Wings

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On the day, (Tuesday lunchtime) that everyone got their wings, the sky went the colour of sack cloth and the wind rose to an ear piercing howl for approximately five minutes, between 13.45pm and 13.50pm. In Basingstoke, it rained yellow, which made people very uncomfortable. In Chiswick, there was a plague of bees, and people just stayed in until they went away. In Derby and London, people stood and stared with their mouths agape as the moon shared the sky with the sun. Impatient businessmen shook their expensive wristwatches and went on their way, trying their best to just ignore the whole thing altogether. In Birmingham, the dead rose from their unkempt graves and were forced to have very uncomfortable conversations with the people who now owned their homes.

On the day that everybody got their wings (except children), my wife said that she would leave me if I got the bad wings. Good people, it seemed, got beautiful, silvery and glowing wings, and bad people (allegedly) got a set of weeping, leathery, bat-devil wings.

People locked up in prisons who’d grown a set of the good wings were given back their freedom almost immediately after a lengthy administrative process, along with a reasonable payoff. On their way out they told anybody who’d listen that they’d been saying they were innocent from day one. Gregory, “The Mad Beast” Mayberry suddenly lost all credibility when a beautiful set of dazzling and delicate, white wings sprouted from his back.

No-one was surprised when almost all of the politicians and lawyers and parking inspectors grew the bat-devil wings, and the ones that didn’t were quickly excised from their positions.

On the day that everybody got their wings, my wife poked at the small, skin-coloured lumps on my shoulder blades. They were about the length of a finger. They looked like they should’ve hurt, but they didn’t; they just made all of my T-shirts fit strangely.

I was nervous; of course I didn’t want the bat-devil wings, but I wasn’t in charge of the decision making. The whole thing made me go back and revisit my life. Would I be judged favourably for helping an old lady across the road in 1992, or would I be judged on the several hundred Twix bars I’d stolen from the local Woolworth’s as a spotty and rather peevish teen?

My wife had, of course sprouted a set of pure white and quite frankly, awe inspiring wings, and when sunlight passed through her perfectly unruffled and un-rufflable feathers, they cast glittering rainbows across every surface. I always knew I was a great judge of character.

Other people – for it only affected us, not the animals – grew dirty grey wings, like those of baby swan; not quite good and not quite bad. The Pope stood in front of the whole world and declared that the small and rather unimpressive grey wings were most likely reserved for the good atheists. It was a statement he promptly withdrew when he himself grew a tiny grey pair of his own, live on international television. The video is still available on YouTube.

On the day that everybody got their wings, I didn’t get mine. Nor did I get them the day or week after that. Was God having difficulty judging me because, whilst I have given to the poor every now and then, I did still stay in that whole weekend one time, ordered nothing but pizza and watched the entire boxset of Breaking Bad? Is he having difficulty judging me because whilst I did once save someone’s life by pulling them out of oncoming traffic, I didn’t share and like that picture of a little girl waiting for an operation which came up on my Facebook feed?

Perhaps He isn’t really considering those things at all, and perhaps I haven’t earned them yet either. Perhaps I have been overlooked. Perhaps I’m not really that interesting. I’ve never done any actual good or bad really. Not on any scale that mattered.

These days, I look at my wingless reflection in the mirror before I go to work, and I wonder what I can do to make mine come out like my wife’s.

Seeds

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Seeds

Two years ago I started having dreams about a house.

It was a house I’ve never been to, a house I have never seen. By now though, I can describe the thing as if it were my own home. I know the details, I know its dimensions. Hell, I could build the thing if I had the money and motivation to do so.

It always goes like this; I move past wooden doors that branch off from the long corridor that I am slowly gliding down. Sun-bleached paintings, turning figures into ghosts framed in gold. Russet-coloured wallpaper embossed with Fleur-de-Lys meets dark panelled wainscoting that runs the length of the wall.

Golden coat hooks gleam in the bulb light. An elegant walnut table by a large front door, which is adorned with so many locks. On the table is a slender, fluted glass vase filled with purple flowers whose petals litter the wood below; lilac or lavender. An umbrella stand with one black umbrella handle poking from it.

A subtle shade of pale green plays inside the room cast by the daylight passing through the leaves that cover the large windows. The shadows of the vines cast crooked fingers onto an old, but expensive-looking rug. Motes of dust flare in the raw shards of light, caught in the space between the floor and the ceiling.

In the dream I think I am a kid, or I am just really small. I’ve been told it could be a metaphor for a feeling of powerlessness, or maybe something like a desire to abdicate from my adult responsibilities.

Music starts playing from an antique record player; it fills the absence of movement and tracks the passing of time. After an acoustic guitar introduction, a warm melodious voice starts to sing, “We three, we’re all alone, Living in a memory, my echo, my shadow, and me.” There is a warm rustle of static running under it all.

There’s this delicate white tea set laid out over a red and gold trimmed tablecloth. The cups look like bones poking from an open wound. The cups have tiny, intricate grey veins running through them as if they have been smashed and carefully glued back together again.

Three places have been set, but I never see the third person. I slide over to the table and then an old guy sits opposite me. He looks like he’s in his late sixties or thereabouts. His hands shake as he pours tea into all three of the cups from an ornate china teapot. The cup clinks against the saucer as he places mine down in front of me. I notice liver spots dusting the aged skin on the back of his hand.

The whites of his eyes are as yellow as his smile. “Drink up, drink up,” he says flashing those teeth at me. The voices in the background sing, What good is the moonlight, the silvery moonlight?

That’s about all I remember. I normally wake up shortly afterwards with a pain in my chest from my heart hammering, white and red spots dancing in my eyes, and I’m drenched in sweat.

I’ve been told to write it all down because it might help. Doctors and psychologists and psychiatrists have all worked on my case. I’ve been filmed sleeping and I’ve watched myself dreaming, knowing what is happening and when, but I’ve never been given an answer.

I close my eyes and I can see the teeth, the lines in the old man’s face. His pupils are rheumy and blue, like a sapphire trapped in ice. There’s greenish-white gunk congealed at the corners of his eyes. White nostril hairs poke out and recede as he talks, which makes the tip of his bulbous nose pull back, like the twitch of a nervous rabbit. There’s no ruby map of gin blossoms around his nostrils though. His hair is receding, and what remains is slicked back, and white. He is the epitome of regular, normal old man. There’s nothing there in his face or movement that will tell me who he is, and I know I’ve never met this guy before, but I cannot help but feel that this is someone I have intimate knowledge of.

In my dream he is wearing a black robe, cinched at the waist with a black, shimmering silk belt. His shoulders are dappled in a cosmos of dandruff.

What good is the moonlight, the silvery moonlight?

*

I awake from the dream again. My wife stirs and mumbles. A caring but tired hand is placed across my belly and then her light snoring begins again. Outside, a car passes, and a square of pink morning light creeps across the ceiling.

I get up quietly and shower, letting the images in the dream flow down the drain with the water. I can still taste the tea, which is bitter and metallic. The ghost of the taste is still there after I brush my teeth.

I get dressed and sit in my kitchen with a trashy crime thriller in my hands, waiting until my wife gets up. After a couple of chapters and bad character development, she pads across the room with wild hair and pouchy eyes, and hugs me. I squeeze her forearm and she kisses me on the neck.

“Anything different this time?” she asks and drags a chair out from under the table to sit opposite me. There never is anything different, but her asking me is part of our morning ritual.

I stop mid-crunch of cereal. “Nope. Same thing.”  Milk drips from my beard onto the table top.

“Thanks for not waking me up this time though,” she says, rubbing the sleep from her eyes and starting in on her own cereal.

“That’s okay.”

She’s not really one for morning conversation; she’s monosyllabic until she’s got some coffee inside her.

At 7.30, I kiss my wife goodbye and step outside. Wind is rustling the trees and a few people pass in front of my house. My house is nothing like that house. Pieces of the dream come back to me throughout the drive to work. Some things set me off, like the mottled grey light of the sun punching through heavy cloud. I see the window of the house again. I can never make out the view beyond the glass, just that light. Apparently it doesn’t mean anything, but then why do I feel is it so important for me to remember it? The first psychiatrist I saw told me about the palace of the mind; a mental routine for remembering stuff. He told me to list out all of the things I saw in the house and try and associate them memories. He wouldn’t give up on that dumb theory, and I stopped seeing him after the fourth session.

It feels like a normal sort of day. I’ve been working on the same building project for the last month. My client, a fusty old German guy by the name of Jonas, decided that half-way through the build he wanted to start playing around with the design of his new home, which required the moving of several load-bearing walls. I’m not usually an on-site kind of architect, but Jonas insisted that I be on hand throughout the build, because I have a better relationship with the brick monkeys, as he so charmingly put it.

He’s a large man, poured rather unflatteringly into a pair of long yellow waders held up by brightly-coloured braces. He has little hair on top, but a large white beard that rolls down from his bulbous cheeks like mountain mist, tapering to a fine point. He threads the end of it through his fat fingers when he is considering anything of importance.

I chat with him for most of the morning, stifling yawns and redistributing my weight from one tired leg to the other as Jonas goes on about changing the size of the front room yet again. He drones on in heavily-accented English that he has just received the good news that his wife’s sister is about to be a grandmother for the third time, and that maybe if they extended the living room by another few feet, they would want to come and stay with them, even though they don’t really like England, because they love Nuremberg so, with its pointed skyline and beautiful vista’s painted in reds and greens and oranges, and oh, I simply must go…

I nod my way through this and note down the changes on my blueprints. I tell him that I will do my best in changing the fundamental design of his home, even though the foundations and floor have already been laid.

He seems pleased with that. He thanks me and I walk back to my car.

I drive a few streets and pull up outside a coffee place. I get out and walk across the road. I have a strange feeling of remembering something half forgotten, like the fading memories of a dream upon waking. My hands start to anxiety tingle and my fingers flex instinctively to get the blood flowing again. Droplets of cold sweat bud and creep down my spine. I blow out a long breath and pull in a slow controlled one to fight the sudden constriction in my chest.

I stop outside the shop and pretend to read the sign whilst I gather myself. It’s been a while since I’ve had a full-on panic attack, and this one comes out of nowhere. The only exterior sign is a sudden movement of my hand to my chest. I blow out another long breath and concentrate all of my thoughts into avoiding it from escalating. I am in control, I AM in control, I tell myself, angry at the fact that my body is not really under my control. I am suddenly very hot, but it passes and I am left to reel in its disorientating wake.

After an attack, I tend to feel complete sensory overload, and the coffee place seems too noisy with the sounds of talking, chattering, chewing, and slurping. A barista hammers out the dregs of coffee from part of the vast Rube Goldberg type contraption that steams noisily at seemingly random intervals, and each hard, metallic bang sends a fresh ache through my head. I finally get to the counter and order a latte. I pretend to look at my phone to avoid unnecessary conversation with anyone else in the queue.

I take my coffee and walk for a few minutes to a less busy part of the street. I stop and sit outside on someone’s wall. I enjoy the sharp wind racing down the street, turning old people’s umbrellas inside out. It’s a busy weekday lunch-time and beleaguered-looking office workers line up outside what is probably the best sandwich shop around. They laugh and chat to each other in couples or trios.

I look around at the buildings and discern their influence in the lines. Victorian, Edwardian post-war pre-fab. That’s what I love about England, and London in particular; all of the jumbled architectural styles stuck on top and squeezing in and around each other. In a mile you’ll have Gothic churches existing in the shadow of modern towers of angled glass, flanked on all sides by traditional black and white Tudor and Jacobian houses or grandiose Georgian buildings converted into pubs. You only have to look up to see immaculately detailed ledges, or the particular curve of a window. With the right set of eyes, the ghosts of history reveal themselves.

That is the beauty of architecture; you can absolutely understand a town or city’s story by the buildings that it’s comprised of. I look down the street and see a post-war prefab squeezed in-between a pub and converted shop. I can see that it was most likely a replacement for one that had been destroyed in the war.

I don’t really feel like driving just yet, so I walk through the small town centre, and out the other side. The residential buildings and petrol stations slowly thin and become less crammed, leaving the houses to fill out again. I’m reminded of goldfish, the way they grow only to a size proportionate to their surroundings. The roads are flanked by willow and ash trees that form a canopy, their branches mingling and threading. The sun is dappling the old cracked tarmac, and I notice a couple of squirrels dancing across the branches.

It’s the fence that draws my attention first. A huge, metal thing about ten feet tall, painted black and topped with spikes and coiled wire; it looks more like a prison camp than a home. Then I notice the stairs leading up to the front door are flanked by large green bushes. Ivy climbs the wall on the right of the building, spreading like a map of veins across the painted skin of the house, and partially covering the front window.

The door is a big heavy oak thing that is also painted black, two cut-square windows of frosted glass pressed into its frame. I can see it’s fitted with three heavy duty sash locks.

I flashback to my dreams and remember slashes of light through three keyholes.

It can’t be. I have never been here. I came here by chance. I wasn’t thinking about it. How did I even get here?

I walk over to the fence so I can peer through, and try to get a look at the house’s interior, even though I am sure I know them already. The street is quiet, and there is no movement inside the house. I pull on the gate and it doesn’t budge, so I trace the perimeter of the grounds, looking for another way in. I go to the street behind the house, where it rises up behind a more modest Victorian building.

I can’t just leave. I need to get closer, so I sneak round into the back garden of the Victorian house. There’s a stained, wooden fence at the back, leaning against the spiked fence of the other house. They have a tall shed too, with a roof that looks like it will take my weight. With my heart in my mouth, I climb up onto the roof.

I get a view of the back garden of the house and see it is overgrown with weeds and wild flowers. There is a single tall tree. It is non-descript, no features, perfectly normal. But something isn’t right; my gut is twisting with a feeling in-between needing to shit and needing to vomit. My hands are shaking.

It’s not enough to just find the house; I need to go inside.

What good is the moonlight?” a voice sings in my head. “Drink up, drink up,” replies the imaginary voice of the old man. It is a voice laced with intention.

*

I vault up and carefully put my weight onto the metal bar running across the top of fence. I swing my leg over, and it feels like my life as a cat burglar has gotten off to a great start until I realise my trousers have been snagged by the wire, and I am about to fall about ten feet. It also dawns on me that I haven’t considered any kind of exit strategy. Driven like the fool I am, like a moth to a burning flame.

I half-jump, half-fall, and land in a dense bush. I look up to see that half my trouser leg has been kept by the fence as some kind of memento. It flaps in the wind like a particularly well-tailored flag.

My leg hasn’t escaped unharmed. Thin lines of blood begin to well up from cuts and scrapes on my skin, like a slowly developing photo of a wound. It stings and I worry about tetanus, but other than that I’m still mostly in one piece.

I feel that strange tidal pull again, like a vibration in my bones. I know the details of this garden. Something half glimpsed, it’s so frustrating to feel like I am constantly on the verge of something.

There is a few feet of paved path under the growth of sickly looking grass, and I follow it toward the large back door. I peer through the dusty window and see a kitchen in disrepair. Yellowing papers lay scattered across the dust-covered counter top. Something gleams and catches my eye from the hallway beyond the open kitchen door; golden coat hooks.

A cold wave of panic washes over me and, unexpectedly, something else; hope. Hope that there will be answers behind that door; some kind of truth that will quench the dreams.

A bird startles in the branches of the tall tree as I pick up a rock the size of my fist and throw it through the window. The sound seems amplified by the crime and I wince, expecting the sound of shattering to be quickly followed by sirens. I wait for a few moments but nothing comes.

I reach an arm through the hole, slip the lock off, then lift the window up. Shards fall from the old frame like rotten teeth and break on the hard ground. Stagnant air blows through the breach. I squeeze through the window, and into the house.

This is the place; I can feel a strong sense of deja-vu running through every fibre of my body. An involuntary impulse forces me forward into the hallway.

It is the hallway, except it’s also not. The dimensions are the same; the positioning of the door is the same. The items within are not. This place is derelict, bereft of the vivid details that colour my dream. This is more like a rough sketch of the place. It shouldn’t be this way round. The wainscoting meets the wallpaper, but the wallpaper is wrong; it is grey and is falling away in orange-rind curls. I walk the creaky wooden floor to the living room, expecting to see myself sat down and an old man pouring me tea as he slowly moves his head to the music. But there is no-one, just an upturned table lying on its side on the bare floorboards.

I don’t get it.

Hope and revelation turns to bright red anger.

“Hello?” I shout to the empty rooms, but there is no reply. Frustrated, I kick the table and it screams across the boards.

In my head, a whistling starts to rise in pitch and I think it’s anger or anxiety. I blow out some air through pursed lips. Count to ten.

I close my eyes and see an old man’s yellow teeth.

I stand at the place where he passes me tea in his quaking hands. I cannot see myself sat there. The whistling continues to get louder and I waggle a finger in my ear. I think tinnitus, brain cancer, or something worse.

I pull the thick curtains away from the window, and light streams into the room, pale green as the sun shines through the leaves covering the window. I take a step back; This is the house, I know it. My fingers begin to tremble.

I take the stairs up and they creak and protest as I climb them. In my dream, I have not been upstairs, and yet I know what I will find. Three doors; two bedrooms and a bathroom. A metal-handled hair brush set in front of an ornate mirror on top of a marble sink.

I reach the landing and, sure enough, there are three doors. How could I have known that? I push the first door open and find a bathroom. I know this room, although I have no memory of it, nor have I explored it in my dreams. It feels like I am remembering some past life. It reminds me of a documentary I saw once of child who could recall a past life.

How long has this house stood here? Long enough for me to have died and lived again for thirty-four years. But in that case, why did I only start to remember things two years ago? Was I the old man? Yellow eyes. Was I dying of kidney failure or something?

I close the door and open the next two. One of the bedrooms is unfurnished and bare. No memories there.

When I look into the second bedroom, the whistle in my head suddenly becomes a roar. Under plastic sheets, as if preserved in ice, is a queen-size bed, the frame made from thick, dark wood. There’s also a dresser with a large mirror, bookshelves, and an ornate looking writing table.

I pull the plastic sheeting away from the bed, and stand in the centre of the room. It’s as eerily familiar to me as the rest of the house. The air in here is thrumming with some kind of energy. The dust seems to shimmer somehow. I pull the curtains back and the room almost seems to come to life; it’s like this room has soaked up all the colour of the rest of the house. The style fits my dream perfectly.

My teeth start chattering for some reason.

I sit on the plastic wrapped mattress and try to pull together my feelings. I want to phone my wife, but what do I tell her?

“Honey, I just broke into this old house and it’s totally the house from my dream, and I think I might have been the old man who died here.”

No.

I look around the room. The books on the shelf are old and dusty; classics like Alice in Wonderland and Moby Dick. I pick up a couple and idly flip through the pages, looking at the detailed and gorgeous lithographs in some of them. I carefully slide them back and move on to the dresser. I flip the mirror over, wincing as the rusty mechanism squeals.

I look back at myself. I look wired; my eyes are ringed blue-purple from lack of sleep and my cheeks look more hollow than I remember them ever being. Despite the horrifying noise, I spin the mirror back and start to go through the drawers; there’s nothing apart from musty smelling paper.

I sit at the writing desk and carefully pull the drawers open one by one, and one by one they disappoint. It’s all junk; more blank paper, pens, a ruler, and an old heavy set of scissors. I pull the drawer directly under the desktop and it doesn’t budge. I pull harder and it still doesn’t budge. The roar in my ears turns now into an oceanic rumble. The shadows of veins pulse in the periphery of my vision.

I kick at the locked drawer until the whole thing falls over. I don’t stop. I need answers. One side of the desk comes off with a loud crack. I lose a fingernail yanking at the small brass drawer handle, but I don’t stop. I can’t. I keep kicking it, violently dismantling this beautiful piece of furniture, until the stuck drawer finally bursts free, and its contents spill across the floor.

More papers and pens, as well as a black, leather notebook. I collect myself and suck my bloodied finger. I can feel a frantic pulse beating where a nail once was.

I am sweating, but the roar has receded to a whine. I exhale slowly, my sudden rage spent.

I pick up the book and it drops open to the last entry. Instead of handwriting, there is a newspaper clipping that I scan frantically. The clipping is reporting an impossible story. I read it once, then I re-read it more carefully, to make sure that I’ve understood it properly.

The book slips between my fingers and thumps to the floor. The world starts to list and tilt.

I drop to my knees and pick the book up. It’s wrong. It’s not right, I think as I flip to the page again.

The story is dated two years ago. It says that I am missing, presumed murdered. The picture accompanying it is my face, taken from a picture of me and my wife on holiday. I’m smiling in the photo. Underneath the picture is a caption that calls me the victim.

My mouth is filled with a hot iron tang and the whistle in my head begins to rise in pitch and volume again. Blood thumps behind my eyes. I feel a splitting pressure in my brain. I am utterly disbelieving in the face of undeniable proof.

It’s a fake. It has to be a fake. But how? Why? The dates match, the picture is mine. That picture of my wife and I is saved on my computer at home, locked behind a password, never posted to social media, never shared or retweeted or upvoted or blogged. Only my wife and I have access to that picture.

I feel sick, confused, and angry. It feels like something is slipping under my consciousness, working me like a puppet. I take the book and look again, searching for something that proves it’s a fraudulent document.

I read it twice more.

Went missing on the 10th of June, believed to have been kidnapped and possibly murdered. Blood found at the scene.

There’s a quote from my wife; “He was the most loving and caring person. My life is empty now that he is gone.”

It’s not true, and yet my tears begin to blur the lies.

I skip back to the beginning of the book and find blocky font, yellow paper. Another clipping, much older. The headline is dated 8th September 1962, and details a missing girl named Alice Morton. I skip through pages, and suddenly the book seems thicker than it did a minute ago.

Two clippings from ’62 and ‘63, three from ‘64, nothing for ‘65, but five from ‘66 and ’67… it continues on and on. The decades roll by in clippings of aged paper, each page details a person missing. I don’t count, but there are dozens until they stop at me, until my wife says that her life is empty now that I am gone.

I slam the thing shut and call my wife, but before she can answer I hang up. She’ll think I have finally lost it.

I feel dizzy. I feel like I am suddenly not real, that my world is suddenly becoming unravelled. A part of me knows that I still exist, but with the weight of the evidence in my hands, it would appear that even that is in question.

Everything aligns then and suddenly clicks. I am standing in the home of a killer. That’s the reason for the fence, the locks. The ramshackle back garden is probably a mass burial pit. Am I there, dead amongst the dying grass?

Am I a ghost?

I run out of the bedroom, slamming the door behind me, and I run down the stairs. I need to get out somehow, but I can’t climb the fence. I search the kitchen drawers for keys, but find only matches and some old cutlery. I search the living room, upturning everything and pulling every drawer open. This place is a shell, apart from that bloody bedroom.

A glint by the front door catches my eyes and I spot a ring of keys hanging on a hook. I berate myself for not checking there first. I’m panicking, being stupid, not thinking. I breathe a heavy sigh of relief as I slowly work my way down the locks of the front door.

I leave the building behind without looking back. Under my arm is the black book.

I arrive back at my car a sweaty, panting mess. I drive home as slowly as I can.

*

Back at home, I sit at my computer and stare at the Google search screen, afraid of what I might find.

Am I real? I don’t even know anymore. I don’t know why I’m hesitating over the keys that will spell my name. My wife will be home soon; she will want to know why I look pale as a ghost, all scratched up and with half a trouser leg missing.

I breathe out slowly and type.

Nothing.

I type my name and add missing but nothing comes back.

I add dead and still nothing comes back.

Relief, or some shade of it under the confusion.

I open the book at a name in 1996 and type their name. Nothing.

I skip forward to more recent dates and try more names. One woman was killed in a car accident. Another name in the book belongs to a successful lawyer. Another is a man who murdered several people before getting caught. They’re all local people. They never moved away after their supposed disappearances.

All of this occurs years after the dates recorded in the newspaper clippings.

I hit Facebook and start searching for these people. The first person, Alice Morton, is on there. She’s an old lady now, with kids and grandkids. I send a private message to her and ask if she’s ever been kidnapped. I attach a picture of the headline, which shows her at fifteen.

Now I’m worried that I’ll look like some kind of psycho, but it’s too late now. I carry on and message a few of the other people, attaching photos of their headlines too.

My wife arrives home tired and in a bad mood from a bad day at work. I make her tea and rub her feet, and then we eat dinner and talk about her day. She dozes a little on the couch with the TV on in the background.

When she nods off, I creep back to the computer and see that I’ve had two messages. One from Alice Morton, who is kindly in her message but confused. She writes that the young woman in the photo is definitely her, but nothing of the sort had ever happened.

The other message is from James Roburn, the lawyer. He is much less amenable than Alice, but his message is similar. He’s never gone missing either.

I slam the laptop shut and pace around the house, biting my fist and trying unsuccessfully to calm down. I feel so close to some kind of resolution. Close to having an answer that makes sense. I don’t want to sleep, but as the minutes turn into hours, I know I don’t have any kind of choice.

I wake my wife and she goes up to bed. “I was having such a lovely dream,” she grumbles.

Dreams!

I open my laptop again and fire off a message to James and Alice, and ask them about their dreams. Have they had a recurring one for a number of years? I describe the old man and the house in as much detail as possible. I even write out the lyrics to that horrible song, and I leave my number.

I stay up as late as possible. I watch a documentary about Richard Ramirez and then a couple of episodes of Futurama.

My eyelids start to droop and the last thing I see before I go to sleep is the digital clock reading 03.12.

The dream is the same: the old man’s face, the cups laid out on the table. I try and hold on to as many details as possible.

*

I awake on the sofa with a jolt. My phone is going off, its jolly ring tone belying the seriousness of the call, because no one rings at five in the morning unless it’s an emergency.

“Hello?”

How could you know?” a man’s voice asks me, thick with sleep and tears. It’s the lawyer, I know it instinctively from the tone.

“I have it too,” I say. It takes the man a few moments to reply and he clears his throat.

“You got it wrong about the song though, but other than that it’s exactly the same.”

“How long have you been having it?” I ask. I sit up straight and flick the TV off with the remote.

About six years. I thought I was going crazy,” he replies. I hear a sense of relief in his tone now.

“Hang on,” I say, and get up and run over to the diary. It takes me a few seconds to find the article with his name. “Did you check the date of the headline on the photo I sent to you?”

No, why?

“Check it now.”

Okay, hang on.” I hear him switching the phone to loudspeaker so he can check the photo and talk at the same time.

I’ve got to admit,” he says. “I was pretty angry when you sent me that. I get shit like it all the time, it was only when… oh God.”

“The date; it’s the date the dream started, right?” I say. Again, there is a long pause as the man collects himself.

What the fuck is this?” he hisses.

“I found the house, the one from the dream, and I found a book inside of a locked drawer. A book filled with newspaper clippings recording things that haven’t happened. Names of people who have gone missing, including myself. There’s a fucking picture with my clipping, a picture that only my wife and I have.”

This doesn’t make any kind of sense,” he says, half to himself.

“You’re telling me. Look, I’m going back into that place again tomorrow. I’m going to look for more clues about what happened to us. But after that, I think we should meet.”

We both agree to meet tomorrow night and hang up. I check my Facebook messages and Alice Morton has sent me a long, rambling reply. She has been having the same dream for the last forty-eight years, and she’s on some medication to suppress them. She had electroshock therapy in her late twenties, and when that didn’t work, she relied on good old-fashioned denial. Her first and second husband left her because of the dreams. The third one doesn’t know that she has them.

I reply and invite her along to the meeting too, then I shower, brush my teeth and get dressed. The clock says 06.14 when I close the door behind me.

Night is waning when I pull up outside the house. A thin, bloody line cracked the dark in the east, setting fire to the outline of the city. Above me, dark clouds threaten to spill their contents as I unlock the gate to the house. Morning dew jewels an empty cobweb strung across the spaces between the dark bars of the fence.

The metal gate protests noisily as I push it open and walk into the shadow of the house. I slowly climb the steps to the three keyholes. My heart is hammering in my chest. It feels like I was only just here. I haven’t long woken from the dream, where I had sat at the table and been served tea by a stranger who I knew intimately. In the half-dark, the house feels far more sinister.

I laugh a little. It’s just a stupid fucking dream. But it isn’t. I’m scared and I have to steady my hand to get the keys into the holes. Finally, the last one clicks and I push the door open. It creaks, horror movie style.

It’s dark. I didn’t even think about whether or not I’d be able to see. Pale light creeps in through the windows, lighting the husks of dead flies and beetles on the windowsill, but not the guts of the building.

I use the torch app on my phone and close the door behind me.

I go back upstairs to the bedroom and I am confronted again with the results of my anger. Seeing the splintered wood again brings back the ghost of how I felt, the raw frustration.

I carefully pick through the debris, and then I inspect the whole room inch by inch, pulling open drawers and checking for other compartments. I find nothing.

An hour passes. I am sweating when I finally give in and collapse onto the bed. It’s daylight now.

Closing my eyes, I pick through the detail of the dream piece by piece looking for clues. Over and over, I play the scene in my head; down a hall and then to the table, down the hall and then to a table.

The revelation suddenly hits me. I run down the stairs, and stand in the kitchen facing the front door. I learn two things: it’s not the right angle from the dream, and I’m too tall when standing. I crouch to the height I would be at if I was sat in a chair, and it fits. How did I not realise this before? I was seated, and being pushed; in a wheelchair maybe.

I walk back into the living room and inspect the back wall. I turn and face the table; this angle is correct, but in my dream I am further away, much further away. So I scour the wall looking for some kind of secret mechanism or hidden door. It becomes so obvious the moment I start looking. I think about the dimensions of the house, picturing the floorplan and how it looks from the outside; there has to be a room behind this one. But I see no way of getting to it. I throw myself against it but it doesn’t budge.

I’m so close to knowing now that I feel like frothing at the mouth. I could go down to the site of Jonas’ build, come back with a sledgehammer and power tools, and tear the walls down…

I practice my breathing and try to think. Remember the dream, what stands out in it?

I walk about the room with my eyes half closed, transposing the images from the nightmare on to the layout. Finally, I stop at the coat hooks, and it falls into place. They all gleam, bright and golden, but now I see that one is slightly brighter than the others. I pull it and there’s a sudden loud scraping noise, like bricks being dragged across the floor.

The door in the wall is open, and beyond its threshold is a long corridor lined with russet-coloured wallpaper embossed with fleur-de-lys symbols. The end of the corridor is lost in darkness. It isn’t simply dark, it’s utterly black; when I shine my torch at it, it reveals nothing. I smell something like burning metal.

I move to it slowly, as if pulled by some kind of gravity. The darkness is moving, undulating and rippling. I am terrified of it, because I think I know what it might be, and that is as impossible as everything that has happened to me in the last twenty-four hours.

The air around the darkness is vibrating and shimmering. It feels like my bare skin is being pulled into it.

I close my eyes and take one step forward.

*

Dark wainscoting meets russet-coloured wallpaper embossed with Fleur-De-Lys. A mirror of a mirror. It’s almost as if I had just turned around instead of walking forward. The details from my dream have changed, but it’s here; I have stepped into it. Behind me I feel the simmering darkness.

What is this?

The corridor is narrow. Old paintings line the wall, depicting subjects that have been sun-bleached to phantoms.

The whine is back, building to a roar. I feel sick as I stumble down the hallway, surely to be met with a table, a record player and a grinning old man.

I brush the wood with my fingertips to check that it’s real. I have a headache.

The table is there, and the door with the all the locks. Morning light streams through the front window. I feel like I have gone back in time somehow.

Is this the dream? Am I in the dream, now?

I pull out my phone, and see that I have no signal. I take some photos of the room to prove to the other dreamers that this is the place.

There is music coming from upstairs. Old timey songs, not quite the tune from my dream, but similar. The edges of my world are starting to blur as the words get louder, drowning the whine a little.

Someone sings, “If I didn’t care more than words can say. If I didn’t care would I feel this way? If this isn’t love then why do I thrill? And what makes my head go ’round and ’round while my heart stands still?”

I creep up, my footsteps muffled by a luxurious, blood-coloured rug. The stairs have a gleaming silver rail running the length of them; an empty stair lift is waiting at the top the stairs.

I have to pull myself up the last couple of stairs using the handrail. I am suddenly overcome with bone deep fatigue. My legs are leaden, my heart is an anchor sunk into the depths of the dark at the end of the corridor. I can feel it pulling me back.

The music is louder now. I feel a breeze from an open window and smell the scent of honeysuckle and fresh flowers.

I peek between the balustrade and see the corner of a large, white bed. I see the shape of legs hidden under a rough blanket. I see a white machine ticking away time, measuring its passing in LED lights.

I come to the top of the stairs.

The room is the same as in the other house; the house that is a reflection of this one. I think I understand what the darkness at the end of that corridor is, I just don’t know how it can be. So what does that make me here? A ghost? A shade?

Yellow teeth. I can smell his breath in my mind. Those teeth closing around something.

Anger begins to build in me, rising up and up; a chemical reaction, igniting something imminently fatal.

I step closer, and spy wrinkled hands closed around the white metal bed frame.

I fill the doorway and see it, prostrate in bed. A skeletal creature looks up at me with yellow skin and yellow eyes and blackness in its heart. Tubes disappear under blankets and into its papery skin.

I can see the shape of its skull, its loose miasma of hair like the ghost of an idea.

The voices sing “If I didn’t care would it be the same? Would my ev’ry prayer begin and end with just your name? And would I be sure that this is love beyond compare? Would all this be true if I didn’t care for you?”

There is no fright or fear in its eyes, only familiarity. Its pale lips peel back to reveal something of a smile. I know that expression intimately. I’ve seen it every night for two years.

I know the truth.

Blackness begins to spot my vision.

“I remember you,” the creature wheezes between laboured, mechanical breaths. I bet the number of them it has left is only in the double digits.

It knows me, and suddenly I know the real truth, whatever that means and despite what it means. It laughs at me, a dry, cruel cackle.

I can’t speak. I just stand there at the foot of the creature’s bed. Its wrinkled and sagging arms resemble the leathery wings of a bat. It is an ancient apex predator at the end of its time.

I remember my breathing and I suck in the death stench, masked by the honeysuckle.

It starts a feeble attempt to move, to shuffle into a sitting position, but there is no moving now.

It can’t fight me off, and I will not allow it a chance to make me its victim again.

Somewhere far away I hear a high-pitched scream, somewhere between fear and hatred. My thumbs find the soft orbs of the creature’s eyes and its cries mingle with mine as I dig deep and turn its world black.

I crush the soft pouchy skin of its throat, collapsing cartilage and turning its screams into a wet gurgle.

*

It’s quiet now apart from the scratch of the record skipping, and the blood pumping in my ears.

I step away from the bed and turn away without looking at what I’ve done. A single withered foot with long toenails peeks out from under a rough blanket.

I hang my head, exhausted and make my way slowly down the stairs.

At the end of the corridor is the seething darkness. It will deposit me back into an empty house. It will take me to a world where a parallel version of me was brought into my world to be murdered.

I will be back in that world. A version of this one. One without monsters like the old man.

A version of the world where my wife will still have me.

A version of the world where the dreams that I am forced to endure are really the last moments of a man who is me and also not me.

 

A Bright Red Sun- Anomaly One

FRAGMENT_20150509_225715_-1184055928

Anomaly One

2017/08/18- Six weeks after The Cataclysm Event.

 

St Thomas’ Church, Wiltshire

After the townsfolk had shuffled out of the church and into the unfriendly night, Father Enoch stepped down from the lectern; his shadow was thrown, large and sinister, across the back wall by the long red candles that burned in neat rows in front of the altar.

He had just given the evening’s service to thirty-nine people and one dog; his largest congregation yet. There’d be more people tomorrow; the apocalypse had a way of making people reconsider their theological viewpoints.

People had stood outside in the chill night air, blowing into their hands and stamping their feet on the gravel path as they listened intently.  He had given one of his favourite sermons, and it seemed apt given that most people believed – and rightly so – that it was the end of the world.

He had started with his favourite quote from Jerimiah 4:25; “I looked, and behold, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens had fled. I looked, and behold, the fruitful land was a wilderness, and all its cities were pulled down before the Lord,” he’d said with ecclesiastical gravitas. There’d been real fear in the eyes of the townsfolk, bright like beasts in the flickering candlelight.

The dog had curled up and gone to sleep. Ignorance was bliss.

Enoch sighed to himself, reflecting on the service, unsure whether he wanted those words to be true or not. Six weeks ago, the world had fallen to ruins, and humanity, as pampered and privileged as it had ever been, had been blown back to the Dark Ages. The global death toll in the first few hours alone had been astronomical. Ten minutes without Facebook and everyone was foaming at the bloody mouth

. He had assured them that greater and bigger things than themselves were in operation and that the Lord would provide some kind of answer, and that maybe it was a punishment wrought upon us all as a result of our self-centred egotistical hubris. What else could it have been? The sudden unplugging of all of our electrical devices, the subsequent persistent failure of any new ones constructed. Then, the floods and the torrential rain for five days straight. All of it just smacked of the end times.

Before the Event, it had been a long time since Enoch had seen the place lit only in candlelight and he found it both beautiful and sinister at the same time. The ancient grotesques and the angels carved in stone atop the grey columns along the walls were given a lot more depth and impact; they almost seemed animated. Jesus looked on forlornly from his crucifix, and Enoch clutched at the simple iron cross hung around his neck; a gesture that had become automatic and comforting.

He had eschewed trying to amass any kind of riches himself, preferring instead the quiet life in Wiltshire, far from papal politics and judgemental finger pointing. He was fine with the homosexual agenda, he didn’t have any feelings this way or that about female priests, and he thought that Africa should start a programme of education on the benefits of safe sex. All unpopular beliefs with the church and in the small town he lived in generally. There was plenty to love about the place; the long walks along the idyllic rolling landscape, birdsong, and a glass or two of Jameson before bed. It’s not that he had become cynical, it was just that the world had changed without him and he stubbornly refused to adapt.

He needed to appear calm and without fear; that was what he’d been taught at the seminary. He needed to appear brave to his congregation. If reports were true, his congregation would continue to grow; from what he had heard from the steady stream of travellers and refugees, most of England appeared to have floated away into the sea. When he went for his usual morning walk – a ritual he maintained even given everything that had happened – he now saw new lakes and rivers where once there’d been valleys.

It truly felt like the Biblical end times and Enoch wondered why it had not strengthened his resolve, why he had not become more fervently religious, and why he just remained his normal stoic self. He was certainly glad that the rain had finally stopped though; the damp had played merry hell with his rheumatism.  The new church roof had held up well against the nonstop downpour, which was more than could be said for a lot of people’s houses.

Most people had left, but a few had remained in prayer, near the front of the pews. Enoch blessed them as he walked past.

A woman was sat at the back of the church on her own. She was crying.

“Is this really the end Father?” she sobbed, wiping her nose on the sleeve of her dirty coat.

“Who is to say?” He replied, and smiled sadly, “Regardless of what happens now, time will march steadily forward, and we will need to face what comes at us with open hearts.”

She smiled nervously. He desperately wanted to believe that himself.

“Does God hate us that much?” she asked.

I’m afraid so, and who can blame Him, he thought, but replied, “Of course not my child. These things are sent to test our faith. We must be resolute, and have faith that He will provide.”

“But I didn’t believe. You know, before. Am I going to go to Hell for that?”

Yes. “Of course not, child. Better to believe now, then never at all.” He tried to sound convincing, “All who accept Him will be welcome in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

He reached over and rubbed her shoulder reassuringly. He knew he was wrong, but he couldn’t help but feel a tiny flicker of disdain for her, and those like her. They’d sneered at the church and the faithful all their lives, and now here they were, like people who turn up to a party late and claim they’ve been there the whole time.

“Thank you Father,” she said and went back to praying. She seemed genuine, at least. He felt immensely guilty and he resolved to pray for forgiveness later.

He stayed for the next hour listening to people confessing their sins to him. He listened to the townsfolk confess to affairs or impure thoughts or minor dismeanours. One man, older than Enoch, confessed to killing over a hundred Nazi’s in the war, some up close and extremely personal. One particular incident involved him, a lead lamp and two enemy soldiers being clubbed to death in the middle of the night. He said it happened in a chateaux just outside of the French town of Valence-d’Agen.

The old man had looked at the palms of his shaking and liver spotted hands as he told the story as if he could still see the blood on them.

Enoch had forgiven him, and reassured him that he’d just been doing his duty and defending the world against the evil of the Axis force, and there was no way God was going to forbid him entry into the Kingdom of Heaven for that.

All the while he talked, Enoch was desiring a very stiff drink.

*

When the church had finally emptied, it was sometime after midnight and Enoch was exhausted. He stepped outside for some fresh air, and was greeted with a panoply of stars winking in the cloudless firmament. The moon was huge and luminescent in the bejewelled sky, and moonlight limned the contours of the landscape.

Far away, a building burned, orange in the velvet-blue night.

Enoch breathed into his hands; it was unseasonably cold for August.

He went back inside and closed the heavy double doors behind him. He locked them and let out another long sigh as he pulled the white collar from around his neck. He looked up at the crucified Jesus and formed the sign of the cross, drawing two fingers down from his forehead and then across his body.

When he’d finished the motion, the air suddenly felt heavier. At first he thought there was something wrong with eyes or that he was having some kind of episode. He rubbed his eyes, and when he looked back his jaw dropped in an almost cartoon gesture of disbelief; Jesus had suddenly disappeared, along with the altar and the lectern.

His old heart was thudding and he felt a warmth in the back of his throat as he slowly walked up the aisle, resting his hand on the tops of the pews for support. There was a faint smell of rain on dry grass, and burning metal. As he breathed this in, a long-buried memory rushed to the forefront of his mind; being a boy and running under a bruised sky, through freshly quenched fields that surrounded his childhood home.

Enoch stopped a few feet from where the lectern had been. He heard a faint buzzing, more like a vibration in his ears than an actual sound. He thought it actually was just a problem with his ears, the same way he’d presumed the heat-haze shimmer had been a trick of his eyes, but when he turned his head the sound oscillated. It touched a nerve in his brain, and made him feel uneasy and afraid.

The air was still visibly rippling. It almost looked like a trick of the light, but if he cocked his head that way and this, he could see in mid-air the faint reflection of a candle flame, pulled long over the curved, invisible surface of whatever it was that had disturbed the air. He took a few steps back, and saw a shift in the light, a blank space that was bending and refracting light around it, like a soap bubble.

Enoch was a calm, sensible man by nature, but right then he felt a sudden very urgent urge to run screaming into it and into the arms of Jesus and the lord himself because at that instant he knew what it was; way down past his rational minded cynicism, and from the deepest depths of his faith he knew that this was the gateway to heaven and that the rapture had finally come. Firstly though, he needed a whisky and then he needed to tell someone.

He stopped himself from running through, and chided himself for his selfishness. The gateway wasn’t just for him. It was for all of them.

His congregation had to know. They had to be told that salvation was here.

He didn’t know how long the doorway would be there and whether or not it was meant for anyone else other than him, but he beat those thoughts away. He was just excited and scared because it appeared that the Lord had answered his most secret prayers.

Sleep was hard at first; he kept thinking about the gateway, and wondering what really lay in wait for them in the hereafter, and whether or not it would still be there in the morning. Twice he found himself forced from the warmth of his bed to inspect the thing, to assure himself that it was still there. Finally though, exhaustion had him, and he fell into it and dreamt of nothing, except for the excited buzzing of the sphere.

*

The first thing Enoch did the next day was to call around to his assistant, Pike, who lived at the edge of town in an old stone cottage that the church had assigned to him. He was a bit slow and naive, but his heart was in the right place. When Enoch thought of the young man, he usually thought of the similarly dim but charming character Private Pike from the old TV show Dad’s Army, though he knew that to do so was mean-spirited.

Pike was perched on top of a wooden ladder, clearing the guttering with his bare hands when Enoch arrived. The grass was still wet from a recent downpour, and Enoch noted that the house hadn’t faired as well as the others in town, most likely on account of its age. Enoch had actually lived in the house himself until a few years ago, but had given the place up to move into the small dwellings attached to the church itself. His knees hadn’t been up to the long walk up the steep hill to the church anymore.

The rose bushes Enoch had planted as a young man had been pulled out and replaced with sunflowers; he didn’t care for them, or for the crazy paving path. Still, it wasn’t for him to get upset about, and anyway he had a grander purpose; a divine mission that he needed to set Pike upon.

The young man climbed down and greeted him with a smile, and they both went inside the small cottage. Pike’s wife was a thin slip of a woman, with long mousy-coloured hair and great brown eyes. She was stood over the wood-burning stove at the back of the kitchen. The air was heavy with the smells of cooked meat and coffee, and Enoch’ mouth started watering; he’d had nothing but tinned food cooked over the feeble flame of an old Calor gas stove since the lights had gone out.

She turned as he and Pike entered the kitchen, and beamed at him.

“Care for some breakfast Father? We’ve still got some left over!”  Her cheeks were ruddy from the heat and she was wearing a cloth apron that may have once been white. The whole scene reminded Enoch of his childhood, just after the Second World War; in fact everything recently had reminded him of that.

He and Pike sat at the kitchen table. Like all the furniture in the place, it was old, solid dark wood.

“I won’t, thank you Elizabeth. I would murder for a tea, if you’ve some?”

She smiled and nodded, and busied herself with a pan of hot water.

“So, Father,” asked Pike, “What’s brought you down here so early?”

“Is it early?” Enoch asked, and then chuckled to himself. He looked at his wristwatch – dead since the Event, like all timepieces – that he was still wearing out of habit.  “You know, I’ve lost all notion of time.”

Elizabeth brought over his cup of tea.

“It’s black,” she said apologetically. “What with the cows being… well. You know.”

“It’s fine Elizabeth. This is perfect.”

Elizabeth smiled, and was about to say something when she was interrupted by the cries of small child, coming from the other room. Elizabeth’s bright smile was replaced by a look of concern.

“I’ll go and see if she’s okay,” she murmured.

“I can-” Pike started to say, rising.

“No, no, it’s fine,” said Elizabeth. “I’m sure Father Enoch has something important to talk to you about.”

She hurried out of the room.

“Eloise?” asked Enoch. “Is she alright?”

“Nightmares,” Pike sighed. “She’s not making it through the nights. She doesn’t understand what’s happening. She’s scared.”

Her and me both, thought Enoch.

Enoch held the white china cup in his hands, and stared down into the tea for a few moments to gather his thoughts. He was asking a lot, after all.

“Michael,” he said, forming each word slowly and carefully. “The Lord has sent us a sign. It’s time for those worthy of forgiveness to move on.”

Pike was stirred by the use of his first name, and looked up from the scratched wood tabletop. The two men locked eyes for a second. The only other time Enoch had used Pike’s first name was four years ago, when Pike’s mother had passed away.

“What do you mean Father?” he asked, confused.

“Last night, after service. There was a…” he paused for a second, searching for the words, “A… gateway, or a door. I’m not really sure what to call it. But it opened up there in the church, and Jesus was there Michael. He was there in front of me, as real as you are to me now. Then He was gone, disappeared.”

“Actual Jesus?” Pike asked, a puzzled look on his face.

“No Pike, the plaster one on the cross,” snapped Enoch. You stupid boy, Private Pike.

He took a deep breath to calm himself. “I looked away for a second and He had gone. Taken by the Lord Himself, just as He was in the flesh. As God as my witness, it’s true,” he said, looking up and crossing himself quickly. “It’s a sign. I know it. We are supposed to leave this place now.”

“Have you told anyone else?” Pike asked.

“No,” replied Enoch. He took a sip of tea to try and steady his nerves for what he was about to say. “I… I have a job for you, Michael.”

“A job?”

“Yes. A job. Not just me. The Lord.”

Pike frowned. “Don’t you realise what’s going on?” he said. “I have to take care of my family now. That’s my job-”

Enoch closed his eyes and sighed, “Psalm 118:19-20,” Enoch cut in. He hated to do it, but needs must. He pointed a shaking finger at Pike. “Open to me the gates of righteousness; I shall enter through them, I shall give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous will enter through it.”

Pike looked dazed and a little upset by the zeal in Enoch’ voice.

“I… I mean, I can’t….” he stammered.

Enoch drained his cup and slammed it down on the tabletop.

“Come with me then. Come and look at it. After that, we will see what jobs are important.”

*

Pike kissed his wife and child, and the two men left the house to wander slowly up the hill. Strangely, they did not speak about the portal. Instead, they took in the view as the land rose; the crowded and uneven layout of the town, a mix of ancient buildings made of uneven stones and post-war brick buildings. The air smelt of honey suckle and rapeseed and as they climbed the hill to the west they could see the bright, yellow fields, methodically cut there amongst green fields dotted with purple lavender and golden hawthorn.

Much like the surrounding countryside, St Thomas’ hadn’t changed significantly the last three hundred years, even surviving unscathed during the Blitz, unlike other parts of the town. It stood solid and defiant in the face of chaos, the calm at the heart of another storm, a beacon of hope for the lost and scared.

They walked through the churchyard. Enoch glanced at the graves, some as old as the church itself, and blank as slate except for faint curlicues and greenish lichen. He wondered how many of these departed souls he would meet when he went through the doorway himself.

They went inside. The sphere was still there, distorting light around it. Pike’s mouth hung open as he stared at it.

“I can hear it buzzing,” he whispered. He reached out a finger as if to touch the shimmer, but drew it back at the last moment.

“Do you believe me now?” asked Enoch. “What else could it be if not a sign from God?” He handed the man a small pre-prepared tumbler of whiskey and watched the amber liquid disappear down the young man’s gullet.

Pike took his eyes from the sphere to the priest and then back again, “I do believe you Father,” he said finally. “I’m sorry I doubted you. Forgive me.”

“It’s fine Pike,” Enoch said. “In your position, I would’ve been just as skeptical.”

They stood and looked at the sphere for a while, neither of them speaking.

“Have you been through yourself?” asked Pike.

“No, just in case I couldn’t get back,” said Enoch. “We need to tell everyone first. This is a test Pike, a final test. We have to tell as many people as possible that salvation is to be found here. Do you understand the nature of what you need to do now? It’s a mission from the Lord, and we’ve been chosen to spread the word as loud and as far as we can.”

He reached out and took Pike’s hand in his own.

“We can save them Pike!” he said fervently. “The townsfolk, Elizabeth, Eloise… all of them! We can save them all!”

Pike nodded, knowing that this was indeed his job. He would be the Lord’s messenger. There was no longer any doubt in his mind.

*

They sat in Andrew’s office and talked about how Pike would go about his mission; he would have to travel to as many towns as he could, tell as many people as possible, and hope that word spread even further. In a world without phones, email or even a postal service, word of mouth was all they had. When Pike’s work was done, he would go through himself.

Pike went to fetch the mayor, and brought him back so that he could be told everything. After he’d seen the gateway – and after Enoch had pushed a glass of whisky into his trembling hands – they’d told him their plan.

“I’ll let everyone know,” said the mayor, accepting a second whisky. “A town meeting. Yes.”

An emergency town meeting was held. Ten minutes later, the whole town was crowded on the hill outside the church. There was some shoving and impatience, but the general sense was one of immense relief. People were crying, hugging, praising God for delivering them from suffering. Even the staunch atheists – and there were fewer and fewer of them each passing day – had come along, out of amused curiosity.

No one was carrying luggage; they wouldn’t need their belongings in Paradise. The old and young alike climbed the hill, taking one last look out across the abandoned fields.

Enoch welcomed them all with warm smiles and kind words. He stood at the head of the crowd, and felt an overwhelming pressure to give some kind of sermon; something that might set the people’s fears at rest. So he did, telling them that all of their lost ones would be waiting on the other side in the Kingdom of Heaven. They were blessed, he told them. God had chosen them to survive this nightmare. They had been tested, and their faith had carried them through this most awful of ordeals.

In the crowd, he spotted the woman who had been crying the other night, and she smiled nervously at him, as if she was worried that things seemed too good to be true.

Enoch managed to get people to form a queue. There was no rush, he told them. Heaven was eternal; it wasn’t going anywhere. He managed to get people singing as they waited, good rousing hymns like Amazing Grace and Jerusalem.

The first person to enter was the old soldier that Enoch had spoken with the other night. He shuffled up to the curve in the air, and squinted at it with his watery blue eyes. He murmured something to himself – his wife’s name, who knew for sure? – and then stepped through and disappeared.

Cheers filled the room and then, one by one they all began to shuffle into the church, down the aisle, and up into the heat-haze shimmer; some wept as they went, some approached it with reverent silence, others laughed and sang even louder. It filled his heart with great joy and terrible loss.

Not everyone went willingly. A young boy screamed at his mother that he didn’t want to go, but his mother pressed forward, holding his hand tightly in hers. Like everyone else, they stepped into the sphere and vanished.

It took most of the day for all the townsfolk to pass through. The mayor was one of the last, and he shook Enoch’ hand vigorously.

“I’ll see you on the other side,” he laughed, and practically skipped through. “I’ll be at the bar.”

Pike led his wife and daughter up the hill to them. His wife’s eyes were rimmed in red and it was clear that she had been crying.

Enoch fumbled for some comforting words, but Pike spared him.

“Now now Liz,” he said gruffly. “Father Enoch has given me an important job. I’ve got to go tell everyone about this here doorway.”

“But why has it got to be you?” Elizabeth wailed. She was crying again.

“Because God said so,” Pike said, and that was that. He embraced her and his little girl, and whispered promises in their ears that they’d see each other again. Enoch looked away, awkward and embarrassed to be intruding on the family moment.

“Bless you Father,” said Elizabeth, hugging him.

“And you, my child.”

“Bess oo,” gurgled Eloise, wrapping herself around his leg.

Pike went inside with them. Eloise waved back at Enoch with a chubby hand.

Enoch waited outside for Pike to exit, affording him some time to say good bye. He sat on the uneven stone wall and watched as the sun set, setting the yellow fields ablaze. A large blackbird squawked in the boughs of the willow tree that hung languidly over the northern section of the graveyard.

He was at peace. He’d done a good job; more than any man could ever hope to do.

Pike walked out of the church looking utterly bereft. Enoch went to him and hugged the young man hard.

“I suppose it’s your turn now,” Pike said. He sniffed, and wiped his eyes.

The priest shook his head, “I will linger a little longer and help shepherd any stragglers through. They may have their doubts and will need me to… you know, allay their fears.”

His mind wandered to the bottle of thirty year old Glenmorangie safely nestled away in a locked drawer in the bottom of the old filing cabinet in his office. He had his own personal reservations at relinquishing the pleasures of the flesh and he wanted at least one more night with his old Scottish friend. The lord could wait one more more day.

He squeezed Pike’s shoulder. “You aren’t alone in this, Michael. Now go, rest. You should set out tomorrow, as early as you can. Who knows how long the gateway will stay open?”

“Thank you, Father.”

“Don’t thank me, Michael. Thank God.”

They said goodbye, though Enoch emphasised that it wasn’t final and the old man clapped the Pike on the shoulder and smiled. They would meet again, when Pike’s work was done.

Enoch went back into the church. Pike went back down the hill, casting one last look back at the old man who had saved the town and delivered them into the arms of the Lord.

*

Pike spent the night curled up in bed surrounded by the scent of his absent wife. The idea that she was no longer on this physical plane greatly upset him. He hoped that she could see right down, into his secret heart and know that he missed her and Eloise so much that it felt like it might break.

At dawn the next morning, Pike packed for his journey; it was only a twenty mile walk into the next town. He took only one photo of his beautiful family, which he kissed and then folded it up and slipped it into the pocket of his jacket.

He wondered if he should go and see Father Enoch before he left, but they’d said their goodbyes. Besides, they would see each other again soon. He’d promised after all, and Pike’s ma had always taught him that priests never broke their promises.

Pike started to walk, humming cheerfully to himself. Finally, everything would be alright.

*

 

Father Enoch stood before the gates of heaven.

It had been five days since Pike left. He’d made signs over the past five days and hung them around town; if strangers came by, they’d know where to find salvation.

When he was done, he passed the time reading during the day and drinking away the lonely nights.

People had come to him; refugees and people from other towns. Pike was clearly doing his job. People were listening, and desperate to be saved. Enoch had taken each of them into the church, listened to their prayers of thanks, and ushered them through the gateway.

The sphere wobbled and rippled in mid-air. A tiny part of him had wanted the whole works; golden light, angels singing and then St Peter… but the Lord worked in mysterious ways.

Enoch closed his eyes and readied himself, took a deep breath and then stepped into the sphere.

*

-82.132190, 36.335871

Bright white light assaulted him, and he raised his hands to shield his eyes from the blinding glory of God.

Except it wasn’t God, and this wasn’t Heaven. Something was wrong.

Something was dreadfully, dreadfully wrong.

The cold was savage and complete, and ripped the air from his lungs. A howling wind sent icy shrapnel biting into his face. He pried his eyes open slowly, and he saw Jesus; the plaster Jesus that had hung above the altar in St Thomas’. It was rimed with frost.

Enoch’ eyes adjusted, and he also saw the lectern and the altar. Around him, the tall blue-white teeth of mountains spread off into the distance. The burning light, it seemed, was the sun bouncing up off the snow; snow which seemed to stretch infinitely in all directions.

Littering the snowfield around him were the bodies of the townsfolk who had frozen to death in their hundreds. The entire town. He saw Eloise wrapped in Elizabeth’s arms, both of them stiff and grey-blue, the sunlight dancing on their crystalline skin.

This wasn’t salvation. This was extinction.

Enoch stumbled in the snow. He had to get back, to get away, God had chosen him, he couldn’t die here… Something gripped his chest and squeezed.

The portal didn’t work. He staggered into it, but he went through it as if it was plain, empty air.

He went to try again, but he physically couldn’t; the cold had completely consumed him. Worse than the cold was the realisation that he had killed these people. The guilt and rage hit him like a wave, he ripped the white collar from his cassock and screamed like an animal into the biting air.

Then it hit him; the knowledge that Pike, a good man, would keep telling more and more people about the gateway. No-one would ever know. There was no way to warn them to stay away. They would keep coming, and they would all die here in the snow.

The thought was too much for Enoch. He collapsed onto the freezing ground, hand stretched to the sky as if pleading for a true miracle, or at least an explanation as to why this had happened.

He lay on the freezing ground clutching his chest; in the last, frantic beats of his heart, he turned his eyes skyward, and they were filled only with regret.

 

Scrubbed

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This morning, I got a letter which said I was too far behind on my payments, and that I had been enlisted for a Scrub.

I lost my job a month ago. I’d pumped the last of my savings into making my payments, but when I couldn’t find work and my money ran out, I got the letter. The letter was typed on a single sheet of thick expensive looking paper with a seal embossed at the bottom. I held it up to the light and saw the watermark running under the text.

I sit in the kitchen and read the whole thing through twice before the words started to come together and make sense; missed payments, premiums, deductions, debt, unfortunate circumstances, contract, solution. These words jumped out as if emboldened; it was the final one that set my teeth on edge and my heart racing loudly in my ears. It suddenly seemed as if the light shifted as I read each individual letter- “Scrub.”

How could five letters fill me with such dread?

I had managed to avoid it for twenty five years. But somehow, now, I had been commissioned. The solution to my debt problems was in a case that was currently being prepared for shipping.

I call the number at the bottom of the letter and speak as calmly as I can manage as I relay what I want, to at least ten automated menus, each one seemingly designed to make me as irritated as possible. The system designed so that when I finally get to speak to someone, they would have no recourse other than to terminate the call because of my poor attitude.

When I am finally put through to a real person I try to explain in a quavering voice that it’s not in my constitution to do a Scrub, that I am a good person. The calm, friendly voice at the other end of the line tells me in their most customer friendly and scripted, I am pretending to empathise with you voice, that since I don’t have a job or any savings left, that there are only two options left. Scrub or be Scrubbed, as per the conditions of the agreement I signed up to. I explain that I think I might be pregnant, but it falls on deaf, but friendly ears.

I beg, then I cry. Finally, I tell the voice that if I am assigned to be Scrubbed, I wouldn’t last ten minutes and that the person doing the Scrub would have that on their conscience for the rest of their lives. We talk in circles, following the same pattern until I am worn out and just hang up, defeated.

A few minutes later my phone buzzes to notify me that I have received an encrypted email. I have to verify who I am by the retinal sensor on my handset. The email is tracking information for my hardware. Once it arrives, I have forty eight hours to complete my contract.

At the bottom of the email is a tick box that says I agree to the terms and conditions of the scrub, but nowhere does it actually lay out the terms and conditions of this process. There is a number to call, so I can once again navigate the rough sea of automated services with white knuckled rage again should I wish.

I am nearly out of food. The fridge is empty except for the smell of ozone and a few leaves of salad frozen to the back wall.  My cupboards contain dry pasta and a couple sachets of soup in a flavour I dislike.

I call a friend from my old job and they ask how I’ve been. I want to tell them what has happened, what I am now contractually obligated to do. But if I do, I invalidate my terms and conditions and I go into the roll of names to be scrubbed. So instead, I cry down the phone to them and after a few minutes of incomprehensible sobbing they awkwardly hang up.

I can’t stand the thought of seeing the news or watching anymore real time reality shows. So, I go upstairs and pretend to read a book; each word blurs into a meaningless river of black text amongst a sea of off-white. The book is old, a gift of loosely held, yellowing pages from my mother a long time ago. I guess I could sell it, but it’s not worth much.

I drink myself into a stupor and I drift in and out of a sleep that is filled with bad dreams. I am hiding in my house and the house is slowly shrinking, constricting around me, like the coils of a vast snake. Long enough for me to realise the inevitability of the process, but fast enough to catch me before I can escape.

I’m not dumb. I get the metaphor my brain is rudely hitting me with.

When I wake up I find that the contract has been accepted and that I am absolved of guilt for doing this by virtue of not being able to remember the act.

There is a knock at my door and when I an open the door, an official looking person smiles at me grimly and takes my fingerprints. He hands me an innocuous looking package and leaves. My phone makes a cheerful sound as I receive a message telling me that I now have forty eight hours to make good on my agreement. I apologise out of habit and shut the door.

I can’t bear the idea of unwrapping the box, rifling through pink polystyrene peanuts and finding a face, a folder and a gun. I sit and stare at it on my kitchen counter top, sending its oily shadow across the fake marble, like it’s leaking. I can feel the weight of each accumulated moment slowly building, as what little time I have winds down.

I start to try and make myself hate them, the person in the folder. It’s their fault they put themselves in this position. They deserve it. They must deserve it. Probably some rapist in a state that has run out of room for rapists in their prisons. Definitely a womaniser, maybe someone like my dad.

Spurred on by the mounting pressure of each passing second bringing with it the weight of the last, I cave and slit the box open with a kitchen knife. I hesitate for a second and then I reach into the pink guts of the box. I feel something inside me let go and I watch myself from outside of my body as I reach in and pull out the folder.

It’s a manila folder with Confidential stamped across the cover in scarlet ink. It’s not very thick; I guess it will just have their address and some basic background information on the person to be scrubbed.

My heart is hammering in my chest as I flip the first page of the folder and see you there.

I sigh. I can’t hate you.

The photograph is a standard face shot, you are squinting a little from the flash, which has forced your thick, brown eyebrows together – not enough for them to meet, but enough to make you look slightly sad. You have deep hazel coloured eyes, and dark hair that is at the point of starting to turn grey. You are clean shaven, have a prominent chin, almost too much chin, but I can’t hate you for having a strong jawline. I can see the top of the charcoal suit and a tie, which is the sort of pale blue that makes you think of glaciers, or a winter morning.

Your lips have a sad downturn like you knew that you would meet me someday and I would be the bearer of your bad news and a bullet.

I turn the page, and there is another photo of you. You look tall in this one; I don’t think you knew you are being photographed because you are pulling a slightly goofy face, but there is a hint of smile. I get to know you for the next hour or so.

You are a whole country away, hundreds of miles east. A one-way bus ticket is tucked into the manilla folder, along with a small envelope which holds some crisp bank notes; for misc. expenses, the enclosed piece of paper explains. It’s not a lot, but it’s more money than I’ve seen in two weeks.

I look into the box and pushed tight between two pieces of tightly moulded foam is a small black gun, the magazine and three bullets.

I take them out and turn the box upside down on the counter top, a small manual for the gun rides a pale pink wave of polystyrene out into the cool counter top.

I read through it with one hand holding the gun in the other. When I pick it up, (deceptively weighty) the firing mechanism unlocks. The manual tells me that the gun has been biometrically locked for my use only. It goes on to say that clause 127 of the contract I signed states clearly that, the signatory cannot provide pecuniary recompense for, or request assistance from any other party in the completion of the Scrub. Contravention of any of the clauses in the contract could result in the invalidation and termination of the contract and the application of penalties. 

I follow the instructions in the manual and gingerly press the bullets into the magazine and slide it into the bottom of the gun. I push the firing mode into safety and I put the thing down. Holding it makes my skin tingle and my hands sweat.

I look at the clock. I exist now in the purgatorial state of waiting, until I can climb aboard the bus with the deadly contents of the box stuffed inside a cheap backpack.

Will you know that I am coming for you? That a pale, twenty five year old woman with unkempt hair, bags under her eyes, and debts she can no longer pay off, is coming to shoot you in front of your family. Will you see it in my eyes before I pull the gun on you? Will you run?

*

I put the gun (now loaded) back in its case, and stuff it, along with the folder, cash, and some spare clothes into my backpack. I leave the apartment with my backpack hanging from a single shoulder and walk towards the pale sun, and out of my neighbourhood towards the bus station. It’s cold and my breath trails behind me like gun smoke.

I leave the house with my backpack hanging from a single shoulder and walk towards the pale sun and out of my neighbourhood towards the bus station. It’s cold and my breath trails behind me like gun smoke.

At the bus station I buy a weak coffee at a stand manned by a rotund Italian man and wait on the bus as it slowly fills with people. When it finally moves off, we crawl through the city exchanging passengers, young for old, black for white, male for female.

The dense flow of traffic eases off as we roll through the suburbs past neat rows of houses with their well kept lawns and children running for the school bus with heavy bags slung across their backs.

Cars pass; people going to work to pay their bills, so they don’t have to do this. It’s strangely nice to have a purpose for being awake at this time instead of just stress and insomnia. I feel like I am existing purely in the moment; it doesn’t matter about bills or routine, or any of that stuff.

The coffee is only half full and cold. I balance it on my legs as I pull the folder out of my bag. The man next to me closes his eyes and pretends to be asleep.

I angle myself so that no-one can read the file and I flip through the pages again. I say your name in my head over and over again. In my mind, I play out the scene of where we meet and how it will go down; I will walk up to you and you will sneer at me. I will pull the gun out, push it up into your ribs. I’ll pull the trigger and you will die. I will leave the weapon at the scene so the police will know it’s a legitimate scrub and I will be debt free for twelve months. In my mind, I am sure I will do it.

I trace a finger around your features; eyes that have never met mine. Are you a better person than me? Do you deserve to live more than me? It doesn’t matter, because I want to live and I can’t run. You don’t look poor in this picture, but maybe your circumstances have changed. How much money do you owe?

I imagine another scene, where you answer your door and smile at me, and we sit in your kitchen and talk. The whole thing is just a big misunderstanding. See, you recently split up with your wife, (who cheated on you for some unfathomable reason.) You haven’t been in town long; maybe some of the bills got sent to the old address, and you didn’t get the messages because you got a new phone too. So I ring up the company and they tell me to stand down. They say that money that you just put into the account has cleared and that means that I don’t have to go through with it. I apologise to you, and you tell me that it’s okay because these things happen and maybe if I let you put my number into your phone, we could meet up under better circumstance and get a drink or something?

The bus judders to a stop and my coffee falls on the floor and a dirty brown wave washes under the seats the seats in front. I quickly back-heel the empty cup under the chair and carry on reading as passengers look around for the culprit. The morning cold has turned into staccato threads of rain now and it taps at the glass drawing my eye to the city’s disjointed and jagged skyline, where I see distant curtains of rain touching down.

 

It’s going to be a long bus journey. I try and get some sleep, but I dream of the coils again, trapping me and crushing me. So instead I stay awake, through the morning and afternoon; the bus, in turns weaving through cities and suburbs and highways, that stretch long, and flat, and grey.  Evening comes and pale violet creeps across the horizon. When the passenger lights go out, my eyelids finally feel heavy enough to sleep, but it’s too late. Like so many other things.

*

My stop comes as we roll into an quiet town. I jam the folder into my pack and leave the bus. It’s still raining lightly. I hurry into the shelter offered by a squat, brown office block, and consider my options. I could just go and see you now. I know where you are. I know your schedule. I know you’ll be at home. I could just go and get it over with.

I see a few bric-a-brac stores, a discount clothing store and a small diner across the road, Shelly’s Place the bright sign buzzing outside says. I count out some change in my hand and I’ve got enough for another coffee and some food. I’ve got a headache now and it pounds against the inside of my eyes, and makes me grind my teeth

I walk over and take a quick look inside through the window at the half empty place. There’s a man reading a book and staring out the window. He looks at me briefly and then goes back to his novel.

The bell above the door jingles as I walk in and the man reading the book looks up at me with wide eyes.

I slide into the window seat behind an old couple, and look out as the occasional car sloshes past in the rain.

The place is alive with voices, laughter, and the endless sounds of cooking; plates being stacked or collected, hissing bacon, and the steam from the coffee machine making the air near the ceiling thick with fog. The smells sets my stomach off and soon my mouth is watering. I crave the entire menu, bacon and pancakes and whatever else is on the damn laminated thing.

The old man laughs and stretches a liver spotted hand across the table, and squeezes the old lady’s. She is not wearing a wedding ring. Perhaps this is a geriatric tryst. I smile at the idea.

A woman, presumably Shelly, approaches me with an electronic pad in hand.

“And what can I get you today, miss?” She smiles, but behind the bad veneer, I can see that she hates me. The lips curl upwards revealing lipstick on her nicotine-yellow incisors, in a shade similar to blood. Her crow’s feet tells me of impatience and years of bitchy looks cast from across a room.

I order a coffee and a stack of pancakes with bacon and she disappears, leaving me to stare out of the misted window. I fan away condensation with the palm of my hand so I can see outside. The rain has mostly stopped, but far away I spy the driftwood-grey shapes of pregnant clouds coming this way.

I feel sick at the thought of what is coming, but when my food comes I vacuum it down with a speed I didn’t think I was capable of.

My food comes, and for a blissful few minutes, satisfying my hunger is all that matters. The food doesn’t last as long as I want it to. I clean the plate, and settle back in my seat with a heavy sigh.

I close my eyes and concentrate on the warmth of the cup pressed into my palms; these are my favourite moments, sated and alone in a place filled with people. My thoughts are gone for a few moments.

The mood is broken by the door opening, the jangle of the bell above it, and the sudden rush of frigid, foreign air. It’s closely followed by the screaming of a baby, and the fussing of its parents.

Do you have kids? God, I hope you don’t. I try to memorise your features, so I don’t have to give the game away too soon by referring to a picture of you before I shoot you. The kind eyes and easy brow. Laughter, but also sadness there. I try and lock the image of you in my minds eye. Will you open the door for me or will it be someone else? Will I have to ask for you by name?

I think I will recognise your face. I think I do recognise your face in a different context. Who are you to me, and I to you? Soon to be knitted together in violent cause and effect, like a double helix. So many subtle confluences of events and circumstances dancing in the ether waiting to be tied to an inevitable outcome.

I wrack my brain trying to think of it, have we slept together? No. Definitely not, I would remember that. Go to school together? No, I am pretty sure of that. Maybe we met some time in the past, maybe I served you, and maybe you were rude to me in a line somewhere. Maybe, I’ll just try and cling on to that.

The coffee tastes burnt and the child doesn’t stop screaming. I decide that being cold and wet outside is better situation than warm and annoyed.

I pull my rain-damp coat back on. Water runs down the back of my neck and I shudder. I shoulder my bag, and leave what amounts to the last of my money on the table.

The air is freezing and it sharpens me up again. The pain in my head has eased a little. It’s mid-day; I really need to get a move on. I thread my other arm through the strap and pull them both tighter; this is my serious walking set up.

It takes me about forty minutes, and I am on your street. Do you know about me? I can turn around and run if I wanted to, but then I would be in your position.

Another thirty seconds and I am at your house. I tell myself that this isn’t actually going to happen.

Five seconds and I am at your door.

I place the backpack on the floor between my feet and retrieve the pistol. I hold the deadly thing in my sweaty grip, the trigger engages with a small, cheerful beep. I press your doorbell.

Noises in your house, your wife? Your cleaner? You? Are you a kind or a good man or are you a bad man? I guess it doesn’t matter.

I level the gun to about your stomach height. You are going to be my first and I wonder who I will be afterwards.

I could turn away now, but I just let the moment play out until I know it is too late. I have no choice.

There is movement behind the frosted strips of glass.

I clear my throat and remember to smile.

.

 

 

The Haunted Hotel Project- Mid Wales.

This was written on Holiday in Mid Wales, sometime in 2012 at the Lake Vymwy Hotel. The room that we had was pretty high up in the building. The front of the hotel had a breathtaking view of the lake itself.

I slipped this into the bible.

“Why does the little girl come at night? Ever since I saw her in the mirror she keeps appearing in the room. I saw her again last night, she was at the foot of the bed just looking at me. She wants me to jump out of the window” mid wales

Haunted Hotel Project- Glasgow 2013

This story was written sometime in 2013 at the Radison Blu hotel in Glasgow. The room was pretty high up and I remember being able to see out over Glasgow. If I remember correctly the windows were locked up pretty tightly.

“I saw a man dressed in shadow by the doorway. He didn’t speak, but I knew his name. He asked me without speaking if I enjoyed the view and he opened the window so I could see it better.”

– hidden in the bible.

Kathy

 

There is a narrow, rocky path ahead of us and we bump down it. The inside of the car is wreathed in smoke and littered with cans and candy bar wrappers. The plastic hula-girl on the dash is bouncing around like she has just, big-time fallen off the wagon at Dancerholics Anonymous.

There is a gun in the trunk.

We take the rutted switchback off to our right and she manoeuvres the car gingerly in that direction and then left. She has a cigarette gripped in her yellow-white teeth. it obscenely thrusts upwards from between her lips. She looks over the steering wheel; staring intensely through her red heart shaped shades.

The road is more like an extremely narrow dirt path and I suspect that it wasn’t really intended for cars, well at least not this type of car anyway. Large fern leaves wave and brush the passenger window saying hello.

She, by the way, is Kathy and Kathy is my girlfriend/ psycho-mad-crush, and I love her.

Kathy is slim, athletic and ferocious; a lithe peroxide blonde with odd shaped teeth, chipped red fingernails, and a sharp, but pretty face. She has the iciest blue eyes I have ever seen which she frames in smeared black mascara. I swear she can see right through me and anyways, I know she can, because she said she can, and I believe it.

In the sunlight she looks like some kind of dirty ghost. Not that she is an unclean person, but there is this kind of raw vibe to her that makes her seem grittier, dirtier and more real than any of the other people I have ever met. It could be the way she curls her lips before she talks, like she is constantly auditioning for the role of “angry girl” in a film or something. Or, it could be the way that she says whatever she wants, whenever she wants. Kathy says that women who exist only for men are two dimensional and unrealistic.

She swears – louder this time – as a violent scraping noise indicates that she has over steered and is grinding the paint work off of the car against the rocks rising up on the left. I don’t know why she is so mad, this isn’t even our car.

I should probably say, two days ago we skipped town with all the food we could steal from our kitchens, fifty dollars and a rucksack full of clothes.

Kathy said she knew a guy we could borrow a car from, but by knew a guy she meant, a dumbass who’s parked his car near her house, and by borrow she meant hotwire. She told me later as we were eating dinner, that she knew if she’d told me, I would pussy out or something; that was why she had decided that it was for the best to just to do it, and to hell with the consequences.

Kathy said I should lighten the fuck up and then she slapped me playfully round the face. I laughed and then she came in all close, smelling of alcohol, cigarettes and life. She kissed me and bit my lip, and then she just looked over her glasses at me in a way that makes me feel sick and dizzy and real all at the same time.

Anyways, I guess she was right, because even now I feel horrible about it. I also feel bad about stealing food and leaving home without so much as a note to my folks. Actually, I feel bad for everything that has happened since I met Kathy last week. But I guess I feel worst of all for enjoying every second of it.

Right now I feel sick; car sick, heart sick, life sick, because she hasn’t spoken to me today, because apparently I was being a pussy again.

This morning, we were sat in the back of the car, (an estate with wood panelling, because according to her it’s less conspicuous and apparently, cops don’t pull these types of cars over.) She was sprawled out opposite me, completely naked. She had her long, pale legs stretched across my lap and I was painting her toenails all the different colours we had stolen from a gas station. I was trying so hard not to stare at her awesome body. She told me she hates it when guys objectify her by doing that.

So anyways, she was there and she was naked and she asked me why I looked so moody and I tried to make out that I wasn’t being moody. But she saw right through that and said “fine, if you don’t want to talk about your problems, why don’t you just get a shitty job working in an office in some bullshit nowhere town and let your soul shrivel up until you are just another empty husk of a person who wants to die.”

Kathy said that she likes to go nuclear when we argue because she said it saves time with the inevitable escalation.

Anyways, so I told her that, okay, she was right and that I felt bad about running off without telling my folks and for stealing a car and pretty much everything we can get our hands on. And that yes, I felt bad for the woman that she had punched the week before for seemingly no reason at all.

Kathy got mad at that, because apparently I had been saving all my shit up just waiting for the opportunity to throw it back in her face. She said that I clearly hadn’t seen the shitty looks the woman was giving me, so I was obviously unqualified to comment on A) why she hit her, B) why she had taken off her shoes and ran down the street after her, and finally C) why she had returned, out of breath, sweaty, and clutching the woman’s handbag.

That was when she said that I was too much of a pussy for her liking and she got dressed; angrily muttering under her breath about how much sex we were about to have and how I had ruined that.

But I know that she will forgive me.

So anyways, here we are; taking a switchback down to single lane dirt track lined with pine trees that stretch out forever and ever, and we have a gun in the trunk.