Shitty Days

Phil had a bit of a problem: the universe didn’t like him. People tend not to realise that the universe has its own views, they don’t realise that it has thoughts at all, let alone desires and certainly not a sense of humour. Sometimes the universe does things we can appreciate, like creating beings which can appreciate. But sometimes the universe does things we don’t like, sending meteors careening off towards a planet filled with life or causing earthquakes; it does not do these things cruelly, it is simply indifferent. The universe was not indifferent to Phil, it actively played pranks on him, deliberately trying to bring mischief to his life. It hadn’t always been that way…

One morning, Phil woke up to his alarm as per usual, but sitting next to his bed was a short, elderly man on a stool, swinging a pocket watch in his wizened hand with a pendulous motion. “You will go back to sleep,” he began, “you will forget about work for today.” Before he could object, before he could even panic at the sight of an intruder, Phil had fallen back to sleep and forgot about going to work.

Later that morning, Phil woke up without his alarm. There was no little old man, the window was closed, the bedroom door locked. An odd dream, he thought. Phil tried to sit up, but the effort it took was enormous. He felt his body begin to be pulled down into the bed, it was agonising, his head, neck and shoulders stayed where they were, pinned firmly down, as his legs and torso were being stretched for miles down through his bed. His body was on fire, his eyes boiling, his flesh blistering. He was ready to give up and die when he passed out.

Phil woke three days later, he did not know the time as all of his clocks were showing different times. He got out of bed, his back was aching, and stumbled to the bathroom. As he stood in front of the sink, cleaning his teeth, his phone rang – it was work – he felt a sudden lurch and was thrown to the floor, his head hit the mat with a thud. He shook himself then stood up, paying no attention to what was around him, or rather what wasn’t around him. His bathroom had disappeared, his house had disappeared, the whole planet had disappeared. He looked down, but there was no down, there was space everywhere he looked, distant stars as far as he could see. He clung to the mat, struggling to breathe, slowly freezing. He closed his eyes, trembling violently, then opened them again and was back on the bathroom floor, his toothbrush resting near his head, the toothpaste smeared along the tiles. It was the last of the toothpaste.

Phil spent most of the day buried in an ant-hill with only his head poking out. The ants which owned the hill tickled him all over, crawled over his face, burrowed into his ears and prodded his eyeballs with their tarsal claws. He had resigned himself to this fate when his phone rang again. He agreed to go out for drinks – anything would be better than the ant-hill.

None of Phil’s clothes would fit. They had all been altered. His trousers were too long, his shirts were too tight or missing sleeves, his socks seemed to be paired between one the size of a sleeping bag and one which barely covered his big toe, his shoes even appeared to be made out of cardboard. Nothing he wore looked good, but he still found the resolve to go to the pub despite looking his absolute worst. Finally dressed, he walked down the stairs towards the front door. His staircase was nothing unusual, boasting the standard thirteen steps, but over three thousand steps later he had reached the bottom, sweating through his mismatched clothing, still unaware of the actual time.

He reached for the door handle but could not grasp it, like in a dream where the usually tangible becomes intangible, as though he was vibrating at completely the wrong frequencies and passing straight through the gaps in the atoms. This torturous phantasmagoria drove Phil to bash the door out of frustration. He heard a creaking. The door handle was suddenly physical again, but the door hinges were starting to buckle. He threw caution to the wind and opened the door; the wind threw him back against the stairs without caution. He charged head first against the forceful gales, he knew he didn’t have far to go to get to the pub. Everyone he passed on the way was heavily armed. He saw all manner of weapons, mostly guns, swords, the occasional axe, a cricket bat, and even an unusually large, muscular man with a peashooter.

He wasn’t strong enough to open the pub door but managed to sneak in when, what must have been a fourteen-year-old girl with a fake ID, opened the door with ease. The pub was crowded, he spotted his friends in amongst the throng, past a large group of girls. There was a deep rumbling beneath the music, at first he thought the bass had been turned up, but it was getting louder. The wall at the other end of the pub came crashing down, waves smashed through the droves and slammed down on Phil. It forced its way up his nose and mouth, choking him. It pounded his ribs, putting pressure on his chest. He tried to breathe but felt the fist of the water thumping down his gullet. His body buffeted off the bar, the tables, the walls, as the waves carried him back towards his home.

He washed up onto his bed, where he curled up into a ball and cried himself to sleep. The universe doesn’t do that sort of thing to Phil every day, it often leaves him alone, but sometimes it just takes the piss. If anything knows how to really take the piss, it’s the universe.

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First Kiss

They stood, gazing nervously into each other’s eyes. Oliver had placed his left hand on Sarah’s waist, his right hand, slightly sweaty, was palm to palm with hers, their fingers intertwined. She was trembling, but Oliver didn’t notice. He was breathing slightly heavily and his heart was trying to force its way out of his chest through his ribcage as she bit her lip invitingly.

Months had led up to that moment. Neither of them had been keen on the prospect of dating, but after countless furtive glances and repeated fleeting eye contact, their mutual friends finally forced them to act on their attraction. This led to a lot of awkward messaging, a lot of ambiguity and misunderstanding as they both repeatedly bottled attempts to ask the other out, but eventually they agreed to meet up, alone, with neither daring to call it a date.

The date that wasn’t openly acknowledged as a date wasn’t a complete disaster. Oliver wasn’t able to drive and had forgotten to book a taxi, so they had to get the bus. Sarah nervously rang the bell on the bus early, resulting in them having to cross a very muddy field – she was too embarrassed to admit her mistake and stay on the bus for two more stops. They eventually arrived at the zoo, where Oliver hoped to impress his date with some esoteric facts about the animals there; some might refer to Oliver as an animal lover, but he prefers animal enthusiast, not due to some fear that people might accuse him of bestiality, though he wouldn’t put it past them, but because he could honestly say that he has only ever loved one animal – his pet cat, Jones. His mental fact-file of animal trivia had gotten stuck on just one section – sex. ‘Did you know,’ he blurted out, ‘that female spotted hyaenas have an elongated clitoris called a pseudo-penis?’ They weren’t even looking at hyaenas at the time, as they are not to be found in the reptile enclosure.

The first part of the sort-of date led to the second, the meal, where Oliver mostly worried about pairing the wrong wine with the meal, though neither of them were drinking wine. They ate in relative silence, mostly reverting back to the quick, stolen glances they were more used to. She was damn near perfect, or so he reckoned. He could overlook the occasional grammatical errors in her messages, the way she dressed as though she was about to spend the evening on the couch, her lack of understanding of quantum mechanics and her distaste for Fifth Element. She was flawless. Oliver insisted on paying the bill but was overzealous with the tip. When they left the restaurant, Sarah ended up having to pay for the taxi.

Oliver and Sarah got out of the taxi together just outside her house. Oliver was feeling bold and yet terrifyingly nervous at the same time. The wine he hadn’t drunk had somehow gone to his head on top of the beer he had with his meal. She was intoxicating enough without alcohol. Oliver found his hand toying gently with hers, his other moving to her waist, and he leant in to kiss her.

At first, he wasn’t sure what he was doing, but it was amazing. Her lips were so soft, her tongue teased his, her hands pulled him in tighter. He felt the warmth of her body next to his, feeding into him, making him feel stronger. His body tingled, he felt electricity in his fingertips, in his toes, his hair was surely standing on end, he’d never felt excitement like it. The pounding in his chest was drowned out by the most ethereal choral music, entire hosts of angels in exultation for him, singing his praises to the heavens.

His mind went blank, had emptied in one orgasmic pulse, then filled again, slowly, liltingly. He felt the rhythm of her entire being as he saw everything. The entire universe, every particle, every antiparticle, every galaxy, every black hole, every flow of time and imaginary time, from beginning to end and end to beginning. She was melting into him, every inch of her body was consumed by his, every thought in her mind absorbed into his essence. They were one, now and forever, united by a kiss.

The first kiss. Sarah would never forget it. She’d always had a soft spot for Oliver, he looked at her as though he wanted her for who she was and not just another pretty girl. It took him a while to ask her out, but he didn’t dare call it a date and neither did she. It was an immensely awkward day, but there they were, outside Sarah’s house, pushing each other’s boundaries. Then he kissed her. It was tentative at first, but nice. She began to feel relaxed and pulled him in closer, she did not want the kiss to end too soon. He was warm, he’d been sweating a fair bit all day too, but it wasn’t too noticeable. He seemed to be getting hotter, it felt like he was melting. She felt herself unable to pull away, being pulled in tighter, his gravity was increasing; the parts of her body closest to him felt as though they were being torn away from her back, like some warped tug of war with her body. The pressure was intensifying, she felt her flesh searing as vibrations shattered her bones. Her febrile mind was rent into pieces as he forced his way into every memory, every private fantasy, every dream. Everything went white.

Sarah awoke in a prison. She could see out into the world but could do nothing. It was dark, it was lonely, there was no way out. She had been broken beyond fixing, she didn’t even want to be fixed. She wanted nothing. No life, no thoughts, no desires. Nothing.

Oliver stood alone outside Sarah’s house, looking up at the stars. He felt Sarah’s warmth deep inside him, smiled to himself, and went home. He had everything he wanted. It had been a good kiss.

 

The end of the world

George had traipsed through snow, his feet lazily crunching into the freshly laid blanket on the hill, the sound of the world turned down low so that all he could hear was his own shuffling. He picked a spot at the top, overlooking the town in which he grew up, and sat down. He felt the cold, wet snow soak through his trousers, but he didn’t care. It’s nearly the end of the year, he thought, but what have I done? A discussion began to bounce around his head. Well, you didn’t get that job you wanted, you failed your driving test, you’re still single and you’ve lost a few friends.

No, think of something good, something positive, he implored himself.

How about that pretty girl you finally talked to at the start of the year? You know, the one whose name you daren’t even think of in case she just so happens to be psychic, even though you don’t believe in psychics.

See, that’s a start. She makes me think. I like people who make me think. George was almost being optimistic.

But you’ve only spoken to her twice. To be fair, that’s pretty pathetic. Hardly progress.

Have I really done nothing? Have I really wasted this year? Am I too lazy? Too incompetent? Too scared? Where have I gone wrong?  Questions would not stop flooding into George’s head, it felt as though his mind was filling up, ready to burst.

You’ve not gone wrong, you’ve just not gone right. It’s not the end of the world.

The flooding of George’s mind suddenly stopped. The thoughts evaporated, leaving those final words to echo around the void. The end of the world. The end of the world. The end of the world…

George jumped to his feet and ran. He loped through the snow down the hill, running faster than he had in a long time. The end of the world. He bounded across a usually busy road without looking and headed for the woods which flanked the river. By now he would normally be doubled over with stitch, but none of his muscles seemed to realise that they were being used. He ran effortlessly, muttering five words to himself – “The end of the world.” George glided through the trees, skipped steps when he met stairs and found himself eventually running by the side of the river. The rushing waters spurred him on, nature’s chorus singing to him, “The end of the world.” Then he stopped. Before him was the bridge. It was the sort of bridge which you could tell was the pride and joy of the architect, the product of thousands of careful hours of potentially treacherous building for its Victorian construction team, a bridge which could tell a million stories of travels, companionship, love, death and more.

George slowly walked out onto the bridge, taking in the view of the snow-covered countryside. A small country church sat covered in snow near the horizon, like a perfect postcard picture. George climbed onto the side of the bridge, and, without a second thought, jumped into the water.

He felt only the thrill of the jump. He did not notice the iciness of the water, he just let it wash over him and began to swim. George had never been the strongest of swimmers, he didn’t even get to the deep end during swimming lessons at school, but he swam as though he was built for it, cutting through the water at record-breaking speed. He navigated the murky waters of the river, casting a large wake behind him, threading his way through canal systems and past weirs with only a single thought: the end of the world.

Shadows grew long in front of him as the Sun set to his rear, but even his shadow was struggling to match his pace. He felt the river widening as he smelled salt on the air – the sea was ahead. The end of the world. The first wave crashing against his face exhilarated him, he felt the tide flow with him and against him, trying to drag him out and force him back, but George was too forceful, too strong. The waves grew bigger and bigger, rain crashed down upon him as he headed into the heart of a storm. Lightning tore the sky in two, illuminating the way to the end of the world for a multitude of incandescent moments. The sky crashed itself back together, thunder resounding across the crests of the waves, reverberating through George’s mind, urging him on. THE END OF THE WORLD, announced the thunder.

The last swell of the storm carried George further ahead. He did not need to rest, but the sky was relaxing. He floated on his back, the gentle, rhythmic rippling of the water’s surface was meditative, his body slowly swaying. It should be daytime right now at home, he pondered, but out here it is night. He did not know the constellations, he could not even find north in this sky, but he knew where he was going. The end of the world.

The gentle flow rocked George to sleep. When he awoke, he could not tell if it was night or day; those words seemed to lack meaning. Everything out here was different. Well, almost everything. A plastic bag floated into George’s hair, a Woolworth’s bag, which George promptly pocketed. Can’t have that mess out here, he assured himself, then joked, man’s mess is everywhere, and that could be the end of the world.

George sensed something up ahead. No, he thought, that was wrong. George sensed nothing up ahead. The waves in front of him just disappeared, they did not crash into a barrier, they did not rush forth as if going over a cliff; they simply disappeared and reappeared, and disappeared and reappeared. George righted himself, not expecting to find his feet on the loose ocean bed, but he stood tall, taller than ever. He felt huge, Brobdingnagian even. He was standing proudly at the end of the world. No, he thought, that was also wrong. He was standing proudly at the edge of the world.

He didn’t know what he had expected to find at the edge. Everything just sorted of ended. Stopped. There was no barrier, though there were stars which seemed at once to be right in front of him, like some very expensive hyper-realistic wallpaper, and at a great distance, like stars should be, many of them twinkling in our sky long after they had died in their own region of space. Without hesitation, George closed his eyes and stuck his head through the wall of sky. When he opened his eyes he saw nothing. It wasn’t even black. Just nothing. Emptiness, but not. Everything at once if you took it all away, but not a lacuna, not fillable.

What had he expected? Turtles all the way down? A passage into another world where he was perhaps more successful? Some sort of afterlife, an affirmation of a single religion for which he could swim about evangelising? Was this vacuum the answer? No God? No beyond? Just… this?

Everything raged inside him. Every thought, every fear, every embarrassment, every frustration, every excitement, every pleasure, every feeling of anger, envy, self-pity, self-loathing, all churned inside him. He bellowed into the void, “WHAT IS THIS?”

There was no echo. No response.

“WHAT AM I FOR?”

Nothing.

“WHAT CAN I DO?”

Nothing.

“HOW CAN THIS END?”

The questions in his head ceased. A vortex of noise rose from a whisper to a cacophony, every voice of every person who George had ever affected was speaking all at once. Everyone whose life he had changed by virtue of simply being in it was speaking to him through the maelstrom of mutterings, cries, shouts and even measured tones. He could not grasp any sentences but the words filled his head. There were words of anger, of pain, of fear. There were words of hope, of caring, of compassion. There were words of love, of desire, of passion. There were words of teaching, of instruction, of guidance. But jumbled together he could make no sense of them, the noise was becoming unbearable. His head hurt. He thought about jumping. I’ll do it, he thought aloud, don’t think I won’t.

The words grew louder. He could feel himself about to explode or collapse. He leant slightly forward, ready to let himself go. The words all revolved rapidly around his head and merged into one sentence. Every voice spoke as one and every voice meant it. George’s family and friends and acquaintances were all speaking to him. People he had yet to meet, people he might never meet, people who had died before he even came into being, were all speaking to him. The universe was speaking to him. And they all said one thing:

“George… I love you.”

Stunned, George stopped thinking. He felt his heart swell. A lone tear trickled down his cheek.

And he fell.

George became alert with a jolt. His arse was numb, his legs stiff, and the cold breeze on his exposed face penetrated down to his bones. She was looking at him quizzically. The pretty girl he’d met at the start of the year was sitting next to him, taking some amusement at him falling asleep where he sat. There was a whole world in those eyes, a world he wished to explore. His face was on fire, George was surprised that the heat was not melting the snow for miles around, he felt her eyes piercing through to his soul, every insecurity and lack of achievement was boiling inside him, bubbling up to the surface for the world in her eyes to see. He heard a faint rustling. A cracking sound brought him back to reality. There, he saw a hand extended to him, holding a piece of chocolate. Fruit and Nut – his favourite.

The smile on her face and the taste of the chocolate combined to bring George to his senses. He noticed a small, white ball of fluff frolicking in the soft snow, noticeable because of the flopping, pink tongue bouncing around. The girl had a dog, or something resembling a smaller version of a dog (George didn’t really consider anything that small to really be a dog). They chatted for a short amount of time, enough to keep George thinking for the rest of the day, but she really wanted to sledge down the hill so George agreed to take it in turns. As he watched her slowly picking up speed in her cheap, plastic sledge, the living snowball she called a dog chasing after her, tongue lolling, George smiled genuinely for the first time in what felt a very long time. Perhaps tomorrow, he thought, I’ll swim to the end of the world, but not today. Today is good.

 

D.I.

The time came to leave. She had been allocated her new home, the moment she had waited for her entire life, it all led to this. First she had to find it. Her future residence was busy moving about, unaware of her impending arrival.

His name was Dominic, or Dom to his friends. He’d recently changed his diet, after putting on a bit of timber during his mid-twenties, and switched to assorted foods which mostly came in green. They sometimes came in brown or yellow, but he didn’t think that those colours suited him, and neither did his toilet. He travelled around a lot, due to his fondness for hiking and his propensity for catching the wrong train whenever he felt like napping on the move. Dom was not an easy man to find at the best of times, which he almost realised once when a trip to go mountain climbing resulted in him floating around the North Sea in a dinghy.

Dominic did, however, have a distinctive scent, which she had picked up thanks to the help of her clan. Dom smells like most men, largely inoffensive when not sweating, unless your nose is incredibly sensitive, in which case he smells oddly like burning plastic inside an igloo made of frozen cheese (you know it when you smell it).

She, whom we shall call Bonnie, though her actual name can only be pronounced if you have the right number of tongues, found him wandering around in a forest pushing around a shopping trolley in desperation, somehow unable to find the cabbage. Bonnie’s clan watched him for a while, hanging unnoticed from the branches of the trees, using their furry, prehensile tails to lower themselves closer. It had taken them weeks to figure out his scent and track it, they were not going to ruin what might be their one chance at success.

They hatched a plan. Bonnie and two others would rush off ahead, where they would try to find a big rock to hide up a tree. The others would find all manner of pebbles and pinecones to launch at poor Dominic. They would force him to run, right towards the waiting rock, where he would be knocked unconscious. Several weeks tracking Dom should have told them at least one thing – he would go the wrong way. As the first projectile was lobbed in his vicinity, Dom ran in the wrong direction, wailing like a small child who has just been informed that ice cream is a figment of their imagination.

Feeling deflated, Bonnie began the depressing walk home, destined to die alone. A failure. That’s when they found him. The bump on his head appeared to be growing as they watched, slowly stretching up towards the sky, as Dominic was on his back. He’d run head first into a tree and knocked himself unconscious.

Bonnie’s time had come. Her new home was ready, the moment she had waited for her entire life, it all came down to this. The clan held his mouth open, as Bonnie crawled in and slid down his oesophagus. It was a tight squeeze, but she had practised and found it relatively easy. She reached his stomach and paused for a moment to take it all in, tentatively walked in circles to find the most comfortable spot, then curled up into a snug little ball. She let out her last breath, a satisfied sigh, and passed away with a smile on her face.

In Perpetuity

The darkened room blurred as he opened his right eye, clotted blood stopped him opening the other. The place reeked of rotting flesh and the ferric stench of blood, mingled with the rusted scent of the manacles digging painfully into his wrists and ankles. Through the blur, he could just make out a row of tables along the centre of the room, directly in line with thin shafts of light from unreachable slits which passed for windows. Adorning the walls were strange sculptures, or paintings; they were too difficult to make out, whatever they were.

It was supposed to be easy. He simply had to observe, to find out what these savages had done with their hostages, their victims. He was given detailed instructions, but he could not read, as so few could since the war wiped out nearly all of mankind. He suspected that the instructions came from others who could not read either, that he was sent to die. He laid there pathetically; naked, chained, awaiting his end.

His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of soft footsteps on a cold stone floor, as a blurred shadow drew nearer. The stories of torture, of flayed men, of death flooded his mind, as the warm urine flowed over his thighs and onto the floor.

The shadow came into focus and smiled at him, the smile of a young, attractive woman who looked almost happy to see him. She stood there naked, then lowered herself face down onto the nearest table and looked him in the eyes. A second figure approached, fully clothed in black robes, covered from head to toe but for the hands and eyes, slowly withdrawing a freshly sharpened blade. The woman on the table continued to stare deep into his eyes, piercing him like the blade which was being used to carve into her back. He saw pain and pleasure at once in her eyes, as she let out a slight moan, biting her lip, gripping the table tightly.

As the blade danced across her flesh she began to relax. Speaking softly, she said, “I envy you,” her eyes watering heavily as the knife’s penetration continued. He could not respond, he could not even summon the strength to open his mouth. He sat there, transfixed by the carver’s cryptic calligraphy adorning her back, writing words he could not read. “I am but a single page,” she said, “yet you are to be a book.” He could not understand what she meant, so he wept.

He wanted to sleep, to forget what he was watching, but it was impossible to look away. Hours passed, before the carver finally wiped clean the blade and returned it to its home, hidden beneath blood-stained robes. The page sat up, revealing the careful, bloody script on her back. Fine, red words were written, paragraph after paragraph, from the bottom of her neck to the point where her thighs met her buttocks. She looked back over her shoulder, fire was in her eyes as she smiled at him.

He tried to speak but the words got stuck in his throat, resulting in a feeble croaking sound. He eventually mustered a single word – “what,” – before his voice left him completely. “Are you asking me what it says?” the woman asked him. He nodded timidly in response. “I do not know what these words mean, but they will live on beyond me, as will yours, their perfect forms rendered eternal.”

She ceased talking and began to gaze at the artworks across the walls. He could see much more clearly, the outstretched arms chained up high, marked like the woman’s back. The head slumped downwards, onto the open chest, the skin of the torso stretched out and pinned to the wall. Runes were carved across the ribs, spreading out onto the inner flesh. The internal organs hung down, trailing onto the floor, telling a story with the words engraved across every visible inch. Flies buzzed around the entrails, before long their maggots would consume these cadaverous tomes.

He looked back at the woman, losing himself in the intensity of her eyes as she spoke in hushed tones, “We’re part of a bigger story, we’re the vessels of knowledge and thought passed through the ages, we’re the continuation of one of mankind’s greatest achievements, and you get to be part of that story in the most intimate way.” She gave him a kiss on the forehead, stroked a finger slowly along the blade of a long, thin knife, and caressed his throat with it in one smooth, deliberate motion. He felt the warm blood rush down his body as life left him, never knowing what words would be worked into every part of his corpse. He knew only the passion in her eyes, as the world went black.

The Dance in the Deserts – my nanowrimo effort

Last month I found out about nanowrimo, or National Novel Writing Month, where you are encouraged to attempt to write 50,000 words in a month, and decided to give it a go. I did not think that I would manage it and it is looking like I was right, but I have enjoyed the effort so far. I have just gone around a week with no time to write as I have been extremely busy, and I was already behind schedule before that. By now I should be on around 30,000 words, but have managed a measly 5,525. I am going to continue writing this novel, I hope. Here is the opening scene. The book (!) is science fiction, set on another planet in the future.

The Dance in the Deserts – The second age of Malidis

The wind battered against the sand dunes without care or remorse, whipping up a storm of fine quartz grains which scoured the derelict moisture trapper. The nomad seemed not to notice as he waited impatiently for his clandestine meeting with the one they called Medín. His gaunt frame was masked by his bulky cloak, revealing only his bony face with its weathered, leathery skin. His eyes were so narrow that they appeared to be shut, whilst his lips were dry and cracked and did nothing to stop the sand from coating his teeth. He chewed an exotic leaf to stave away his thirst, but by now it was dry and useless. He nervously thumbed a machete hidden beneath his cloak, one of many weapons and tools which he kept under there, necessary even for a pacifist in these deserts. Why was Medín keeping him waiting? I should not have come alone, he thought. His body was starting to ache; the storms were tolerable for nomads, but they took their toll. As he began to weary, a figure appeared on the horizon, hunched over, clearly feeling the full force of the storm. The nomad fought the urge to help him, he needed to appear stronger and uncaring, and so he watched as the traveller tumbled down the opposite dune and scrambled up towards the nomad’s feet.

‘Medín sends his apologies, he could not make it,’ the traveller wheezed. The nomad stood silently, I have failed, this fool is not to be bartered with, he is no more than a mere messenger. The messenger continued, ‘Bit of a pain, this storm.’ The nomad remained stoic, unmoving, resolute in his desire to show no emotion to this messenger of Medín. The reputation of Medín and his minions will one day pass into legend. He was a purveyor of information, seemingly omnipresent and omniscient, he appeared to know everyone worth knowing, was willing to talk to anyone, and had the sort of charm which could cause even a monk sworn to silence to start spilling their secrets carelessly, like precious water in the desert. Villagers sang songs about Medín and awaited his return, eager to drink the words and wisdom he brought. The nomad did not sing their songs or join in their eagerness for his return. It seemed that Medín knew even this, sending a messenger in his place.

‘So what did you want with Medín? What is so important that you had to get me lost in this shitstorm?’ The nomad surveyed the traveller through those narrow slits he called eyes; he was short, stocky, and his hair was hidden under the hood of a dusty traveller’s coat. He was clean shaven, but had obviously rushed and cut himself more than once. He hides his hair; he hides his heritage. He had long, thick eyelashes that were covered in sand, blinking rapidly to keep the dust out.

‘My words are only for Medín himself,’ the nomad replied, though he knew that an audience with Medín would be near impossible, he probably already knew what the nomad had to say. The messenger stopped blinking for a moment, fixing his eyes on the nomad, reaching into his coat to remove something. In his hand he held what appeared to be a sheet of dull metal, which he handed to the nomad.

The sheet was large, but the carvings on it were small, barely noticeable. The nomad held it close to his face, trying to read the words – it was a message from Medín. ‘I cannot read this language; do you know what it says?’ This time the other man was silent. The nomad lowered the sheet and saw Medín’s messenger brandishing a short sword, which found its way through the metal sheet and into the chest of the nomad. The sickening crunch was almost lost in the wind. As his life slipped away, the nomad could see his murderer remove a vial from an inside pocket of his coat, which he held to the nomad’s chest as blood slowly seeped into it.

‘Well, this wasn’t a complete waste of time,’ said the messenger, who turned and strode away, suddenly unaffected by the storm. The nomad faded fast, clinging onto life just long enough to see a rusted buggy swoop by to pick up his killer, coughing out smoke as it went. He closed his eyes and left; his wandering was over. His name was Talb.

The Theatre

I wrote this story back in May but never uploaded it. It is a tad unusual…

The Theatre

He wasn’t quite sure what he was doing in the theatre. Wandering aimlessly, peeking into rooms, lamenting the lack of effort put into the décor – he did those things just because he was there, but the reason he was even there in the first place eluded him. He put that thought to the back of his mind and continued to wander. Peering through a set of double doors he could see people rehearsing and made a mental note to come back later; there were balconies allowing for a better, more surreptitious view.

As he headed back towards the foyer, past the toilets, he noticed the entrance to a corridor hidden in plain sight. Had he not been dawdling around, inspecting almost every inch of the theatre, it would have gone completely unnoticed. The corridor was a dead end, completely empty but for the smartly dressed woman sitting on a tall chair. She sat close to the wall at the end, as though she were collecting tickets to allow entry into a room which was not there. He immediately noticed how beautiful she was. From beneath her tousled blonde hair her wicked green eyes fixed on him, her full red lips parted giving way to a blinding smile as she uncrossed her legs and crossed them again, allowing her to face him invitingly. He was drawn to her.

She immediately manoeuvred him onto her knee, facing the wall where a door should be, and began to gently caress his back. He found himself relaxing as she took his right hand and began to touch it playfully. It didn’t faze him as she took out a razor blade, smiling at him as she cut four lines into the back of his hand. He felt the blade penetrate his flesh, blood seeping out, yet only became more excited, especially when he realised that she had sketched a grid to play noughts and crosses. He watched with anticipation as she carefully carved a circle within the grid, not caring that he would have to cut himself to continue the game. His turn never came. He watched as she then carved a cross, playing the game by herself. All he could do was watch. He was paralysed by his own desire to be with her.

She was deep in concentration, her smile becoming more sadistic as she punished his raw flesh. As her game came to a close she turned towards him and burst into a fit of laughter. She snorted, tears were in her eyes, she was struggling to breathe and was staring at his crotch as her hysterics got louder. He looked down and could see that his cock was out, but it wasn’t his cock. This was like a bloated mushroom, with thick, pulsing veins. It was horrible to look at and she gagged when it began to drip. The sight of his vulgar erection jerked him back to reality and he somehow simply walked away.

Ambling through the corridors again, his feet took him up to one of the balconies overlooking the main stage. She’s here, he thought, feeling as though his dreams were coming true. Down on the stage was a girl practicing some routine – it appeared to be burlesque. He’d been attracted to her since he met her over a year ago, everything about her was perfect, even her imperfections. She was wearing a corset, perfect for showing off her hypnotic cleavage, yet it was clearly too tight for her. Her dark hair was tied back so tightly that her face was overly stretched, except when she screwed it up in concentration, resulting in an expression which reminded him of a dog’s arse. Her stunning smile was nowhere to be seen for the whole routine. It was like a car crash. He always knew that she was flexible, but she lacked grace and timing. Her spasmodic jerks did nothing to cause arousal. All he could do was cringe and keep watching.

As he left the theatre what seemed liked hours later, he looked down at his hands. The razor blade’s kisses were no longer on his right hand, but were on his left. He licked some of the drying blood from his hand – it tasted sweet, not the ferrous taste he expected. The pain had subsided but he knew that the scars would take a while to heal.

Picture Challenge Story

The challenge: to write 500 words about this picture. I went for an exact word count.

 

A chill spread across the land as the wind blew in from the sea. The trees shivered in response, awaiting the opening of the skies. A clap of thunder heralded the threat, but the promise of rain was enough to make the trees tremble with excitement. The clouds were dark and heavy, ready to burst, ready to shower the land. A glimmer of light flickered through the clouds. Not lightning, but the Sun itself, forcing its way through, threatening to overthrow the darkness, to dry up the rain before it had begun.

The trees grew restless. They had need of sunlight, they had need of rain, yet where did their loyalties lie? ‘Who cares about the rain?’ cried one youthful tree, merely a sapling not three years since, ‘there are all sorts of rivers and lakes around here’. The elder trees were not at all impressed, after what seemed like an age one of them replied, ‘you know nothing of the replenishment of the soil, young one, you know nothing of drought, though perhaps one would do you well.’ The outspoken younger tree rocked in the wind, deep in thought. ‘I heard thunder, what if there’s lightning?’ A susurration swept through the forest, for the electric threat was all too familiar to some of the older trees, and the younger had heard terrible tales of flames and fear. ‘You’ll be begging for rain if fire catches,’ declared a particularly stout tree who had seen his fair share of flames.

The argument raged back and forth in the bustling wind, until one of the oldest trees in the woodland pointed out that it was not in their control, but that whatever happened there would be good and bad. They fell silent, but for the wind buffeting them to and fro, and watched as the battle between light and cloud commenced. The contrast of the dull clouds and the pure light cast strange serpentine shapes in the sky. They appeared almost to be writhing, attempting to strangle the Sun and subdue it. Screams echoed across the land from the serpent’s many mouths as the heads were forced apart. The Sun was winning, forcing its way through the vaporous vipers, illuminating the forest below.

In the distance the skies grew darker and heavier as the clouds were forced back by the Sun. Before long their hissing could be heard as they proclaimed defeat and released their rain elsewhere. The light of the Sun was soaked up by the trees, young and old, as they began to discuss the hostility in the heavens.  The young trees could not hold back their excitement, nor could they stop themselves from gloating. The older tree shook slightly, ‘let them have their moment,’ he thought, ‘for soon they will be dreaming of rain, wishing for the return of the serpents. The sounds of thunder may yet be the music they choose to dance to, if they ever should feel the fire of dragons or the damage of drought.’

Unnamed short story

This was my latest entry in a Facebook short story competition, I don’t think I got any votes this time. I can’t be bothered to give it a name. I actually got to choose one of the topics, but ran out of time to submit my choice (they used something from a comment I had made which wasn’t completely serious and didn’t change it later when I had an idea).  The topic choices were:

“1) A soldier (male or female) returning from war and the reception by those at home. The war can be past, present, future or fictional.

2) Amnesia – take it any direction you want. ”

Enjoy…

 

The street was empty, fortunately. The front gate was only slightly open, a good sign, I thought. I crept carefully past the side of the house and noticed that the back gate was still closed. I used the wooden gate to help myself get up onto the shed next to it, allowing me to check the back garden. It was clear. The back door to the house was wide open. I’d left it open only a crack but expected it to have moved. I carefully dropped down off the shed and made my way back to the front of the house with my crossbow ready. Underneath my old bedroom window was a ledge, with a chest height wall nearby. I slung the crossbow over my shoulder, easily lifted myself on to the low wall, and then reached up to the ledge to prepare myself for the difficult part. I spotted some movement near the garages opposite my house, a safe distance away, but I couldn’t resist having a shot. The bolt flew from the crossbow and lodged itself in his brain. I never miss, at least not when they aren’t chasing me. I made a mental note to collect the bolt later; it would probably be broken, but was worth collecting nonetheless.

I struggled to lift myself onto the ledge, scraping my chin and arms in the process. I wasn’t as agile as I used to be, when I’d sneak off out of the house after being grounded. I’d left the window open a crack, just enough so that others wouldn’t notice it. I opened the window as far as it would go and threw the crossbow onto the bed at the other side. Hauling myself through took a lot more effort, I felt like I was going to tear myself in two when I rested all of my weight on my stomach, but I made it through eventually. My bedroom was unchanged, so I carefully and quietly gathered a few supplies. I had a couple of survival guides, some weaponry which was mostly useful for display but could come in handy, a first aid kit I used to use whilst camping, an old torch which needed fixing, and considered taking a guitar as they are always useful for boosting morale. I left them all on the bed, except for one of the swords, and tried the door.

The door had been locked from the outside using a very simple lock. I knew that I had to make some noise to open it, there was no way around that, so I pulled as hard as I could. In the silence of the house it sounded like an explosion, I struggled to keep calm, but nothing came. I breathed a sigh of relief, then stopped breathing when I saw her. She was lying outside my room, not moving, she looked as though she was sleeping. Her fur couldn’t hide the bones that had become prominent through her skin. As my eyes began to well, I forced myself to step carefully over her body, so that I could check every room in the house. The whole place was untidy and stank, but each room was empty. In the kitchen the sink had overflowed, but the tap was no longer dripping. I’d left it to steadily fill up so that they wouldn’t struggle to find water.

I saw no sign of the other dog, she must have escaped. She was capable of climbing the high back wall, but she must have been petrified or desperate in order to do so. She could still be out there and I might never find her. I felt sick. I gave myself a moment and resisted drinking from the water in the sink. My whole body was shaking as I returned upstairs. She always waited outside my room when I was in there, and she was still waiting, even though she was gone. I cradled her body in my arms, slumped against the wall, and wept. I remembered the welcome home I used to get; even when I had only been gone for half an hour they would throw themselves at me, wanting to lick my face, wagging their tails, their whole bodies wriggling in excitement. This time there was no such welcome. I tried to take comfort in the thought that she had not been attacked or eaten, but all I could think of was her starving to death waiting for my return. She’d always loved food. She used to beg for it too much, but I’d have given anything to have her annoying me, pestering for leftovers.

I tried to tell myself that I did the right thing. If I had taken them with me we would almost certainly have all died. Those… things, they were attracted to sound, and my dogs are noisy creatures. Were noisy creatures. I felt selfish, I felt like I should have given them a chance with me. Other dogs had survived with their owners, but I panicked and fled, leaving them without food. They were my family, I had a responsibility to look after them, and I failed. I don’t know what I expected. I deserved no fanfare, but I still had hope. Even with the dead stalking you, their companionship would make it bearable. I came looking for something to live for, I came looking for the love they gave, but found only death. That’s all there was in this world – death. It was the only constant, whether the dead got to you or you were simply unable to live in this world, death was the only guarantee.

I looked down at the animal in my arms, she’d waited for me, but the other got away. There was some slim hope. I kissed her forehead, tears streaming down my face, and whispered “Goodbye”. I laid her down gently, found a blanket in a nearby cupboard and wrapped her up in it. There might still be time to find the other alive; I might still get that fanfare.

Low Spirits

This was an odd competition as only two of us entered so we both became default winners. Before it was announced there were hints that the topic would include ghosts, which gave me some trepidation as I cannot take them seriously. Due to me inability to take ghosts seriously I realised that I could write the story as humour, which led to around 600 words just flowing straight away. Then the competition was actually announced and the topic wasn’t simply ghosts, but had to include humour, sex, or both. This bothered me because it meant that my story might not stand out, but then the topic was changed due to some confusion and became simply ghosts. This was my contribution.

Low Spirits

Night was drawing closer, like the scribbling of a small child who has discovered the ability to make marks on paper with a pen. Two men were standing, surveying a grisly scene. Their faces were similar, though one of the men was substantially larger and hairier than the other, looking as though one day he had eaten three of his friend and the universe decided that “you are what you eat” should be taken quite literally for a moment. The larger of the two showed little interest in the crimson carnage at the foot of the cliff, most of which was the car, whilst the smaller looked close to tears. “Do you believe in ghosts?” he asked his hirsute companion.

“A right load of bollocks, if you ask me, Pete,” came the reply.

“I was asking you.”

“Well then now you know; ghosts aren’t real.”

“I don’t know how to say this, but I think we are ghosts, Carl.”

Carl laughed, his beard shaking, “Why on Earth would you believe such nonsense?”

Pete pointed at the wreck in front of them, “Well, I think those two bodies are ours.” He gestured towards a slim corpse just outside the car and a larger, hairier corpse which was too big to have been ejected during the crash.

Carl scratched his beard and looked pensive for a moment. “I always thought that you were a handsome man, but you make a bloody ugly corpse, look at your face, it’s a right state!”

“I don’t think that’s my face,” Pete responded, “it might be my elbow.”

Carl continued to laugh, “Anatomy was never your strong suit, or so your wife tells me.”

Pete looked horrified, “A joke about my wife, at a time like this?”

“What does time mean to a ghost?” Carl pointed out. “What are ghosts meant to do anyway?”

“Why are you asking me?”

“You’re the expert, I don’t believe in ghosts.”

“Well, I don’t know,” Pete pondered for a moment, or at least he looked like he was pondering, he may have been getting gassy, if ghosts can even get gassy, “maybe we have unfinished business.”

“I’m going to sneak into changing rooms and watch women getting undressed,” said Carl with a hungry look on his face, which appeared to be his default setting. It is no surprise that his ghost beard had bits of chicken from a past meal, tangled in the hairs. Somewhere out there is the ghost of a chicken, looking to be reunited with parts of its limbs.

Pete appeared to be furious, “We die and all you want to do is be a pervert?”

Carl was unfazed by the anger, “Unfinished business. I’ve not seen nearly enough naked women and now I have the power of invisibility, isn’t that what everyone wants to do when they become invisible?”

Pete gave this some thought for a while, “The best idea I read was to beat up a mime.”

“Can we move things? Are we pole-vaulters?”

“You mean poltergeists.”

“Yeah, them, I wonder if we can work out. If I sneak into a changing room in a gym I may as well use the equipment, I need to get in shape and I can spook people at the same time, it’s a win-win-win situation.”

“There’s a lot we have to learn.” Pete looked close to tears again, possibly having gone full circle through all the emotions he could muster. “What do you think the funeral will be like?”

“Mine will be better than yours, more people will cry, and then there will be a massive piss-up. I hope we can get pissed too.” Carl was wondering what beer tastes like for ghosts and thought about making a joke about spirits.

“We’re brothers; we’ll have the same funeral.”

“I’ll be there to comfort your wife, you’re out of the picture now and I’m sure she was only with you to get to me.”

“You’re a ghost too, you idiot.”

“I told you, I don’t believe in ghosts.”

Carl watched as his brother stormed off, unable to decide whether to follow or to wait for the emergency services to arrive at the scene, which might have allowed him to hop into one of the vehicles and get a lift to somewhere closer to town. Eventually he decided to head up to the road at the top of the cliff, as it was better than doing nothing; ghosts should always be doing something, that just made sense to him. Whilst at the top of the cliff he considered throwing himself off again. He’d never been bungee jumping and this was surely much more extreme, even though ghosts couldn’t die. Or could they? Carl decided not to risk it, as he’d hate to become non-existent like fairies, dragons, and ghosts. He’d never really figured life out and would be damned if he could not figure out this strange post-mortem existence, perhaps even literally. As Carl looked down at the bodies below he decided to have some fun, picking up a rock and hurling it at Pete’s body. But nothing happened. Carl had to face the fact that as a pole-vaulter he would never touch and feel again. No more sex. No more food. No more sex. No more drink. No more sex. Not that he really got much, but it upset him nonetheless. The ghost of Carl collided with the floor at the bottom of the cliff with the same amount of force exerted in a staring competition.

As the Sun set, giving off colours which suggest that the child had discovered crayons, Carl morosely shuffled home, a failure in life and a failure in death, unable to even kill himself a second time, though he might have been responsible for the first. Several cars sped straight through his body, if you could even call it a body, clearly unable to see him. He’d have given anything for a car to swerve, even if it took them off the road, that way he could have a few friends, mentoring them in the way of the ghost, which Carl thought sounded like a form of Kung Fu involving blowing on your attacker and making eerie noises. Bouncing off of a bonnet would have been a God-send. As Carl walked into the town he passed through a bus full of passengers, a couple of people jogging, two old ladies having a loud conversation about some youth who had spat at them, a young woman walking a dog, and a youth who was spitting at old ladies.

The streets were all familiar, yet seemed so strange and unreal to Carl. He wasn’t sure where to go as his ghost pockets held no ghost keys so he couldn’t go home, not that they’d have worked anyway. After a short while of wandering, probably not long at all when Carl’s attention span is considered, he spotted something which cheered him up: the local swimming baths, nearing closing time. A group of young people with wet hair and the distinct smell of chlorine were walking through one of the open doors, but Carl went straight for the closed door next to them, bouncing off of it like a ghost bouncing off of a door, if you believe in ghosts. He dusted himself off, removing no dust as he was a ghost, and waded through the kids at the open door. Carl headed straight for the changing rooms, making sure to pick the right one, which was of course the wrong one as Carl could never be mistaken for a woman. The room was completely empty, so he decided to get some sleep inside an open locker.

Carl wasn’t sure if he was dozing off or not, as he was mostly wondering how he could close his eyes at all, considering his eyelids were now translucent. His wondering was interrupted by the closing of the locker by the caretaker, trapping him inside. Instead of panicking, which he decided is a bit useless when you are dead, Carl saw the brighter side of the situation – he could get some undisturbed sleep in here and would wake up to naked women getting ready for a swim.

Hours of thinking about eyelids passed by before Carl heard any signs of life, which caused him to wonder what signs of death sound like, concluding that they sounded like him. He had spent some time pondering the possibility that he was a ghost, and then went back to thinking about eyelids. The voices he heard were not women, which panicked Carl until he remembered his rule about ghosts not panicking. He pressed his ear up against the locker to listen to the conversation.

“What are we doing with these lockers?”

“Scrap yard I think, they’ve been here since I were a lad, who’d want them?”

Carl spent the rest of the day being tossed about, thrown into what felt like the back of a van for much of the time. He had a new goal in death. He would find whoever made up the rules for ghosts and give them a good telling off, maybe a slap if that was within the rules, for who in their right mind would allow cars and people to pass through a ghost, yet not allow ghosts to pass through doors and walls and lockers? And that rule about not panicking, that one annoyed him the most.