Archive for January, 2012

We burned Joe-Joe deep in the canal tunnel, in the blackest part where it descends deepest under the city, the towpath winding around upon itself until the darkness enfolds you utterly.

This is our world, where the day folk don’t go: only we know its footfalls and its secrets. Sometimes they venture in, curious or on a dare. But they always hover, suddenly afraid when they hear their own indrawn breath echo on the black brickwork. We watch them, sometimes, and grin as they scurry back towards the light.

When we burned Joe-Joe, though, the tunnel was filled with an angry orange glow that danced in jagged patterns on the still water. It was night, when the day folk would not be about, but Jeannie still kept watch, just in case.

We gathered round and watched his body turn black. The light and shadows skipped like accusations across faces I had not seen in years, belonging to voices I knew well. Norris, angry and afraid; Tully, twisted in petulance; May, like a lost child. The smell of roast meat, long forgotten, filled the tunnel; I realised I was drooling. The smoke scorched our throats and pulled stinging tears from our eyes, but we stayed until there was nothing left to pitch into the canal but bones.

He was the oldest of us, the one who had been longest away from the world of the day folk. Whatever else we had done to him, we would not let them take him.

He’d been a gambler, had Joe-Joe, and even here he’d always had a deck in his pocket. As the last flames died, I saw a single charred card in the detritus, staring like a glass eye. The five of hearts. It felt like a last message from him. Of forgiveness, if you wanted to believe that. Or a promise of vengeance, if I knew Joe-Joe.

Five hearts. One for each of us that killed him.

Words: 330

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I was standing wedged betwixt other commuters when, at Deansgate, the lone Glaswegian embarked, singing, nay shouting John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, spitting and waving and mouthing and cackling in people’s faces. He mocked a young man for his gelled hair and started to poke at it, saying that men shouldn’t style their hair. The Glaswegian was demanding attention and conversation from people that were used to remaining silent, he became more aggressive. I said to him:

“You were just promoting peace, saying that we should all live in harmony, so it shouldn’t matter to you if people use gel in their hair”.

He liked this, he unveiled my head that had been covered by the fur-lined hood of my parka and I protested. He asked me if I’d like to go for a drink and I declined saying:

“I’ve got a fella at home waiting for me and you’ve probably got a wife and kids”.

He said that he wasn’t married, though he had twice proposed to women in leap years. He persisted and I resisted, saying:

“I’m sure you’ll have a nice time yourself having a drink and you might meet somebody there”. At this his one real blue eye turned savage and he shouted,

“Are you trying to belittle me? Are you saying that I need to meet somebody, I don’t need to meet somebody”.

I was slightly scared by this turn of events, and the lack of support from other commuters, so attempted to dispel the situation by telling him that I hadn’t meant to anger him and didn’t understand why he had flipped so quickly. He calmed, asked my name, shook my hand and, as I disembarked, shouted after me:

“Leah, marry me, I love you!”

Words: 293

Leah blogs here:

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The church is supposed to protect their castrati but sometimes a zealot will slip through their walls. A knife in my mouth, cutting down to the cheek, took away the voice that another, equally cruel, blade had preserved in me. Without my gift I was of no use to the order and I passed from the church, to the streets, to the harbour, to a ship bound for India.

We were wrecked in the middle of the ocean. I awoke on a shore that should not exist: the Island of the City of Ghosts: a thousand black-capped houses pushed together into a labyrinthine warren: a hundred ivory streets leading to a glass palace. They say that nobody lives on the island but still the streets are full of voices. The victims of a crippled suitor to the queen, spurned for not being perfect, who poisoned the island’s wells in spite.

That is the legend, the truth was one step removed from it. There was one soul in the city; a girl of four or five. I don’t know where she came from or how she got to the island. To her, the voices were not the wails of the damned but the calling of her friends. She did not want to leave the island, and so I stayed to raise her.

On her fourteenth birthday she began to look at me differently. I knew then that we had to leave the island. A castrato may just about manage as a father but he makes a poor husband. She needed a better option. I built a makeshift silena from the trees that lined the beach. We set off at dawn in a direction of the wind’s choosing.

I looked out to sea. I did not need to turn around to know that when I did the houses of the city would have vanished, the glass palace would be gone, there would be no one in my boat but me.

Words: 330

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“This is the selection,” said the saleswoman. “The policy covers one item.”


“We did contact you earlier in the year asking if you’d like to upgrade,” she said shortly. “As I remember, you decided not to take that option.”

He took a deep breath. “You called me at two in the morning. On a Wednesday.”

“One item,” she repeated. “I’ll give you a minute to make your decision.” She walked out of the room, closing the door behind her.

Jeff stuck two fingers up at the closed door and, when that didn’t achieve anything, walked slowly over to the table. Two hands, a bad haircut and a pair of 1980’s earrings. Not exactly what he’d had in mind.

The pitch had been convincing. Despite trying everything he could think of – internet dating, evening classes, even one particularly short-lived dalliance with a show choir – he was still spending every weekend dozing on the sofa in his pants, eating Doritos and watching bad porn. Then one night he’d woken up one night to an advert for mail order brides. Spread the cost of your perfect woman, it urged him, 0% APR. Pay in as many instalments as you like.

He just hadn’t realised the bride would be coming in instalments too.

He could hear the saleswoman’s heels clicking back up the hallway. He gave the left hand an exploratory prod and it immediately balled itself up into a fist and rolled across the table until it was hidden under the hair. The right scuttled across the table and reared up onto its stump of a wrist.

“Have you decided?” asked the saleswoman, looking at him with distaste. Jeff swallowed hard and then grabbed the pair of earrings and walked quickly to the door.

“That’s two items. You may keep one,” she said, holding out her hand.

“Oh, come on.”


Jeff knew when he was beaten. He gave her one earring, pocketed the other and started the journey back home.

Words: 328

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“We lost another one.”

“Another? Really? Where was it this time?”

Mick pointed in the direction of the ancient oaks that arched above the crumbling crypts. “The medieval quarter. Same place as last week. Same gang, probably.”

A stony silence fell between the pair as Lou considered the situation. “But that means…”

“It does,” said Mick.
“Fuck,” said Lou.
“Yes,” said Mick.
“Shit,” said Lou, “There goes Gabe, then. Damn, what a waste. He was the best of us.”
“Hey!” said Mick.
“Well, ok, second best. Better than me, anyway and I’m still here.”

“You’ll be here until the end of time, you will.” Mick gazed over at medieval quarter. “It’s bad enough that we ended up trapped in these bodies, watching over dead humans; but to be subject to vandalism and, lately, even murder. Well that’s just too much. If this were the old days and I had my sword… Then they’d see a thing or two. I’d soon fire and brimstone and mighty vengeance their asses.”

“Now you’re talking my language, Michael. Still, you should have joined me when you had the chance. Then we wouldn’t be stood here having this conversation.”

Mick continued his surveillance of the medieval quarter. Headstones lay like unpaid soldiers in the aftermath of a riot of flowers. “Lou?”

“Yes Michael?”

“We’re becoming irrelevant, aren’t we?”

“We are indeed, Michael. And, thanks to infinite wisdom and all that jazz, nobody is making any more of us.”

A rabbit bounded on a nearby grave which lay fat with soil. With nothing but dirt to feed upon, the rabbit opted to follow Mick’s unwavering, finger. If you can’t trust an angel, it might have thought, what can you trust? And deep within his rocky bones, the archangel clung to the same faith.

“Yes Michael?”
“What happens to us? Where do we go when we die?”

Words: 310

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It was gala night at the Royal Festival Hall. Everyone, I mean just about anyone who was anyone was there – including royalty, peers of the realm, classic and pop stars, (could you tell the difference anymore?) the odd member of parliament (some of them were truly very odd!) and even the US and French ambassadors.

Halfway through the evening – just before the break – when there was a slight undercurrent of restlessness, to be truthful we had all rather gorged ourselves on the music, the Gala Singers took to the stage. They were supposed to be an impromptu supergroup brought together especially for this one occasion only but there was already talk of a recording contract and their agents and the agents of the agents were in the thick of the various necessary negotiations.

The backing orchestra from the BBC played a few bars and the Gala Singers began collectively sounding a true, clear and very high note that just slightly wavered or quivered. Suddenly a chandelier shattered – it sounded like a gun going off and many members of the audience ducked spontaneously. There was a collective gasp from the audience but before anyone could do anything but duck another chandelier shattered and then another.

I studied the singers and they were clearly unsurprised. They were expecting this to happen! Pandemonium broke out as people began to frantically flee the concert hall, blocking up the exits and losing their English cool. Meanwhile the singers were escorted off stage.

What on earth was going on and why?

We didn’t have long to wait. Next day, reports came in from all over London of glass being shattered by singing – firstly the windows at the Bank of England, then at the House of Commons where there were no bottles left unshattered in Annie’s Bar and no windows in any of the rooms. Next it was the turn of Buckingham Palace and then the Ministry of Defence and then what seems to have been a foiled attempt to shatter the glass in Number 10 Downing Street.

Words: 330

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Hush darling,
I’ve been waiting.
I’m ready.

Try to breath steady but shallow it will upset you less; the poison makes it hard to breath, there’s no point fighting it.

Oh don’t look at me like that! Surely you saw this coming. It was in the bottle your “associate” plastered his clumsy fingerprints on, just after I showed him in.

Curiosity killed the cat, or at least the cat’s boss. The bottle is now in his pocket for the police to find but I put its content into the whiskey I gave you when you were talking to him about your drug deal, or the murder of that poor boy up in the estate.

I can see fear in your eyes. I had hoped you’d sleep through it but you had to wake up didn’t you? I didn’t want to scare you my love.

What was that? I didn’t quite hear you; I’ll move closer, whisper to me… Why?

I thought that would be obvious. When you married me you promised me the world but I’m just another piece of furniture. Expected to smile at your brutal stories and then to be in your bed when you tired of your friends shallow compliments. Did you know Napoleon was killed by his wallpaper? And now your killed by…

Oh my love, don’t try to sit up! It will all be over soon, I promise. Besides, I need to get in character to call 999. I’ll be playing the part of the distraught wife, I’m sure I can manage it.

You feel clammy, are you sure you’re well? I’m sorry, a joke at a time like this probably isn’t appropriate.

When you married me you promised me the world. But I didn’t realise that in your mind that the world was you… nothing else.

Ahh. Its over. Let me kiss you my love, then I’ll call for an ambulance.

Words: 319

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The big laburnum tree in the garden of the house on the corner of our street is dying. I walk past it every day on the way to the newsagents to pick up the paper. Overhanging the main road it must be thirty or forty feet high. Buses brush it as they pass. It’s the biggest laburnum I’ve ever seen. The trunk solid and four or five feet in diameter. Not a pretty little ornamental thing. A proper tree. A joy to see. When we first came here twenty years ago it was thriving. The bark smooth, unblemished, shiny, pinky brown. We moved in the spring so it was full of bunches of bright, hanging yellow flowers. Its early burst of flowers in May an optimistic sign of the coming summer. A sign of hope for a better future.

How old could it be? The house was built about a hundred years ago. Was it planted then? The first householder would have planted it with hopeful anticipation as a tiny, eager sapling. But now the bark is pitted, lined, wrinkled and dull. It looks old and diseased. It still puts out leaves and flowers but they are sparse in the high canopy.

It all started to go wrong when they moved the driveway entrance from the side of the house to the front three or four years ago. Now a couple of cars are parked right next to it everyday. The weight of the cars is compressing the soil around its roots. It can’t breath properly. Eventually it will suffocate and die.

The gardening books say that laburnums are notoriously short-lived trees but this seems like an assisted death. A thriving, healthy pensioner being carelessly helped into an early grave. It makes me think of my own life. Will I subside into a crippled old age? Neglected and ignored. Or will I go out in a blaze of glory? One last flush of glorious flowers and then expire. Job done.

Words: 330

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“He’s bloody done it again!” shouted Alfred, clattering his way into Ethel’s kitchen laden with bags.
“Who dear?” replied Ethel, stood at the sink polishing last night’s drinking glasses with a soft cloth.
“Who? That Bisto character, of course. Right by the bloody paper shop – he’s written his name all over the post box.”
“Oh no, dear. What a beast.” replied Ethel, suppressing an urge to tease her husband of fifty years – she’d heard a lot about this Bisto individual since he began his campaign of graffiti around the village.
“Oh, I’m sorry love – I don’t mean to get worked up, but it’s the sheer bloody mentality of it I can’t get my head around. Why on earth would you see a perfectly good post box and go and write your name across it in felt tip? And why Bisto? That’s gravy, for crying out loud.”
Ethel smiled, it had been a while since she’d seen Alfred’s hackles raised in quite such an agitated manner.
“We’ll never win ‘Best Kept Village’ with this idiot writing his name all over it. Bloody kids.”
“Now, listen here Alfred Jones.” began Ethel, putting on her chiding voice, “This is a lovely village and no amount of Bisto will change that. Now, let me get you a barley sugar. Perhaps it will shut you up.”
Reaching into her cavernous bag, Ethel’s searched blindly for the boiled sweets. Fumbling around in the darkness her fingers found a long, cylindrical object  – it was a thick black marker.  
The truth was that Bisto had been Ethel’s handiwork all along, her arthritic hands lending the ‘Bisto’ tag its distinctive carved look. Ethel had always hated making gravy – it was terribly fiddly to prepare from scratch – so a reliable and tasty instant version had long been a godsend. It was all a bit of a giggle – life was for living, after all. And why should the young people have all the fun?
Words: 330

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