Archive for March, 2012

She trades in potential.

‘Money’s no good to me,’ she sniggers, smiling down at the bubblegum pavement, before playfully clicking chipped teeth at a space next to her rotting shoe. James said she used to have a dog, a small yappy thing with matted brown fur and one clouded eye.

I ask her what she can do for me and she smiles, digging a nicotine-stained hand into the frayed pocket of her dirty brown overcoat. I lean forward to get a better look, as close as the smell will allow. Curious.

She glances up at me through the think strands of gray wire covering her face. Hisses from her mouth. Turns her back and begins to mutter under her breath.

‘Not ready yet,’ she whispers.

I think about running. Turning on my heels and sprinting, racing back down this dark, waterlogged alley and not looking back until I am safe in my flat. But I remind myself why I am here.

James had told me to come. He told me that she had helped him. That she could help me. I lean across my desk as he packs the last of his things into a cardboard box.

‘Just go and see her,’ he smiles, before walking towards the lift.

‘And have that report on my desk by noon.’

The tramp turns back to me; her eyes wide and hungry. And she is quick, quicker than she should be. I feel her damp, rotten mouth against my shirt and scream as she clamps down on my wrist.

Last night, I had a dream. I was old; my hands were wrinkled, gray skin folding over the knuckles.

There was a woman there. She was old too; reading a book over the top of her horn-rimmed glasses, while two young children chased each other across the garden.

I lean back in my leather chair and look out from my office as dusk falls over the city.

She trades in potential.

Words: 330

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Some stocked eats. Some shelved ammo.

Ancients cleaned out ancestral stalls that still pocked the surface like mines where, as legend told, some had once dug silver, gold, diamonds, copper and coal. Stuff to stock their Elemental Table. The old ones sealed themselves into the Down Under.

Up Top no one drove. Not even hybrids. No one took to the air.

Many denied themselves meat; some ate nothing but. Others only vegetables.

Organic. Hydroponic. Elastoplastic.

Some began to pray. Others stopped.

The planet warmed. The planet cooled.

Everything was a conspiracy.

A lie.

All true.

They noticed it first when newborns cried. Their eyeballs cracked like frozen marbles dropped into heating vats. All the little ones went blind until the piped-in lullabies found the perfect pitch, modulated the tone. Volume adjusted to perfection. Those who gave care were allowed only voices that soothed.

The young milked tit for years. Unable to imagine discomfort or the word “no,” their blood thickened. The veins and arteries of most swelled until they burst.

The few who could contain it silvered, believing this was power.

Able now to self-mutilate without pain, blood, or mess they whittled themselves down to skeletal, the self-image now attainable by all who survived. They chased off chunks of themselves that bobbed and beaded, skittering like mercury across a landscape jackfrosted by their discarded bits.

The final test came like Mr. Freeze on acid. All that had once been life piled like brittle sticks of kindling across the Up Top as every last thing failed.

Words: 255

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They hadn’t packed extra coats. For David, this was extremely odd, as he was forever packing down the old Vauxhall with various jackets, hats and scarfs. You never know, you might need them.

But this trip had been unplanned, the turning left instead of right had led them here. They had been bickering like children; David determined that if he had only listened to himself, they would be on the correct road by now, heading to the pub that they had planned to visit.

She had laughed at him, shaking her head at his pedantic ways and eating the last packet of crisps. David’s eyes came off the road for a moment, watching her shaking the packet into her mouth, catching the last little crumbs. One fell onto her cream woollen jumper, just above her breast.

How he hated the smell of cheese and onion. Turning back to the winding road, he could feel the smell moving about the car. She had insisted on the windows being up, so that it felt ‘cosy.’

He was just considering hitting the brakes and putting the old machine into reverse, when the sand banks on the left side of the road disappeared.

What a view.

She had immediately pulled her bare feet off the dashboard and sat up straight, her eyes widening to take in the coloured horizon. Pull over she said. Please, pull over. She turned to him, the deep orange glow of the setting sun illuminating her eager face. Please?

They were late as it was. But, then, if they carried on and turned right as soon as possible….

He sighed, feeling her stare upon his cheek. She gently placed her hand on his arm.

Looking into the small mirror for the non-existent traffic, he congratulated himself and flicked the indicator.

Words 300

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“Come, darling, the train will be here any moment now.” Ridley stood, rigid and tall, his rough bottle-green woollen jacket failing to disguise his reddening neck.

Hovering by the platform entrance, Cynthia’s hands felt cold as she clutched her handbag; the carved edges of the ivory handle digging into her palms. She liked the tingling sensation for it served as a reminder to remain focussed.

Catching the eye of the station master, Cynthia felt Ridley’s eyes boring into her. She held her breath. Could he read her thoughts? Cynthia felt a sudden urge to emit a whimper and feign collapsing. She’d surely be attended to by station workers and her fitness for travel would be called into question. Would he go without her?

The burly porter heaved the last of the suitcases onto the barrow with a sigh. Ridley’s was the biggest on there; his name boldly imprinted across the battered brown leather in garish white lettering. Her clothing was also within that cumbersome case.

“You’ll not be sorting your own affairs, for I know what is best,” he’d told her when she’d tried to asked for her own. She was, however, content in the knowledge that even he could not take her royal blue purse with its ivory handle, for it had been his mother’s. In it she kept her most precious things; a hair brush, a mirror and a hat pin. Not that she owned any hats.

The porter tipped his handsome cap at her and, feeling an overwhelming surge of kindness cross the cool air between them, she dared to smile warmly at him. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Ridley readying his stance for an angry approach.

“Everything in order, milady?” Cynthia couldn’t muster the strength to speak, so powerful was the fear mounting within her. She found herself nodding complacently. Off he went and Cynthia, furious with herself, reluctantly moved to Ridley’s side.

She had come so close.

Words: 328

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When Billy-o’s Daddy died, by way of a piece of artillery shell which finished the hole his mouth had started, the wind sang with a perfect C through his face until the bombardment stopped and each side picked up their dead and made peace with the mud, once more.

He’d not been the perfect daddy by any measure. Billy-o’s Grandma had heard him call her daughter a perfect c on more than one occasion. Maybe he’d called it her that night she had come home ten minutes too late or maybe Billy-o’s Daddy had thought the time for words was past. Whichever way it had been, the police had given him the choice of prison or war and Billy-o’s Daddy had cleaned his gun and headed out.

That was in the past, and Billy-o’s Grandma barely acknowledged it, let alone dwelt on it. When the news came she had sat Billy-o down and told him his daddy was dead.

“Yer Daddy,” she’d said, chopping onions for soup, “no coming back.”

Billy-o knew what no coming back meant.

“Like ma,” said Billy-o.

“Like ma,” replied Grandma.

Now soup is important but it isn’t everything and Billy-o’s Grandma knew how these things went. She knew her Billy-o wanted a daddy and she knew nothing could bring that fractured man back. So with a sigh and a stir, she went to a cupboard and pulled out a box just four or five inches by one and covered in letters so fine neither a one could read them.

“This was your Daddy’s. He used it to court your ma and he used it to stop your tears.”

Then Grandma went back to the soup on the stove and Billy-o opened the box, took out the harmonica and blew. It was the most awful cacophony and, truth to tell, time didn’t improve it any. But it was a tune Grandma had never heard before and she reckoned she could live with that.

Words: 327

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We were in a café that used to be an underground car park. There was something about the coldness of the concrete that emphasised the warmth of the decor. It was a lovely place. Shame it was only temporary.
Boudica was going through my wallet. “What’s this?”

“That’s my Tesco Clubcard. I have no idea how many points or whatever I’ve got on it. Sometimes they send me some vouchers. I always forget to use them though.”

She put a corner of it in her mouth and chewed. “Mmmm, this is good! I’m gonna save this for later.”

She’d already scoffed a tenner, a shopping list, a condom, and part of the wallet’s stitching.

Boudica suffers from Pica, a condition which makes her want to eat things that aren’t food. She’s also kind of thoughtless, which means you have to be careful with your belongings.

“What’s this?”
“DON’T eat that. That’s the only photo I’ve got of…”

“Just put it back, okay? That photo means a lot to me.”

She put the photo back and put my wallet on the table. “I’ve never understood why people keep photos in their wallets. I mean, if a photo means that much to you, why not keep it in a frame at home, rather than carry it around with you and risk damaging or losing it?”

A man at the table next to ours was drawing a picture. I couldn’t see what of, as an old sewing machine was obstructing my view.

Nicholas Parsons was in the café. Almost everyone was looking at him while trying to make it look like they weren’t.

The man drawing the picture read a message on his phone and smiled.
Nicholas Parsons laughed at something he’d read in the paper.

I looked back at Boudica. She was eating the photograph. She looked like a child who knows it’s done something wrong, and finds that fact slightly thrilling.
“Sorry,” she said, insincerely.

Words: 329

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New wars give posers new lies to tell under the freeway overpass and inside cardboard rebar driftwood shelters out in the pickle weed and salt grass. Ones that lie about Vietnam so long in the tooth nobody cares. But Iraq Afghanistan vet punks with muscled up tatts beat your brains in you ask too many questions about units troops and stations.

So he doesn’t. Damn near 60 and Wheel Man never asked a question and never lied once about who he was.

A driver. Fuck yeah. Not for any army of the US of A either. SLA. Symbionese Liberation Army. No Symbionese ain’t a country. Let’s tell it straight. You’ve heard of Patty Hearst, right, because you live around here you can’t turn around without running into Hearst Ave. Hearst Hall Hearst something or other. Rich fuckers put their name on everything.

But not on him. It was Donald DeFreeze aka General Field Marshal Cinque, who gave Private Wheel Man his name.

Driver for the SLA. Private. Cinque’s wheelman. Get it? Yeah, no joke.

Wheel Man keeps his wheels to the ground. He’s seen some take to the Bridge. The Golden Gate. Can see it from where he stands. Not for him, though. Too high above the depths below.

So when he’s done, he rattles down to the mossy rocks. Nighttime. Cold wind. High tide. Everything tugs at him, an invitation he can’t refuse. Water flows over him. Mud oozes around him.

Bones of jumpers leap up to greet him crying, Hell yeah, Wheel Man, let’s go for a ride.

Words: 260

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“What is it, exactly?” asked the inquisitive youth of the blind man, who was sitting crossed legged and completely still as she ambled past the large pot. “That? Why, it is the pot of wisdom”, came the hoarse reply. “Take a look inside”.

Tentatively, the youth stood on the tips of her toes, and, with her tiny, elegant hands tightly gripping the rim, peered into the pot. As she gazed into its depths, she suddenly became aware of an eerie sensation that seemed to wash over her. She noticed that the pot was half filled with water. There was no reflection; the water was barely visible. But she knew the water was there. The faintest of ripples could be seen, but only if she concentrated.

And then she saw it. Or did she? The water was crystal clear, yet she could see the outline of a………of a……. “What is it?” she whispered to herself. And then she knew.

Without warning, she was transported back in time, to a place of her earliest memory. Beneath the gentle ripples, she could see a beautifully kept bonsai tree, in an ornate terracotta planter. The planter cast a long shadow in the afternoon sun as the aroma of freshly baked bread surrounded her. She became completely engrossed in what lay beneath the water. Yet she could see, as if in slow motion, the single tear that fell from her left eye, slowly floating down, for what felt like an eternity, until a gentle splash disrupted the scene that lay beneath the water.

And then it was gone. As if it had never been there. But she knew. She was enveloped by a feeling of calm and serenity. And she knew.

Releasing her grip and standing down, she turned to the blind man, and with a tear in her left eye, said “Thank you. Thank you very much”. And then carried on her way.

Words: 319

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The sun will slink down beneath the skyline and be gone from view. Sophia will follow the instructions. She will come and she will wait.

As she waits, feeling the chill seep into her muscles and drain through to her bones, she will bunch a woollen rug thicker round her shoulders. Feet stomping heavy in the frosty mud, she will keep the feeling alive in them.


Michael’s message was waiting by the time Sophia returned from the final drill of the day.

“The river is changing colour.”

She smiled grimly. After all this time, he had still chosen to warn her. She turned the pebble over in her pocket for the rest of the day. At first she enjoyed the coldness brush against her thigh and then she would savour the warmth as she held it tightly. She woke just before dawn and reached under her bunk to find the pack prepared years before. She swung it up onto her back and slipped away.

Days spent tracing footsteps trod a decade before. Nights moving swiftly among the shadows, watching the Waders rise from the riverbeds and glide noiselessly through the reeds, across the common land, and into the nearby compounds. Heart in her mouth, she managed to look away and move on, knowing some would not now see the end.


She runs her hands over the great stone. She cracks the frozen pool formed in a hollow, plunges her hand in and leaves it til the pain feels like it’s crushing her. In spite of the stabbing on the back of her hand, the howl Sophia feels forming deep inside her gut turns instead into panicked gulps at air as the tears of half a lifetime finally come.

And this is when I will come to her. We will search for words and find none we can use until we finally lie together by the stone, where our paths uncrossed, and wait for the end of the world.

Words: 330

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