That Dog Next Door
May 12, 2020
“It’s at it again, dear! That bloody creature!” I shout this to my wife. She’s somewhere in the house. I hear a faint reply and some movement upstairs. I try it again. “Did you hear me?! The little bastard is doing it again!” I knock on the glass of the window, but the little prick just continues shitting on my freshly mowed lawn. I’ve no idea where its owner, my next-door neighbour, has got to. I tap again, but that mutt just looks at me blankly, finishes up and then runs back towards its own home. To make matters worse, it splashes its muddy paws through the pond on the way. “For goodness sake! It’s done it again, dear! Can you hear me up there?” There is more movement upstairs. She must have heard me because I can hear her making her way down.
When she arrives in the front room, I’m still glaring at the turd on the lawn. “What’s up, darling?” I turn to find her stood with a flushed and angry look on her face. Ignoring her expression, I jerk my thumb towards the scene of the crime. “That little shit of a dog has crapped on our lawn again. Bill from next door is nowhere to be found! I don’t know what the bloody hell he’s playing at!? I mean, come on. How often is he going to let that creature do this? Huh? I should go over there and give him a piece of my mind, that’s what I should do!” My wife sighs loudly. This isn’t a new situation for her. “Now, now, darling. Remember your blood pressure. Just calm down a bit. I’ll make us a cup of tea.” She disappears off to the kitchen. I try and do as she suggests and sit in my chair, but I can still see out of the window, I know that the turd is out there waiting for me.
This has been going on for months now. Our American next-door neighbours have gone and adopted themselves a dog. A little mutt that they have called Donny. I have no idea what it's short for. The little bastard seems to do what he wants all the time while our neighbours don’t seem to be able to do anything about it, no matter how hard they try. It makes me question their judgement. And to make matters worse, they stole the idea from us as well. We wanted to get a dog to begin with. In fact, we are going later today to look at some. Abby and the kids are set on it. Maybe that’s why she seems so forgiven of that thing. I’ll insist we get a big one, an angry one that will scare away Donny once and for all. That will show them. Abby arrives with a cup of tea. I vaguely calm down enough to push it out of my mind for a few hours and watch the football.
Later that day at the Dog Trust, we are walking through rows and rows of cages as we try to decide on a dog. It’s a scandal how many of them are here. People must just be leaving these poor creatures out in the street. Abby seems about ready to burst into tears at any moment, and if I’m honest, I’m feeling a bit heartbroken myself. The only problem is we can’t seem to agree on anything. “What about this one?” I shake my head. A frail-looking beagle. “Too old.” Abby points at the next one. “How about this little guy?” A misshapen basset mix. “Too weird.” She shakes her head in frustration. I remain quiet. I’m not sure what I’m looking for, but I’ll know when I see it. We continue on in silence for another fifteen minutes. Slowly, we part and Abby goes to look on her own. Probably to get away from my sour mood. I don’t really blame her.
I wander down another row. The dogs look at me one by one. Each with longing in their sad little eyes, but none of them are right. I reach the end of the row. Right at the bottom, there is one final dog, some kind of mix. It sits perfectly still in the centre of the cage with its tongue hanging stupidly out of its flabby jowls. The cage stinks of piss. The dog reminds me of something, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. I drop to my haunches to get a better look. As soon as I lower down, it comes towards me, but too quickly, and it bangs its bulbous head on the metal bars. Laughter escapes my lips. What a wonderful, funny, ridiculous little creature. I suddenly feel a great deal of warmth towards it. I look at the name on the cage. It’s a good strong name.
Abby appears by my side. “There you are! I’ve been looking everywhere! I think I’ve got a few contenders… What’s with that look on your face?” I smile and point down towards the cage. “I think we’ve got our dog.” Abby frowns and stares at the little tubby guy. “Are you sure? He looks awfully familiar.” I nod my head firmly. “This is the one.”
A few days later, we arrive home with the newest member of the family. We’ve bought all the necessary, and I must say expensive, gear. We’re as ready as we’ll ever be. I turn the engine off, and we get out of the car. The new arrival is in the back. I open the boot and try to grab his blue collar, but he leaps straight out as quick as lightning. “Hold on!” Before I know it, he’s off and running onto our freshly mowed lawn. I try shouting a few commands. “Heel! Back! Come!” Nothing works. He stops in the centre of the lawn and promptly begins to take a shit. I can’t believe it! Abby doesn’t look impressed. “He’s your dog. You chose him.” I sigh, she’s got me there. “Okay, fair enough.” I call the dog once more, but this time put some authority into my voice. “Come here NOW!” The little blighter arrogantly ignores me and continues crapping all over the lawn. I can feel myself getting angry, the blood rushing to my head. I scream at him. “BORIS! Get over here right now!”
April 21, 2020
The pills had really started to kick in now. He’s taken either two or three. He isn’t sure anymore. Five minutes ago, he knew exactly what he’d taken. Now, he isn’t sure of anything. He feels his jaw tighten as the little white tablets begin to do their work, making his heart beat in time with the loud music. The club is packed, people are all around him dancing as hard as their bodies allow. He feels a rush of excitement as the current house tune lifts him up higher than he thought possible. He feels like his feet aren’t even touching the floor anymore. He raises his hands up with the rest of the crowd as the tune builds and builds to the drop. They wait, and wait, and wait, seemingly forever, until finally, it hits.
The drop, that special place. The build-up was perfect. The music has him now. He joins in with the others in the club using his best moves. The sloppiness of half an hour ago is gone, his legs have solidified, now he can dance. Now, he can throw himself into the music. Now, he can do what he came here to do.
Hours or minutes pass by, he has no idea how long he’s been dancing. His body feels electric, as though an actual bolt of electricity is passing up and down his spine driving him to continue, but even that power has to stop at some point. He’s dimly aware of the fact that he’s dripping and spraying sweat all around him. This is okay though, everyone else is doing the same, but he remembers that he should be drinking some water. He stops in the middle of the jostling crowd and pulls his bottle of water out of the back of his jeans pocket. He quickly opens the bottle and downs the lukewarm liquid with relish.
Suddenly, he notices something unusual. Out of the corner of his vision, he can see furniture. His vision is dancing around blurring his gaze, but he can just make out pieces of furniture scattered throughout the dance floor. He blinks a few times and tries to focus on them, but every time he looks, they move and return to the corner of his eyes.
A tall mahogany chest of drawers. A bookshelf. A smaller bedside table. He can just see the varnished wood. He shakes his head and sniggers. He tries to focus on the music and forget the furniture, but he can’t seem to get back into it now. His momentum is gone. His vision wobbles one more time, and he feels himself sway. He bounces into the person dancing next to him. He can’t tell whether they are man or woman as they disappear back into the crowd as soon as he touches them.
He feels hot, overwhelmed, disorientated. He realises that he needs to sit down. He’s done too much. Taken too many pills. He begins to stumble through the crowd, pushing through the gyrating, sweat covered bodies. He just needs somewhere to sit. Somewhere to rest. He slips on something on the floor and bounces off another dancer. The impact makes him stumble backwards.
He can see something. It’s brown and tall, the right height for him to lean up against. Some kind of wooden thing. He heads straight for it. It’s only a few steps away. He doesn’t stop to question why they have a chest of drawers against the wall in the club. Maybe it’s hipster, he vaguely wonders. Either way, he can relax.
He finally arrives at his destination. Now, he can barely make the thing out, his vision dancing and bouncing. He must be gurning, he thinks. Hopefully the bouncers will not see him in this state. He turns and looks back into the crowd to double-check that no one has seen his journey. No one appears to be watching him. He sighs with relief. He speaks to no one in particular. “Let’s just have a lean back against this then.” He can see the chest of drawers behind him out of the corner of his eye. A perfect place to take a load off, he thinks, and lets his body fall back onto the wooden object.
To his utter confusion, he can’t see the dancefloor anymore or the dancers. Instead, he can see three white lights. That’s strange, he thinks. What’s going on? Another thing he notices is that he feels more relaxed than he expected. His feet don’t even feel like they are touching the floor anymore. The stiffness in his legs and lower back is gone. He feels light and comfortable. Great pills, he thinks, before closing his eyes.
Originally published in Vagabonds: Anthology of the Mad Ones, Volume 8, page 39.
The Monster in the Room
January 17, 2020
“So, are we going to discuss the monster in the room or not?” I glance at her. A frown creases my forehead. She sits with her legs crossed, the top leg bobbing up and down. “Don’t you mean the elephant in the room?” I say. A look of exasperation passes through her features. “No, I mean the monster in the room. You know, the one sat over there.” She jerks a lazy thumb to the corner. I don’t bother to look but reply anyway. “Oh right, you mean the actual monster in the room? I thought you meant the saying. You know, the elephant in the room. I thought you were trying to be clever.” She lets her hand drop, drums her knee with her fingers and rolls her eyes. “Why would I try to be clever about it? There is an actual monster in the corner of the room.”
I shift uncomfortably in my chair. “Yeah, well, I didn’t know that’s what you meant. I thought you were, you know, going to say elephant so that the monster wouldn’t know that you were talking about it.” She shakes her head, angrily. “Can you even hear what you are saying? That makes absolutely no sense at all! There is a monster sitting in the corner. It’s been here for over an hour. What I want to know is are we going to talk about it?” I sigh deeply and rub under my eye with my index finger. “Well, aren’t we talking about it right now?” I’m being antagonistic, and I don’t really know why. Her face clouds over. “Yes, clever dick, we are, but that’s only because I had to ask you about it. So, come on then.” I fold my arms and delay a few seconds longer then I need to before I reply. “Come on then, what?”
She snaps back at me and points irritably at the corner where the monster is. “Are you taking the piss? What’s a monster doing sat in the corner of the room?” She’s got me there. I hold up both my hands and beg off. “Okay, okay. No need to shout.” I briefly glimpse at the monster before quickly averting my eyes. Instead, I fix my line of vision on her. “I thought you brought it with you.” She’s obviously incredulous. “What? You genuinely thought I brought it with me? Come on, mate! Why would I do that?” Damn, that’s another point to her. I unfold my arms and grab a beer off the coffee table to kill a few seconds. I take a quick sip of the lukewarm drink and grimace at its temperature. I take my time knowing that this will annoy her. “It wouldn’t be the first time you brought something strange over.”
She looks momentarily confused but then realisation dawns. “Are you talking about Paul? You are, aren’t you? Jesus fucking Christ! That was two years ago.” I can’t help but smirk, which only riles her up more. “Paul wasn’t that bad! A bit strange, yes. Control freak, certainly. Sadist, maybe, but are you really trying to say that he was as bad as an actual monster? Come on.” She waits for my reply, shooting me daggers.
I sigh again and pretend to think it through. I delay further and take another long swig of beer which draws a sigh from her before I reply. “Yeah okay, fair enough, but you have to admit Paul was a proper weirdo.” She shakes her head in disbelief and reacts with some fury. “Yes, he was a weirdo, but that is not my point. My point is, he isn’t as bad as an actual real-life, terrifying monster that’s currently sat in the corner of this fucking room listening to us talk and thinking who knows what.” I nod, she has me there. She’s on fire tonight. “Fair enough. Well, if you didn’t invite it here and I certainly didn’t, then it must have come on its own.” I risk a minuscule peek at the corner of the room but quickly avert my eyes. She scratches her chin briefly and stares at the coffee table.
A few minutes pass. Eventually, I break the silence. “What shall we do about it?” I see her look at the monster out of the corner of her eye as well. “Not sure, really. We could just put the TV on and see if it goes away?” I feel rather than see the thing shift in the corner of the room. I genuinely consider what to do about it for a few moments “Yeah okay, why not. Celebrity Love Island? That’s always good for a laugh.” She nods her head and smiles for the first time in the last fifteen minutes. “Yeah, why not!” I can hear the monster in the room move again, possibly due to the television being turned on. I take another swig of my lukewarm beer and point to the remaining cans on the table. “Do you fancy another?” She gives me a thumbs up. I stand and hand one to her which she takes gratefully. I grab another one from the table, look directly at the monster and hold up a beer. “What about you? Do you fancy a beer?”
Originally published in FIVE:2:ONE's #thesideshow
January 01, 2020
“What year is it?” She asks this as she sets down her coffee cup. I try not to look surprised at her question before I reply. “What do you mean?” She wipes the foam from her upper lip before answering. “I mean, what year is it? You know. Normally?” Normally? This really isn’t making any sense to me. I take a quick sip and frown to show I’m confused. She takes the cue. “I mean, you know… the calendar most people use?” Most people? “2020. Why?” She seems to think it over for a moment. “Just wondered” I can’t help myself. “Why, what year did you think it was?”
Rather than answer, she takes another sip of her coffee and makes a show of placing it back down on the table before replying. “5320.” I must look uncertain because she laughs. “I’m on the Sumerian calendar.” She says this as if it’s a proper explanation. I vaguely know something about the Ancient Sumerians from reading a National Geographic at the dentist. “Aren’t they long gone?” She nods her head. “Yeah, thousands of years ago.” I should leave it there, but I can’t help myself. “Why do you use it?” She smiles uncertainly. “I just like it.”
“Oh.” I can’t think of anything else to say. She adds more. “It’s lunar. We should be due an extra month in a few years.” Right, this is getting strange now. I flounder around for a few seconds but can’t think of anything else to say except: “Ah.” She doesn’t look impressed. I suppress a sigh and take a much-needed gulp of coffee and try to think of an excuse to leave. This is exactly why I hate blind dates.
She breaks the awkward silence. “Which do you use?” This stumps me for a second until I remember. “The Gregorian calendar, I believe.” She glances at me shrewdly before speaking again. “Why?” I open my mouth to answer, but no words come. Why do I use it? What a strange question. Strange, but I can’t think of a proper answer. “I just use the one everyone else uses, I guess. I’ve never really thought about it…” I trail off. It’s a great question. I continue. “Honestly, I’ve never really given it any thought. It’s just the one I’ve grown up with.” She shrugs, which seems like a fair reaction to my poorly thought out answer.
A minute passes by in silence. I notice her slyly check her phone for the time. Clearly, this date isn’t going the way she thought it would as well. The thing is, I can’t stop thinking about calendars. I know that the Gregorian calendar is mostly accurate except for every four years when we get an extra day in February. That part makes sense, but it being 2020 years is a religious thing. This is the part that throws me off. I’m not religious, and I don’t have anything against religion, but should I follow a calendar that is?
Obviously, I would need to be aware of the Gregorian version as the country I live in follows it, but would it really hurt to follow another one quietly? Even just to observe that others exist? I know of a few, the Chinese one springs to mind, but do they acknowledge ours? How do they coexist? Who made the decision for one to be more dominant than the others? Or is there even a dominant one? Am I just so sheltered that I can’t think outside of my little box? Do calendars even matter? I wonder how she copes with it all? I glance up to ask her, but she’s gone. Only her empty cup and a five-pound note remain. I sigh. Another date ends in failure. Why do I do this every time? I finish my drink, leave a fiver of my own and depart.
But why ALEX?
November 28, 2019
I order my usual. A tall latte with milk. Real boring, but I never really got into all these options. I give the guy with the vacant eyes my order. He asks for my name. I tell him it’s Elliot. He smiles and writes something on the cup. I know he’s got it wrong because they always do. It's my accent. English ‘English’, not American ‘English’. I pay and wait for the inevitable. Five minutes pass and here it comes. “ALEX, Latte.” I sigh and go and take my coffee. I don’t say anything about it except “thanks” and walk away.
What I really want to do is ask him why is it always ALEX? I get that people don’t understand my accent, it’s a northerner’s so it is even more confusing for them, but why is it always ALEX? Why not something beginning with E like Edward or Ethan or Edwin. But why ALEX? Do I just look like an ALEX? Is there something exceptionally ALEX about me? What is about me that makes people think I must have said ALEX?
I leave the coffee shop with my hot beverage in hand and stop outside the window in the cold but sunny winter’s day. I lift the cup and scrutinise it. There it is, written in thick black marker. ALEX. The guy has also added a small smiley face which seems a little dramatic, but I don’t really care about that. It’s the ALEX that bothers me. It has happened so many times that I am starting to wonder whether there is more to it than that. Maybe my name should be ALEX. Maybe it is the universes way of telling me that ALEX is my true name and not Elliot. I like the name Elliot. It’s unique, or at least it was. It usually meant being subjected to E.T impressions, but that has eased off as the movie got older.
But why ALEX? There’s a few memorable Alex’s in history, I guess. I suppose the one that sticks out is Alexander the Great, but I don’t remember anyone calling him ALEX the Great. It doesn’t really have the same ring to it. Elliot the Great doesn’t work either. But why ALEX? ALEX, ALEX, ALEX. Always ALEX. I have said the name so many times now that I am starting to believe that it’s actually my name. Maybe my name is ALEX. Maybe I just think I’m called Elliot. I pull out my license and check. I breathe a sigh of relief when I see it says Elliot. But why Alex? Am I saying ALEX? When they ask, am I saying that name rather than my own? I squint at the name on the cup until my eyes begin to water in the chill. I shrug and take a swig from the cup but grimace when I find the liquid has turned cold. I turn back to the coffee shop and wonder whether I should go back inside and get another, but I can’t face more confusion. I take one last look at the name ALEX as I hold the cup over the bin. I let the cup go and watch as I falls. I think I should lay off coffee for a while.
Originally published in Maudlin House
The Flight of the Swallow
November 24, 2019
The evening has worn on to dusk. It is fast becoming a hot summer’s night. I sigh and think about how difficult it will be to sleep in my flat. England isn’t built for this kind of weather. It’s made for cold winters not blistering heat. The buildings are designed to hold in the warmth not let it out. I try to push the thought out of my mind and concentrate on the conversation that is happening right in front of me. The four of us sit outside in the beer garden. We have spent the better part of a day here. Why waste time moving on when we have such a good seat Susan had said? She is right, although I won’t tell her that. She is talking right now about something. Whatever it is, she seems to think it’s very important. I try to pick up the threads of the conversation. It seems to be about tax havens and their connection to Brexit. I vaguely know what she is talking about, but it’s too hot for politics.
I am about to excuse myself to go to the toilet, not because I need it but because I want a break from current affairs, when I hear a very familiar sound. A flock of swallows has just flown overhead. This is their time of night, just as dusk is beginning to deepen. The noise fills the air and quickly fades as they go about their business. The sound stills me. The conversation fades into the background. The memory comes flooding back. Just like it always does around this time of year. The time of year when swallows are visiting England from Africa. They come here to breed and fill the air with their call. I know very little about swallows, what knowledge I have of them has been absorbed from years of nature programmes on the BBC. The reason I know anything about them at all is because of the memory that now fills my mind.
I was young, just a child. My grandfather on my mother’s side had been in hospital. He was a heavy smoker, had been for years, and it had finally caught up on him. He went in for surgery, but something had gone wrong, and the family had been called to his bedside. I was young but old enough to understand what that meant. That his death was near, but despite my believed maturity, I still didn’t fully understand the full scope of dying. It didn’t seem real to me. Something that didn’t make any sense. I could not process it properly. Maybe it was because I was a very melancholy child, prone to shyness and solitude. Or perhaps I was just a child. Either way, I knew something was happening when my mother did not come home that evening.
It was late. The swallows were at play outside of my window. I can hear their calls as they swooped around outside, seemingly rushing around at great speeds. In my adolescent mind, they were speeding to their loved ones or passing important messages. Most likely, they were feeding, but I didn’t know that at the time. I was up late, reading my book in the twilight. This wasn’t unusual. I was always an avid reader. It must have been The Hobbit although I can’t remember that for sure. I choose that book because it was the one I would read over and over again, never growing bored of Bilbo and his adventures. I squinted in the gloom when I heard the door open and then close downstairs. My mother had returned from saying goodbye to her father. I can only appreciate now how hard a thing that must have been. To know someone was dying and not be able to do anything about it. To say goodbye. How could you find the right words?
Anyway, I lay there in my bed, still reading my book in the half-light. Outside, the evening was turning to night, and the swallows were as active as I’ve ever heard them. They swooped and squawked in the sky. The noise seemed to fill the room. I strained to see them outside of my window, but their speed obscured them from me. I began to wonder if they knew what was happening. As if in some way they were saluting the passing of another soul from this plane of existence. A strange thing to think as a child, but then I was no ordinary child, if such things exist. Suddenly, I heard my mother come up the stairs to my room. This is where the memory becomes hazy. I do not know why. Maybe grief clouds the mind. Perhaps it is the years that have clouded the memory. The only thing I can remember is my mother’s sorrow written all over her face but not the words she spoke. It’s the sound of the swallows that fills my mind when I think back to it. That noise, that strange call. It has stuck with me all these years. Did they know what had happened? Were they trying to communicate their understanding in the only way they could? I will never know.
Even now, while I sit with friends outside on a balmy summer’s eve, I become distracted by that sound once again. Those swallows at play as they fly above my head. That familiar, beautiful sound. Are they trying to tell us something right now? Or are they just doing what swallows do? I feel cosy and at peace with memory. It reminds me of death but also life. Life and death are interwoven together, linked forever. One cannot be without the other. I find comfort in that as I listen to the flight of the swallow.
Originally published in Litro Online Magazine
A Fiver in 2008
October 15, 2019
I sometimes think that I caused the 2008 financial crash because I drew out a fiver from an ATM and my bank didn’t charge me. Is this irrational? Maybe. Is it true? Possibly, possibly not. Even though it is over a decade ago, it still bothers me. It burns in my mind late at night when I can’t sleep. That question is bouncing around my brain. Did I cause the crash? Was it me? Could it have been me? Yeah, it’s only five pounds. Five pounds isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things but still, what about the butterfly effect? Everyone knows about the butterfly effect. A butterfly flaps its wings on the other side of the world, and two weeks later there is a tornado. Chaos theory.
I loved that movie. It came out in 2004. I watched it over and over again. I was obsessed with the idea that it could be true. Afterwards, I fell down the rabbit hole on the internet and devoured article after article on the concept. By the time 2008 had rolled around, I knew the theory inside and out. I remember that morning perfectly. I was late for work. The train was delayed once again. I had forgotten my lunch, so I quickly ran to an ATM in the station. Back then you couldn’t draw five-pound notes out of just any ATM, but there was one machine that was near a coffee shop that did. I punched in my code and a crisp note appeared for me just like any other time. I thought nothing else of it, until I checked my bank account later. It didn’t register my withdrawal. Thinking that the system was being slow, I forgot about it, until a day later when I checked again. Same result, free money, who doesn’t like that?
That was on the eve of the crash. The next day all hell broke loose. The markets plummeted, businesses closed, jobs were lost. Straight away, I remembered the Butterfly effect. That five pounds I got for free. Who did I take that from? Was it a single mother family just trying to make ends meet? Did that fiver come out of their account meaning that they couldn’t eat that day? Was it a small business in the red? Did that five-pound push them over? Did they go bust? What was the chain of events? Who did it destroy? Was that the beginning of it? Did it spread throughout the global system triggering red flags and panic? A digital butterfly effect. Do you see what I’m getting at? So, yeah, sometimes I think I caused the 2008 financial crash because of that fiver.
Originally published in the Ghost City Review
October 1, 2019
“He slumps heavily on to the dirty, damp floor. He is tired. More tired than he can ever remember. How did he get where he is right now? He cannot remember. He is completely naked. He is cold. He is tired…”
“Did I already say that?” The rest of the group fidget irritably. All eight of the others in the circle cross and re-cross their legs, wipe invisible specks from their trousers or skirts, anything they can think of to not watch Jon awkwardly try and remember. Jon’s mind has gone blank, he says as much to the rest. “My mind has gone blank. Sorry, guys. I know I do this is every time.” Jon falls silent. His head tilts forward in shame. This allows the others to raise their heads and look at him now that they cannot see the embarrassment on his face. Judy takes a quick drink from what must now be the lukewarm cup of coffee before clearing her throat to get everyone’s attention.
“Thank you, Jon, don’t worry about it. There is always next week.” She stops and then briefly glances around the room. Her gaze rests on each member of the circle in turn, and each of them averts their eyes at her gaze. She sighs deeply before speaking once again. “Okay, well then, that seems to be the finish of this evenings meeting. If no one has anything else to add we should call it a night?” Her eyebrows rise, and she cocks her head at no one in particular as she waits for an answer, none is given. She closes the open folder on her lap with a slap. “Okay, thank you all for coming and goodnight to you then.” The rest of the group quickly disperses with obvious relief until finally, it’s just Judy and Jon.
She frowns when she notices that he’s the only one left. She places the folder on the now empty chair to her right. The cup of coffee is long forgotten on the floor. “What can I do for you, Jon?” She is sat directly across from him, the space in between feels cavernous. Jon meets her eyes. He feels guilty that he could not finish. “Sorry Judy for not finishing earlier, I really thought I had it this time. I… er… just wanted to say that to you.” He watches as she sighs and crosses her legs. What is it with everyone crossing their legs he wonders to himself? She sighs again before speaking. “Jon, I’m not sure your heart is in this. I’m sorry to be so blunt, but if you cannot even speak about the event, then how will you be able to replicate it?” She falls silent and waits for his answer.
This time it is his turn to fidget and cross and uncross his legs. A few seconds pass while he kills time. He clears his throat. “I know Judy. It’s just I’ve never really been a good public speaker…” He trails off. He is unsure of how to continue. Judy watches as his flusters and decides to save him from himself. She has a soft spot for the lad. She has to remind herself that he is only young. He only has one kill under his belt after all. With some nurturing, he could kill again, but only with the help of her and the others in the group. She stands and walks slowly towards him, her high heeled shoes clip-clopping on the floor. She sits carefully next to him and puts her hand on his shoulder.
Jon’s head returns to being slumped forward like the rest of his body. He feels ashamed at his weakness, especially in front of Judy, someone whom he has great respect for. Someone like her who has been killing for decades and not ever been caught. She is more than a mentor to him and the others. She is a legend. Her hand on his shoulder feels light but electric. She speaks softly to him. “Jon, there is no need to put this much pressure on yourself. You are not the only one in the group who has been struggling to recount one of their kills. You also aren’t the only first-timer in here, you know all this don’t you? So, what is really wrong?” Jon nods along with her words until she is finished, he could cry, but he would never show that kind of weakness in front of her.
Composing himself, he tells her the truth. “It’s just… well… it's just the others… their kills are so much better than mine. Mine…well… I just don’t feel like it lives up to every one’s else’s standards…” He falls silent again. She can see he is struggling, so she gives his shoulder a tighter squeeze. “Jon, your kill was perfectly fine. The way you bludgeoned that naked man to death with a snow globe. That was simply brutal. It was brilliant. I couldn’t have been prouder.” She squeezes his shoulder again. He lifts his head and looks into her eyes. She sees fear, but also the beginnings of realisation that what she’s saying is true. She continues. “Never tell the others this, but out of all the spur of the moment kills in this group yours in my favourite.”
Jon visibly brightens at her words. “Do you really mean that Judy?” She nods her head slowly. “I do Jon. It was beautiful brutality at its very best. I saw the infinite in those long slow powerful strikes. He never stood a chance.” His eyes well up, he told himself he wouldn’t cry but hearing her say those words has brought it all out to the surface. He can only muster a few words. “Thank you, Judy, it means a lot.” She squeezes his shoulder one more time and stands. “Not to worry Jon, there is always next week. Come on, let’s get a cup of coffee.”
Originally published in Riggwelter Press #26. Page 28-30.
September 27, 2019
I squeeze my mama’s hand as tightly as I can. I worry I have hurt her, but she doesn’t seem to mind, she even gives me a light squeeze back. That gesture, that tightening of the hand, such a simple thing, simple but it reassures me. Reassurance against the blowing sand-filled wind that swirls and whips around us. I lift my hand and adjust my scarf around my mouth making sure I leave enough of a slit so that I can see in front. Not that there is much to see, but mama told me firmly that that is what I must do. Mama knows best. We keep walking forward into the wall of biting sand. I can feel it in my shoes as we walk through the Desert. Walking, walking, endless walking.
I must have stumbled because I feel my mama’s hands grip on both shoulders. I was daydreaming, letting my mind wander. At first, I was in control of my thoughts, sifting through memories, until my mind inevitably settled on to water, that precious liquid, of which we only had a small amount of left. At some point, fantasy had turned to uncontrolled thoughts that flitting around like the swirling sand storm. Maybe I was dreaming, maybe I wasn’t, it doesn’t matter now, I am awake again. Awake to what? The desert? The storm? I readjust my scarf around my face once again just for something to do and plod forward.
We walk for what seems like an eternity until finally, the sand storm begins to weaken. I feel excited at the prospect of being able to see the real world for once, not whatever my mind decided to create for me, the actual world. My mama must be excited as well because her pace begins to quicken until she is dragging me along beside her. We plough on through the sand, each step becoming easier. I can feel my heart beating faster as the storm slows, clears and then stops entirely. My mama squeezes me hand one last time and then releases me. This is my cue to uncover my head. I quickly pull back the scarf and shake my head, sand bursts from hair creating my own tiny storm, but it is not for long.
I blink my eyes as I take stock of our surroundings, the first thing I see is the beautiful blue sky, the blue is so deep that it nearly brings tears to my eyes. My mama stands beside me. She too looks up into the air, a look of pure happiness spread across her face. She covers her eyes from the beating sun above and scans the area. I follow her line of vision and see it at the same time as she does. A glint in the distance, it flashes in the bright light. She smiles, turns to me and grabs my hand without saying a word. We head towards the glint as quick as our tired legs will allow.
We have reached our destination. It was closer than it appeared. As we move over the final sand dune, I can see the source of the reflection before me. It is large and made from some kind of silver metal. It is half sunk into the sand. It is strange to my eyes. I have never seen anything like it before. My mama stops dead when she sees it and holds me by the hand firmly in case I was to run towards the thing. We stand for a few moments before I dare to ask her a question. “What is it, mama?” She answers without averting her gaze from the thing in the sand. “A beast of the old-world child.” Her words settle into my adolescent mind as I stare at the thing. Mama seems sad, almost melancholy at this discovery. I dare to ask her another question. “A beast from the old world? What does that mean, Mama?”
She does not answer, I wonder whether she has heard me, I even begin to ask the question again, but I notice that she is quietly crying. This shocks me. I have never seen Mama cry, not since Papa had succumbed to the pox. I squeeze her hand. It is the only comfort I can give her. She finally answers my question. “Do not worry, child. The old world is gone, gone to dust and sand after the war. Come, let us carry on.”
Originally published in Akashic Book's FriSciFi web series.