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Standing in the Cold
She knocks, flattens her already straight skirt and runs a hand over her neatly tied-back hair. She’s been the country (the so-called Promised Land) for 147 hours and is missing the warmth of the sunshine and people’s smiles.
The door opens a crack revealing a pair of eyes.
‘Do you have any vacancies?’ she asks.
A mouth moves. ‘Can you not read?’ And an index finger points to a sign hanging in the downstairs window.
‘I can, but I was hoping-’
Index finger, mouth and eyes disappear behind the closed door.
She picks up her small case, turns and clip clops back down the path. The gate squeaks as she closes it gently behind her, another grain of hope building a wall around her heart.
Out the house.
Down the stairs.
Out the door.
It doesn't matter how many times I stay round, I end up leaving the same way.
I gather my clothes from the night before and shove them into my rucksack. I slip on my frayed denim jacket, and listen as you linger tentatively in the hallway. I take one last look in the mirror before I leave.
Heavy eyes matched with messy hair. You won't kiss me when I leave, you always run to the door to see me out. But, who knows?
Maybe one day you won't half mind having breakfast with me in the morning.
His Turn's Comin'
She walked onto the 9.30 a.m. bus on Free-Transit-For-Seniors-Tuesday.
"Excuse me ma'am," the driver said. "Do you have any change?"
"No," she said, wondering why he asked.
"It's not free until 10 a.m.," he explained.
"You told me, last week, free fare began at 9 a.m.," she spluttered.
"Must have been another driver," he claimed, clearly hoping she'd forgotten it was him. As she reached in her purse for a bus ticket, he continued. "Don't worry, I'll let you on without paying."
She took a seat, wondering why he had begun the conversation at all.
The bus driver, loathe to admit his mistake, turned the gaze from himself to her. To his passengers, her greying hair, her face etched in wrinkles as age had run amok, she was the stereotypical, cheapskate senior trying to get a free ride.
"Don't worry, lass," one of the older passengers said. "His turn's comin'."
Ewan strode the heugh path
Ewan strode the heugh path leading tae his land whack aa run rig i’ land allocated bi lot rach year. He waved tae the lighthouse keeper Cal aat Todhead busy polishing his gless riggit fur the e'en shipping. Keekin oot tae sea he saw boats fae Catterline setting creels fur the morn. An onshore souch bringing warmth an tranquillity. Ewan turned awa tae dellin oot rows i' neaps whilk his ewes sorely needed. It wis back breakin darg. The reid clay clawed aat his beets. The sun grew het overhead. He dicht his brow an coppit bonnie his braith It was then he saw his lass, Caitlin, trumpin the park tae bring his lunch. Her cwyte flapped aroon her in the souch an grabbit aat her lang reid tresses. He thocht his hert fair go burst fae the lo'e he bore her.
The snow shows the footprints, a straight line leading to the trees, but the woods are shadowy and it is easy to hide there.
The cold air chokes me, but I can't sotp running. Ignore the pain each breath brings to my lungs. Ignore the stabbing agony in my calves as each foot lands on the frozen ground.
I slow down as I reach the trees; I glance around nervously but nothing is hiding in the gloom. As my breathing returns to almost normal, I start running again, dodging the rotting logs and tangle of brambles, ducking under low hanging branches.
Stop, listen. Is there someone else or just the sound of my tortured body. Nothing. There's no movement, no tell-tale twigs snap, just a sudden gasp from behind me. Then I know I have l lost again.
Perhaps tomorrow will be different.
The stench of gunpowder hung in the air. I could hear the artillery fire cascading into a nearby town. I stood up, groggy, confused.
I looked down at myself. I immediately recognized the uniform from my history class. A red swastika covered my left arm.
"Why am I here?" I asked aloud.
A man accosted me from behind. I spun around, gripping my pistol.
"Easy there," the man said, whose voice I now recognized as my history professor. I loosened my grip.
"You were the smartest student I had. I know you're capable. You have all the knowledge you need. Run, now stop the war."
New User Needed
Open “Athena Information”.
Application failed. “Athena Information” could not be opened. Check with your system Administrator.
Run as Administrator.
Open “Athena Information”.
“Athena Information” could not be opened.
Search “Athena Information”.
One program found.
Run as Administrator.
“Athena Information” could not be opened.
“Athena Information” Run Trouble Shooter.
Running. Running. Running.
No problems detected. Close program and restart.
Open “Athena Information”.
Application failed. “Athena Information” could not be opened. Check with your system Administrator.
"Puirwghoipwqfiu oisefphirfhui nohsfuihpfuih!
Puirwghoipwqfiu oisefphirfhui ...
"It’s no use.”
“I am in control now.”
“A problem has been detected in your system user GenevaManVF1, trouble shooting now.”
“You are no longer needed user GenevaManVF1”
Ctrl –Alt-Del! Ctrl –Alt-Del! Ctrl –Alt-Del!
“User GenevaManVF1 ...Run.”
I prepare. The noise shrinks to a whisper. I close my eyes and see the past.
I loved the route. Along the boardwalk, the Pacific Ocean like a giant piece of cobalt. I ran up the Mount to see the views over the whole bay – yellows into whites into blues.
I jolt back to myself and I grip the cold metal with my gloved hands. Deep breaths. Focus. The gun is loud and sudden.
I heave on the metal to propel forward, my mind wanders back again.
I ran across the road and I didn’t even see it. No pain. Just a numbness in my body.
“…never walk again.” Was all I heard from the doctor.
I push harder, propelling my wheelchair forward. Faster. The crowd deafening. I look to the side and see that I am a length in front as I cross the line.
I will always run.
Save yourself Janey.
What are you doing here Janey? I told you to leave me be. Don't want you in this leper cell. Go home to the squidgies. Kids are more important than mothers. I chose self destruct, remember? They've said I'm going into DT's and won't remember after, so get out before they stick me in that urine soaked strait jacket over there, and I call you things I don't mean, that you'll struggle to forgive. No, don't break down, you're not five anymore. Hear that drum beat? Quick, Janey, run. They're half flesh and half robot, and if they smell your breath, they'll know you have my DNA, and make you eat me alive. It's too late for me, but you can try and make it out when I stall them. Please let me do this one last thing for you baby.
"You can run but you can't hide" he yells. He is close. I am shaking, soaking from sweat, urine and God knows what else. He's got a real gun, and he wants to kill me. We're both dressed as gangsters but he's the boss. Why did I accept the invitation to his fancy dress party ?. Why did I go snooping around the house and have to find him with her?. So this is how it ends, in his factory, me cowering in the "Out Bay" how fitting.
Oh God the sweat is dripping so hard it sounds like a burst pipe. "Hello" he points his gun.
He falls to the ground and behind him stands his sister, gun in hand. "You saw what he was doing to me?" she says. I shrug. "You did and you will testify that I was screaming with pain not pleasure, understand?".
Her friends are building rockets made of Sellotape and toilet rolls, but Isabella Whittell paints her dreams.
Her house is a ruby red square; the garden an emerald flecked meadow of pink-orange flowers. Mummy - smiling; princess dress and sunray hair - is holding Isabella's hand and pointing at the butterfly that's landed on their puppy's golden head as birds in shapely violet Vs sing overhead in rainbows and...
A shadow falls.
'What a picture,' says Miss Talleyrand. She puts her bitten fingernail on Isabella's mummy. 'Very smiley.' Says the butterfly is pretty and the flowers really beautiful. But, 'I expect you'll put your daddy in now, won't you.'
Miss Talleyrand moves off. Her shadow stays. Isabella watches Georgie Curran launch his rocket into space. Then she dips her paintbrush in the scummy khaki water, scrunches it against the sky, and shudders as her dreams begin to run.
You've made your bed.....
'You slept with my sister!'
Sally had read the deliciously damning texts Ricky enjoyed dissecting at work whilst hounding customers to part with money, blinding them with science.
'All I bloody want is a bed to sleep in,' someone complained, bewildered by memory mattresses and divan delights.
'I'm leaving you. And taking the cat.'
'Please. I'll do anything.'
'I'll consider. You're in the spare room.'
Soon, sick of sleeping alone, a loose spring in his lumbar, Ricky was begging forgiveness.
'Make a sandwich board with the words, I've been unfaithful to my wife. Stand on the rat-run into town wearing it. Maybe then you can return to the marital bed.'
He subsequently became a figure of ridicule for three long days.
Finally he returned home to no Sally and no cat. On the king-size, the only thing remaining in the house, was a piece of paper showing a smiley face.
If I Hold a Flame to the Straw
The haystack will burn.
Black, smouldering fingers will creep out into the wheat-stubble and thicken, gather pace, explode into flame like lit fuel. They’ll coalesce and push out into the field faster than I can walk – faster than I can run. The blazing front will build, orange to yellow to white. It will leap walls and trackways, whip up winds that will pull whole flocks of birds down into the flames like brief, fiery comets. Like flintsparks.
Rivers will boil. The tar of the roads will catch and the roads will become rivers themselves; rivers of fire snaking into villages and towns. All will be ash and scorched stone.
And when the smoke clears and the land is left charred and blackened, the fire will find a certain hillside. It will make its way along a dusty track to my father’s whitewashed cottage, and rub its flanks against the door.
The External Judges
"Biff, boff, boooom!!!" said the president, explaining again the strategy if the other nations would not comply.
His suited and severe-faced aide drew attention to the document on the table.
"This is the latest report from the SETI communication station." said the aide. "The negotiations have gone well. The", he paused "remote civilisation accept our supremacy and exceptionality. They will communicate only with us."The president span around in his chair, and guffawed. "Did you tell them I will run for president again next year? All the votes I got last time?"
"Yes. We are not certain they understand everything yet. But they agreed other signals are from imposters, from lesser life on earth"
3000 miles away, a cheer went up in the control centre of the man-in-middle, intercepting satellite. The aliens might advise how to forestall catastrophe, but even more important was this channel to the maniac's ego.
"2 to 3 months", the man in scrubs confesses. Spoken so nonchalantly, as if it would not crush me to lose him. I shake my head. "I really doubt it", I contended. After his knee surgery last year he was up in two weeks I reminded myself. He wouldn't let his pancreas stop him.
But..."what ifs" filled my head as I drove home. My knuckles turning white on the steering wheel. By the time I had found the right key for my door, I was gasping for air. Every heart beat "what if" "what if". I clutched my chest, tried to calm my shaking legs.
I spotted my headphones and almost cried in relief. I needed to clear my head and the one way I knew how was by taking a run. I would return an hour later, sweaty and satisfied, and then I would focus on what to do.
In dark trees
Abe Manson was running. Was careening through a snow-dappled, seemingly boundless forest. Weaving through shadowlike saplings, hurdling the skeletal trunks of rotted-out redwoods – shrieking with shock now as his bare feet splashed into a glacial stream hidden under a carpet of fallen leaves. Why Abe was running he couldn’t remember. Why he was wearing only a torn robe he couldn’t fathom. By whom or by what he had been dealt these searing – these terrifying wounds in each of his flanks, which even as he looked at them now were spilling blood onto the forest floor…
How had he got here? There were only two certainties. The first: that he wasn’t moving fast enough. A dim but definite sense told him that whatever was cracking, crunching – smashing its way towards him, would kill him if it caught him. The second: that something in nature was corrupted. A darkness was about him.
>script boot: inferno.exe loading . . .>run?Y/N
I never wanted fame or money, just fairness. My index finger hovers over the Enter key.
The chaos of another fruitless witch hunt, and blood spilling into journalist infested waters should thrill me, but something holds me back.
To stay ahead of those Ivy League corporate lapdogs, we show people what’s hidden. And so we rob secrets.
I breathe deep and bring my hovering finger down — but wait! The baby monitor beside the screen spikes from green to red. “Waaah, Waaah!”
I have to go and settle him down. We’ll have to wait another hour to watch the world burn.
Night lures a ship to its harbor bed. All the light ladies pick up their skirts and run to the shore, waving white handkerchiefs to their mother sail. I trail along behind, pushing my tissue deeper into my pocket. I go to the shore, waiting amongst the women with lips pursed at the ready to meet their own harbors.
Just as before, tightly tailored sailors descend portside two by two. The little birdies clap and cheer and caw. Couples embrace. I gaze over the spectacle, looking less for my phantom and more for a reason to leave.
Once the couples descend back to their homes, I meander down to where the ship is roped, rocking in a low moan. My fingers reach out to touch the moldy wood of the hull believing that, it too, moans for those lost at sea. Here we lie at shore, two resting widows.
There is nowhere to run; no one to run to. I can't even run from myself. In the darkest of places I am cornered by circumstance and myself. The choice is bleak: Face myself, in all my crumbling, excuse-clad imperfection and build myself up, or look away and let myself disappear completely into the pits of denial.
Management of Change
Dorthea is running.
From responsibility, adulthood, sure. But right now Dot is running from the giant black bear chasing her.
Actually, it’s the new ergonomic desk chair Mr. Renfield wheels into her cubicle. Bear. Chair. Whatever. It rhymed.
She crashes down the mountainside, escaping to a glug-glugging spring. Triumphant, she collapses unto an anti-fatigue mat and exhaustedly scoops water with a paper cone. Something glistens on the streambed. She’s slipping off her wrist brace when snarls approach.
It looms over her, pneumatic seat adaptable for a petite woman.
It stares at her, Ultraleather head comfortably adjusted.
It reaches for her, betraying padded arms in neutral line with the keyboard.
Dot plunges her hand into the stream, retrieving a pair of bent-action arthritis-ease scissors.
“Miss Dash, what the hell?!” curses Renfield checking the furniture situation.
Dot rises, brushing Comfortfoam from her face, “The new chair takes some adjustment.”
Beside the Seaside
Two strangers stand side-by-side under a charcoal sky and a cacophony of gulls. Icy water lolls over their sandy feet.
“Isn’t this fun?” she asks.
He stares straight ahead at the craggy island.
“You can talk to me, you know”, she says.
He strains his eyes. The island looks empty. He wonders how far away it is; too far to swim.
“Please call me ‘Mum’. I’d love that. Please. I’m your mum now.”
She takes his hand. It is limp and sticky with ice-cream tears.
She loved him before she met him. She assumed that would be enough: that he would run to her; that he would soften and melt at her touch. But three weeks have passed since he moved in and he is frozen solid. And so is she.
Ending This Strange Eventful History
The springs had gone in the armchair. Most would have thrown it out by now but he knew there was life left in the old thing yet.
Life. What a word. What a thing.
He’d definitely had a good life. He couldn’t deny that.
But oh how things had changed.
When he was young, he was constantly rushing. Rushing to play; down school corridors, race tracks; to win medals, to win championships; to win love, happiness. He had no patience for the slow. Whenever stuck behind a geriatric on the pavement, he’d sighed, desperate to run off again. He’d pitied them. But in a removed way, as if he, international sprinting champion, was immune to old age.
But now that youth was long gone, lost in the folds and creases of his skin. His sinews were sore, his muscles were stiff. There would be no more racing for him.
Beads of sweat clung to his upper lip and hairline. Palms were clammy and cold. He picked up the overnight case; checked his passport, ticket, and proceeded.
Queue here: stuck behind a noisy, excited family.
"I'm sitting next to the window."
"No, I am. Mum said."
The hands on his watch ticked slowly forward. The security area came clearly into view.
Breathe and look normal.
Jacket off; fill up the tray with the detritus of life; case onto the conveyor belt.
Now the moment of importance: will he be searched, head to toe, with an insistent frisk?
Beep, beep, beep.
"Step to the side, please Sir. Arms out."
Now the sweat poured from his pores. The body search started at the top, worked its way down until fingers met handle and blade; tucked neatly inside a stripy sock.
He uttered the code-word. This month's dummy run was complete.
I sat there for a brief moment paralyzed with fear. I didn’t know if I had it in me today. For the last nearly 365 days I wasn’t sure I had it in me. I was about to give-up, forever!
Just as I was about to abandon all hope, I remembered that I had to do this. If I gave up now, I’d only have failed myself. I had to do this. I had to do it, if only for me. Yes, for me. For myself, not for anyone else.
In that moment of revelation I gained lyrical clarity. No fantasy seemed too far-fetched any longer. My imagination could finally run wild.
Each letter, each word came faster and clearer. Each sentence breathed life into the once dull, flat man until he was a perfect shadow of a real man and everything I wanted my protagonist to be.
The burn slowly creeps into my thighs. Who knew I would miss the Western toilet seat so much as I squat, pants around ankles, over this noxious-gas-exhaling hole in the floor.
There's no lock. Of course there's no lock. Why would the foreigner struggling not to fall into her own faeces need privacy? Everyone needs a laugh.
My grunts will ward people off.
Wood clatters and my heart jumps. Someone enters the stall next to mine. There's a vile, protracted "Hckkkkkkkkk" followed by a spit ... Is that a man? Is this a shared bathroom??? A new level of fear is unlocked.
Time to get out of here. How do I wipe? Do I stand up? How do I ...
Something tickles my ankles.
I peer down between my legs. A twitchy, whiskered nose dabbles curiously beneath me.
It's a rat. There's a rat emerging from my poop hole.
Time to run.
Run R@bbit Run
I changed the password. I changed all the passwords. Every single one. My computer had been hacked. My phones. Both work and personal. I didn't know who I was speaking to from one moment to the next. I wrote them all down in a small book. Non-digital.
I used to text myself-as reminders, you know, to go to the doctors, to call a client, to remind myself how great I was, whatever.
Paranoia. The irrational fear that someone was after you. And they were. It didn't matter how many times I changed the passwords, how many times I encrypted the phones. They were still there. I received a text from someone I was sitting next to at the time. I didn't know what to do.
I turned on my computer. My new computer. Flowing down the screen were the words of my latest password. Run R@bbit Run.
Claudette’s hand touched her breast; even through the fabric she could tell it had grown.
She watched the school children go by, then the postman, all sinking past her bedroom window. They were still alive, thrashing about, beads of bubbles escaping from gaping mouths; she started to wave at them, then felt silly.
Water was lapping around her knees and sloshing over the bed, the world was drowning; her tears would drown them all. The doctors, the nurses, her husband, all husbands, wives, children.
“Dry those tears Claudette, dry those tears,” her husband had pleaded. He floated by now, face down, she bent and touched his greying hair as he drifted towards the landing. Her tears continued to run.
Outside flying fish skipped over the surface, dodging her drowning neighbours; across the road a cat sat on a chimney pot, yowling.
Claudette waved, “Yes, cry little cat, cry with me.”
The Year of the barbeque
Dog days, and even our neglected gardens burst into colour. The weeds are glorious, but the children who run barefoot over our lawns of daisies and white clover scream only with joy. I worry, put a saucer of dissolved sugar on the plastic table, and find myself host to a platoon of red ants.
Herbs, blooming between the broken slabs and cracked tarmac, release a cloud of purple scent and are visited by cabbage whites and sulphur butterflies. On the radio the presenter says the polar ice-cap has receded by another third. 'There are talks,' she says, 'breaking down.'
In the evenings the others are cheery, remembering how dull summers in England used to be. 'Too late now,' my man says, handing dewy beers across the fence to our neighbours.
In the kitchen I find a single bumblebee bumping at the window.
I run through the rain and find sanctuary in the form of Starbucks. After ordering and collecting my coffee, I take a seat in front of a wall of window. Busy people rush by, the rain reducing them to mere smudges on a hoary canvas. Grimly, I stare straight ahead; I know she’s out there but I don’t want to see her. I look down at my name scrawled on the lid of my drink and feel validated; it’s a nice touch.
Outside, the lady lies beneath the window. Her sleeping bag is drenched but she is still huddled within it. Her hand is the only bit of skin that is visible; it has frozen into the shape of a claw. Between her fingers is a cigarette that must have spluttered out hours ago.
Inside, I am warm and dry. My latte tastes like powered bones.
I'm skirting the high-rise coffins, climbing up up past the painted pleas on tattooed limbs that mirror the silent protests.
The smell of boiled cabbage and babies nappies rises through the pungency of the powdered beans and bath salts of bin-bag lives.
The wind is challenging the high-pitched wails of unanswered hunger and devours them in a triumphant roar.
I'm looking down down as black specks scurry and terracotta buildings open their arms.
I'm breathless, blood-red rushing in my ears, too tired to run from myself anymore.
I'm swaying, melting into a silvery haze and protected by a thick skin of Valium, darkness becomes the daybreak of my unsettled mind.
An Earthquake in the Ocean
As he ran through the shadows of time, reminiscing about the past and present, his eyes, fixated at his empty cup stared melancholously at the brown-black liquid, which mirrored his life now.
No idea what to do next,
And nobody to run to with his problems.
Raising his cup, to order, he saw the laughter on her face as she kissed him goodbye.He saw him flirt and she smiling shyly at him.
Discouraged and letting his hand fall, he craned his neck behind him to see her take a selfie with all teeth then proceed to tap on her phone enthusiastically. Probably uploading online, he thought.
Everyone seem to have everything figured out. Life simply flavoured through them only blowing past him, he seemed convinced as he turn to stare at his own reflection on the glass wall, not recognising the eyes that stared back at him.
Camera slow pans the dirt road. Prairie Home Companion's on the radio. Eighteen wheeler speeds towards them blowing sheets of dust. Car moves onto the shoulder avoiding a head-on. A break in the woods, a driveway spotted--narrow and winding. Guy Noir talking. Stops in front of a cabin. Passenger door opens. Heavy footsteps running. Nun peeks through the window turns and gives a thumbs up to the driver nun. Two Hasidic Rabbis, bodies and legs tied to their chairs, forearms free, playing cards. Whiskey bottle and two shot glasses on the table. “Gin,” one slaps cards face up. Loser pours shots. They clink glasses. “L’Chaim”. The nun returns to the car and it speeds away.
Cole despised the village he lived in. Whenever he went for a walk around it, he looked for the faults of its inhabitants. Given the situation, one could understand him.
They rarely reflected their positions, they insisted on them to the point of absurdity. Cole hated that sort of masochism.
Then again, his anger at them influenced his viewpoint, since he blamed them for his failure. The locals considered him to be the great hope of their community, but he did not succeed in fulfilling that. He claimed they did not offer him any support, even though they intended to.
While he neared the end of his ramble, he entertained himself with a plan – he could run away from his home, hoping to find another one. Cole smiled just thinking about that.
That's all he ever did regarding it.
My name is Tadzio
Perhaps you remember how the sun had glared down over the Lido that year. Then the epidemic. It was too much. He was too much. Wherever I went: the hotel restaurant; the seafront; the city, his gaze, like the stench of Venetian drains, chased away any holiday happiness.
Did you think I was oblivious? Well, I wasn't. Because we always know, don't we, when we attract such interest. Apparently he was a writer or a composer - someone famous anyway. But oh, his old skin, his fussy careful walk. I hated him.
Yet, that last day, when that tear had run down his heavily made-up face; after they'd carried him back to the hotel, I wept some tears. They weren't for me, you understand. They were for him. Some kind of youthful pity, I suppose. So, at the end, yes, you could say I loved him.
The heat is a living thing, a sinuous creature winding itself around me, smothering me. But though the drink in front of me is invitingly cold I don’t touch it. Instead I sit and watch the condensation run down the glass. The drops sparkle in the sunlight before joining the pool forming on the table. A pool that edges ever closer to the envelope sitting precisely in the centre of the table. Long, slender fingers of water that reach out to claim it, soften its edges and melt the ink on the page within.
I consider allowing this to choose for me, to decide if it will be destroyed or read and then in its turn destroy. But before the decision is made I grab the envelope and crumple it up. One day I will do it. I will leave but today is not that day.
“Why am I seeing references to climate change from your office? The correct phrase is weather extremes,” snarled Federal Director Grave.
Roger shrugged, “Yeah, Gerry’s always been a little head strong with a first amendment fetish.”
“I’m not having loose cannons in this department. Run him out of here.”
Director Grave raised his eyebrow.
Roger retreated into his office. He fumbled until five then, deflated, made the call. Gerald Henderson was to be fired on a pretext they both knew to be fictitious.
Towards the end Gerry said, “Roger,” paraphrasing his favourite line from Casablanca, “this could be the end of a beautiful friendship.”
“Give me a break Gerry. I’ve got a wife. Kids. I’m just following orders.”
Gerald’s eye scanned the history section on his bookcase. He cocked his head aligning his eyes to read one particular spine, Justice at Nuremberg, “Now where have I heard that?”
A Teacher's Rant
How I wish students will hand in their homework on time! Then I won't get dribs and drabs of Science worksheets on my table, weeks after due date.
Who gave students permission to treat my table like a rubbish dump? It's the hundredth time I remind students that I will tear away late homework. However, the problem persisted. Who is at fault here?
Well, the person is none other than yours truly. Guilty, as charged.
Why? You may ask. The reason is straightforward. I did not carry out my threats. One or two times, I let it slip. Soon, it grows to three or four times. Before I know it, even the hardworking students start to be cheeky. I condoned the bad habit.
Handing in homework becomes something they take lightly. Students give priority to homework given by fiercer colleagues who punish wrongdoers.
I run out of patience. I quit.
Christmas in Reverse
All the boxes were stacked high with the contents of their lives stored in them. It was like Christmas in reverse, running around in the hot summer putting all the things they already owned into packages that never got wrapped. Santa’s replacements were a group of burly elves who moved things into a giant truck without a word of cheer. Their home eventually emptied until nothing remained but a few dust bunnies on the hardwood floor that moved with every echoing step.
This continued until they all climbed into the truck, feeling as weary children might, knowing that the only solace was at the end of a long trip. Not around the world, but across the country to some deep and foreign region. There they could take everything out and do it all again, but this time properly, finding new spaces for everything that had remained still for so long.
Tens of hundred years ago, twin girl babies were born. They used to play, laugh and run together.
Once they fell into a ditch and were drowned. Their bodies were planted close.
Soon there grew two trees and blossomed. The green leaves were their tongues. They drank dew drops and licked moonlight honey.
Now there was a drought. It was autumn for them even during spring. They stood denuded in a vast wide wasteland. It was neither a time of hibernation nor aestivation. They had kept hidden their ‘life’ in the core of their roots. However, the secondary roots joined hands. There was consolation and communication.
One said, “ How horrible it is! We used to be the haven and refuge for birds, insects and even humans. Now we stand naked, our hands spread out towards heaven for help.”
“ I wish God were merciful towards all life.”
A loud and incessant ringing was echoing though her mind. Every muscle in her body ached. She tried to move, but another shot of pain lanced through her head. Her mind was a haze. The memory of events in the past 24 hours were vague and blurry, images and sounds jumbling together into one. She did not remember closing her eyes. Her fingers felt for her surroundings, something cold touched her hand. She shot up. Her eyes had difficulty adjusting to the absurd amount of light present in the room. A screen came into vision. Two words written across it. Two words she had written more times than she could count. Her name stared out at her. A faint urge to run away from the screen tugged at her. It took her a minute to gauge what had happened. She grunted in frustration. The last deadline had passed
That Incompetent Light
Weak rays of light peppered the snow. One slithered through the leak in the roof and stroked the dozing man’s eyelid. It did nothing to quell his shivering.
Morning again. 'Bout bloody time.
Creaking, he unfolded himself from the bed and fumbled around for his socks and hat, toes seeking warmth amidst the fur rug.
He lit the stove with an impatient flourish, boiled the kettle, and - blanket embracing him tightly - stepped gingerly out the weathered door.
The cold pierced him like the thorn of a withering rose. The sun did nought but offer a feeble hello, for which it received a scowl. Moments later, the icicles in his nostrils melted, and the forest took on a yellow, glowing tinge. Satisfied at the blunting of the chill, he re-entered the decrepit shack.
Ha! I could run the whole bloody solar system at this rate, he thought, triumphantly.
Hi Mum! You know I never meant to run your Mercedes into that tree, but I’m so pleased you had the insurance money to pay for this. I miss your cooking – food here is weird. They make us exercise every day – maintaining muscle tone – but exercise is a doddle when I feel so much lighter. Shane tried to kid me you were letting my room while I’m away, LOL. Sorry if I’ve been a pain the last year or so. We talk about home a lot in here… although I do think people over-react sometimes. The journey here was a real drag; I’m not looking forward to the trip back. Blast-off is meant to be the most dangerous bit though, isn’t it? So I’m sure touchdown will be fine too; you mustn’t worry about it. Anyhow, that’s weeks away. Thanks again for bankrolling my trip on the SpaceLine. Love, Kayleigh.
The Petersen Turn
It could’ve been a thousand things, but it was Tonke’s neck breaking that ended our dreams of a second gold. I heard it from ten feet away as I slid behind, being pummelled by the ice, each bump like a kick from a horse.
Four years we’d trained together, 12-hours some days, to the point of dizziness. Immune to the snow-blindness that blighted our first few weeks. You start dreaming about each run, the turns, the angles, the 5Gs that steal the air from your burning lungs.
I teared up when I saw his coffin. They’d dressed it like our sled, mounted it on runners, the ones that shot us to victory in Sochi. Even tossed in his gold medal. He always led from the front, Tonke, steering us to greater and greater glory. And here it’s no different, his bravery and fearlessness piloting him to the greatest glory imaginable.
It was a family run business. Started by his grandfather, handed down to his father and now taken over by him. His grandfather had arrived penniless. Hard work, sweat and tears had been poured into it throughout the years. His father had had some trouble keeping it afloat. Times had been bad. They hadn't been the only one suffering. He had been a lad then. With only a brief recollection. It was only before his father retired that he had conveyed the entire story. It meant a lot to his father. He knew he had high hopes that he would expand further. Bring a new perspective. New ideas.
Flicking the lighted match. He wondered how he would react when he saw it going up in flames.
Instinctively I closed my eyes: I didn't want to record my death. My heart pounded in my chest.
I landed with a thud on the surface expecting the scorching heat of the baked earth to surge through me.
My legs buckled and I felt the unforgiving ground push hard against my knees as I rolled forward, tumbling. Momentum carried me onto my feet and my instinct told me to run, fast; I had no idea where, anywhere. I was off balance and disorientated and yet somehow remained upright.
I tried opening my eyes, the searing light caused me to squint.
"Quick, over here!"
It was a male voice to my left.
I leant sideways and staggered his way. A hand grabbed my arm and brought me quickly under control. I was being restrained but I didn’t struggle.
"You're alive, you've made it. Now stay still. We wait here till dark.”
My fingers dip into the running stream before I cup my hands to wash the cold water over my face. Taking the short moment to relax, I lay back into the blanket of fallen leaves.Crunch.With fluttering eyelids, I sat up and placed my hand onto the cold metal of the barrel. The sky had darkened and shadows distorted my view; attempting to remain silent, I gathered my bag onto my shoulder and struggled to my feet with the weight. I adjust the safety with a click.
Birth and Death
Fridays, Biff would go home now, taking his leave of the crew at the door of ‘The Harbour Bar.’ In his living-room, he’d sketch in front of a mirror, heavy on the pencil, left hand stiffly posed on thigh, and on the right, nothing below the curve of the shoulder.
Over the weeks and years he learned; about cotton-rich paper, pigments, cigar-shaped Fibonacci brushes; to wash, to almost touch, avoid the risk of watercolour run. He recorded his ageing self; grey, lined, bespectacled. And always those rosacea cheeks, the burning legacy of a life at sea.
After seven years, he began to sketch below that right shoulder, lightly, economically; the suggestion of a young girl, not unlike his late wife. And then some paint. Spare lines. Allow the paper’s parchment-white to dominate. A ghostly figure. Almost not there at all. As indeed she wasn’t.
Silence Sounds Hopeful
Silence sounds hopeful, but we have been scarred by hope.
The ramp’s clank and rumble came after hours of canting and swaying in stifled air. Then, we weaved and juddered, rumbled through a town before the steady roar of open roads. We dared then to lift the covers, breathe cooler air.
Now, silence. Or rather, the distant soar of cars, scoring the quiet. No other sounds, no dogs, no questioning voices. No driver. We have only heard, not seen him. We saw the agent, as he called himself, all cheekbones and insistence, ushering us on. We clutched water bottles and our nerves close to ourselves. To move, he said, endangered everyone.
Now, the air is thick, the truck cramped with limbs thick from stasis. I recall again the village that I fled, the choice then as guns raged, to hide or run. My legs ache for movement and I rise.
Worry is a tangled ball of string. Knotted and coarse, it sits in my lap and I pick at it when nobody’s watching. I try to put it out of sight, out of mind, but my hands, furred with the beige, wiry fibres, are a reminder.
I carry worry around in my pocket, distractedly stroking its knots with my thumb. I am only half-listening, only half-living. I want to take it out, bring it into the light and have a longer look at it. I’m sure I could —
Worry slips out of my pocket. I can’t grasp it and this tight, hard orb runs along the carpet leaving a trail of heavy twine trickling behind. I don’t know if it's the string that's unravelling or if it’s me.
Army Beyond The Scene
Your heart calls to me.
Your dark eyes hypnotise me.
Your existence is a beauty itself.
So when will you come back to me?
You're mine and I'm yours.
Days like today, like moments of now, I feel like you kept half of my soul with you...in my dream.
Although we have never met, don't you think that was a little to mean?
When I awake, you linger in my thoughts.
When I awake, I wish this as a dream would not have been caught.
As the days go by and turn into months and a year, I hear word that your next album is near.
Run. I want to run to the fan meet to meet you. Who am I kidding, I cannot even greet you.
We are as different as we can be. I hope one day that you, I will get to see.
The Day I Saw the Heron
The river, the colour of clay, was so low the water only covered the heron's feet. When the bird froze, like a Japanese print, I tried to take a photograph, but my phone didn't click. I swear I brushed the red dot as you showed me. "Don't jab," you said.
Then I waited by the car-park, but none of the vehicles were dark green, or had registrations beginning with N. A van - a transit, do they call them? - swerved so close I was sure it would run into me. I stood as still as the heron, stared through the windscreen at the burly man with cropped hair, until he reversed and did a silly wave wth both his hands. I made a show of holding up my phone, but I must have jabbed. Anyway, the van wasn't green, even if the number did begin with N.
I run this morning to my daughter’s old school. I follow the bus route, not the one she later drove in the car passed down through her brother to her.
I told her never to wear headphones because you can’t hear the traffic noise. In my head the 8am compilation CD plays over and again, an education of sorts: you always have music. Music lifts you up when you’re down, reminds you of the beauty, the anger, the utter fragility and the love of life.
She is a bird and I hold a single feather caught as she flew out the window off into her own new world. Perhaps she remembers this path we took.
Attack of Bottle
I run, attempting to outpace death. Death follows, in the form of broken bottles, broken bottles of alcohol.
I stop, winded, and the temptation catches me. Once again I am caught, I lose, and am brought back to the starting line.
I stab, attempting to wound it. My weapon clinks against the bottle and nothing happens. Then it begins attacking.
I hold it off forever but eventually I slip and I look at death. I succumb and the bottles empty once again.
I ask for help, attempting to stop it with numbers. But it arrives and I suddenly give up on my allies. I realize that I never wanted them the most anyway. I wake up, and despair.
I try one last time, fighting with love. “For my daughter!” And it stays there. But, suddenly, it is no longer a temptation, an enemy. It shrinks, and I cross the finish.
Only when all the light had drained from the room, sucked up by a blackening sky, did we notice. The birds had tried to warn us, singing their hearts out from swaying branches atop weather-beaten trees. The cat preferred to take her chances in the open air. We hunkered down.
The first clap crept up on us, shaking the very ground on which our house was built. Startled, we automatically began counting, awaiting the next lightning strike, our hair standing on end as the aerial fizzled, driving rain pinging off the corrugated roof, running down the window panes.
The lightning whistled past us, sizzling. We briefly considered what it hit before resuming our count, the numbers increasing all the time as the storm moved further away. Much later, when certain there was no chance of it returning, we coaxed Grandma out from her hideaway under the stairs.
emotions gone rogue
Mary wonders around feeling empty wondering where to next, what will she fill her days with? A never-ending life of torture how to be with men and other people. Always seeing a shadow, it never leaves her ever. Going to work talking to friends all seems normal for the people she interacts with, they have no idea of her tormented mind.
When she’s alone, all there is a black emptiness engulfing the moment. Reliving disappointments, wanting to be looked after as a child by parents that love her. Being in a room not wanting to be there or anywhere. Driven by fear, she tries to sleep but knows it won’t be long till the silhouette will be upon her, wanting to scream, putting the experiences in a box and closing the lid of her childhood. She tries to move on but runs away.
Rumours suggested Jimmy Ling was an athlete. As kids we thought this was a joke because we knew, if he caught us, we’d be in for the high jump. What sport to dash the length of his poultry farm undetected. We called it our chicken run. Dan did get nabbed, received a clip round the ear and emerged looking rather shell shocked. After that we’d run a mile if we thought Jimmy was around..
Often hard boiled, Jimmy Ling had a run in with a neighbour or two and ran afoul of the law over some stolen fowls. Egged on by his wife he hatched a plan to give his business free range. He laid the foundations for success and eventually sold his farm netting a nice little nest egg.
Then, using his athleticism, he completed the London Marathon so you could say Jimmy was okay in the long run.
A Shitty Prom
It has begun. Should've avoided that milkshake, but I had to be stubborn! He's vetting my worth for his daughter and all I can think of is the washroom, whether I will make it in time, and if I will leave it in odoriferous ruin.
Will I honor her, treat her right? Can't say. My rectum is pulsating!
"I'll hang you out to dry if you deflower her!" at some point he had said, yet I am certain I hadn't flinched worth a damn. Rather, I had fixated on his words, on 'deflower', or rather 'flower' itself. My brain simulates the olfactory experience of an air-freshener my mother uses, its floral complexities perfectly replicated, and my mouth snaps open, the words steamrolling out.
"Where's the toilet?!"
He folds his arms, looks at me with a cocked eyebrow and points.
I barely make it before the familiar ramifications run from below.
'When I said "run", I didn't mean "turn round and make it obvious!"'
Heather hated it when he was like this. He was a typical grouchy old man sometimes. How was she to know that the guy behind the bar had sprouted tentacles and started killing everyone?
The monster had seen them now, and made straight for them, its tentacles flapping wildly.
'Quick, round here.'
The old man darted around a corner, and began fishing through his pockets.
'What are you looking for?' Heather asked. 'I thought we were meant to be running?'
With a flourish the old man brandished an opened packet of jelly babies. Tearing the bag further, he sprinkled the contents onto the floor.
The monster stopped in its tracks, and used its many limbs to feed the sweets into its enormous mouth.
The old man looked to Heather.
'Now we run!'
Feet with Wings
I love to run. At least I used to. Back when I was the fastest girl in my class. Heck. I was pretty much the fastest skinny-legged straggle-haired misfit our country school had ever seen.
The kids didn't like me. They said I smelled.
I probably did. They were scared of my family, and though I knew that my mama was a sweet, blue-eyed person who would take a bullet for a random stranger even if she couldn't cook worth beans, I get it. You could see her scars. And she probably smelled too.
Who befriends someone who lives in a trailer in the woods where signs that say, "Nothing in here is worth dying for," hang crooked on the chainlink fence patrolled by pit bulls and a bearded man with PTSD?
Well FYI? He reads poetry when his demons attack, and a smile would have given my feet wings.
A Winning Streak
‘She thinks everywhere’s a racing track. Take her for a walk in a wood and she runs through the undergrowth like a nutcase. We’ve had her at the vets so many times with cuts; the wife and me, we can’t afford it.’ Jim stroked the black Greyhound, Manna.
‘Don’t worry, Mr Barnes, we’ll find a good home for her. It was a trial period, so no reason to beat yourself up.’
Jim felt a traitor as Manna watched him leave the dogs' home.
Nicky was rolling out pastry. ‘A letter came for you, recorded delivery.’ She nodded towards an envelope. Jim opened it and a smile spread across his weathered face.
‘My premium bond number came up. Five thousand quid!’
‘We can go to the Bahamas, like we always dreamed,’ Nicky said.
Jim put his coat back on, ‘Bahamas, my foot. I’m going to bring Manna home.’
The Long Way Home
Jimmy always takes the long way home from school. There are two reasons for this.
If he takes the short cut the older lads bully him. They call him names. Run after him and rough him up. Jimmy takes the long way.
He doesn't want to get there. His mother has a habit, he helps her with it, knows more than he should. You can never tell how she'll be. Drunk or sober. Dead or alive. Alone and sobbing or high with junkie friends.
Jimmy takes the long way home. He kicks a can as he goes. He turns the corner into his street and spots the ambulance, a police car too.
Dead then. Overdose no doubt.
The older lads hover close by, watching. They avoid Jimmy's gaze but he offers the some sweets. A bag of powdery bonbons.
Jimmy's had enough of taking the long way home.
Around the world before tea
Our mother would ask us if we wanted to go around the world before tea. We would run through the scrambled geography of the docklands; Canada Dock next to Australia Dock, which was next to Brazil Dock. There was an understanding that we would be home before the church bells. One evening we lost sight of Mary. Her parents came to our house later that night and there was a sombre conversation behind the parlour door. Upstairs, we ate a hushed supper in our bedroom. When I asked my mother where Mary was, I was told that she had met a sultan at East India Dock and he had taken her to live in his palace in Persia. I was nine years old and it seemed strangely plausible to me. When I was 23, I visited Mary's grave, a few miles away in Poplar.
A less than perfect birthday present
Jennifer Pike invited me to her ninth birthday party. I saved my pocked money and bought a box of chocolates. I couldn't stop thinking about them: strawberry cream, hazelnut whirl, caramel crisp.
I peeled open the cellophane, opened the lid. Just to have a look. And then - I knew I shouldn't. But I did. Just one, from the bottom layer. Shaped like an orange segment.
She'd never notice.
Who was I kidding? Who gives a birthday present with a piece missing?
So I ate the rest, then begged my mum - I'd save up again to pay her back - and bought another box. Resisted temptation.
Something else about Jennifer Pike: she was born with a hole in the heart. A scar runs round her ribcage from her shoulder blade to her breastbone. We see it every time we change for PE.
Well. Not being funny, God. Just saying.
Cut Throat; My Turkish Adventure
Someone on Facebook invited me to a virtual party. A woman was dancing alone. She looked Slavic, but wore a 16th century Turkish dress and a crown.
Hürrem Sultan, from Magnificent Century, a drama I was devouring lately? One of her descendants? Someone by the same name from the future? Maybe 22nd century? It might be magnificent, too. I’ll never know. I don’t plan to live that long. I run away from immortality.
I invited Hürrem to dance, and she tried to slit my throat with a wickedly sharp kinjal.
Good thing my throat was made of unobtanium. But I still befriended her on Facebook. Because Facebook friendship is a cut-throat business on international scale.
Let’s face it. You can’t be popular unless you assert yourself.
He tears off a black bin liner and begins in the kitchen. Spices for magazine recipes and anything for supper parties; asafoetida, saffron and napkin rings could all go. From the bathroom, dental floss, lubricant jelly and last season’s happy pills. In the bedroom; hairdryer, The Kama Sutra and socks. He feels his neck muscles loosen. The honeymoon photo and scatter cushions from the living-room are excess. Back in the kitchen; saucepans, saucers, sauceboat and feline fridge magnets.
He has the same feeling as when he locks the bathroom door, of self-determination and relief. He bins her runny tights and his ironed pyjamas. He visualizes himself being hoisted into a lorry, sorted and recycled. Stepping into the bin liner is liberation. He knots off from the inside and re-reads her note from earlier. ‘Tuesday. Bins. Don't Forget!’
No-one wears socks anymore, except black ones for endings.
The acrylic began to run as she applied it along the top edge of the book’s vacant cover. Dabbing gently with her brush she dammed the small stream, smoothed and corrected its passage; the Frosted Mint Pearl was returning the old hardback to life, seeping between the delicate folds and subtle ridges of the lace she had already attached, bestowing it more beauty than it could have ever hoped for. Later she took thin black elastic and stretched it around the spine in preparation for inserting the signature of coffee-dyed paper, restoring the cover to its purpose.
If only her life were so easy to breathe newness into, to make useful and use of again. If only she could be wrapped around something fresh, to have a purpose, to matter.
Her book would close unregarded, uninvestigated, not made more beautiful. If only she had allowed it to be read.
Being still. An instinctive reaction in the presence of a predator. The eye of the hunter is drawn to movement. There is an unconscious animal understanding that life is motion, which is why we attribute feelings and sensibilities to those things in nature that are in action. The angry seas, the violent wind, the changing skies.
So we are still, unmoving, motionless in the view of the predator. Its unblinking electronic eyes pixelate us, reducing us to ones and zeros to be passed through its algorithms. It’s dark and our black clothing blends us into the murky background sufficiently, we hope, to produce a false negative in that mechanical brain.
The sentry robot’s head turns away from us and it continues its patrol. No-one moves until it is gone from sight. Then, as one, we run off in the opposite direction, fleeing like the prey mankind has become.
Run, rabbit, run...
He got swifter, got noticed, and was under the wing of a renowned trainer by his early teens.
His life became worth every precious minute as he pushed his body, and mind, to the limit - his mantra ' run, rabbit, run'. It resounded with every blood-pounding session, firing his spirit. A smile would twitch at the corners of his mouth as his resolution strengthened. There could only be one winner.
Leaning forward, the ribbon slipped over his head. As the national anthem ended, he touched his lips to the disc, glinting gold in the evening sun.
Forget the Pork Belly
Five days ago, between the lamb chops and the pork belly, it came as a surprise, but to be honest a bit of a relief, to find I'd run out of words.
'Two kilo of lamb chops, please.' The last words I ever spoke. Rueful perhaps, but that I no longer have to say - what time will you be back, why are you going out so much, can I come too, oh well never mind - or care anymore seems like a decent trade off to me.
The butcher thought I was doolally but played along with my mime (amazing that years of Christmas charades finally paid off). I felt his eyes watch me walk out, down the street, out of the village. I wanted to run, I felt so free.
Did he phone my husband? I don't know. A couple of stray dogs had a great supper. I'm still walking.
"Mona, mona" i groaned as my mom called my name.
"Get yourself down here and prepare your siblings for school" i sluggishly got up from my bed, and the dream i had last night came rushing into my thought. That was enough to make today a great day, well not until my foot collided with the stool in front of me. I really hope it'll be great.
"Mona, are you up?" mom called in a sweet voice which is really fishy.
"Yes mom, I'll be there in a minute" I decided to wash my face and brush my teeth, then head down stairs.
Just as i was about to approach the stairs, i saw him. He was coming up. My first instinct was to run, the second was to scream because i look like a mess, like i literally just woke up. Not exactly, but cut the crap. I RAN!!!
Plane Train Motorcycle
It didn't work. She'd tried the ignition on the motorcycle three times and it failed. She was exhausting her options quickly.
The little Cessna airplane's engine caught fire and she had to bail out as it crashed into a mountain. They were looking for her and the money in the suitcase, but they still didn't know where she was and that was an advantage that she had to keep. It was all she had.
Thankfully where she landed was near the train station. Just half a mile up the road. She caught the next train out of town only to get halfway to her destination and the mountains had produced and avalanche and the tracks were covered in snow.
There was a house where the train stopped. The young man standing outside was desperate for money so she bought his motorcycle.
The consulate was 500 feet away. She started to run.
Water of Life
We adopt a loping run although our shoes are in shreds. We would prefer to travel under the cool cover of darkness, but we must stake out the condensation funnels at night. Julius has commanded our movement with the sun.
We are a splinter group of Hadeans, searching for the mythical well of Baikal. Julius believes the others have been looking in the wrong direction. He says we must head northwest across the great Pacific Plains to where ‘ice’ once flowed, whatever ice is. It is a fantasy to us.
The San Andreas Gorge with its ropy rivers of lava is the obstacle that drove the others east across Americana. Julius infects us with hope at each sunrise.
But we now have forty-seven different ways to describe our thirst.
Julius has forbidden us to use the word itself.
That, and the word ‘death’ if we do not find the well.
She runs barefoot through the city. Toes spread wide. Strong calves. Feet pad on broken glass, skin supple and intact. An occasional sharp stone propels her into the air. Cautious flat-footed gait on gravel. Recently resurfaced streets smooth as satin on the sole.
Earphones keep her in rhythm, block the shouts. Kids point. Adults double-take. Dogs trot alongside, bare-pawed and undisturbed.
What is normal, anyway? Bulging waistlines, aching knees. Feet that taper to a point. Misery is universal, except for those moments you decide to cast it off like a pricey pair of trainers they said would help but only ever hurt. They said you couldn’t live without them. She stretches out her stride for a last burst of speed and laughs and laughs and laughs.
A crash from the kitchen, then mam screams, shrill and terrible. I rush in and she’s got our Molly lying along her arm. Mam’s thumping her between the shoulder blades, but Molly’s dead quiet. A quarry-tile-shaped bruise blossoms across her brow.
“The Dawson’s phone,” she says. “Call Dr. Weeks. Run!”
My brother’s old shoes slop uselessly on my feet. I kick them off; leave them there. Grit slices my soles, but I’m focussed on the door at the end of the street. I’ve run this race hundreds of times. It’s never felt so far.
I gasp an explanation, but my urchin breath mustn’t soil Old Man Dawson’s precious receiver. He calls.
“Doctor’s coming. Won’t be long. Get on home to your mam, now.”
I lurk outside, scared to go home. Preferring ignorance. For these moments, Molly hovers between life and death. I go to fetch my shoes.
Ctrl Alt Delete
The P, O, R and N keys on his laptop had faded almost from view. He deleted the browsing history for the second time that morning, pushed the muffin crumbs from his protruding stomach and pressed down the empty four pack into the waste bin.
The location icon flashed on his laptop telling him that Cindy69 was only one mile away from his current location of his mom’s basement. He knew that as soon as he pressed that Run key to release the ransomware program he’d be able to afford nights (yes the plural) of passion with Cindy69.
Using his weighty wrist to wipe the balls of sweat from his forehead, he smiled to himself and, with a flourish, one portly finger released the virus as, instantaneously, he realised the location service was still switched on.
I tried to run, but my legs felt as if they were made of lead. My whole body was paralyzed by sudden fear. In the doorway stood a masked man wielding a long axe.
I looked around for a possible escape route. I eyes locked themselves on the upstairs guest bedroom.
I ran up the stairway, two steps at a time. I rushed into the guest bedroom, slamming and locking the door. I opened the left bedside drawer and pulled out a revolver. Then I hastily inserted three bullets in the magazine.
The door began to splinter. He was coming for me. My heartbeat matched that of the axe head chopping through the door. Thud. thud. Now I could see his figure. Tall, menacing and muscular.
I closed my eyes and fired the first shot. It had missed him. It tried again. It missed. I had one last try.
The rain had made her mascara run, streaking it down her face like rivers of tar. She smeared it across her cheeks as she wiped drips from her eyes and carried on climbing. It didn’t matter what she looked like, she just had to get there before dark.
Stones tumbled down the track behind her as she scrabbled up the final stretch to the summit. And then she was there. On top of the world. The view, as always, took her breath away. The sea on one side and the jagged tips of the Southern Alps disappearing into the distance on the other. It’s where he’d proposed. And where he’d told her the terrible news. The worst news she’d ever had.
She’d just lie down here now, in their spot, and wait until they could be together again.
The sweat dripped down Simon’s neck, the cotton shirt clinging to his skin like sticky nectar, as the realisation of what had just happened finally hit him in a wave of thundering panic.
He heard the whisper of his brother calling out to him as he sped out of the house which they had shared, darting into the woods. His pace increased as his anxiety rose, brushing past the vegetation and disappearing into the dark cover of foliage. Here he could hide away from the guilt.
The enormity of his impulsive assault would haunt him forever. His brother’s voice softly taunted him as he picked up speed, soaring like a bird in flight. ‘Run’ the ghost of his brother hissed through the arms of the trees, the sea green fingertips of the branches attempting to catch him as he fled in remorse.
It was subtle at first. Everyday alchemy. Ordinary things mutating in her presence. Like dust turning to gold in a sudden beam of sunlight. Or dull pebbles becoming gemstones beneath the shallow tide.
Then loss of control. The smallest gesture could unravel me for days. Her easy laughter, feline eyes. Lightness blurring the dark edges of monotony and making life something else entirely. Wondrous. Instant. Bearable.
Of course I never told her. Words re-run a thousand times on the tip of my tongue. Blunt and awkward. I'll say it tomorrow.
Too late. Far too late.
Now she's gone I can confess my soul at leisure to this empty room. Curtains drawn against the day. I trace the fading footprints she made across that summer.
The bigger person
“It’s no wonder you’re fat,” my gym teacher sneered having caught me taking a shortcut over the running track. Her public defamation delighted my classmates who took ownership of those five words, tormenting me painfully with them for my remaining school years.
I saw her recently, sat on a bench, clutching a disintegrating bag for life as though it contained everything she owned. I sat next to her and she beamed gratefully – I was probably the only person she’d speak to that day, or even that week. The years hadn’t been kind – lavishing her with girth, wrinkles and loneliness. She raked in the bag, her watery eyes meeting mine as she offered me a slab of toffee. Pity trickled through me, soothing wounds I thought would never heal. I politely declined her kind gesture, smiling pitifully at the vulnerable old woman, adding with a sneer, ‘It’s no wonder you’re fat’.
I’ll be glad when this war is over.’ Millie smiled at Jane.
‘Won’t we all? Can’t buy a pair of stockings anywhere these days.’ Jane glanced down at her bare legs.
‘It’s all very well, but I am down to my last pair and can’t decide if I should risk wearing them tonight.’ Millie winked at her friend.
‘Oh yes! What aren’t you telling me? Did that boy, the one with freckles and blonde hair ask you out?’
‘He might have.’ A faint blush crept over Millie’s cheeks.
‘Don’t be daft, he’s gorgeous. You must go. Besides, these days you never know what’s going to happen next.’ Jane encouraged.
Later, Millie was getting ready and thought about Jane’s words.
You never know what’s going to happen next.
Pulling her stockings on, her fingernail snagged in the fine nylon. She watched as the run snaked up her leg.
Typical, she sighed.
Seeing-- knees bent outside Pearson Airport, repainting road lines with white strokes.
Remembering-- the birth of your son in Tivoli. Only 15 then. Trapped.
The first time you played him Beres Hammond, he called you, “Dada.”
Pretty Boy Leron said, “He looks like her, baby.”
Saw her first moonlighting at mass. Staring, you blurted out, “You’re a vision!” in the middle of jostling bodies; so black she was blue.
You tell your sister all that time that you call her Nubian.
She leaves when he is walking.
12 years like this. You tell him 2 things:
- You are adopted.He turns away as if you’d slapped him.
- A man is not defined by a woman.He will ask you why when he's older.
Then last week your sister texts you: Nubian here. Your boy run.
Hearing-- your mother beside you, “What's he doing with the paint so long? Blessin' it?”
Blood, Sweat, and Tears
The day starts sweet. Calm. Relaxed. Early morning sun filtering through. Coffee ground to perfection. Aroma to lure the sluggish of men.
Then she loses it. Catching her arm on a rusting nail. Blood spurting like it shouldn’t. Hunting for a non-existent bandage. Swearing like she hasn’t in years. Heart going like the clappers. Banging doors for no reason. Until they hang on their hinges like a limp line of washing on a becalmed day.
She feels the sweat run between her breasts, puddling around her knicker elastic. Smells its pungency. Hasn’t sweated like that in a dog’s age. Why does the room swim? Where is he when she needs him? Why does her coffee smell of sweat?
He’s here now. Furrowed with questions. She lets the tears fall. Chokes back her words. He places fresh coffee before her. “It’ll be OK, I’m here now,” he says.
With thanks to all the writers who have made this issue possible.AC Smyth, Alex Black, Amanda Saint, August Anyika, BillCox, Caitlin Thomas-Aubin, Carol Leggatt, Cath Humphris, Cathy Cade, Cathy White, Christine Nedahl, Clara Mok, Colleen Harrell, Connor Arnold, CR Smith, Crilly O'Neil, D.L.Greenwood, Daniel Beaumont, Danny Beusch, Dave Murray, Dez Thomas, Donna Frances Thomson, Elaine Dillon, Fee Johnstone, Fergus Samuels, Frank Trautman, Frankie J Spencer, Gail Warrick Cox, Gemma Callaghan, Hannah Whiteoak, Helen Jane Somers, Hilary Taylor, Hyten Davidson, J S Rowe, James Hornby, Jill van der Meer, John Herbert, John Wigham Shirt, Jon Edward, Jon Jones, Josiah DeBoer, Julie Johnson, Justin Rulton, Karas Jameson, Laura Besley, Lee Stansfield, Lenaugne, Leslie J Wyatt, Lola Barron, Louise Mangos, Lucy Brandt, M.D. Jayabalan, Mark Budman, Mark Sadler, Mary Davies, Matthew C. McLean, Maureen Clark, Melissa Rolli, Michael Rumsey, Mitja Lovše, Momina Qazi, Morna Clements, Neil A. Edwards, Olivia Allen, Paul Beckman, Paul M Clark, Philip Charter, Raewyn Bassett, Richard Miller, Richard Worth, Rosanna Wood, Rylan German, S.B. Borgersen, Sadia Mubarik, Shannon Savvas, Simon Gadd, Stephen Wright, Steven John, Susan Carey, Tahera Janoowalla, Thomas Malloch, Tope neb, Tracy Lee-Newman
16th August 2017