He liked this feeling of roughing it. Sleeping on an airbed, lamp haphazardly perched on a pile of books, blankets that smell like the cupboard they’ve been kept in. It was refreshing, somehow. Either like being young again, or at least like acknowledging you’re temporarily elsewhere. It didn’t really matter that the reason he was here was because his father lay dying in the room next door. In fact, in the midst of all the tension it was the sleeping arrangements that somehow made the whole thing feel somewhat more bearable.
Nighttime was a peaceful time in this house, and for these few long hours everything in this room was his. Flicking open the glow of his laptop, it luminescence up-lit his face and cast a shadow of his shape onto the wallpaper behind. There was no Wi-Fi here, so instead he opened Microsoft Word and wrote this paragraph you’re reading now. Not knowing where it would go, or what it would really mean. He just wanted to write it as though someone were writing about him, so that he might be somewhat removed from it all.
A man pulls up outside a large grey brutal looking factory.
The man is you. It doesn’t matter that it isn’t, because it is.
He’s here, you’re here, to ask for a refund.
Having bought pills that don't seem to do what they're supposed to,
and after following the address on the website he/you now find yourself here on this freezing cold November day.
He steps out of his bright red car and locks the door. Bright red is your favourite colour.
With the bottle of pills in his pocket you walk towards the overbearing building.
Inside it somehow feels larger and squarer.
It’s almost completely barren, with only a small yellow kiosk in the centre of the wide-open space.
You walk up to the kiosk, and discover a woman sat behind it in a blue and white striped shirt.
She's wearing a pearl necklace and ruby smile.
How may I help you? She asks.
You reply, I’m here to make a complaint.
She furrows her brow as the smile slowly slips from her face. Oh?
It's these memory pills, you say.
Okay. She replies.
I bought them under the proviso that they would improve my memory. Take two a day, the instructions say, and in just a week you’ll notice the difference.
He/you put the half-empty bottle on the countertop.
That’s correct, she states. Don't you feel like your memory has gotten any better?
No, you say, if anything, you say, my memory has gotten worse.
She shakes her head, oh dear.
You begin to reel off a list of the things you no longer remember, and halfway through you pause forgetting what they were.
Suddenly you notice that this place feels both warm and empty.
The woman behind the kiosk picks up the pills to take a closer look.
Okay, she says, that’s right.
What’s right?! You exclaim.
These pills aren’t supposed to improve your memory, you see, we make two different kinds.
Perplexed you run your fingers through your short, thick brown hair.
She explains, these pills are for memory loss, i.e they help you lose your memory.
Baffled, you step back, why would anyone want to do that? You ask.
Well. Have you never wanted to forget something terrible you’ve done? Never wanted to leave behind a traumatic experience, or maybe forget the pain of losing a loved one? Never wanted to abandon the negative conditioning of your lived experiences and start afresh? Maybe cast off any ties that keep you bound to one place and time? You might feel too connected to your parents, hate your job, hate your partner, hate your kids, hate your life. You could be an entirely different you, if only you could completely forget everything it is to be you. Besides, wouldn’t it be easier not to care about anything anymore. Wouldn’t it be better to stop carrying it all around, the suffering and the truth behind the experience of who you are right now? She takes a sip from a glass of water, and suddenly the smile is back upon her face.
You pause for thought. You think. Then slowly nod your head.
Picking up the bottle from the counter, you thank her before turning around, and walking back out the way you came. As you do, there is something in this walk that feels familiar. Something in the way the floor takes on your footsteps.
You walk towards the exit forgetting you've been here before. You spin around to look at the kiosk.
The kiosk is empty.
Forced to embrace the coldness of outside you step through the large door, button up your coat and start to walk away.
As you do you wonder why there is a car park full of old bright red cars lined up outside this random old factory.
THE PINK NECK
There was something about the anguish of the past 72 hours that had added a somewhat abstract nature to her life. As though things in her world had shifted, and nothing would ever again seem right. She feels this, as clear tears dribble down the freckled cheeks of her freckled face and drip onto the sheets that surrounded her. She’s been sat up in bed for hours, maybe even days, scrolling endlessly, wondering when the pangs to get up will finally make her do so. It’s him. His Facebook, his Twitter, and his Instagram. He’s keeping her there though he’s not posted for days. She knows he’s somewhere doing something, and so to disrupt him she taps twice to like but the screen pitches black. She sits in the dark, half in shock, half in readying relief, so before it kicks in, she quickly leans out of her cocoon towards her bust and gnarly charger, and finds it buried under pizza boxes and mayonaised polystyrene trays. Tug. Grunt. Clip. Bing. Her phone blings back to life, but then dies as the tug she gave the wire severs its ties from the hard usb bit in the plug, and now she’s done. She hurls the phone across the room. Screams out loud and kicks the bed clear of quilts, pillows and sheets. The tears reappear and blur out her view of the ceiling. This room has been a place of refuge for her in the past week but has also often felt like a tomb. And it’s a mess. Stuff is just everywhere. Clothes litter almost every surface, and with them, old coffee cups and bits of other stuff. Boxes filled with a life before, and memories of him and her, are pulled out of cupboards and strewn across the floor. She feels the pain of this whole thing like being trapped on a rollercoaster that she wants to get off, or at least learn to love, but cannot. She’s stuck with the rolling roar of it through her emotions. She wipes the tears from her eyes, and the spittle from her lips. Then suddenly, from nowhere, an eye-widening noise, like shattering glass, clambers up the stairwell from downstairs. She’s frozen. Eyes glancing. Waiting for confirmation that the noise wasn’t an anomaly, then suddenly, another one, this time more of a bang than a clatter. She leaps up, standing still in the centre of the bed listening for another noise, and suddenly one comes up the stairs. It makes her quietly leap and creep to recover her phone. She pushes the on button in hard but no luck. Glancing at the window, it’s too high up. She thinks she could hide, but then suddenly becomes so angry that all she wants to do is fight. Her lingering fingers swiftly find the handle of a tennis racket leant against the wall, and as she journeys forwards her other hand finds the handle of the door. Out now into the hallway she’s sneaking, more noises coming from the kitchen. A flapping, or tapping of something hard, then the sound of cornflakes pouring out onto the floor. She plats her legs down the stairs with her back sliding against the wall. Should she call out whose there? Should she threaten them from here, with an escape route back upstairs? Then suddenly, she thinks… it’s him. He’s here. He’s come to make it all better. Maybe this means they will get back together, her brain says, before her body shakes the thought away. Off the bottom step she steps socked footed onto the floor, she creeps with the racket retracted, towards the kitchen door. The noises continue. The kitchen tap goes on and off. Then on again, then off. She pauses, held in fear, before suddenly mustering up the courage to move, she kicks open the kitchen door, and she is paused. Frozen. Unable to move or talk. Her mouth falls wide open. Her arms slowly slump and let the racket fall to the floor. Every other worry swiftly shrinks into oblivion. She doesn’t know what anything is anymore… because there, stood in her kitchen is a tall, glistening, pink necked ostrich.
Suddenly, and unarguably, a bewildering sensation took his mind, his body and of course his soul. His unique brand of misery seemed depleted as something beautiful and black was dredged up from the materials of the universe around him. Objects from littered tabletops, ashtray contents, old lipsticks, and empty beer cans hovered and collided and formed a wewe, and as the wewe grew it shone silvery and twinkled brightly. It began to simultaneously revolve and dissolve, and as it did it tore a large hole through the thin air in front of him. Invisible fingers pushed a botox smile onto his face, and then they disappeared leaving behind a natural grin. His internal organs dissipated. Hair grew rapidly on every centimeter of his skin, as he simultaneously shed old skins and grew new skins. His right foot lifted, and he let the drone of, and thunderous tone of The Misfits lift his size 9 soul. Passageway through this dimension was granted, only, by the amount and variety of prescribed and unprescribed substances he had taken four hours previously in that desert the rest of the world was calling a party. Occupied by cacti with human mouths and human minds. How he came to be here, he does not now know, and now as his inflated chest leads the way as he passes through bright white light and enters a glittering and blistering inferno. He steps through, and eventually floats through the newly torn hole and discovers a better place. No longer bewildered by each limb that slopes off his body and floats off into the ether, he treats this phenomena as inertia and simply relaxes into it. He becomes one with the void he has found himself floating through. Tomorrow he will wake up, and re-realise he is a non-metaphysical being in a world regulated by the laws of numerous sciences, but for now he is returned to our natural state. Consciousness as dust, drifting through oblivion.
Steven held Sally’s hand, as he drove away from the roadside ditch into which he had dumped her body.
Bob received high 5s from all his fellow patients in the hospital hallway. Then everyone realised Bob had misunderstood the use of the word “positive” in this context.
Margret was happy to be sharing a bed with her husband again. It was well earned respite after seven hours of digging.
Jimmy wiped the blood & fur from his face, suddenly remembering his fathers advice on using the lawnmower when Rover was around.
12 cows talk quietly behind the nervous farmers back. They laugh together under their breath, suspecting he doesnt have the guts to touch their tits.
They only sat three feet apart, but it was her words she used to cut out his heart.
PART 1: A WOMAN IN SPREAKE
She slowly placed the phone back onto the receiver and as she did she sighed and a visible breath, and it hung quick in the air like cotton, before slowly evaporating. She was relieved that another night’s attempt had ended with him not picking up his phone. She put this down to luck, for surely no man with such importance would simply refuse to answer the phone night after. Luck, she thought, that each night at the time she calls he must be busy off somewhere else, or momentarily occupied. Either way her heavy heart could rest a little more gently knowing that each night, she had at least tried.
A group of tall lean trees with wind bent branches tapped at her roof, as she sat silently gazing out the window, before readjusting her focus and momentarily marveling at her own image, reflected in the icy window of her study. Drinking in the bitter sweet image of herself, she let out another slow warm breathe, and as it left her lips it formed a trail of mist that floated towards the window. Leaning down, she slipped off her thermos slipper and pealed back the four-thick, fleece wool lined socks she wore. Then she spent a few minutes massaging each foot before her hands grew stiff and pale, and her feet had lost all feeling. She closed her eyes and smiled in the rare delights of this sometimes-pleasant numbness before slipping and tucking her feet back into the safety of her heat-preserving garments. She was old now. Much older than she’d been when she met him, older than she had ever imagined she would ever be. She was one of only three people in the town who had memories of the long daylight. The younger residents couldn’t remember the world how she could, before the axis change shift or before the twenty hour snow.
The steam of the tea she had poured herself had long since gone; she’d been sat next to the telephone for so long, mustering up the courage to dial. Cold tea was to her taste though, and as long as it hadn’t frozen over she would still enjoy sitting quietly, sipping at, smiling at her own reflection.
Would she have even had the courage to speak, she wondered, or would she have slammed the phone down the second he answered? And what would she do if her phone began to ring as he called back the last number, now knowing someone at this address wished to speak to him. Would she retreat into the next room, and refuse to answer the phone each time it rang? Suddenly a frown came across her face. Why hadn’t he answered his phone, she thought. Four consecutive nights she had tried to reach him, and each night he had given no answer. Where should he have been at such a late hour, what he might he be doing out at such a time. He wan an old man, and an old man as old as he ought not to brave this weather night after night. So perhaps he was in, she thought… but if he was then why didn’t he answer?
Well, perhaps he slept heavily with his television blaring, or he might have been having a bath, or maybe entertaining guests. But if he was entertaining, then whom did he entertain? That horrible bint of a woman, Mrs Pugh? Oh, she’d wanted to sink her claws into him since the day she had arrived. You see, Mrs Pugh had moved to Spreake a widow, and much speculation had arisen as to why exactly she chose Spreake. For a woman reaching retirement, relocating this far north of the New Line had seemed a strange thing to do, but then again so was her choice of abode. Mrs Pugh first lived in an old disused sandwich shop in the center of the town. There she lived for seven years, before selling it to local authority, and buying the biggest stately property in Spreake… paid for no doubt, with her husband’s death money. Even though the state now takes a large proportion of the dead’s wealth to fund the National Heat Dept, word around town was that Mrs Pugh’s husband was a very rich man indeed. The old lady grew instantly angry, before falling instantly calm, realising that of all the people in Spreake, it was highly unlikely that he was currently entertaining Mrs Pugh... But it couldn’t be ruled out. So, she flipped her phonebook to P and then ran her thin blue finger down the page to where P met U.
“Pee, yew, ghee, hache”. Fitting her eyes between phonebook and telephone she dialed each number precisely, pressing with near pneumatic force. She waited. It began to ring.
“Hello?” came the commanding and prudishly harsh voice of Mrs Pugh. “Hello, I said!”, and with that she slammed down the phone, before giggling in the delight of knowing Mrs Pugh was not being entertained, and at the fact that she had just made her first ever prank phone call. Joyous in the delights of knowing what an inconvenience she had caused to the priggish Mrs Pugh, she stood slowly and made her way to the kitchen clasping her empty mug, then suddenly, the phone rang. Her head darted round. Her eyes grew wide, and her mouth awed agape. Leaning into it, she clutched the kitchen doorway for some form of comfort, and to stop her falling to the floor. From here, she watched, as the phone rattled on its receiver with every single ring. Sliding down the doorframe, she sat like a child on the floor watching the phones rigid rattle, its sounds echoing about the house. It might be Mrs Pugh, she thought, returning the ambiguous call, or worse. It could be him, finally calling back after all these years.
GARY THE EARTHQUAKE SURVIVOR
Gary’s eyes peeled open and the first thing he saw was the disappearing mist from the warmth of his morning breath. He hadn’t paid the gas bill and so now he had to wear two jumpers and a pair of jeans to bed. Rolling over onto some used food cartons he suddenly remembers that last night he shared his bed with the half-eaten home delivered Chinese food, and now dim sum or some dim was all over his legs.
Awoken by the light streaming in through the limp, thin, green curtains, Gary checked the time and say it as 2pm. Settling in to the all-consuming waking feeling of being uncertain how the day would be spent, Gary just lay there, hoping something would happen.
He began to imagine that maybe an earthquake would start and crumble his dingy little bedsit into pieces. Within it he might be swallowed up as the walls and ceilings cave in and cover him in his own filthy bedsheets and worthless possessions. Giving him at least one good reason to stay in bed.
And if that did happen, he thought, the local community would surely form some kind of rescue party. They’d meet in a surviving building nearby and discuss how best to form a refuge party. They’d take action by standing in single file, passing large chunks of rubble down the line. Volunteers would roam the streets calling out the names of people missing, until only Gary’s name was left. People would read about his plight online and using the hashtag #GetGaryOut. People would start to drive from miles and miles around to help. They’d dig and labour and tug at old bits of steel-frame and brickwork. All the time Gary would be safe, lying in wait. Then, suddenly, the person at the head of the line would move a oven door or a bit of old breeze block to see Gary’s face poking out of the terrible rubble.
“We’ve got him!” They’d scream “He’s alive!” and relief would known with a large collective sigh.
Then it would go world-wide. BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky, Al Jazeera and CNN all covering the event, getting ready to send emails vying for Gary to make a special appearance on their channels. He might meet Phillip Scofield, or Piers Morgan or maybe even Oprah.
“Gary, you’re going to be alright, we’re going to get you out of here”. The person at the head of the line would shout.
They’d give him cups of tea, special dressing rooms and private cars to and from the fanciest hotels in London, and California and New York. He’d probably be so enigmatic during his various television appearances that numerous celebrities would offer to take him out to dinner, just to hear his incredible fucking story again and again and again and again and again.
“Hold on. I’ve got you now”. The person at the head of the line would shout, as they carefully lifted Gary out.
He’d be front page news ’The Man That Survived’. He’d write a best-selling book ‘The Man That Survived’. They’d commission a four-part TV series all about his life, ‘The Man That Survived’.
Before long, beautiful people would flock from all corners of the globe to be with him, partly for the money, partly because he’s the incredible man that survived. He’d be a hero, a legend chiselled into the ever-ageing ancient tablets of heroism throughout time. As his story gets told and retold it’s embellished, details change, the time spent under the rubble gets longer, the amount of brick and stone that suppressed him grows in number, one version told in one of the remotest parts of the Tasmanian jungle tells of how Gary not only stopped the building from falling with his bare hands, but also managed to save every other resident and resident whilst doing so.
In the one and a half minutes it’s taken Gary to concoct this tale, he has become the stem cell for a future new world religion. In his imagination he is the new messiah.
“That’d show Mr Patel” said Gary to himself out loud. “Always banging on about me not paying the fucking rent”. Who should really pay the rent around here? Thought Gary, not Gary, Gary thought. Not Gary the fucking Earthquake Survivor. If anything, Mr Patel should leave him to live rent free, after everything he’s done, or at least could do in extremely rare event of an earthquake.
God he wished there would be an earthquake.
That’d show him.
That’d show Mr Fucking Patel.
The squirrel had been searching for well over an hour now.
Jumping from place to place and thoroughly inspecting each patch of grass before discovering nothing and hopping hopefully to the next one.
He foraged and ferreted away looking for his long lost nuts.His little fluffy tail flicking and twitching with anticipation.
Between the fur of his face he harboured two large optimistic eyes that shot from left to right as they surveyed from side to side.
And with hands, almost human like in shape and form, he dug and ruffled and neatly parted blades of grass before investigating that specific patch.
Such inquisitive, delightfully intelligent creatures. Thoughtful enough to bury nuts in a for a time when there will be far fewer.
And as I watched him, more and more I could see he suffered from the pangs of hunger. Desperate to find the nuts of summer.
But he never would find them.
Because I'd already dug them up. The day he buried them. Six long months ago.
Have that you fury little twat. Have that.
A clown steps out from behind a red velvet curtain. The audience are silent.
The clown walks to the centre of the stage, and waves.
The clown produces a handkerchief and blows their nose with it. A squeaking noise is produced.
Someone in the audience coughs gently.
A bead of sweat seeps from the clowns white-painted brow.
The silence is tangible.
A man in the front row says “get on with it”.
Other audience members laugh.
The clown takes off one of their large red shoes.
The heel is heavy and solid and stern.
Walking towards the man in the front row the clown swings his shoe like a baseball bat.
The man’s face is cracked sideways, blood and spittle flying from his mouth.
The sad clown smiles.
The audience begin to react.
The man whimpers and attempts to crawl away.
The clown stands over him repeating the former action.
The audience laugh and laugh and laugh.
The man pleads for the clown to stop.
The clown continues to murder the man.
The audience laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh.
Blood splatter speckles the clowns many faces.
Outside the theatre the manager can hear the roaring laughter.
He knew booking Bobo was a brilliant idea.
Inside the theatre, the sad clown finally stops and continues with his performance.
The audience slowly forget about the dead man on the stage.
The show ends in rapturous applause.
The clown leaves.
The audience leaves.
The dead man remains decapitated on stage.
There is a man who crashed his car into the side of a house. He climbed out through the window and staggered up to a widow, who was shaken. He walked in, opened the fridge and then slumped over the table, before halfheartedly claiming he was willing and able, to commit with her; an act of love. So, the widow who watched him, receiving the claim, couldn’t fathom the face or remember the name, but she’d recall quite clearly the wild night of passion that followed.
Feeling lonely and feeling bold, she asked her husband’s ghost to stand out in the cold so she and the stranger could lay together all night. However, after making love the man didn’t leave, instead he put on her husband’s shirts and sleeves and asked her what time breakfast was likely to be. And so, the widow it seemed was carrying a curse and as the hours drew on the curse got worse, like a myth, or a legend or an old folk song.
Clambering over the rubble, the debris, the dirt, the widow sought out the remote for the telly. She turned it on to news, then quickly changed the station, before turning to see her new bedmates location was slumped down in her dead husbands wing back chair. She said, “I don’t think you should sit there”, but the man in the chair in the house didn’t care, he just held out his hand ready to receive the clicker.
With the telly in the background the weeks turned to years, the hole in the wall and the car still here, two hundred and seventy-three whole breakfasts later. The man had moved only one single inch, to point his hand and give the clicker a pinch, and the widow was by this point completely disordered. When the memories of her late husband were summoned, they blurred together with this new version, and she no longer remembered the difference between the two.
Who drove the car through the wall that night, whose ghost was asked to stand quietly outside, who married her in April and died thirty years later, who sits like lump and eats like alligator? The truth of the matter was they were exactly the same, the husband and the imposter only different by name, and so by all logical conclusions they should suffer the same fate, so outside she went and picked up the spade. She’d deliver a blow and then dig out a hole and in he would go to be covered and soil.
Because in living she’d learned it was problematic to have a God as a husband, and so later in life she’d become somewhat agnostic. Having shipwrecked herself she now knew she couldn’t go back to living in this way. Feeling like a blackbird, like a drudge, like a prey. So she decided to do what she’d come to love most, when snuck up behind him to collect a new ghost.