Google+ A Tangled Rope: 12/01/2011 - 01/01/2012

Friday, December 30, 2011

A Walking Ghost


As we sat there, watching the latest detective solving his latest whodunit on the TV, Cathy and I would often laugh about how it always seemed to be someone out walking their dog who found the body. Cathy would often say that I should always make sure I’d charged my mobile before I took Meg out each morning, because one day I could end up being the dog walker who discovers the body.

Not that Cathy or I had ever really expected to come across a body, not in our sleepy little backwater village.

Here I was, though, standing just off the familiar path where I walked Meg every morning: summer or winter, rain or shine. I was looking down into the trees and at the dead body that lay awkwardly against the base of a tree, its feet almost in the narrow brook, just under where the wooden bridge crossed over it.

I would never get to make that breathless panicked 999 call on my mobile though. One reason was that the police were already here, secondly, and more importantly – to me at least – because that dead body I was staring at was mine.

Faithfully, Meg was sitting by the body, a very young-looking and slightly queasy seeming PC holding her lead. Every now and then, though, Meg would look up to where I was standing in the trees. She would cock her head to one side as if tying to make sense of the fact that she could see me in two places at once.

There were several detectives - I presumed that was what they were – standing around the body. One of them, wearing a long old-fashioned coat and the sort of hat that only appears these days in black-and-white films on TV in the afternoons detached himself from the group and made his way up to me.

I - believing I must be some sort of ghost – expected him to just walk through me, maybe shivering, as his body met my incorporeal form, or something like that.

Instead, he looked up to me.

‘So, y'know, how do you feel? About being dead, that is?’

‘You can see me?’

He just nodded and seemed to be considering lighting a cigarette, absently patting the pockets of the overcoat.

‘But, I thought... well, none of the others are able to see me, except Meg... the dog.’

‘Yes, well dogs… they can't exactly see us... but they sense us.’


He nodded again.

‘So... you... are....’ I shook my head in wonder. ‘I thought you were with the police?’

‘I am.’

I looked over towards where the detectives, forensic people and so forth were gathered around the body that I still couldn't quite believe was me.

‘No, not with them,’ he said. ‘Although, I used to be. No, I work for the police on this side.’

‘This side?’

‘Come on,’ he said. ‘Let's get away from here. I think I may have some explaining to do.’

Economics and Llama Theory


Mesopotamia Cheesebender was arguably the 20th Century's greatest and most eloquent exponent of what later became known as Llama Theory, which is odd because it is a documented fact that Cheesebender not only had a fear of all animals that he regarded as 'excessively bushy' like sheep and llamas, the theory itself had very little to do with llamas.

The economic theory known as Llama Theory was a rather complex and obsessively detailed examination of the effect of government actions on the economy. Cheesebender’s theory proved that no matter what they do, despite whatever political philosophy they follow – of right or left (or, as in the modern world, a hodgepodge of both) – the actions of a government could only ever completely screw any economy they were allowed to get their hands on. As Cheesebender himself said: ‘Governments are much like a lonely llama-herder out watching his flock late at night and spotting a rather comely young llama’.

It is a well-known fact among political theorists that governments can only ever make things worse, and that the more government there is the worse everything gets. However, until Cheesebender's theory came along most economists had not paid that much attention to governments and the role they played in the economy. That is unless – of course - those economists were either paid as advisers by that government, in which case everything that government did turned out to be good for the economy, or if they were paid advisers of the opposition parties – who then discovered everything that government did was bad for the economy. This is why most people didn't pay that much attention to economists, especially those that couldn’t get a job in government, or even opposition, and so became Marxists and therefore sported an over-excessive amount of facial hair for anyone to take them seriously as political or economic commentators.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Mr. Average


I wasn't expecting any of this. After all, I'm probably just about as ordinary, as average, as it is possible to get. Middle-aged, medium height, medium build, medium hair, doing a mediocre run-of-the-mill job, I could be Mr. Average.

When I looked back, on the Thursday, and saw the same man I’d seen the last few days following me down the street back to work after my lunch hour, I began to wonder.

I mean, I wasn't imaging things. It was... I checked off in my mind... three days since I'd noticed him. He could have been following me for ages without me noticing. After all, when the weather was good enough, I liked to sit and eat my sandwiches in the park a few hundred yards down the road from the office. I like the fresh air, the water birds on the park pond and idly watching the women walking by.

Often, I’d sit there and read a book, nothing profound, I'm not trying to look clever, impress one of those women passing-by into chatting with me, or something like that. No, these are just thrillers, best sellers with gaudy covers and big bold title lettering. Mostly, though, I just like to sit and watch the time pass.

I first noticed him, hanging back, looking in one of the High Street shop windows when I glanced over my shoulder to check for traffic before crossing over to the office. I recognised his coat, a sort of summer lightweight parka, very much like one I used to own that I'd lost one holiday and never got around to replacing. It was the coat that first caught my attention, made me notice and remember him.

Then, when I saw him again, the next day and the day after that, following me, I remembered him. Initially, I just thought he must be someone who worked around here, one of the other offices, a local shop or something, and he took his lunch at the same time as me.

However, after a while I began to notice how odd it all was.

Then, today, Friday, he was standing at the entrance to the park as I came out, right next to the litterbin where I usually dump all the leftover papers and stuff from my lunch. I did the British thing and pretended not to notice him, but as I came away from the bin, dusting the crumbs off my hands, he came right up to me.

He gave a quick glance all around him and reached into his pocket as he closed in on me. It made me step back, but still he hurried towards me. This is it, I thought, preparing myself for a knife, a gun or some other sudden inexplicable violence. Even though he didn’t look as though he had mental problems, it is hard to tell these days.

Instead, as I steeled myself for whatever he was going to do to me, he handed me this small neatly wrapped parcel, a few inches square, nodded once as if in confirmation of a job well done, then turned and strode away, not looking back once.

That small parcel is here, now, in front of me on my desk and here I sit - as I’ve been sitting for I don’t know how long - wondering if I dare open it.

Thursday Poem: Drifting towards Dawn


Drifting towards Dawn

Now in the stillness of the darkest hours
the time in hesitant small steps takes us
towards the dawn and all the day can bring
as we each drift towards the wakefulness
that leaves our dreams behind on pillows warm

and hollowed out by sleeping heads, a place
for dreams to take their rest. We leave them there
to go about our days. The dreams will wait
there for us to return to bed again.
The dreams will take us by the hand and lead

us to the sleep where possibilities
can bloom like spring awoken flowers blossom
and what we seek is sometimes found at last
even though there’s a chance the night will pull
its darkness down to turn our dreams to nightmares.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Haunted House


When the moment came to move, we were hesitant, unsure. It is one thing to talk about things like that, easy to say we would all go, but when it came to it we seemed reluctant, especially as we'd all agreed there was no such things as ghosts, vampires and all that silly scary stuff we dismissed as 'kid's stuff'. We were – of course – little more than kids ourselves, which was probably why we were so dismissive of the 'kid's stuff', and – probably – why when it came down to it, we were still those selfsame kids ourselves inside… and still scared of all that scary stuff.

We stared up at the house, there across the open ground from where we were hiding in the bushes that had once been its hedges and other parts of its garden. It was strange, though, how the plants, weeds and other stuff seemed overgrown out here, away from the house, but seemed to die away the closer they got to the house. This meant there was a sort of border area a few yards wide where nothing grew close to the house at all. I had not noticed that before, but now, as we tried to find the courage within ourselves and within each other to cross those several yards of scrubby grass then the bare open area that lay between us and the house, I began to wonder.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Door to her Dreams


I opened the door from her dreams and walked into her world. She was ready, waiting for me. I told her all the stories she wanted to hear about the strange lands that lay over the hills and she showed me the lands of her bed and of her body, letting me explore all of her secret places and take all her treasures for myself.

I told her of the princesses of the strange lands, who had taken me to palaces and boudoirs, and of the rich merchant’s daughters who had offered me all the treasure I could carry in return for telling them of places far beyond all they had ever known.

I told of the women of the road whose caravans had carried me, and my stories, down many a winding road and of the tales I told them by their campfires as the creeping night covered the world with its blankets. I told them of the creatures that haunt the night and its deepest shadows and what they will do to any woman foolish enough to venture from the road into the darkness of the forests. The women of the road knew of the shadows and of the dark and held themselves close to me, as I told them of the night and its creatures, and they held me close in their beds at night. Either in the caravans or underneath the stars as I learnt all the stories of their bodies and how to tell their stories too.

I told her all these things and I think she knew that one day too she would become one of my stories and I would be here in your bed, telling it all to you.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Never to return


This is where the day will begin, spread out across the morning as though it belongs here. The night has folded its reluctant blankets from across the skies and gathered its long shadows back into itself. We are left here watching the colours return to all that surrounds us as they emerge out of the black of night through the grey mists of dawn.

We shiver and hold each other close. We have not spent a night alone like this before, far from the comfort of having others nearby. The city was a dangerous place, too dangerous for us to stay. Out here though, although safe from the city, we face new and unknown dangers.

We have each other and though that should reassure, it does not. Each of us is afraid to let the other out of our sight to disappear into all this that is strange and unknown surrounding us. There is danger out here; we can sense it. We do not know, though, what kind of danger it is. We cannot judge the moods of this place as we have come to understand the city and its rhythms. Out here, we are in danger and alone.

We could go back, back to the city, but back there we were in much more danger and much, much more alone.

Thursday Poem: The Routes of Rain


The Routes of Rain

She saw the rain
and traced its route
on the windowpane,
thought she understood,

but turned back, away
turned her back
on the outside day
and all those streets

turned back to her room
and the world it held
all she needed could resume
now that she was alone

far away from the outside
that ripped her dreams apart
and left her hopes denied,
left them torn and muddy

out on that dirty street
that stood out there waiting,
for her to return in defeat,
ready to taste her hurt again.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Time Corridors


Time twists and turns to create these corridors we stumble down in the dark and uncertainty of not knowing what is to come. The world twisted and turned in a way that physicists did not think was possible and left us to fall into this warping of time that meanders through all the histories of what was and what could have been and what may yet be.

None of us knows when one of these tunnels, corridors, will terminate itself and tumble us out into a strange place full of times we do not understand. We have come to recognise the signs though, the shivers and shakes, the tremors in the walls, floor and ceiling of the corridor before – minutes, sometimes hours – later it shatters and dissolves, leaving us anywhere in the world and any when in time.

At least, we can only presume it is Earth, if such a concept has any meaning any more.

Someone I met, about three tunnels ago, some sort of physicist, in a time when it was dangerous, fatal, to be a scientist, told me that the tunnels emerging, splitting and then dying where like earthquakes in time; Timequakes he called them.

Although, whatever you can them makes no difference. We walk these corridors waiting for them to break and spilt, then tumble us into a new time, wondering what that time will bring with it.

Christmas Shopping


Anyway, if I just put this fetchingly holly-stencilled frying pan down for a moment, we can then see which way is actually true North and not the cheap imitation North you bought from that bloke you met down the pub.

I said at the time you can’t trust any old compass directions, none at all without a badge of authenticity. Furthermore, if you are going to venture into a retail experience emporium at this time of the year then a reliable compass is vital.

We have all heard the tales of shoppers who got lost and disorientated by the way the supermarkets change the position of their goods at this time of year. This is not the seemingly random year-round relocation of random goods – often out of what seems like little more than sheer bloody-mindedness that we have to endure on a week-by-week basis. It is one of those special promotional times of year especially beloved by the retail sector. A time when they seem to believe any old tat becomes instantly desirable by bunging a picture of a bit of holy or a robin on it.

Apparently, it must work too, otherwise why would they keep doing it?

Don’t answer that.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Something Fluid


It was not something you could pin a name on; it evaded easy description and categorisation. Jade was not a woman who you could say loved you, even if you thought you loved her. She was evasive, but not in any devious kind of way. It was just that she was like trying to capture something fluid, like water or smoke, in your hands. Just when you thought you had her you would slowly, carefully, open your hands… only to find she was gone.

It was like that in the mornings. Woken by the sunlight of that summer creeping across the room, the curtains fluttering languid in the morning breeze, I would turn to her, only to find her gone.

She wouldn't be far away, but whenever you thought you had her, she would slip free. Often I would look up from where I lay with my head between her thighs to see her, eyes closed with one arm thrown across her face, and I knew she was not there in the bed with me, but off in some place only she knew the route to.

I knew too, that when she came, I would have to wait for her to come back to me from that far away place her orgasms took her to. She’d open her eyes, look down and smile at me as though she'd just arrived home from some long journey and was glad to see me there, waiting for her return.

Those eyes


I have held lives in the palm of my hand and curled my fingers around them, either to keep them safe or to squeeze the essence from them. It has been up to me to choose who is to live and who will die.

I have looked into the eyes of those who have just realised that I will be the last thing they will ever see. I have seen the life in them plead with me as they saw my finger tighten on the trigger… and I have seen those same eyes seconds later when there was no life in them.

I have looked into the eyes of men… and women too… as I did things to them and their loved ones that no-one should ever have to do. I have pleaded with them to say just what I needed to hear, begged them not to let their wives, their children endure another second of what I had my underlings do as I stared into those eyes, waiting for them to make it stop.

Yes, I have woken in the night by my nightmares filled with their screams far too often for me ever to escape back into sleep.

Those eyes that haunt me now, now I can no longer sleep, some of them stared back at me with hatred, some even with pity. Too many of them with a belief that they held in the mind that lay behind them something, some greater truth, that was worth more than the screams, the pain, the lives of their loved ones and – in the end - themselves.

Time after time, I pleaded with them to tell me, begged them to listen, screamed at them that no idea is worth the life of a single wife, husband, lover or child. That nothing you cannot feel the living heartbeat of is worth dying for, but far too many of them believed in the nobility of sacrifice and that there was some greater destiny that sacrifice could bring about… and… for that I stay awake deep into the night staring back into those eyes that will never let me sleep… ever again.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Lower Passageways


Of course, those dark and gloomy narrow passageways were not the places anyone else would go. The family and everyone else kept to the main rooms and the well-decorated and better-lit main parts of the house. We, though, were interested in the secret and the off-limits. Although, even we were sometimes scared of the dark and gloomy nature of some of the lower passageways, down where the basements and cellars of the house merged into the rock of the ground beneath it.

In those days no-one really knew or cared how old the house was; or why it had so many dark corridors and passageways. Especially those passageways that merged into the rock of the cliff and led away from the house, some down to the sea-shore at the cliff bottom, others away from the house inland and some towards the village and others apparently leading to nowhere, emerging from the ground in heaped rocks, seemingly for no reason.

Of course, people talked of smugglers, of dark deeds and dark days. Others mentioned priests and religious strife from even further back in the history of the island, but no-one really knew for sure. After all, the island was quite a way from the mainland, too far for its customs men, or even its religious differences, to reach, or so you would have thought.

Monday Poem: This Stillness holds Everything


This Stillness holds Everything

It is a form of silence
this stillness holds everything

On the very edge of sound
waiting for the tremulous heartbeat

of the next few precious moments
to flicker into hesitant life

As we wait for our lives
to slip out of this stasis

And prepare themselves for the day
they will meet beyond the door

Of this semi-darkened room
where the dawn creeps across the floor

And touches the bed where we hide
from the rest of our waiting lives.

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Village Morning


There was nothing but quiet. After the busy bustle of a city, something he’d become used to, the constant background hum of many people each going about their business in close proximity to each other, the quietness of the village seemed odd, verging on the sinister. After a while, he noticed that his gaze was constantly on the move, looking for action, movement, distraction. In the city he had to be constantly aware of those around him, where they were going, what they were doing.

Here, there was nothing. The street was almost deserted. It was so quiet here that there was a cat sitting in a patch of sun in the middle of the main road, washing its tail and keeping an eye on a pair of birds in a nearby garden. Further down the street, there was what looked like a middle-aged woman wandering around in her front garden, doing something to her plants. Beyond that, there was no movement at all, at least until he was a few yards away from the village shop.

A man he had never seen before came out of the shop, smiled, tucking a newspaper under his arm, and said ‘Morning!’

‘Er…. Morning,’ John replied, attempting to smile back.

‘Lovely day?’

‘Er… yes… yes, it is.’ John was uncertain, wondering if this was going to turn into a conversation but the other man just nodded, as if satisfied, and walked on.

The Dancing Sex Nuns of the Tenth Quadrant


Eventually, one of the archaeological investigators decided that it must be religious, so they sent for an expert. A few weeks later, she appeared at the site. When the shuttle landed and the bay opened, we were all surprised, and a bit shocked, to see she was one of the Dancing Sex Nuns of the Tenth Quadrant.

The Sex Nuns were one of the last remaining religions, and the only one that could claim any continuation from the ancient lost religions of Old Earth. As mankind had spread out across the stars those old religions found they had less and less to say about what people discovered; about the worlds people found and – especially – about the other living creatures that were discovered.

The Sex Nuns, though, were devoted and absolute in their worship of the being they called the Earth Mother, who they claimed had given birth to the universe and all that it contained and that the stars and the planets that orbited them were the remnants of one of her orgasms made physical.

The senior archaeologist delegated me to look after the Sex Nun; to take her to the site, answer her questions and – much to the hilarity of my colleagues – assist her with any physical needs she may have.

Captain Jameson had tried to keep her face straight, especially during that last part of my orders, trying not to giggle along with the rest of them. We all knew, or at least thought we knew what the physical wants and needs of the Sex Nuns involved. It was the sort of thing every giggling teenager who is trying to make sense of sexuality hears stories about and, often, fantasises about. Just like all those stories we heard about the nun’s lapdance confessionals, where the Sex Nun would lapdance over the supplicant until they were forced to confess all their sins and were granted the relief of absolution.

The Sex Nun, Sister Sinola, of course had all the lithe grace and elegance of her order. She moved with a light sensual motion that could easily make a convert of me as I watched her body undulate in her skin-tight leather Sex Nun’s habit as we took the path to the site.

She turned to me as we entered the site. ‘You see,’ she said, touching my arm with her fingertips as she gestured towards the floor to ceiling poles covering the altar stage. ‘Those poles for are for the Sex Nun’s holy dances. They symbolise our travels from and back to the womb of the earth Mother as we make our way through this life. We slide up towards Her grace and down to more… earthly matters.’ The last few words were said as she stared into my eyes, then licked her lips slowly with the tip of her tongue. Sister Sinola took a step closer to me. I could feel the heat of her body.

‘I… I need to consecrate this place,’ she said, stroking her hand down my chest, stopping a bare inch above my utility belt.

She turned away and began rummaging through her bag. She came out with a portable music unit, setting its speakers up on either side of the stage altar. She then pulled out a small strip of material from her bag. I had no idea of its purpose.

Sister Sinola saw me starting and held up the wisp of material for me to see. ‘My holy Sex Nun Thong,’ she said. ‘Would you be willing to be my congregation for the consecration?’

‘I… I’m not a believer,’ I said.

‘Oh that doesn’t matter,’ she said, unzipping her nun’s habit and wiggling herself into her Holy Thong. ’I just need you to witness the ceremony.’ She came towards me, dressed only in the Holy Thong. ‘You will, if you don’t mind, you have to kiss the Holy Thong.’

‘Right… er… what do I…?’

‘Just kneel.’ She came forward until she towered above me. ‘Just a simple kiss will do,’ she said’ …unless…’

Then the music began: a slow, throbbing beat that Sister Sinola explained was the sensual heartbeat of the Earth Mother herself. I sat down at one of the congregational tables in the body of the holy place, watching as she began the holy ritual with one of the poles.

It seemed as though the dance took me to a new place, a holy place, somewhere in the heart of what it is to be human and alive. I felt as though I had never really known what it was to be alive as I saw Sister Sinola’s sensuous form writhe and gyrate in her devotions around the pole. First moving heavenward and then earthward and back again, time after time in time with the throbbing music.

Then – at the climax of her devotions – Sister Sinola hurled her Holy Thong aside to bring herself as close to the Earth Mother as physically possible as she devoted herself to that pole.

All too soon, the music faded away, leaving us in silence as Sister Sinola dismounted her pole, making obeisance to the Earth Mother as she did so.

‘EA-hem…?’ I said, when I could get my voice to work.

‘Yes?’ Sister Sinola said, walking towards me.

‘I… I wan… I want to… to confess…’

‘Ah… a convert,’ she said as she undulated down to my lap.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

In the End


All’s well that ends well: but does it?

Where does anything end? A recent done-to-death cliché in films, TV and so forth has been the hero making a stand, saying ‘this ends here!’ before striding off to do what the script said to do.

Nothing ever does really end though – especially in films that need to beget a sequel – everything leaves threads untied, loose ends floating in the breeze to be caught up and blown out from the recent past into the near future by the winds of circumstance.

That is one reason for fiction, something to give the illusion that all those loose ends can be tied up, that things can become a story with a beginning a middle and an end, rather than going on and on like some interminable soap opera.

Events don’t happen in isolation though. Events beget events and the protagonist might have ‘ended it here’ and strode off into the sunset with - or without - the girl, depending on what kind of myth, and what kind of hero, the story has brought into being for its duration.

The trouble with walking off into the sunset, though, is what is going to happen the next time the sun rises. Will the hero still be walking down that lonesome road, heading for some new town, some new injustice? Then, what happens behind him when those loose ends he tied so well begin to untangle, unwind, unknot themselves?

Thursday Poem: Just Together


Just Together

While waiting for the touch of a fingertip
to set in motion all this turning world.
While waiting for that single breath to breathe
new life into all this, we stand and look
for what’s about to happen here and now.

We stand both knowing that we lost our way
and took the twisting path to find this place.
We wasted so much of our short lives to search
for what does not need to be found again.

And if we knew then, what we know these days
we would not have lost sight of one another
so long as we both searched those far horizons
and watched distances and the skies always

while seeking something that would come to take
us far away from all of this, but now
we’re, still together, standing still in spite
of and because of all that time we lost

apart together, when we could have been
here just together waiting for the clouds
to part, the sun to rise up to begin
a new day freshly created just for us.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Come Inside


When the doorbell rang, I peeked out of the front bay window to see who it was. Two women, one younger one and one about thirty or so, stood by the front door. They had that look of the religious about them, although neither of them looked ugly enough to be real zealots.

Religious ones would be amusing, I thought to myself. I became a meek smiling old woman as I opened the door.

They uttered some religious platitudes and I nodded and smiled as though their empty mouthings had sparked a connection. I've lived through enough human religions to know how easy they come and go, despite – or maybe because of – how reverently the devout need to believe.

‘Yes, I've always wondered about that,’ I said. ‘Would you like to come in?’ I almost offered them a cup of tea, but then wondered if theirs was one of those religions that imposed odd arbitrary rules of denial on its adherents to make them more pliable.

The two women didn't even glance at each other to check their mutual feeling of security. I was an old woman. I was safe.

They came in, smiling and chatting, and walked down the hall towards the room I'd indicated as I shut the front door behind them and quickly, silently, locked and bolted it.

I noticed, as I followed them down the hall, what a nice sexy arse the older one had. I could feel myself growing out of the old woman disguise. Quickly, I looked away from her rolling arse, filling that unreligiously-tight skirt and the way it undulated, before either of them happened to glance behind them.

I got them sitting primly side by side on the sofa, turned away for a moment to let them relax and then – suddenly – turned back, changing my form as I leapt to attack.

The Choc-Ices of Possibility


She was the kind of woman who always knew which side her mandolin was buttered and she had a complete set of bespoke bicycle clips for all formal occasions. Still, those of us who knew her, and some of us had known her several times, always knew she was destined for greatness, especially on that memorable night the local cinema caught fire and we had to make our own entertainment as the firemen struggled to get the blaze under control.

She would, we all believed, eventually find - at least - a more profitable position in the intimate entertainment industry than up against the supermarket back wall in the flickering light of a cinema-turned-inferno.

With the money we had otherwise earmarked for interval choc-ices grasped in her hand and no underwear to her name, she left our small town later that very night.

For weeks afterwards, we all wondered what became of her, especially as the cinema had yet to reopen and we all had several choc-ices worth of possibilities we would have liked to explore with her.

However, we were not too surprised, a few months later, to find some of her more recognisable features displayed in a picture expose of a mere handful of politicians from the capital. All accused of doing to her what they had already so demonstrably done to the country, with the only appreciable difference in the fact that this time it was the politicians paying for their mistakes, not us.

Of course, a woman falling into such disgrace with so many formerly well- if-not-quite-respected-then-tolerated gentlemen had only one option left open to her. So, only a few months later we were again not really surprised on opening our tabloids to discover she had been given a prime-time chat show of her own.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tired of Being Alone


I recognised the sound: I Fought the Law by The Clash. I had been a teenager when punk hit the music scene like a fist in the face, and I was still there to see how quickly it became an empty parody of itself just over a year later. Now it had become nothing more than golden oldies, just another hairstyle in the ever-lengthening history of Rock 'n' Roll. It seemed as though the outrageous had become commonplace, mundane with outrage itself out of date and worn out. No-one had the energy to be outraged any more, hardly meriting a paragraph unless it was a slow news day.

Guy marched up to where I sat and bowed formally. I stood up and Guy took me into his arms. We waltzed sedately around the half-empty dance floor completely out of step with the frantic beat of the anonymous disco tune the DJ played. As people turned to stare, I noticed Julia and Anne sitting side by side, as we twirled around the dance-floor, laughing as they watched us.

Guy tried to tango. I could not hold him as he bent backwards in my arms. We fell to the floor. I stood and held out my hand to Guy. He pulled me back down onto the floor. Then he rolled and stood up, tottering backwards into a pair of serious dancers. They glared and moved away. I sat cross-legged in the middle of the dance-floor trying to make a roll-up as the strobe light flickered.

‘Al Green: Tired of Being Alone,’ I muttered to myself and looked up as Julia held out her hand and pulled me to my feet. We danced slowly, seriously, close together. I let my cigarette go out as Julia rested her head on my shoulder. Slowly I danced us towards the doorway.

‘I need a drink,’ I said as we danced out into the corridor.

‘Okay.’ Julia let me go. ‘Are you glad you came now?’

‘Yes. I'd forgotten how good a night out could be.’ I frowned as I saw Robert engaged in yet another serious discussion at a table near the door. I turned away towards the bar, hoping he would not notice us.

Robert waved at Julia, gesturing for her to come over to his table. She waved and shook her head. Robert shrugged and resumed his conversation with his union cronies. Someone else I didn't recognise waved at Julia; she waved back once more.

I fought my way to the bar and brought back two pints. Julia was in conversation with someone else I vaguely recognised. Eventually, I remembered her name was Jennifer and I’d seen her at the house a couple of times with Julia. I presumed she was studying Politics too.

I handed a pint to Julia and lit the remains of my roll-up. Julia put her glass down on a nearby table and pulled my tin from my pocket. The two girls chatted together as I leant back against the wall and looked around.

The differences between the first year students and the others were not so obvious any more. The nervous awkwardness was almost gone. Only a few stood, or sat, stiffly on the periphery with nervous hands, seeking sanctuary from others' eyes.

The lights flashed twice and Julia turned to me, raising her eyebrows; I nodded and gave her my empty glass. She and Jennifer headed off to the bar together, chatting all the way.

‘Have you done the essay?’

I turned. Steve, a classmate from my tutorial group, looked up at me blinking nervously behind the thick lenses of his black-framed glasses.

‘More or less, just writing it out neatly. I'll have it done tomorrow sometime,’ I said. ‘Is yours finished?’

Steve nodded and looked around. ‘I don't see you in here very often. You're usually with some girl. The one that meets you sometimes, after the tutorials.’

‘Yes, Alison. She's gone home for the weekend,’ I said.

Julia returned and handed me another pint. Steve blinked across at Julia. I could see beads of sweat on his top lip. He muttered something, gestured vaguely and wandered off.

‘Who's that?’ Julia said, leaning closer to me as she watched him walk away.

‘That's Steve. He's a bit on the nervous side. He sits in the corner in tutorials and never says a word, always terrified of being asked a question.’ I watched him disappear into the crowd at the doorway. ‘The sad thing, though, is that he is the smartest one in our group. We could do with his help sometimes. It took three weeks for him to build up the nerve to say hello to me…. So, by the summer he may even speak in the tutorials.’

‘That's a shame,’ Julia said. ‘I wonder what made him like that?’

‘Being one out of only three in his school to take A levels,’ I said. ‘In some places a little bit of knowledge can be very dangerous. I went to a school similar to Steve's. I've seen what can happen to kids at those places.’

‘What sort of things?’

I pulled the sleeve of my shirt up and showed her the scar: long and jagged, from just below the shoulder to an inch above the elbow, twisting from the outside of my arm at the top to just above the crease of flesh on the inside of my elbow.

‘That was for wanting to keep my Geography homework to myself.’ I pulled down the sleeve.

Julia stared at my sleeve as though the scar was still visible through the material of my shirt. Over the other side of the room, I could see people being herded out by the bar staff.

‘Come on, drink up. I think it's time to go,’ I said.

‘Was your school really like that?’ Julia said, still looking at my arm as she drank.

‘Yes,’ I said. From the age of eleven, I had been interred in a school notorious throughout the local education authority. It was infamous even for the viciousness of the girls' netball team. I remembered once meeting a girl at a party who had played netball against my old school. Much later that night she showed me the scar that ran for six inches up the inside of her thigh. The scar had the shape of an arrow pointing to the place where I was keen to go, nevertheless, I paused to kiss along it in a kind of awe.

The girls at my school had been the granddaughters of the small, pale, hard-faced and broad-backed retired miners who now raced pigeons and grew vegetables on their allotments. Allotments that were already subsiding into the underground tunnels they had dug many years before. Their granddaughters had inherited the small stature and hard faces of the miners, while developing large aggressive breasts that were more terrifying than erotic. Before I moved away, I occasionally saw some of those girls I had lain awake at night trying not to stain the sheets over during my early teenage years. They seemed to be suddenly decades older with sagging faces and breasts, each one with several wild children of her own.

I had escaped Empire Street School with only one small scar on my chin as well as the long one on my arm, and two CSEs: Geography and Mathematics, which suggested only a career in cartography. Instead, I spent a year at the local Technical College, amongst welders and car mechanics, and came out with four O levels. ‘It was nasty, it was violent and I got out as soon as I could.’

Julia looked at me closely and then nodded. She finished her drink, and put the glass down on a table as we walked out of the bar.

I sat on the cloakroom bench, rolling a cigarette, as Julia fished her own coat out from under a deep pile of coats that had been hanging up when we first arrived. Julia put her coat on and I handed the cigarette to her. I began to roll another. I put the cigarette into my mouth and shut the tin.

There was a dull thud and a curse from further up the cloakroom. I opened my tin and began to roll yet another cigarette. I finished rolling it just as Guy came over, rubbing his head. I held out the cigarette to him as he sat down next to me.

‘So how many times is it that you've forgotten about the low doorway?’

‘Seven, no six,’ Guy said and rubbed his head again. ‘Can you hang on a minute? Anne's gone to the toilet. Oh, and we have a couple of bottles of wine back at the house. Interested?’


[Extract from: Hanging Around Until: A novel]

In Her Wardrobe


Well… to be honest, I felt like a bit of a dick. I mean, it wasn’t just the indignity of it, although, quite obviously, that was bad enough. It was more that it was such a cliché of comedy, of sit-coms and cartoons and jokes.

I mean I could – maybe – have coped with the nudity part of it. I may not be a sex god or anything like that, but for a bloke my age living in this 21st century of cheap food, idle living and excess, I’m not in too bad a shape, so, yes, I could have coped with the fact of my nudity… maybe. Perhaps by adopting some sort of dignified stance, I could have used the fact of my nudity as a source of strength rather than weakness like some ancient warrior…. Yes, I’m sure I could have made that work. On the other hand, caught cowering in her wardrobe whilst naked, I’m not sure I could make anything of that. Cowering is not a good start. However, with the amount of clothes in an average woman’s wardrobe, there is not much you can do, but cower… that is if you can squeeze in there in the first place.

I could hear him, walking about, their voices as they chatted about this and that. I could detect, even muffled by all the dresses around my head, a certain nervousness in Helen’s responses, but her husband - Steve, she called him once or twice, which I assume meant that was his name - didn’t seem to be paying that much attention to her. He was one of those blokes, the ones that only listen to what others say only so they know when the others shut up so they can go back to saying what they wanted to say, usually about what is wrong with the world and how they, and they alone, know how to fix it.

Cowering there, getting a pain in the back of my thighs, listening to Steve going on and on - and Helen’s decreasing contributions to his monologue - I understood why I’d become her alternative to him, and even why I had ended up naked in her wardrobe.

The Last Goodbye


Often, dreams of her train, and the way it took her out of his life while he stood on the station platform watching her leave, haunted him. Sometimes, in those dreams, he would jump on the train as it left the station determined to make her get off, come home with him, or to go on the journey with her, not letting her out of his sight.

William would wake the next morning, after the dream had left him with a sad headache and a messed-up bed, knowing this was reality and knowing that she had never come back, knowing that morning on the station platform was the last time he had ever seen her.

Donna was supposed to be going back to visit her parents for a couple of weeks. A surprise visit before her new job started at the start of the next month.

Donna and William had talked of getting married, and as far as he knew they were happy and in love. He had no reason to worry about her and his only concern as he turned away after the train had disappeared around the corner was how he was going to manage for the next couple of weeks without her.

Those two weeks had now turned into fifteen years.

When he phoned her parents a few days after she left, wondering why she hadn’t called him, he found that she had never arrived there. They’d had no idea she was coming to visit them and were wondering themselves why she had not phoned recently. Donna’s parents had wondered if, and then assumed, Donna and William had decided to go away somewhere together for a break before the start of Donna’s new job.

Later, the police discovered that Donna got off the train a few stops after boarding it and then… nothing. It seemed she’d disappeared from the face of the Earth after calmly walking out of the zone covered by that station’s security cameras, and never seen again.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Beyond Land’s End


Sometimes, on the evening train going home from his working life, he’d sit watching the world going by outside the train while wondering what would happen if he didn’t get off at his usual stop.

Where would he go? What would become of him? Would the rest of his life, his wife, his children, his boss, his parents and siblings – would they all miss him, wonder where he had gone?

Once he passed the stage of wondering if the world around him would notice his absence, he wondered where he would go if he ever decided not to get off at his normal stop. He wondered if he would just get off at the next stop after his usual one, or would he go on as far as the end of the line… and if so, then what?

He remembered a dream he once had as a child, one of those dreams that seems to stick with us throughout our lives. He worked out he must have been young, perhaps pre-school age when he had this particular dream.

Obviously, at some point during his day, some grown-up or other must have mentioned Land’s End in some adult conversation he’d overheard, and he could – even now – forty years later, remember the visions that conjured up in his sleeping young mind.

He could remember a tropical beach at sunset, palm trees silhouetted against a deep red setting-sun sky: because to his child’s logic mind, Land’s End, the end of the land, would be far, far away and you’d only ever get there at the end of a day, no matter how long it took to travel there.

In the dream, there was a Land Rover too, that he was sitting in, watching the sun set over a sea that seemed to go on forever. After all, if the land ended at Land’s End, then the rest must be sea, sea for miles and miles and miles. He was not sure if, when he had the dream, he knew the world was round. He did not know. All he could remember was the dream and the amazing fact that it had stuck with him all this time. He smiled at his reflection in the train window as the familiar landscape passed him by and daydreamed about, one day, going to that place where all land ended and the infinite sea began.

Monday Poem: The Landscapes of Dreaming


The Landscapes of Dreaming

Your hands clutched tight as you slept
keeping tight hold of all your dreams.
Nothing escaped those watchful eyes
behind closed lids as they chased
across all the landscapes of your dreaming,

searching for the morning that lay hidden
beyond the curtains of that small room
where I waited for you to awake
and take me with you on your journey
through another new waking day.

Friday, December 09, 2011

How Worlds are Created


There are those who think they know how worlds like this come into being. They think they understand how to take this airy nothing and twist it into shape so that the mountains grow out of the flat lands and they think they know those motions of the wrist that can fill this valley with those trees and snake that river through them.

They think they can take a fingertip and trace it in the air and that she will grow out of the movements that sketch her body in the empty air.

They think they know, they think they understand.

They are the ones who think they can just click their fingers and she will snap her eyes open and then follow everywhere they want her to go. They think she will acquiesce, that all they have to do is paint this roadway across the landscape and she will walk down it, towards the life they have built for her in that far city that sits on the horizon like something emerging from the mists of possibility.

They think all this, while I sit here with a smile on my face knowing that as soon as they look away, she will come back here to me, whispering those secrets she only wants me to hear.

The Anti-Fruit and Vegetable Discrimination Squad


Well, anyway, I presume you have remembered the rhubarb this time? I mean, after all the trouble we had just the other week, when the local government anti-fruit and vegetable discrimination squad raided the house claiming that certain anti-rhubarb activities had been witnessed in the area.

Of course, it should be a matter of great concern to all of us that there are some, even in our own communities, who are not indulging in a wide and diverse amount of fruit underneath their custard. After all, we live in a multi-fruit world and no-one would like to see wanton cruelty to plums, or even pineapples, let alone the loganberry riots that disfigured many decades of the last century. We have move on from those dark days and now even certain vegetables – as well as most fruits – are seen in the vegetable racks and fruit dishes from all strata of society, including Brussels sprouts, of course.

There was, back in those earlier times, especially in the post-war period some suspicion of exotic fruit and vegetables. It was – after all – supposed to be a land fit for heroes, and one in which even the most humble working-class woman would be able to get her fill of Cox’s Orange Pippins, and even the lowliest manual worker would have his plums assessed by a professional fruiter on the NHS.

Surely, no-one would want to go back to those days when a women with a nice pear would be harassed on the public thoroughfare and a tomato was regarded as the work of the devil.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Feeding the Birds


What does it matter? The words scattered out there, strewn on the barren cold ground like breadcrumbs thrown to the birds. What happens to them then is up to fate, happenstance, chance. Maybe a whole flock of winter hungry birds will descend upon them, gorge themselves to satiation on them, leaving nothing behind as they struggle back into the air on their eternal quest for some new word scraps to gorge themselves on.

Perhaps, though, the words will remain there, perhaps too many reading birds have already eaten their fill for the day, perhaps the words themselves look so unappetising spread across the page as they are: looking carelessly scattered, thrown down in haste. Perhaps the birds are more discerning; perhaps they get batter than this poor quality mass-produced white loaf elsewhere. Perhaps there is someone else a few web pages, a few books away, who bakes their own word-bread with loving tender care and scatters only the finest, freshest home-made crumbs out to the birds.

Maybe the birds are tired of breadcrumbs; other gardens have nuts, bacon rinds, fat and all those other things you could tempt the birds into your garden with….

That is, if only you had the time and patience for it all: day after day, week after week down the years until it seems you have no words left and so the birds fly away, forever.

Thursday Poem: A Small Blue Box


A Small Blue Box

A small blue box of reasons why
she holds closed in both hands
and carries it to all the places
where she lives her own life.

Up high on a shelf almost out of reach
she places it carefully hidden
so it cannot be seen by those
who stumble into her life

And then are gone, leaving her
with the crumpled sheets
and half-remembered memories
of a living body that held her

But not too close and only for a while
and left her bed growing cold
before the day’s fingers
had even crept under her curtains.

She knows it is not much of a life,
which is why she keeps that box safe
hidden from all those prying eyes
that would open it and see
just how empty her life really is.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Wednesday Story: A Safe Place


With all the fuss – and, yes, the excitement – of winning the lottery I hadn’t had the time to think about what I called, in my mind, The Project for a long time, but when the estate agent opened the door to the wine cellar and flicked on the lights I thought: this is it. This is the ideal place for The Project!

I think the estate agent must have picked up on something, maybe in my expression, or the way my body language changed. I did, as always, try to keep control of myself, but I saw her stiffen and glance across at the doorway behind me as though she was calculating an escape route.

I tried a relaxed, easy smile. I’ve read that a gentle touch – on the arm or some similar neutral place – can be reassuring at such times, but I just didn’t have the nerve to touch her. She would just have to settle for the smile. I tried to think of something reassuring to say, but small talk is one of my blind spots (blind spot? Shouldn’t that be dumb spot?).

She did try to relax, when she saw my smile. Now, though, there was a guarded tension to her. I could see that she was uncomfortable alone with me in that cold cellar.

'I… er…. This is nice,' I said. I tried to sound enthusiastic. 'I’m, getting to be a bit of a wine buff these days. This could be just the thing for me.' I tried smiling again as I ran my hand over the dusty cobwebbed wine racks, nodding approvingly. It seemed to work. She relaxed a little more, although, I noticed her doing that thing where women cross their arms under their breasts when they are cold or nervous. I smiled brightly and rubbed my hands together. 'A bit chilly in here though… a bit gloomy. Shall we…?' I waved towards the doorway and saw the smile in relief that she let slip from under her professionalism.

I followed her out of the cellar. She was blonde, a bit short, under five and a half feet, but she was slim with a nice arse. I’m not usually very good at judging ages, but she seemed in her mid-to-late twenties and wore no wedding ring, although that doesn’t mean much these days.

I was tempted… very tempted to start then and there with her, but only for a while. I knew she would have told people back at her office where she as going, who with and so forth. Anyway, it didn’t feel quite right. Later, after we’d parted, I studied the business card she’d given me, trying to decide whether to add her to the list: start up a dossier on her, or not. Definitively a possible, I decided, in the end.

She was only a possible, because – strangely enough – they are much harder to spot when you are closer to them for some reason. In a crowd, in a busy place and from a distance I can spot them easily enough. When I'm close, though, or alone with someone who I think might be one, then it gets much harder. Maybe it is because they have a chance to concentrate on me, as it were, pick up on the signals I give out unconsciously and adapt themselves to give less away. That's my great theory about them anyway: that when they are in groups or crowds or when they think they are unobserved they are much more likely to give themselves away.

Guarded... that's it…. When they are alone with you, they are much more guarded. They are much more adept at camouflaging themselves when they have only one of us to fool. It is as though the mask can slip, or that it is easier to see around the edges of the mask... the disguise... the camouflage... when they are not concentrating on keeping their true selves hidden from view. It is a bit like going backstage or round the back of the film set and seeing that it is all artifice and illusion, nothing more.

Of course, winning the lottery changed everything in my life.

It took a couple of years for the fuss to die down. I even had to move a couple of times when someone found out, or remembered, my name or face from the papers. Many times, I cursed myself for allowing the lottery company to talk me into going public when I won, just so they could get some publicity for themselves. At the time though, in those first few hectic days and weeks, I suppose, too caught up in the excitement to notice, I just went along with it all.

Eventually, though, fed up with all the attention, I found this rambling farmhouse up for sale, a fair way from the edge of a small quiet village. It had already been done up, modernized, so I didn’t have to call in builders, decorators and so on, so, I thought, it would give me a chance to get back to a normal quiet life.

After the estate agent and I had gone our separate ways, with me promising to think about the farmhouse, even though I'd already made up my mind that it was the ideal place for me, I thought back to those tell-tale gestures she'd made and I decided that she would go on my list. In fact, I would open a new folder for her, I decided. After all, I reasoned, I would probably be seeing much more of her in the forthcoming months, and – if my instinct was right (as it usually was) - then I was sure I would need a folder for her.

Anyway, eventually, after all the usual rigmarole with solicitors, estate agents, surveyors and so on... and on... and on… seemingly as though it could go on endlessly forever, the house was mine. I'd seen the estate agent – finding out her name, or the human name she went by, was Leanne Woolf – a few times over the course of the sale process. That surname of hers made me smile, reminding me of that film I'd seen once with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, or at least I think it was them, just bickering all the way through, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf it was called, if I remember correctly. I couldn't remember much about the film, or even why it was called that, but several times when I spoke to this Leanne, I had to stop myself from calling her Virginia. Not that it would have been that apt. The ones like her are never virgins, never virginal. Although, Woolf seemed an apt enough name for her.

She always acted guarded around me; I think she may have suspected something: suspected that I knew she was one of them. I made sure, though, that I never gave anything away, never gave her any cause to regard me with anything other than the usual mild suspicion of a woman around a socially awkward man like me. Of course, it would be better if they never suspected me at all, but perhaps they can smell the knowledge of what they really are on the rest of us, those of us that are aware of them, making them aware that they are in danger.

Once the house was mine, getting the cellar kitted out next was a priority. I didn't want the Woolf woman slipping away, out of my grasp if she became suspicious of me, or became aware of my plans for her.

For the cellar, I needed the table, the restraints, the instruments and all the technology necessary for me to perform my work on them. Of course, I had to do the kitting-out myself, as well as source the necessary equipment from those sorts of places that would not recognise or remember me, or be suspicious about why I needed such equipment.

Buying the gun turned out to be the easiest part of it, when I expected it to be the hardest, most awkward and involved. I just worked my way through a set of intermediaries until I met a hooded man in a pub car park at midnight. I handed him the envelope of money, he counted it and handed me the gun wrapped up in a roll of cloth inside an ordinary supermarket plastic bag. I tried to give the impression I knew what I was doing, checking the gun when he handed it over, but I really didn’t have much idea about what I needed to look for.

Eventually, after what seemed like a long time, I had the cellar finished. I'd even put in a thick heavy wooden door across the entranceway at the foot of the cellar steps. It would not have looked out of place in some medieval dungeon. This wasn't that strange, the creatures were more common back in those days and many of those castle dungeons had been built for more than just human prisoners.

After getting the cellar prepared, I had to get some kind of vehicle. Initially, I thought about a van of some kind, but then changed my mind and picked a 4x4, but one with darkened windows at the back. Such vehicles were quite common around where I was now living anyway, the remoteness and the rural nature of the area making a vehicle like that a necessity, especially in the winter.

When out and about away from the house, I tried to achieve the right balance of personality, whereby the locals would accept me quickly and without much suspicion. I think I managed to do it quite well. I was friendly whenever I met one of them, but always managing to keep a slight distance, a privacy they could easily see and respect. I think they accepted me, more or less, eventually. Although, even though I remained – of course – always an outsider to the older residents, things have changed to a certain extent these days. There is a lot more movement; people change homes and jobs much more often, so a new face is not such an event as it once was. People too, these days, are much more insular, less likely to want to get too involved with others, even in a small village. Maybe the two phenomena are related, I don’t know.

It was spring, though, before I was ready to move on with the Leanne Woolf project. As I'd prepared it, I had decided that, yes, she, Leanne Woolf, would be the first one in my new cellar. It seemed somehow fitting that she who had first shown it to me would be the one christening it, as it were.

Obviously, I needed some plan for capturing her. The danger was, of course, that she would recognise me, know me and be suspicious of me if she caught sight of me hanging around too often for coincidence. If things went wrong, then she would be able to identify me, if not to the authorities, then to the others of her kind. Therefore, I was working – at least initially – on the idea of some dark place, some lonely corner, late at night.

However, when I began following Leanne I realised what a cautious person she was, never alone on dark nights in lonely places. She had a boyfriend of course, a married man, who she saw whenever they could arrange it, otherwise she seemed happy enough staying in alone. Her flat had too much security too for me to attempt anything there: security cameras, entry systems and so on. Then I realised that this disadvantage of her being able to recognise me could turn to my advantage: if I worked it correctly.


My car, the new 4x4 stood broken-down at the side of the road. Its bonnet was up and its hazard lights flashing bright in the darkness. I was standing there, helpless, frustrated that my phone seemed unable to get anything like a usable signal, when I flagged down the car driving along the same quiet, narrow country road.

'I... I wonder if you could help me?' I gestured towards my car, hoping it all seemed self-explanatory. 'Oh, Miss Woolf is that you?' I pretended to sigh in relief as she nodded.

She smiled her uncertainty fading as she recognised me and relaxed, relieved that I was no stranger to her, out on this deserted road in the dark and chill of the early spring evening.

We exchanged a few pleasantries and then I explained about the car breaking down, despite being brand new. Then I told her how I couldn't get a usable signal on my mobile to call for assistance.

Of course, I'd chosen the spot well beforehand. A place that was lonely, isolated and deserted, with poor mobile phone signal reception.

She tried her phone, and, when it couldn't get a signal from inside her car, she did what we all do – more or less without thinking – and immediately got out of the car and started walking around holding her mobile at various angles and positions, seeking that elusive signal.

'I think I've got a signal!' she held the phone up in the air, gesturing me towards her with her free hand.

It took only a moment, the injection into the vein in the neck, which I know is their most vulnerable spot. I didn’t even need to use the gun. In fact, I forgot I had it until I felt the weight of it in my coat pocket as I tried to manoeuvre Leanne into the back of my car.

After securing her in my 4x4, I drove her car down a nearby side-road and into a disused railway tunnel, smashing it up enough to seem as though joy riders had stolen it, then dumped it after hitting the tunnel wall at some speed.

Back at the house, I put the unused gun away in a drawer in the cellar before going back to the car and lifting Leanne’s unconscious body from the back seat.

It was a bit of a struggle getting her unconscious body down into the cellar, leaving me with a stiff shoulder and a pain in my right arm, but eventually I had her lying face-up on the table. It was frustrating too, getting her out of her clothes before she recovered consciousness. It seemed that no matter which item of clothing I took off her, some part of it always seem to get stuck under her inert body, so by the time I was tightening the wrists and ankle straps she was beginning to stir, making odd little mutterings and moans as her eyes flickered and her muscles twitched.

The first thing she saw when she came around was me, looking down at her. She tried to rise from the table struggled and screamed for a while until I took her by the shoulders and managed to quieten her.

'Look around, Leanne,' I said, trying to sound quiet, calm and confident. 'Do you recognise this place?'

She shook her head and I could see the panic rising in her eyes again.

'It's the cellar of the house you sold to me. So, you know how pointless it is to shout and scream... or to struggle for that matter. Even if you could escape – which you can't – it will take you ages to reach safety and I'll recapture you long before you get near anywhere else. So stop struggling and try to relax.' I tried to sound more confident than I felt. As I'd fastened the restraints around her wrists and ankles, I'd realised how poor they were, made from cheap, thin, shoddy leather for people to use in kinky sex games. I just hoped they would be strong enough to hold her, although I was beginning to doubt it.

She quietened, but then lifted her head and looked down at her own body, as much as she could see, and realised she was naked. I could see the panic in her eyes once more.

'I said, “relax”.' I touched her cheek. 'You see I know what you really are, so there is no point pretending any longer. I know you are not human.'


She was good: I'll admit that. I suppose they train – either themselves or each other – to seem always as human as everyone else they are likely to meet. Sometimes it is difficult to be sure of them, even for those of us who have learnt the telltale signs.

'I know,' I said. 'I know all about you... you people… your kind. I've been watching those like you for a long time. You are not my first.' I took a step back and took a long slow look at the length of her body.

'What... what on earth are you talking about?' There was a touch of panic in her voice still, but I could see that she was attempting to appear reasonable. 'Look... let me go and I promise I won't tell anyone…. I won't go to the police, or anything. Just please... please let me go!' she started to sob and thrash about on the table, but the restraints, poor quality as they were, held her tight. She screamed a few times too as she struggled. I just stepped back, sat down on my stool in front of the laboratory equipment and waited until she was – relatively – calm once again. I was trying not to let my worries about the restraints show on my face. After all, they can read us humans so well after all this time. Any sign of doubt, fear or uncertainty and they pounce….

'I know...,' I said. 'Leanne, look at me....'

She turned her head. I could see the tears in her eyes. She was good; usually they can't do tears without practice.

'I know you won't go to the police,' I said softly, 'because you know as well as I do that with the police, or anyone like them, there would be too many questions that you would not like to answer. You know as well as I do that the police, the government… well, all those that your kind haven't completely infiltrated, are already very suspicious, already aware of the activities of your kind.'

'M... my kind? What the fuck are you on about?' she yelled, straining against the restraints. I saw one give a little, but tried not to let the panic show.

Quickly, to stop her struggling against the restraints I got up from the stool and strode over to her. With one hand, I lifted her head up, cradling it in my palm, while with my other I pointed to various places on her body.

'Back in earlier centuries they used to call such things Witches' Marks. Of course, those of us who know what you and your kind really are know what they actually signify. We know how to use them to prove what you really are.' I let my fingers slowly wander over her body, watching her eyes watching my fingers and noticing each place where she flinched, her eyes flickered or she twitched nervously. Those would be the places where I could find my way in through this human body she wore, past her disguise, to the real creature that lay beneath it all.

'You are mad.' she sneered. 'I'm a perfectly normal human being, not some monster.... What, do you think I'm a vampire, a werewolf, an alien or what?'

I turned to face her, turning her head, with my hand that still cradled it, so that I could look deep into her eyes. 'All of those and none,' I said. I was silent for a moment, searching those dark eyes of hers for a way in, a way through. 'You are not scared of me... of this.' I nodded towards her restraints. 'That’s another sign.'

She turned her head away.

'You will find... you want... everything as a sign,' she said, turning her head back to face me. 'No matter what I say or do, it will be an admission of guilt in your eyes. You want... need me... to become some weird creature to justify to yourself that what you really want to do to me is not... not some depraved fantasy... or weird perversion of yours. You want to be the good guy saving the world while you do whatever it is you want to do to me... b... bef... before you kill me.'

'Kill you?' I said. I must admit her – relative – calmness disconcerted me. I began to get the idea, the thought, that there was something going on here that lay beyond the situation we were in, some other deeper level. I had the feeling that she was trying to push me in one particular direction.

Struck by these sudden doubts, I left the cellar, ran up to into the house, looking out through every window I came to at the almost sheer darkness outside, hoping to catch sight of something - I don't know what – lurking out there in the dark and the shadows. I opened the front door and stepped out. It was the usual non-silent silence of the countryside with rustles and slitherings from the undergrowth, with animal cries both near and far as something caught something else, and one of them died. It was reassuring in away, hearing all those sounds and feeling the presence of normality all around the isolated house. I knew – or thought I knew – that there would be none of that normality if there were any of them nearby.

Still, though, I locked and bolted the front and rear doors and made sure I locked all the windows and shuttered them tight, all the while cursing myself for forgetting to bring the gun upstairs with me. Those creatures have been on this Earth a long, long time – some say even back before mankind – so they must be as natural by now as any other hunter or predator out there creeping and crawling through the darkness searching for prey.

I knew something was wrong even before I reached the bottom of the cellar steps. As soon as I turned the corner from the steps and looked, through the gap beyond the heavy wooden door I'd foolishly left half-open, across at the operating table, I could see that she'd gone. The restraints – the best I could find – had not been strong enough after all. Either that or I'd got the dosage of the tranquillisers wrong, which is still – even after all this time – still somewhat of a hit and miss affair because the creatures are so different from humans under the superficiality of the disguise. Whichever it was, I'd failed.

I had been half-prepared for her to escape, but in my haste to get upstairs and check the surroundings I'd left the gun over in the drawer of the workbench on the opposite side of the cellar.

If I'd given myself more time to prepare, I could have improved the lighting down there, as well as buy much better restraints. As it was, there were too many shadows and hiding places. I cautiously made my way into the cellar trying to get to the drawer and the gun. I kept my back pressed up against the wall as I moved sideways towards the adjacent wall I began to wonder if she was still down there at all. I knew she could have sneaked back up behind me and got out while I was busy locking the windows and doors upstairs. She could be up there now, opening a door and calling out to those others of her kind lurking in the darkness to come to her rescue.

I shivered. I'd seen what happened when they found one of us who knew about them, people I'd known, people who had once been my friends and, in one particular case, someone I'd loved, reduced to something akin to what an abattoir washes off the floor at the end of a busy working day. I felt myself shiver as I crept along the wall, searching in vain for something to use as a weapon. If she was still down there I knew I would not have the time to get to the gun.

I was scared. I was terrified beyond anything I’d ever known before in all the years I’d fought against the creatures. I now knew then that this house, what I'd thought of as a safe place was nothing of the sort.

After what seemed like hours, but in reality was no more than a minute or two, I got to the workbench without Leanne, or the true creature she really was, leaping out of the shadows of the cellar and ripping me apart. Her clothes were still on the top of the workbench. I smiled grimly at the delicate lacy underwear I'd eventually managed to struggle off her drugged body what seemed now like a lifetime ago. The delicate see-through underwear was the antithesis of the creature's true nature, but they tended to like that kind of thing, it amused them. I suppose after the centuries of pretending to be human, being the opposite of themselves, made them appreciate other ironies, oppositions and juxtapositions.

I had a sudden sense of delaying things with my musings, of giving in to what I now realised was almost inevitable. My safe place had become my prison, my condemned man's cell. I was the prisoner now and that what claimed to be Leanne was free and would soon be in control.

I took the gun from the drawer and checked it was fully loaded and pocketed the spare clips and loose ammunition. An automatic pistol would be next to useless if there was more than one of them. It was not that good against only one, unless you could get a split-second lucky shot in. However, the weight of the gun, the confident slick engineering of it, the oily smell of it and the hefty solidity of it gave me some sliver of reassurance as I made my way back across the cellar towards the heavy door at the bottom of the steps leading back up to the house.

I was pretty confident that the Leanne beast had gone, run away back to her kind. I thought maybe I could escape from the cellar as well and be the one that ran out across the fields, across the meadows and through the dense woods. I had taunted Leanne with the isolation of this place and now it was taunting me.

As I made my way back, across the cellar, I heard movement up above, scratchings and scrapings on the fashionably bare polished floorboards above my head. There was more than one of them up there, there had to be. It was not just Leanne up there; there was far too much noise for that, she must have opened the door and let them all in. They had been out there, waiting, after all.

Then I realised what had happened. I had blithely walked into a trap. They must have known about me from before, from our previous confrontations and battles. The publicity from my lottery win must have brought me to their attention, somehow. Maybe one of them recognised me in the publicity for the lottery win. Perhaps one who had escaped from my clutches in the past had warned the others.

They had set me up. Leanne had been the bait in their trap and I had fallen for it.

I ran for the cellar stairs through the heavy wooden door, cursing my stupidity, for thinking that I could have so easily outwitted one of them. They have not survived this centuries-long war against the human race by being stupid, I told myself as I cautiously made my way up the cellar steps.

I stopped halfway up; I could see the tall, elongated, shadows of the creatures up there, in the rooms above me, dancing around in their pre-killing frenzy. They would wait for me to come out and then they would pounce, all of them from all angles all at once, not giving me a chance to fight. I would die up there. Within moments I would be no more than a bloody mess staining the floor of what I'd thought was a safe place.

I began to wonder if it had been they who had chosen this place, after all, not me. Perhaps this isolated farmhouse was as much a part of the trap as Leanne was.

I took a couple more steps then stopped. My slim chance of escape was gone, lost.

Leanne stood, naked and strong, at the top of the cellar steps looking down at me. A smile of victory lit up her face. I could see the hunger of the creature in her eyes. She would be the one to have the honour of the killing blow. She would be the one who would rip my life from me. I knew their codes, their beliefs. I knew all about their killing rituals and that no-one ever escaped or survived.

I raised the gun feeling its lethal weight, holding it in both hands and aiming between her eyes. She just stood there, waiting, taunting me. I knew I was not close enough for a bullet to do much damage to one like her... but I fired anyway, knowing even as my finger squeezed the trigger that these creatures were faster than bullets.

She seemed to shimmer and shift off to one side as the bullet smacked hard into the wall where her head had been only a few seconds before.

I turned and ran back down the steps, slamming the heavy cellar door behind me and jammed it shut with a short beam I'd had left over from constructing the pulley system I'd installed for moving the bodies of the creatures I'd hoped to take down there.

I looked around the cellar in desperation, realising that I was the trapped one now. I was their prisoner now. Whether they came for me straight away or just waited, the end would be the same. Suddenly, I remembered, or thought I remembered, some sort of quote about there being no safer place than the tomb and realised that this cellar would be my tomb, one way or another.

What started out as safe places for me to discover just who, or what, these creatures, these women really were had turned into no safe place for me. I could hear them now, out beyond the cellar door. I didn't know how long that door would last, but when it was gone, then I would be gone too.

I checked the gun in my hand once again. No matter how many bullets I had, no matter how well I aimed, no matter how fast I could shoot, no matter how quickly I could reload, they would make sure that there would be at least one of them left after the last bullet had gone to make sure I would never interfere in their plans again.

I looked down at the gun as I heard the scratching at the barred door, heard the rough sibilance of their true voices as they schemed and plotted behind that thick wooden door. They could in a matter of minutes, rather than hours, rip apart even something that thick and sturdy in their eagerness to get at me.

Then, suddenly, up above me, a floorboard creaked, cracked and ripped as it was torn up. A brief flash of light from the room up above illuminated the gap, suddenly replaced by the dark shadow of a head peering into my refuge. I fired into the blackness of that face, hearing a snarl and the sudden thick plop of blood dripping through the opening. There were snarls and roars from up above and more of the floorboards ripped up. I emptied two clips into the open space above me, but it did nothing to quieten the frantic noises.

I reloaded the pistol with quick, nervously fumbling fingers.

Seconds later, Leanne dropped through the gap. She was still human, still naked, but with a dripping red line across the side of her scalp where one of my shots had obviously caught her.

I raised the gun, pointed it at her. Then I changed my mind, feeling the cold metal against my head and my finger trembling on the trigger. I need to use my other shaking hand to help hold the suddenly too-heavy pistol steady against my head. I had seen what happened to those they fed upon, I'd seen the woman I'd loved ripped and shredded, devoid of that essence of the human that these creatures feed upon to survive, to breed and to grow and I knew I could not let them do that to me.

She knew they had already won and so she smiled as she began to slough off the human form, there, in front of my eyes.

My finger tightened as I screwed up my eyes against what I knew was going to come....

As the tears found their way out of my tightly closed eyes, I swallowed hard, cursed my stupidity and the creatures, then squeezed the trig....

Tuesday, December 06, 2011




After the rehearsal, they adjourned to The Pit. Stan went off with Cathy and did whatever it was he did when he was running the place.

Matt seemed quiet and thoughtful, again.

‘What's the matter?’ Spike asked him.

‘I'm just wondering what my parents will say when I tell them what I'm going to do.’

‘They can't stop you though, can they?’ Jenny said. ‘We are all over eighteen, our own bosses.’

‘It's not that simple though,’ Matt said. ‘It was bad enough when I said I didn't want to go to university.’

‘I know what you mean,’ Spike said earnestly as she reached for Jenny's hand. ‘There seems to be this plan, this blueprint: school, university, good job, mortgage, wife, kids, retirement, grandchildren… death. Step out of that and… well, they just don't understand why I… why anyone, would want to. Any deviation from the accepted plan and it all spells disaster. The end of the world as they know it.’

‘I can understand it, though,’ Johnny said. Everyone turned to look at him. ‘When you think of all the stuff our parents and their parents and so on, had to go through: wars, depressions, unemployment, no NHS and all that… I suppose a stable – even boring - life seemed like perfection to them.’ Johnny shrugged and hid his face behind his glass, taking a long drink.

Everyone was silent again for a while. Jenny was the first to speak. ‘So, do you agree with Matt's parents then, Johnny?’

‘No.’ Johnny said. ‘I think that you ought to grab at - with both hands - any chance that comes your way. I'd rather regret doing something; take the risk of seeing it all go tits up, than to regret not doing something because I let the chance slip by me. But I can understand their cautious attitude, in a way - that's all. But, it's a middle-class way of looking at things, and I'm working-class. The working-class way is to grab it now, with both hands, before they notice and take it away.’

By the time The Pit closed, they were all pretty-well pissed. They staggered out into the dark night, heading for home. Pete, Matt and Johnny saw Jenny and Spike to their door, offered several helpful suggestions as to how the girls should spend the rest of the night, and then headed on up the road.

At the top of the hill were three blocks of flats, standing together like some giant's henge on the brow of the hill.

‘Hang on,’ Johnny said. ‘We - my family - used to live in the middle one. Come on, I want to show you something.’

Matt and Pete were cautious, knowing they were out of place. But Johnny strolled in as if he owned the whole block. The lift to the top floor was slow and rickety.

Pete was more than relieved when the lift finally got up there and shuddered to a halt. He had regular nightmares about lifts that failed and trapped him.

Johnny led the others around the corner and up a small flight of steps to a locked door. Pete felt a shiver of relief run through him as he turned to go, but Johnny grinned and held up a key.

The wind was cold and strong. All Pete could see were stars and the low darker shadow of a high wall. He felt relieved to see the wall; his knees were already a bit shaky from the realisation that they were nineteen stories from the cold hard ground. Pete had always been terrified of heights. His reticence about leaving safety of the doorway meant the others were across the other side of the roof by the time he had gathered the courage to follow them.

‘Oh shit! Shit! Shit!’ Pete could not take another step. There was a sort of window in the wall. It was a long narrow strip of toughened glass, as tall as the five-and-a-half foot high wall. He could see the bright lights of the town far below distorted through the pebbled glass. He froze, unable to take another step closer to that window. He looked around. ‘Fuck! Fuck! Fucking Fuck!’

Johnny was kneeling on top of the wall, pulling Matt up beside him. Matt scrambled up the wall and they stood together side by side on top of the wall, looking down. A moment later, they were both pissing over the edge.

Pete stepped back into the doorway and lit a cigarette, expecting - at any moment - to hear the screams as Matt and Johnny fell to their deaths. A short while later they were back inside, laughing and joking together.

Johnny looked into Pete's eyes. ‘You should have come with us. There is nothing like the feeling that you are pissing on the entire fuckin' world.’

Pete shrugged, trying to appear casual. ‘I didn't need one. Maybe next time,’ he said and headed off towards the lifts.

‘No, this way,’ Johnny said. ‘It’s party time!’

‘Wha…?’ Pete shrugged, stubbed out the cigarette on the concrete floor, then followed Johnny and Matt.

For some reason he didn't quite understand, Pete didn't find the stairs as terrifying as the roof, or as scary as the lift. Despite the possibility of being able to look down and see the banisters curling down and down and down - like some graphic representation of vertigo - on one side, he felt no real fear. On the other side - the wall side - there were a couple of small windows on each landing, but Pete found he could get past these without feeling a need to glance out and terrify himself.

Johnny was pausing at each landing and opening the stair door, listening intently. They had to go down about half a dozen or so floors before Johnny found what he wanted. Even Pete could feel the throbbing music, from a flight of stairs above, when Johnny opened the door to that floor.

‘Party time! Come on.’ Johnny led the other two down the corridor towards the party. He stepped over an unconscious form slumped in the hallway, picked up the empty sherry bottle next to it, and banged on the door.

As the door opened, Johnny quickly herded Matt and Pete in, waving the sherry bottle in his other hand. ‘Jim invited us,’ he said to the bloke who was holding the door open. The bloke nodded vaguely as the three disappeared into the crowd.

‘But it’s bloody packed in there,’ Pete said uncertainly. The other two ignored him and pushed their way in. Pete sighed and followed them.

They had to weave their way slowly - and delicately - through the crowd. Pete was not that keen on parties at the best of times, but this was rapidly approaching the party of his nightmares. After glancing away, at a semi-naked woman dancing on a table, he lost sight of Matt and Johnny in the crowd.

‘Shit!’ He turned and headed back towards the door.

There was a sudden unintelligible shout and the sound of breaking glass. The crowd between the door and Pete surged backwards, thrusting him through a door into a darkened room. He could hear the shouts of ‘Fight!’ over the music outside the room, then a couple of women screaming.

He stepped back further into the darkened room. He heard sounds behind him. Pete turned and saw several moving shapes silhouetted in the darkness. Despite his relative inexperience, he could still recognise the sounds of people fucking. But whether it was an orgy or a gang-bang, Pete couldn't tell in the darkness. He eased himself out of the room as slowly and as quietly as he could.

There was a smear of blood up the wall by the door. Next to it, a sobbing woman knelt on the floor trying to wipe blood off her hands with a blood-sodden handkerchief. Another drunken woman, who had not yet realised that her cigarette was slowly burning a hole in the shoulder of the distressed woman's dress, knelt next to her muttering slurred platitudes into her ear. For a moment, Pete almost stopped to tell them about the slowly rising smoke. But, after another glance at the blood-smeared wall, he changed his mind.

By the door into the main party room, some malodorous bloke with long hair and a shaggy unkempt beard tried to tell Pete something, grabbing his shoulder and rambling incoherently into his ear. Pete could feel the heat of sour breath on the side of his head as he nodded profoundly, clapped the man on the back, and then headed for the door.

Out in the corridor Pete thought about the stairs, but decided the lift might be - marginally - faster. He pressed the button and stood with his head pressed against the cool metal of the lift doors. Several minutes later, he heard a slow groaning rattle and through the tiny window, he could just make out the dark shadow of the lift's arrival.

The doors creaked open slowly. The snogging couple inside the lift disentangled themselves from each other before readjusting their clothing and stepping out of the lift. Pete squeezed past them and managed to thump the button that kept the wheezing doors open long enough for him to get into the lift.

‘Er… excuse me?’ Pete smiled nervously as the teenage boy and girl both stared at him.

‘What?’ The boy's hands were already curling into fists.

Pete ignored him and faced the girl. ‘Are those yours?’ He pointed to the discarded knickers on the floor of the lift.

‘Oh, yeah,’ she said without looking at him. She snatched them from the floor and shoved them into her pocket. ‘Ta.’

‘No problem.’ Pete beamed at the boy and girl as the doors began to close.

‘Pete! Hang on! For fuck's sake - hold the lift!’ Johnny and Matt were racing down the narrow corridor. A bottle exploded against the wall above them, showering them both with glass. Out of the corner of his eye, Pete saw the teenage couple quickly disappearing around the opposite corner of the corridor.

‘Press the fuckin' button - quick!’ Johnny said, falling through the door and pulling Matt in with him.

Pete jabbed frantically at the button. He could see a gang of men heading down the corridor, some carrying broken bottles, others with an ominous flash of metal in their hands.

The arthritically slow doors shuddered to a close seconds before the mob got to the lift. It shuddered again and slowly began to descend. Pete could hear the thumping as the gang took out their frustrations on the outside lift doors. The sound faded away as the lift descended and - presumably - the gang gave up and wandered back to the party.

Matt and Johnny sat on the floor of the lift, trying to get their breath back. They looked up at each other and laughed.

‘Stupid cunt,’ Johnny said to Matt.

‘What happened?’ Pete said, already half suspecting the answer.

‘A girl,’ Matt said. ‘I was just talking to her, and this… this… fucking lunatic… just….’

‘I saw it coming,’ Johnny said. ‘I just managed to grab him in time. Luckily, you still had the lift there. I wouldn't have fancied legging it down all them stairs with that mob after us.’

‘It's just bloody ridiculous,’ Matt said. ‘We were only talking, about Woolworth's as it happened. That girl works there, and my sister had a Saturday job there for a while. It was just one of those coincidences that come up at parties. I couldn't believe that man - the way he reacted! All the time we were running down that corridor - it seemed bloody endless, like in a nightmare - I kept saying to myself: This can't be happening! This can't be happening!’

The lift stopped and they cautiously stepped out into the ground floor. Johnny checked around, but there was no sign of anyone from the party.

‘I think it would be a good idea to call it a night,’ Matt said. ‘I suddenly sobered up back up there, and now all I want to do is go home.’

The other two sombrely nodded their agreement. There was a moment of awkward silence before they split up to go their separate ways.

The next day Matt left the band.


[Extract from Dance on Fire]