me jump and I pierced one of the packages with the end of the knife. It immediately deflated.

I saw a thin, meandering cascade of smoke rise from the small hole and I bent forward to look closer. It had no smell I could discern. The package was now completely flat. I tore at the second package, my fervent fingers ripping at the seams of the cardboard. This time there was a flash, but no loud bang. My eyes were hurting and tears streamed down my face. I scratched at my eyes, at my face.

I couldn't stop. I wanted to slash open my face, to get away from what I'd seen in that instant the package had spilled open.

I knew I was on a hospital ward. I couldn't see anything. I could only hear the sound of those around me screaming out. They also couldn't see. They had also seen what I had.

I can't even bring myself to say it, to describe it. No one else should have to go through this experience. So, please don't ask any more questions. Please. Just let me sleep.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Bottled Retribution

The Leader kicked back with a soulless expression of bloodshot defiance, packing the pistol. The sky wept, the clouds shone dark. I strolled past in nonchalant style, the fear screaming to be released. Smiling at my feet as they stepped heavily onto gravel, I was thinking of the bet I'd be laying on a horse called Lady Luck - number 13, unlucky for some. I kissed death full on the lips, resisting the temptation to slip in my tongue.

I turned and leaned back against the lamp post behind me. Like a silent sidekick, its single sodium eye blazed down on me; a searchlight trained on the escapee.

I reached into my pocket. Leader tentatively toyed with his weapon. I pulled a hip flask from within. The liquid contained in it rang the doorbell on my lips and entered when the door was answered. With the warmth from the bourbon spreading through me like cancer, the fear fell into a deep sleep, narcotic-induced. I reached out to Leader and offered my heart and soul. As he took it with his outstretched hand, I shot him.

"Don't touch my drink, motherfucker!" was probably the last thing he heard before his head laid out a Picasso masterpiece on the pavement.

The moon came out to engulf the two of us. I took another slug from the flask, replaced it in my solitary pocket and went to lay a sweet hundred on that horse.


The fucker didn't come in! Beaten by a nose by the 25-1 outsider. Still, I had a £50 bet on that one so I guess I cut my losses and not only my throat. The bar I stepped into was littered with torn slips. The laugh that followed was too much to resist. When you're the winner, tears are too much – laughter is glory. Should have laughed earlier. Next time, maybe. Next time for sure.

As I slicked back a couple of Tequila slammers, I chatted to the inane barmaid, trying to score a hike back to her place or at least a blow-job from the luscious lips attached to her dense skull. I knew I'd missed out when her boyfriend came in. I raised my lover for the night, attached to my right arm, and skittled another slammer for the road. Then, I left the bar into the cold, unforgiving night. I scowled at the winking stars and pissed up a bush idling in the shadows.

I drove back past the crime scene but the Leader was gone, leaving only his outline in chalk and most of his head. I took a slug from the hip flask and this time I did laugh – made me feel a whole lot better. I warmed my hand on the heater; I would need it later and I didn't want it cold to the touch. Like my heart, I thought. And then I laughed again.


I put on a Kate Bush CD and pressed the repeat button, reached under the sofa and pulled out a small, wooden ornate box. I grabbed my rolling tobacco and papers and stuck two together. I placed the tobacco along the papers and opened the box; awaiting my mercy was a lump of cannabis resin, which I lit and broke over the tobacco. When I was done, I rolled it up, placed a small piece of cardboard in the end, lit it and sat back to relax at last. I'd repeated the rolling ritual several times before Kate had gone around twice. I fell asleep before the third time through the album.

I woke to the sound of the doorbell and panicked. My stash of illegal drug paraphernalia lay strewn across the sofa. The thought of some not-so-friendly police officers at my door sprang into my brain as I attempted to hide my dope. I pushed everything under the sofa, retrieved my gun from the belt of my trousers, took an almighty hit from the flask and moved towards the door. I opened it quickly and saw a surprised Paul McIntyre standing, immaculately dressed, in front of me.

"Are you going to ask me in or not?" he said, smiling.
I relaxed. "Sorry Paul, come in," I replied.

Paul is six foot and one half inches tall (he takes pride in this extra half inch of height) with jet black hair, the body of a male model and a face to match. He stepped inside as I replaced the gun down the back of my trousers, the butt again resting against the small of my back. The earlier panic had metamorphosed to joy. Paul followed me into the lounge and proceeded to count out £25,000 in used notes, to cover the balance. I retrieved my stash. We took turns to skin-up and played cards until the early hours of the morning. Then Paul left and I retired to bed.


I don't fucking believe it! I just don't... jeez! My killing of the good old Leader is languishing on page two of the newspaper. It should be embellishing the front page but, instead, some guy killing homosexuals has stolen my thunder. Still, a milk bottle up the arse is noteworthy. But, does it justify front page? NO!

I put the paper to the flame of my lighter and watched the news dance like a raver on six E and a handful of acid trips. That will teach them to prevent me from becoming a star.

That night, after my bad luck at having only made page two, I hit the town to drown my sorrows. There'd been no work today and the track was closed. If I can't earn money, I may as well spend it. I started on snakebite but I was soon chasing them down with double Tequilas. I felt fine, but I knew tomorrow would be a different story.

I woke early - always happens when I forget to turn off the alarm clock. The other side of the bed was empty. I hadn't expected anything else. I lay back on the pillow, attempting to piece together the previous night's events. It could have been no worse than the last bender I was on.

Last night, as far as I could remember, was uneventful. Well, apart from bringing up my dinner, pickled in alcohol, all over a car parked nearby. I blame the driver: bad place to park. I tried to laugh but my head hurt. I rolled over and went back to sleep.


I entered the dark, dingy public house and scanned immediately to take in my surroundings. Men, women, all tapping feet to a band playing on a makeshift beer crate stage. I spotted my 'hit' in an instant - shocking to the eye as well as the ear. Repel was the name of his deodorant, soap and mother. The clatter finished and the gathering of worshippers applauded. I ordered a Scotch. A double.

Another song, this one imaginatively entitled 'Trainspotters'. After the first chorus, I couldn't wait to blow this idiot away. Here's a sample of the lyrics, you see if I'm not right: "Trainspotters are so controversial, because their anoraks are reversible."

Enough said.

I took the Scotch and drained the glass of the rich, warming liquid. I signalled for a refill as the glance slammed against the bar. I poured the new drink into my hip flask and smiled. I left the pub through the window in the loo and came out into the alleyway behind the building. The battered sign with the chalk scrawl of 'STAGE DOOR' swung in the wind. I positioned myself on the wall opposite and drank.

I could hear the jukebox skipping on a teen track. By now, I was outside hiding in a bush, above the wall and opposite the fire escape. Ready to collect another easy payday. The stage door, which I could see clearly from my vantage point, opened. Then, it closed. I was about to pull the trigger when I realised that my target was levitating three feet off of the ground and gurgling like a plug hole. It was only then that I saw the figure in black hanging from the fire escape; a silent, human stalactite.

I watched, stunned, as my target hit the alleyway. The figure dropped down and calmly walked away, not making a sound. I made my way across from my hiding place and stepped across to the body. Dead. I pumped three bullets into the corpse, just to be sure. I needed proof that I'd shot him, but the satisfaction vaporised quickly. I moved quietly down the alleyway and into my car. I needed a drink.


I did it. That is what 'they' said. The newspapers had placed me centre stage at last. Something to smile about, a reason to laugh. Only I knew. But, the figure. Who? Why? It's not my problem, as long as I get my cash. You see, the track reopens tomorrow and I intend to make a killing, if you'll pardon the pun. Here's the tip: 20-1, two-year old at Kempton. Name: Killer on the Loose. Sure-fire winner. Something to smile about, a reason to laugh. You'll see.


Drinks are on me. Take the tip? 20-1 and it came in. Yes, fucking blinding. I took a long hit from the pint of lager in front of me, following it down with the remainder of my flask. I knew this was me for the day; each time I looked at the form guide it broke into two and swam from side-to-side.

I nodded to the barman, lifted my glass and sunk the last half of my pint as a new one was being poured. Even now, I was £1600 better off than I had been that morning. Also, Paul was coming round to pay me the money owed from the hit the other night. I was inclined, in my present state, to ask for more, considering my standing in the national press. Luck, however, can be pushed. It cannot be saved once it's plummeted over the edge.

Well, enough of my philosophical ramblings, on with the drinking.


There was a knock at the door. I knew it was Mr. Immaculate - Paul. I had a spliff ready, Pantera was loud and my mood was good. I opened the door.

"Evening," Paul said, grimly.
"Come in," I invited. Paul crossed past me and into the lounge. I could sense he was not his normal happy self. I lit the spliff, took three tokes and passed it to Paul.
"Drink?" I enquired, as Paul relieved me of the joint. He nodded his head. I was just pouring the bourbon when Paul dropped the bombshell.


"Of course it was me!" I was shouting now. Paul just stared at me in disbelief.
"I know you didn't kill him, he was already dead before you shot him. I have my sources and they are never wrong." Paul wasn't smiling and that wasn't a good thing.

I glared at him in anger and frustration. How could he know? How? He set down half my fee in used notes. A goodwill gesture he called it. Pantera played on, spilling out the words: DON'T FUCK WITH THIS. MY thoughts exactly. Paul left and I sketched out my plan. To err is to be human; so is to react and I fully intended to do so.

I knew where Paul lived. That was his biggest mistake, giving me his home phone number. They say it's good to talk. Fucking right it is. This was going to be easy.

Paul was in when I arrived. I could see him clearly through his bedroom window. I even used his ladder - the irony! As I watched Paul move into the en suite bathroom, I quickly and quietly lifted the unlocked sash window. Less than a minute later, I was replacing the ladder where I'd found it. Job done.


"I'm here tonight, reporting on the death of a local businessman, named by police as Paul McIntyre. He is believed to have had certain underworld connections and police are not treating his death as suspicious. Several rivals have been killed in recent weeks and Mr. McIntyre's death will be added to the growing list of gangland killings. Police say they have no suspect and are appealing for witnesses. This is Edward Cunningham for the nine o'clock news."

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Second chances

It’s quite simple – I’m a ghost. I don’t care if you believe in ghosts or not, I am what I am and what I am, etc, etc. I’ve been this way for some years now, since I bumped into a wall. I say bumped, perhaps I should clarify that I was contained in a lump of metal called a car and was travelling at 75 miles-per-hour. It’s those kinds of details that make a difference.

I can’t prove that I’m a ghost and not just some figment of the imagination. Well, maybe I can. Let me give you some instances and then you can judge for yourself.

You ever seen a girl on the dance floor of your local club giving it her all on her own when she appears to be dancing with someone else? Or, perhaps your own girlfriend or wife has woken up in the morning and told you she dreamt about having glorious sex all night? You’ve all seen a certain president look like a startled rabbit with a gaze that suggests someone has just shoved something up his arse? I don’t think I need to spell it out.

Well, I was quite happy in this interim state. I liked floating about, shagging your significant other, dancing with the pretty girls (not to mention having a sly grope now and again) and putting the ‘wind’ up heads of state, let me tell you. Nothing could have made me change this way of… erm, death. Or so I thought.

Now, you’ve got to admit that being dead has its perks: no more taxation; no more having to deal with colleagues that in any other century would have been locked away or burned at the stake; no more shopping for food or taking public transport. No more sleeping, eating, shitting or pissing. Oh, the death. Love every minute of it, if I have to be honest.

And, honest I am. I’m not one of those ghosts that cause harm – girls get to dance, you get a surprise blow job from the other half and I like bringing an element of surprise to state matters. I like to make things fun, do stuff that I would never have been able to do when a mere mortal.

What they don’t tell you in the ghost manual (we all get one given to us as soon as we pass over from the living) is that you are still susceptible to human emotions. This is the bitch. You feel guilty, horny, happy and sad. And yes, you do occasionally fall in love.

This brings me to my current conundrum. She’s amazing, the most beautiful woman your brain can conjure up and much more besides. She’s so gorgeous I haven’t even attempted to touch her! Okay, I’ve had a sneaky peek, who wouldn’t in my position? I’ve never met anyone like it before and I’m not sure I will again. So, what do I do? Shall I kill her and bring her to my side of things and see if I can get her to fall for me? Something tells me that this approach is doomed to failure. I mean, if someone killed you, the last thing you’ll feel is an undying love for them. Pardon the pun.

Which is why, as soon as the offer was made to me I decided to grab it with both hands.

Let me introduce David. What do you mean you don’t know him? Let me jog your memory: God, Mohammad, Buddha, Maitreya, whatever you might know him as. Well, out here we don’t go for the formal naming, we like to be friendly and informal. So, we call him David. Calling him Dave is somewhat taking the piss, so that’s how we refer to him behind his back. That’s another fallacy – he is not all-seeing. Get him out to the nightclub, though, and I can assure you he does actually move in mysterious ways.

I digress. I was having my usual espresso in the morning when David came in. Someone closed the door behind him and muttered something about it being a windy day. He came straight over to me, sat down and said: what would you say to a second chance?

I was bowled over. In the time it takes to say yes I’d said… yes. Turns out I didn’t like this ghost business all that much, not since I’d seen her. I wanted that second chance like some men want a pair of tits (I grant that some men do have them) or a harem of lovely ladies to satisfy their every desire. Or, like some women want more shoes and bags.

We poured over catalogues, looking at the recently deceased who’d passed up the chance to be a ghost and taken the easy way out and ascended to the twelve floor suites, known as Heaven. Granted, some pressed the wrong button and ended up in the boiler room, but stupidity doesn’t leave you when you die. Sorry to break that one to you.

Finally, I found one I thought was perfect. Within days I was in David’s house and we were preparing for the swap. I was nervous, as you’d expect, but I wanted to go through with it like nothing else I’d ever wanted in my whole death – or my whole life come to think of it. In a flash it was over.

I woke up in a strange bed (okay, I admit that’s happened before) and opened my eyes. Turning over I was apprehensive. Who was sharing this bed with me? Had it all turned out right? Please David, don’t let me be next to an ugly pig with bad breath.

But, I needn’t have worried. David is thorough if nothing else. I must thank him for giving me another chance. I’ve got a bone to pick with him, though. What was the sarcastic bastard thinking when he gave me a lisp and a dodgy eye?

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Food for thought

Jason felt the wind on the back of his neck as the boat pulled slowly into the dock. He hadn’t been home in too long; would it even feel the same?

The horn sounded, the wind whipping it away before it could damage the ears of the passengers stood on deck. There weren’t many, not with the slight drizzle that had started some minutes before. Jason glanced around: it was a mix of young professionals, just like him. They were the people that had left when times had been bad and now, just like him, they were returning to see if their sins were forgiven.

Jason wondered how much had really changed. Kiko told some tall stories, many of which Jason couldn’t truly believe. Now, he had the chance to see it all for himself – to see whether Kiko was telling the truth. Some of the earlier stories had made Jason scared to return, but slowly they had lightened to the point of being laugh out loud funny.

Jason, you won’t believe what is happening here, you are so lucky to be out of it, Kiko had written. They are taking the young and placing us in tanks. They are breeding us, Jason; they are creating food for the masses from the young. Stay away. I am trying to come to you, please don’t forget me. Your friend, Kiko.

Jason had been worried. He had tried to call Kiko, but there had been no reply. About a week later he had received another missive. This time Kiko had admitted he was lying, had excused his rampant imagination and sorry if he had worried Jason in any way. He had only been joking. Ha ha, how funny it was.

A smile had crossed Jason’s face. He was reminiscing about Kiko, his friend.

The boat was docking, people were milling around on the deck, staring out towards the quay, squinting to see their loved ones waving back across the water. Jason could see no one he recognised.

An alarm sounded and the tannoy crackled to life. Passengers were being asked to return to their cabins for disembarking. One by one, they moved off, making their way down below deck. Jason followed the crowd back to his own berth.

As Jason grabbed the last of his clothes and packed them away into his suitcase, he heard the lock of his cabin door click shut. Thinking little of it, he continued to stuff shirts and jeans into any spare space he could find in his luggage. After a brief fight with the zipper, Jason was ready to leave, ready to see his friends and find out what had changed since he had left all those years before.

He moved towards the door, grabbing the handle with his free hand. It wouldn’t budge. Jason dropped his suitcase on the floor and tried to turn the door handle with both hands but it was still stuck fast. He hammered on the door with his fists, a dull clang ringing out. It was answered by a hundred other similar bangs. The noise was interspersed with the sound of people yelling for help. They were all trapped.

Quickly, Jason ran to the porthole window, his face filling up the small aperture. He peered out, hoping to see what the problem was. They were close now, the dockside was clearly visible.

It wasn’t lined with well-wishers, friends or family: it was lined with trucks. They all carried the same signage: Kiko’s Slaughterhouse, feeding the nation with fresh, young meat.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Never saw it coming

– There are no answers to your questions, so please stop asking them. Now, can we get back to the job in hand, please?

Jon sat back, the shovel resting against his knee.

– The thing is, Cody, I ain’t got the strength to do this no more, I’m beat. I just want to know who we’re working for. C’mon, it’s been four years – and yes, they’ve been glorious and we’ve been paid well, but I have this, I dunno, nagging suspicion. Look, I can’t explain, I just had enough.

Cody sat down next to him, put his thick, muscled arm around Jon’s shoulders and squeezed tight. Jon felt the air in his lungs compress, the bones crack, as Cody pulled harder and harder.

– Now Jon, what have I been telling you? It’s a need to know basis, and I know it’s a cliché, but you don’t need to fucking know. Now, dig.

Jon stood up again, his knees cracking, and continued digging the hole. It had already reached a good four feet in depth, but it needed to be a whole lot deeper by the time they’d finished the job.

Jon and Cody had been at this kind of work for most of their lives; they’d met at school, running small scams and making some extra pocket money for themselves over the years. Progression into the adult world of crime wasn’t as big a step up the ladder as they’d thought. It had come easy, almost too easily for Jon. He was beginning to question his role in life and where this career might be taking him.

Cody didn’t like questions. Not one little bit.

Within the hour the hole was dug, fresh earth spilling around the edges like the foam on their daily cappuccinos. Cody wiped his mouth on the back of his sleeve, reached into his back pocket and pulled out a battered carton of cigarettes. He offered one to Jon, even though he knew he wasn’t a smoker. Sometimes he liked to hold one in his fingers. Cody didn’t mind the waste, not if it kept this partner calm and collected. Panic was the one thing that he couldn’t afford; it just wasn’t the done thing in this business.

Jon was watching an earthworm crawl from the sheer sides of the hole they’d dug. He knew it was a grave. What was bugging him was who the grave was for. Jon had never whacked anyone, he didn’t even like guns. He didn’t like violence. Jon was a quick thinker and liked the buzz of scamming people, but there wasn’t so much work for that kind of skill anymore. He hadn’t kept up with the computer age and there were people half his age making money hand-over-fist in that game. Jon was only good for digging.

– So, we done here? Jon asked.
– Yeah, I reckon. We gotta wait around for the boss to come over, though. Apparently, he wants to meet his ‘dynamic duo’ – that’s what he calls us y’know. Hehe, Dynamic Duo.

Cody was shaking his head, chuckling at his little joke. Jon knew that only one of them could ever be considered dynamic and it wasn’t the shit-for-brains standing next to him. Cody did, however, provide the muscle.

– Who’d ya reckon this grave is for then?

Jon knew that simply asking would get Cody’s back up, but he wanted to see if it was a question that could be answered.

– If you ain’t careful Jon, it’ll be your fucking resting place. Now, shut up. You don’t want the boss to hear ya talking like that.

Jon was mute again, staring at his muddy shoes as if in a trance. He threw his shovel to the ground and sat down against a nearby tree.

– Listen Cody, I’m taking a nap here. Wake me when the boss comes, okay?
– Yeah, sure, came the reply.

When Jon was certain that Cody was looking the other way, he snuck back into the shadows and disappeared into the undergrowth. Within a few minutes he could hear the whisper of Cody’s voice as he called Jon’s name, trying not to draw attention to himself in the process. Jon heard a car pull up in the distance and he quickly made his way deeper in amongst the trees. Cody had stopped calling his name.

Cody spun around at the sound of footsteps coming up the path behind him.

– Jon, is that you?

No reply came. The only sound was the crunch of gravel. Suddenly, a light was shining straight at Cody. He raised his arms to try and shield himself from the glare. Was it the police? That was the first thought that came into his head. Then, a voice spoke.

– Well, Cody, you all on your lonesome?
– Er, yeah boss. Jon, he’s, er… the thing is, he’s having a shit in the woods, I think. Shouldn’t be too long.
– Okay. Is the hole dug?

Cody wondered why the light was shining in his face, why the boss was asking him these questions. He shivered as he became aware that it was cold. The exertion of digging had made him sweat and now the light wind was making the air seem cooler than it actually was.

– Yes, boss. We made the hole a good deep one, just like you asked us to.
– Well then, Cody. All we need to do now is fill it.
– You show me the body and I’ll do the rest, boss.

Oh, he would be shown the body, thought Jon, as he pulled a gun from his pocket. He let the light drop from Cody’s face, giving him a glimpse of his own face in the process. The gun was raised and Jon’s finger was on the trigger.

– Jon? What’s that f..?

Cody never got to finish his sentence.

– It’s not Jon, it’s boss to you.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Posting from Word

I downloaded the new Blogger for Word application today and that last story was posted in that fashion.

Looks okay, doesn't it?

Well, it does now.

Here's some issues I found: as MS Word can't create HTML and doesn't recognise that my blog uses style sheets, it formatted the text in such a way that it stood out like a sore thumb. It still produces FONT tags! Doh.

So, I edited the post, re-formatted it with the usual blogging style sheet applied and it now looks like the rest of this blog.

Good idea, unfortunately it had to include something by Microsoft.

purplesimon out...

Going Nowhere

I watched the sun set over the furrowed brow of the hills before I settled down for the night. It had been a long day on the road. I pitched the flimsy tent I was carrying before the dusk settled down in a dark mist to form the night. The moon seemed to sail upwards, as if someone somewhere played with a different yo-yo. The tent flap was zipped just in time, as mosquitoes swarmed towards my tent: their Mecca. I lay back with a cigarette clenched between my lips and prayed for the dawn of a new day.

As the sun broke through the early clouds, I awoke and clambered from my sleeping bag to greet it. I unzipped the flap, stepped out, unaware of my own nakedness, and lapped up the new warmth hurled forth from space. I examined my nude body for mosquito bites and found none; a first on my travels. Awkwardly, I pulled on my clothes and packed the tent away, clumsily. I spied a stream one hundred yards or so to my left and, kettle in hand, I went to get breakfast started.

The water felt cool against my hands and so I decided to swim before I ate. The stream of water barely covered me as I lay on my back, but occasionally it caught my by surprise by rearing up like a frightened horse to infiltrate my nostrils as I took a breath. I coughed and floundered in the shallow depths.

Drowning, drowning, I thought before my senses could take control and haul me into the air. I attempted to appear nonchalant but my fluster stood bold. Nothing could see me, near me, but still I felt something watch my predicament. The pangs of hunger that drifted from the hills and I instantly forgot my foolhardy attempt at drowning. It was shallow as the water I was lying in.

I filled the kettle, gathered some sticks with which to construct a fire and headed off back to abstract collection of artefacts I needed when travelling. I lit a cigarette on arrival; then I lit the chaotic bundle of sticks, watching as the flames licked around the base of the pile. I placed my kettle on a stand over the fire and prepared my tea.

Reaching into my rucksack, I produced two thin slices of bread – white and threadbare. I pushed a stick through one slice and held it over the flames to toast, while the kettle began to build to a whistle. Soon a prominent tune was breaking the silent haze of the morning. Breakfast was ready.

I finished eating and washed up in the stream. I re-packed my battered rucksack and trudged back to the road. It would be a long, hot day and I exercised my thumb as cars sped past. My heart sank as the brake lights failed to glow. I had better luck at my fourteenth attempt and found myself climbing into the bucket seat of a red saloon. I turned to face my new chauffeur.

She was definitely going my way.

I was sucking on a joint she had rolled, sparked and then passed to me. Her name was Sheila and she was "just driving to nowhere, looking for some fun." We were kindred spirits, except I was without the wheels. I passed the joint back and lit a Marlboro.

We stopped off at the Petit Café at the roadside and took a seat. I ordered scrambled eggs, butter-soaked toast and a pot of tea for each of us. Over the next half hour we discussed our private lives and the distant years I thought I’d forgotten were dredged up, as if to prove that pain could never be relinquished. Sheila remained quiet as I told of my past. The skeletons in my closet weren’t few and far between, by any means. Honesty hurts sometimes, but lying makes honesty feel like a holiday in paradise so I spare her the bullshit and lay all my cards on the table.

Now, it was her deal.

I could see she sensed my being honest and she spilled out story after story, spewing out thought after thought until finally she was spent. Our lunch arrived to break the spell and we both ate heartily to fill the void we had just opened.

Hell might be hot, but it’s no comparison for a paradise lost.

Back in the car, another joint was passed back and forth and looming black mood shrank back. The rear view mirror was clear, nothing bad was following us. The laughter emanating from the car overshadowed the noise of the engine. We looked for somewhere to pitch the tent.

Today was a day the Gods would forever remember.

We both woke to the sound of rain on the tent, our sleep shattered. One of the seams had started to leak and Sheila laughed as a solitary drop of water slithered down my forehead and sat on the bridge of my nose before plunging off the precipice, headlong into the sleeping bag. I packed my belongings and stepped out naked, into the rain. The pins of water stuck in body as I showered.

We left the tent standing in the clearing; a monument to our travels together. I knew the trees would stand guard on the treasure if we should ever have to return; Sheila said "X marks the spot" and had drawn a huge cross in the mud with a stick as the rain lashed around her.

I made tea in the car and rolled a joint for Sheila; I lit a Marlboro and watched the cross she had drawn disappear in the marauding quagmire. She laughed. That was a morning not forgotten.

I drove as Sheila took a nap in the passenger seat. She smiled even as she slept. I could never sleep in the day but Sheila, well, she could sleep at any time. I was feeling hungry. I pulled the car into a lay-by and cut the engine. Sheila didn’t stir.

I reached over into the back seat and hunted around for some food, a packet of chips I knew was lying back there. My hand came across something cold. I gripped it and pulled it over to the front.

That was the final thing I care to remember. Now, I am prisoner 6439916/B and I sit alone in my cell. They wouldn’t let me attend her funeral. It was an accident. Twenty-five years is all I have to look forward to now. I’m going nowhere.

Yet another blog to keep an eye on

The list is getting dangerously big, but all the blogs I mention on this site are really worth popping along to, even if it's only the once.

The latest is posted on the Blogger Dashboard, but before it goes I want to immortalise it here.

The reason? I love my music. Adore it.

The ClipTip blog is a great place to watch some outstanding videos as well as pick out some great bands. I'd check out the link to Ambulance Ltd, currently a favourite of mine.

It'll be added to the listings, in case you forget to read this post.

purplesimon out...

A flurry of new stories

As you may have noticed, there has been a whole set of new stories posted on this blog. How did that come about, especially as I posted that I wouldn't be able to post much.

Am I am liar?

Well, no. I happened to be working from home this week and I used my spare time to type up some old stories from way back, as well as rewrite whole sections of them - I don't know where my head was at all those years ago.

I haven't exhausted this supply of stories, there are about another three or four I've uncovered. I also came across a play I wrote, which I might also post up, if I can find the time to type it in.

In the meantime, if you still think you'd rather read only stories here and pop along to another blog to read my opinions and rants, please let me know. Your comments are always appreciated.

purplesimon out...

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Soldiering On

The cold clenched its fist around the blanket covering Sheena. We had become trapped down in this bunker since the first shell had landed, probably nine days ago – I’d lost track of the time, the day, sometimes even the year. Night became day with the constant shelling of the surrounding buildings.

Sheena stirred beneath his shelter. I kept my eyes firmly fixed on the skyline, attempting to discern how safe it would be to move out from our hiding place and into the open air of the battlefield. From my estimations, I believed the hospital to be only a few hundred yards from our present position. If we gave ourselves an outside chance we could be having our wounds tended by a sweet nurse, sympathetic to our cause as soldiers.

The sky rumbled against a background of smoke and flashing, hypnotic explosive light. I sat back, closed my eyes and sucked in a large gulp of harsh air; the acrid atmosphere was all I had breathed, the army did not sequester gas masks to its recruits. A cough from beneath the blanket brought me back to my duty: I had to move Sheena soon or else death was marching onward to claim our souls.

The trench had become a maze of corpses in varying states of decomposition. When the war was over, a bulldozer would simply come and backfill the meandering scars with fresh soil, forever burying a part of history; forever negating the role of the government in this massacre. How well the media was covering the event was unbeknownst to all but a privileged few and they were surely never going to tell us about the goings-on behind the thin veil of bombings and bullet hole parties.

What had become of the rest of the world, one could only guess at; this was the only time that we, the militants, could ever be conservative. I was beginning to wonder if any other country really cared about the atrocities conveyed by the guerrilla forces. There was certainly nobody around now to answer these questions for me, it was only I who could make the decisions about the future of the next generation. Who else might be left was down to guesswork and dreaming. Or nightmares.

Another day has definitely passed. The sun shone through the clouds of whirling, billowing smoke for a second. I had glimpsed a future, a sign even. I decided to read it that way. Flakes of charred snow fell into our trench hideaway. They were burning our city.

I grasped Sheena under my curving arm, my legs testing the stability of the ground underfoot and the weight I was asking it to bear. He had lost weight and felt like a feather in m embrace. I took a step towards the high banks of the trench, the ground remaining sturdy beneath my heavy boots. Heaving Sheena over one shoulder I began the ascent to the top. The breath was wheezing through his lungs with my every step. I felt a slow trickle of his blood down my neck where it mingled with my sweat at the nape. He was dying and I was his only chance.

The ashen snow of the burning buildings intermingled with an acidic shower of rain: urine of the sky. I raised my head to drink, forcing myself to swallow the bitter, burning liquid of life. I kept some in my mouth and transferred it on to Sheena’s blistered lips. He hadn’t taken any fluid since receiving the shrapnel wound in his side. I had kept him alive as best I could, but supplies had become non-existent some time ago. Moving on was our only hope.

I had reached the top of the trench, our stinking pit of death lying below. Peering over the edge of the banked topsoil I could see nothing of the landscape nor provide any information regarding its topography. I moved my head through 180 degrees, left to right, allowing my escaping breath to blow away the ubiquitous smoke surrounding us. Sheena coughed and I remembered he was still over my shoulder. Momentarily I had forgotten the desperate load I carried. Not purposely forgotten; the soldier in me had taken over.

I listened intently for any noise which would give away the position of the enemy soldiers. As I expected, there was nothing. I relieved my burden on to the soft earth banked around my hiding place. I felt as if I were climbing from a grave, freshly dug to intern the helpless soldiers. We were the giblets of war.

Around us was chaos. The road system was inchoate, fallen trucks and tanks blocking the path for anything larger than a bicycle. Or a man. I knew from my training that these were also good places to conceal a sniper. I pressed my palm against the holster attached to my belt and felt much safer. I hoped that I had remembered to load some bullets into my gun.

Fear is the mother of paranoia, one feeding the other until reality is all but a distant memory. I could sense nothing in the immediate vicinity as I dragged myself from the suction of safety and into the open space of the city.

I took Sheena in my arms, his limbs flailing madly through unconsciousness. He was limp and heavy cupped to my chest as I lumbered through the choking mud of the war.

Gritting my teeth I Iaboured towards where I thought the hospital stood. I hoped it would still be standing, efficient doctors and nurses coming to our aid with bandages and brandy. Clouds of dust rose from the destruction that had taken place during the night. Flames still flickered around window frames and doorways; the ash had consumed the earth as the smoke had the sky, leaving no area untouched. I made the precarious journey of hope against a backdrop of burning, smoking ruins that I had once been proud to call my home.

Finally, I found myself and Sheena beside an upturned lorry. To m surprise it had yet to be looted. I thought again about how this was a dangerous situation to be in as I searched feverishly for medical supplies and any source of food that could be considered edible by the human body. My composure was wearing thin when I stumbled across tins of fruit and meat. My joy was overshadowed by the discovery that medical supplies would not be coming to us via some other’s misfortune.

I ate heartily, Sheena even managed a few mouthfuls of food before collapsing through the exhaustion of staying alive. I sang a melody in my head, creating a song in my mind to help block out the horror of right and wrong. Long has it all been forgotten exactly who is right and whether anyone was wrong in the first place.

I decided to press on into the wilderness I had once called home. Nothing looked as I had remembered it and I found my bearings hard to make. Through the briefest of clearings in the smoke I could espy the ruins of the city’s cathedral. Even a building of religious sanctity could not be spared from the bombing. Tears reached my cheeks as I gripped the almost lifeless body to my own, in the hope that I may keep my friend and colleague alive. I lurched toward the cathedral, the hospital had only been one block away and there, like an oasis, the buildings stood proud and forthright.

I blinked my way forward, the tears I had shed before gone, replaced by a blinding cacophony of falling ash. I stood before the House of God mentally crossing myself before resuming my sickeningly slow pace. I had been correct in my assumptions: the hospital stood, a menhir amongst the buildings that had been razed to the ground. They formed a derelict sight, a concoction of death and destruction. My heart was pounding as I swallowed it back. My elation was cascading from my every pore, a smile eclipsing my scarred features. I must have looked radiant.

I felt as if nothing could harm me. The sounds of war disappeared into the distance, a shroud of womb-like air nestled around the form of this soldier, marching with the wounded in hand from the tragicomedy of pride we call war.

Don't Swim in the Pool

Michael looked up from the table, across smoke and empty beer bottles, to the door. It opened almost immediately and in strode a tall man wearing a cowboy hat and a long leather coat.

”Over here,” called Michael

The man walked forward, stepping under the light, staring with his intense eyes at Michael. He took a seat and signalled to the barman that he wanted serving. He sat back, noticing Michael holding him in his gaze apprehensively.

The barman stepped over the man ordered two beers without shifting his gaze from Michael.

”I guess you must be Michael Shelton?” the man said, finally.

”Yes,” replied Michael, glad that the silence was finally halted, but unsure of the conversation.

The beers arrived and Michael took a large slug from his bottle to calm his nerves.

”As you know,” Michael began, “I am from a large magazine called Pedestal and I am interested in interviewing you on a subject I know nothing about. I believe that you contacted my editor about this. What gives?”

”Patience my friend, patience. All will be revealed.”

The man reached into the breast pocket of his shirt and pulled free a packet of Marlboro cigarettes; he placed one between his lips and lit it before offering on to Michael.

” I don’t smoke, thank you,” he said, declining the offer. “What is this all a…”

”Patience!” interrupted the man. “I am Chris Palscul and I have a story to tell. You, my friend, only need to listen."

It all started back in 1985. I was drinking in a bar in London, but this is irrelevant. Playing pool was my life, always had been and always will be. That particular day had been a bad one: I’d just been sacked from my job; my wife at the time was giving me hassles and my so-called friends just didn’t want to know me. I was sitting drinking, just as we are, when an elderly gentleman entered the bar. He came straight for my table, sat down and ordered two beers.

”Hello Chris,” he said, “fancy a game of pool?”

To say I was a little taken aback is an understatement. I didn’t know this man from, well, Adam. Still, I took him up on his offer. He told me his name was George Winters and that he had seen me playing pool a few days before and had inquired as to who I was. At least that explained how he came to know my name but not his motives. This was just the beginning.

Michael ordered two more beers and took a cigarette from Chris’ packet that was lying on the table between them.

”May I?” he asked

”Go ahead my friend,” Chris said as he leaned forward with his lighter.

Please continue,” Michael uttered as he turned the tape over in his Dictaphone.

Well, George and I played a couple of frames. He was good, but I managed to take a couple of frames from him.

Chris sat back and contemplated what he had just said. He reached up and scratched his forehead and used the back of his weathered hand to wipe the sweat from his brow.

”Do to continue when you feel ready. I’m interested,” prodded Michael.

”Thank you,” replied Chris, reaching for his cigarettes. He lit one methodically and inhaled. Michael could distinctly hear the rĂ¢le in each breath. Chris continued.

As I said, I took a couple of games from the old man and I felt good, like I’d never felt before. I guessed it was the beer, but it was stranger, somehow more personal. It was as if he knew just how to make things seem brighter. All was going well, in my opinion, but how wrong I was.

”What do you mean?” interrupted Michael.

”Patience!” barked Chris angrily.

George went to the bar and gestured to the landlord. A nod was returned and I proceeded to take my next shot. As I drew back my arm George clamped his hand around it firmly and asked me to follow him. Without a single thought, I did. It was as if I could not resist this man, his thoughts.

He led me through a door and into a back room, which I didn’t even know existed. Standing in this room was the most pristine pool table I’ve ever come across. It was already racked up and ready to play. It was then that George spoke and I will never, to the day I die, forget what he said.

There was a clunk as the tape in the Dictaphone finished.

”Shit,” spat Michael. “Hold that thought,” he continued, trying to gain his composure. He fumbled in his jacket for a second tape and then he came upon it. He inserted it into the machine, pressing record with his thumb.

“I’m sorry, d-d-do continue,” he stammered, afraid he may have offended Chris. His drinking partner just sat there expressionless in front of him, waiting patiently. A moment’s pause was taken and then Chris began again.

George said to me… Have you ever wanted to hurt people, to kill people, without getting directly involved?

I just stood there, dumbstruck. I mean, what do you say? He repeated the question and my head just filled with thoughts of my boss sacking me, my friends disowning me, all the people I have ever hated and right at the forefront of this was my wife. Without thinking, I mumbled yes. It felt good, like a weight had been lifted.

George handed me a piece of chalk and showed me to the board. On it were numbers – from one to eight – and a space next to each number. He told me to fill in each space with the names of the people I hated most, reserving the eight ball for that one person whom I hated most of all at that particular time. I did just as he said and I placed my wife’s name on the line opposite the eight ball.

George told me we would play a game of pool. I was to pot each ball in turn, from one to eight, but in that order. He said that each time I potted a ball the corresponding person would die. Then he asked me to make my break.

”And did you?” Michael asked expectantly.

”Yeah, but I couldn’t go through with potting the balls, it made me feel physically sick.

”I don’t blame you,” agreed Michael, as he pushed back the sour taste in his mouth and throat.

”There is more,” Chris said, finally. “So, you’d better turn your tape over.”

Michael did as instructed, inhaling hard on his cigarette as he prepared for Chris’ next instalment. After what seemed like days, Chris finally spoke.

George didn’t even bat an eyelid when I declined to pot the balls, he simply took my cue from me and potted the first ball. He looked me in the eye and said: I’ll do it for you kid, don’t you worry.

”Didn’t you question him?” enquired Michael.

”I only had one question: what happens if the cue ball goes down?

”And?” Michael said, excitedly.

”The person who takes the shot dies instead.

Somewhere, a pin was thrust into the balloon of Michael’s excitement and it deflated with a pop.

Chris took up the story where he had left off.

Well, George answered my question, but he stressed that he had never witnessed a cue ball going in. It was as if some force was controlling it. With that he rattled the shots off until only the black eight ball remained. George stood up and offered me a cigarette. It was then that I took up smoking as a second job.

”Well, who wouldn’t?” Michael concluded.

Anyway, we sat there and smoked, but not a single word was exchanged. When he had finished his ciggy, George stubbed it out under his boot and leaned forward, over the table to pot the final ball. As he did so, a picture of my wife flashed into my head. It was as clear as if she’d been there. A snapshot. I couldn’t let him go through with it: I still loved her.

I watched George’s arm pull back and I cried out for him to stop. The sequence of events that followed I never want to witness again.

The cue tip struck the white ball. It skewed off in the direction of the far corner pocket. George leapt for it, but he just missed and down it went.

George dropped the cue as if it were a red hot poker and clasped his hands to his throat. He made noises, horrible sounds like he was choking although he didn’t appear to be asphyxiating. He fell to the floor, convulsing and then he just, well, melted into the floor. He disappeared. I got up, left and I never went back. Never.

”What about your wife?” Michael asked.

”Well, she survived. I guess I didn’t hate her after all. A case of misguided love, you could say.” Chris answered.

”Jesus,” said Michael, repeating it over and over.

”That is all my friend, that is all I have to tell you. Any questions?”

“Just one,” replied Michael. “Have you got time for a game?”

“Rack ‘em up…”