The Basement

Written by Samuel Gaitskell 

 Photograph by   Taylor Young

Photograph by Taylor Young

I woke up in a dimly lit, filthy room, lying on the dusty ground, my cheeks wet with tears I didn’t remember crying. My lungs stang as if I hadn’t taken a breath since I fell asleep.

… whenever that was.

As hard as I struggled, very few memories came to me. Vague flashes of a walk I was taking late at night came to me, like I was desperately trying to remember a dream, though outside of that, I couldn’t remember anything.

Trying to stand was a fruitless effort after I found my arms had been tied behind my back. Though I was nothing if not persistent… I think. After struggling gracelessly for a few minutes, I managed to find myself standing on my feet. From how it looked, my arms were chained to the floor by way of a lengthened chain, giving me a bit of moving space, though not much to do with it.

Observing my surroundings, it was clear that I was in a basement. The area was cool and musky, with a heavy layer of dust thick in the air, paired with the scent of what almost smelled of rotten flesh. Though the darkness of the room obscured my view a bit, there seemed to be what looked to be a boiler or something of the like on one wall, and a stairway leading up on the opposite one, though besides that, there was little decoration. On the creepier side of things, a disgusting smelling pile of some sort was building up under the stairs.

I heard something above me. Footsteps? Something heavy was certainly creaking against the boards.

The footsteps moved towards the stairwell, before a figure appeared, seemingly unphased by anything down here. I couldn’t see what he looked like, but he was tall and lean, to a level that almost seemed unnatural. The figure kept perfectly quiet as it walked forward, a tray of something in his, or her, hands.

'Food,' the voice said, deep and blunt, cementing the person as male… probably 'you’ll need your strength.'

The guy threw the tray down at my feet. From that distance, I could see it was a tray filled with disgusting slop.

'My hands are tied behind my back,' I said, clearing my throat a bit before continuing, trying to distract myself from the smell of rotten meat that became more and more potent the longer I spoke, 'how am I meant to eat?'

The man seemed somewhat surprised to be talked to, as he paused for a second as if letting the initial shock of being questioned clear away. After the pause was done, the man spoke again.

'I can’t untie you, you’ll run,' he said, in a matter-of-fact tone 'I was told to keep you tied up, until…'

'Until?' I asked, the sound of a buzzing fly returning my attention to the putrid pile lying beneath the stairs, covered by what seemed to be, in the darkness of this room, a blanket or something. The guy noticed my curiosity, and I swear I could see him smile despite the fact that I couldn’t see his face.

'Do you know what’s under that sheet?' The man said, a sick, almost gleeful tone to his voice. I vigorously shook my head no, apparently pleasing him. 'Do you want to know?'

'Yes.' I said, maybe too fast, despite the fact that I desperately wanted to say no. Maybe I couldn’t resist… maybe my words weren’t my own?

The man felt his way to a wall, before flicking on a switch. A rather jarring light flickered on, causing me to squint as white, painful flashes obscured my sight. Once my eyes adjusted, I found myself in a grey, depressing room, standing with a freakishly tall man dressed in bloodied overalls, a face outlined with an unkempt beard and his eyes shadowed by dark bags. Immediately, my mind filled with two rather conflicting emotions. The first was fear. Something inside of me was screaming at me to run, despite the fact that I couldn’t. The second… the second was a strange, confusing love, like I knew this man, and loved him, despite the fact I had never seen him before.

The man looked at me, eyes filled with hope, for a moment or two at least. His face eventually dropped, as if he was looking for something that simply wasn’t there, before he shrugged it off and walked over to the festering pile, a mainly cream coloured sheet thrown over it, a patch of crimson here and there adding a disgusting look to it. A voice in my mind was screaming for me to close my eyes, to just look away, though a louder, more commanding voice was forcing me not to. The man grinned as he pulled the sheet away, revealing bodies. A pile of corpses, each one’s face contorted in pain and terror, each looking sickeningly familiar. Males and females alike, all left naked to rot, all with a bloodied hole about the size of a coin left through the side of their skulls. I had to try my best not to vomit along the filthy floor that I found myself standing upon. Somehow, I knew, deep down, that I knew these people. All of these people. They looked so horrifically familiar, in their eternal sleep.

'No, don’t be scared,' The man said, adopting a softer tone, as my eyes began to fill with tears of shock and horror. 'It’s okay.'

'What the fuck is going on here?' I yelped, backing away as far as my chain would allow me.

'The transfer, all of those bodies… the transfer was unrefined. Brutal, one might say,' the man said, gesturing to the long since deceased bodies lying on the ground, 'their minds rejected it… rejected you.'

'What the hell are you talking about?' I demanded, causing the towering goliath before me to flinch, as if I could actually hurt him in any way. Despite being chained to the ground with my arms behind my back, a deep, dark part of me believed I actually could.

'Doctor… Doctor Price, he was a… brilliant man. He furthered science to an amazing level, his work making the thought of preserving consciousness artificially a reality. As brilliant as he was, he was… dying. To preserve and continue his…' the man paused, as if searching for a way to put his words nicely, 'morally ambiguous work, moments before his death, he… preserved his consciousness, and instructed me to find him a… replacement body.'

The need to vomit grew larger and larger, though I managed to keep it down. What he was saying was beyond insane, but… but I knew he was telling the truth, somehow.

'Of course, most people would be… hesitant to allow a consciousness to replace their own, as Doctor Price wished.' The man continued, speaking as if he was trying his best to step across a field of eggshells 'So I had to get… creative with how I found subjects.'

Flashes of being grabbed off of the street and thrown into a van flashed in my disoriented mind in painful bursts.

'Unfortunately, the process of taking one’s consciousness out wasn’t quite as… difficult as putting a consciousness back in.' The man continued 'You’re the only one so far that didn’t end up babbling hysterically, or something of the like.'

More images flashed into my mind, this time of being strapped into some sort of contraption, a helmet of sorts being lowered onto my head, a headache overwhelming me, as if my skull was being split open.

'But the fact that you are both conscious and sane means that the process is being refined!' The man happily claimed, clapping his hands in sickening joy 'With just a few more tries, I’ll have my Doctor back.'

'A few more tries?' I asked, my voice quivering. I realised what that meant. 'So you’re going to-'

'Kill you? Yes, unfortunately, once Doctor Price’s consciousness is returned back into "storage”,' The man said, looking over to the pile of bodies, 'you’ll have to be killed… speaking of which.'

The man came closer to me, and undid the end of the chain that anchored me to the ground, before pulling me along like I was a dog on a lead.

'No!' I screamed out in fear, kicking and struggling, though he simply pulled me along with the slightest of ease

'Don’t worry,' He said, his tone disgustingly neutral, considering what he was about to do 'your death will not be for nothing. You’re furthering science. We all are.'

My screams for help fell upon indifferent ears, this madman obviously being the only person able to hear me as I was dragged into a different room, a room with that familiar contraption hidden away inside of it.

'This won’t hurt a bit.' the man said, as I was strapped tightly into the chair, as to prevent me from thrashing and flailing about. Somehow, I knew that he was lying. A helmet of some sort was lowered onto my head, and I felt a familiarly painful headache begin to overwhelm me, before everything faded into an inky blackness.

***


I woke up in a dimly lit, filthy room, lying on the dusty ground, my cheeks wet with tears I didn’t remember crying. My lungs stang as if I hadn’t taken a breath since I fell asleep.

… whenever that was.

Vague memories came to my mind. Horrible, disgusting memories, though as quickly as they appeared, they faded, like a long since forgotten dream. Outside of those few flashes of random imagery, random nightmarish imagery…

I Couldn’t remember a thing.

The Trouble with Hector Blake

Written by Mike Davies 

pexels-photo-384553.jpeg

1

Every morning the sun would rise, along with a fresh hope that he and Bob would find refuge. A hope that would prove futile because, like it or not, he had become invisible: Hector did not exist in society. He had become a statistic; a stain the world wished could be washed away.

On a day like any other, the traffic whizzed by, as did the people, either totally unaware of his existence or doing that  half-looking-away-thing, with the feeling of utter disgust and contempt at the bundle of rags lying in the doorway. Bob got more sympathy than he did; the love for our four-legged friends had superseded the love for our fellow humans. Hector often wondered if ever there was a time when we loved each other more than animals. He thought probably not. 

A very kind passer-by had left a hot coffee on the pavement next to him while he slept. It was Bob tugging on his lead that woke him, he got out of his sleeping bag, grabbed his coffee and took Bob for his morning walk, as he also needed to pee.  He left his belongings (the few that there were) and strolled around the corner where it was quiet.  Once they had both relieved themselves, Hector had his usual rummage in the wheelie bins for any edible food that had been thrown out.

He lifted Bob into the bin, Bob's nose was amazing. Bob managed to find a couple of sausages, a lovely piece of fish and a few cold, hard chips - the local takeaway's  leftovers from the night before. He grabbed Bob's lead and pulled up a black shiny leather holdall from the grease-stained newspapers, and a smelly old pair of boots. His excitement grew at the thought of the bag's contents; clean clothes, new shoes, perhaps even food. Any of these things would be an amazing find. All hail Super Bob and his amazing nose!

He took Bob and the bag out of the bin and placed both on the floor, The tension was  unbearable as he quickly looked around in case anyone was watching. He slowly unzipped the bag. His heart stopped briefly then kicked in again with an almighty thud, he quickly zipped up the bag and knelt in disbelief. What had he just seen? 

So shocked by the contents of the leather bag that he hadn't noticed that Bob had polished off both sausages, and was halfway through the fish (even Bob wouldn't eat the chips though). His heart pounded as he grabbed the bag. He headed off somewhere safe to  re-examine its contents. His head was spinning  and he felt nauseous. He managed to find a park bench to sit on. Not a soul around, he thought. Hector placed the bag on the bench next to him, had a good look around, and with trembling hands, he unzipped the bag.

2

The whole world seemed to stop  as he looked inside. His brain had no idea what to do with the information it was receiving. Earlier, the first time Hector had looked inside the bag by the bin, he swore that he saw rolled up bank notes inside it - thousands of Pounds worth. But now, as he looked through the bag's contents, there was no money. He put his trembling hand inside and felt around, hoping that the money had slipped to the bottom. He grabbed something and took it out, What he saw in front of him was a rolled up pair of football socks. He threw the socks over his shoulder and frantically searched the bag, each item he pulled out went flying; red and black football top, black shorts, boots, and an unopened packet of condoms.

Hector sat on the park bench with Bob by his side. Bob tilted his head and looked at him quizzically. With total confusion Hector stared in the empty bag. He felt sick and at that point lurched forward and vomited.

He sat upright and wiped the sick from his face onto his sleeve, and looked in the bag again; no rolled up banknotes - nothing. At that moment three young men approached him shouting obscenities. It appeared that the sports bag belonged to one of them. Hector tried to explain he had found it in a bin but to no avail. Bob strained at his lead and barked furiously at the antagonistic young men, one of whom went to grab Hector. Bob would have none of it and jumped off the bench to snap at the young man's ankles. In the confusion, Hector seized the opportunity. He pulled Bob away, left the bag, and ran as fast as he could.

Hector hadn't run since secondary school and it showed. Nearly falling over his own feet, he kept running and didn't dare look over his shoulder. Bob was still yapping and trying desperately to pull away and go back. Bob's lead suddenly went slack as he wriggled free from his leash, and off he went. Hector stopped, turned around in a panic, and  saw Bob stood at the base of a tree, barking.

Hector could see the park bench he had recently vacated. he could see is own breath turning to vapour like a fog cloud in front of his face, but nothing else. Why was Bob barking up a tree?   Where had the three youths  gone?  He had clearly heard footsteps behind him. But in his right hand was the leather holdall. He was sure he had left it behind. Hector was so confused. Was he beginning to lose his mind? After all, he had been homeless for quite a while now with only Bob and his inner demons to talk to. Bob stared at his crazy friend and sat down on the grass. Tears welled in Hector's eyes and he sobbed. He'd  had enough of this lifestyle but just couldn't get a break. He wondered if it wasn't time to just end this pathetic existence right now. It wasn't the first time this had crossed his mind, after all no one would miss him. 

3

The trouble with Hector Blake was,  he brought this all  on himself. He had been a successful business man, he'd worked in the city, he'd had every thing he could have wished for. Until one drunken night when he did the unthinkable.

Hector had been single all his life, well he'd never been tied down anyway; plenty of girlfriends, and once engaged but no relationship lasted more than a year or so. On one of his weekly trips to see his brother it happened. His brother's Wife  had been coming on to him for some time. Hector always noticed but never succumbed. On this unfortunate occasion he did. He committed a cardinal sin. It wasn't love-making but  it was a passionate affair, a passion he had never felt before. It was fun at first, then, as time went on, he fell in love with her. Hector always wondered whether she felt the same. The 'L' word, though, was never mentioned by either of them: a dirty, unspoken word. Their relationship was built purely on sex, and plenty of it. He couldn't fall in love with her, it would kill his brother. That's if his brother didn't kill him first.

Hector's brother, Dennis, had come home early one day to find his beloved wife and his brother draped over the tumble drier. She was leaning over while Hector took her from behind. Dennis was a short fat man - his own description of himself. It often made life easier to make a joke of it.  Hector was the complete opposite: fairly tall, slim, good-looking, everything his brother wasn't.

The rutting couple were so engrossed in each other that the arrival of Dennis had gone completely unnoticed. He  froze on the spot, he stood staring at the sweaty, grunting couple, wondering why she never let him do that. Surely this wasn't happening, they'd been married for over twenty years. He could feel his blood boiling, the red mist appeared and he grabbed Hector's hair and pulled him off his beautiful wife,  Hector stumbled backwards , slipped and landed on the floor.  Dennis grabbed something off the table and knelt by his side. She screamed and spun around to the sight of Dennis holding his brother's penis in one hand and a large  knife in the other.

Hector took a beating that day. He took the beating simply because he knew he was wrong, he knew he had lost his brother for all time, there was no going back. Ever.

Dennis did spare him his penis though, although Hector will bear the scar on his cheek for eternity. Dennis had to leave some sort of mark on him. The pain of seeing them together was unbearable and he saw them "at it ", every time he closed his eyes. The bastard and the slut; as he couldn't bring himself to say their names, set up house together shortly after.  It didn't last long as her guilt was too much for her to live with, eventually they separated. He had no idea what happened to her after that, he didn't care either.

Dennis became very insular after the divorce, he lived on his own and developed a kind of hatred towards women, he would use and abuse them at every opportunity.  Meanwhile, Hector tried on many occasions to talk to his brother, to somehow make amends, but Dennis never replied to his calls or text messages, he had lost everything and everyone he cared for.

Hector found it very hard to come to terms with how his life had panned out, to the point that he suffered with heavy depression,  anxiety, and panic attacks over the stupidest things. That feeling of being completely lost, totally out of control of his  emotions, was beginning to show. The anger was the worst. It scared him a little too.  

One day, someone jokingly remarked on his greying hair and ever-growing laughter lines. He instantly snapped, and punched his co-worker square on the nose. After showing no remorse, his boss had no option but to fire him. Now he had no brother, no friends, and no job. His world was crumbling around him.

Over the next couple of years things got increasingly worse for Hector. Failure to keep up with mortgage payments meant that his home was repossessed. As a car seemed an unnecessary luxury, he sold it just to make sure he could eat. Before long, he found himself homeless. He didn't care much either; his opinion was that life had fucked him over, none of it was his fault. He blamed his brother for coming home early that day, he blamed the slut for making him wait twenty minutes so she could finish her sudoku puzzle (she was addicted to puzzles, nothing, not even sex, came between her and her puzzles) but never was it his fault. It was the only way he could deal with what had happened. Being angry with someone else was easier than admitting the truth.

4

That was Hector's life now, sleeping rough, with a stray dog he had befriended, and bemoaning his luck, or lack of it. After all he'd been through, he seriously needed some luck. The leather holdall was the best thing he'd found since becoming homeless and he had no idea what was happening to him, or why he was hallucinating.

Bob had stopped barking and wandered back over to comfort his distraught human, he looked up lovingly at him, and sat down wagging his tail, with that ever quizzical look on his face. People were walking past, looking at Bob but not him, their gaze purposely avoiding the shambles of a man sitting on the grass. He wondered at that moment whether life could get any worse, he looked down at his crotch to see a large wet patch. It was all too much for him. He stood up, almost as if in slow motion, and at the top of his voice he shouted, 'FUUUCK OFF '.

Hector Blake had lost control. The waste bin was the first thing to get it. He pulled it from its protective cage and threw it as hard as he could. Days worth of rotting banana skins, bags of dog shit, and newspapers were strewn all  over the grass.  A group of teenagers playing football stopped and thought that this, watching Hector standing in the middle of the field screaming at the top of his voice, was the funniest sight ever.

 By now Bob had run and cowered in the bushes, his human had broken down. Bob just stood watching as Hector ran towards the laughing teenagers. They started to taunt the crazy old tramp. He wasn't that old though, but with his wizened face he looked like a bag of bones. His lifestyle added at least ten years to his features. As he approached, still hollering, he went up to one of the lads and shouted, 'It's all your fault, if you'd have loved her she wouldn't have wanted me!' he gave a sort of hysterical laugh. 'She was good though, you fat bastard, I only gave her what you couldn't!'

The young lad nonchalantly pushed him away, 'Sort yourself out, man,'  he said 'you're  a fucking mess.'

As Hector staggered and fell to the ground, Bob decided enough was enough. He charged over and bit the young lad on the ankle. He tried to shake Bob off but couldn't.  Then he gave one hard kick to Bob's kidney's and Bob let go and landed right next to where Hector was sat. Poor Bob was lying next to his feet. With tears in his eyes he shouted Bob's name. Bob's eyes flickered briefly. He let out a whimper, his legs began to twitch, and then his short life ended

You could hear the boys shouting at each other, panicked. Hector could hear them but they sounded far away, almost like he was underwater. The muffled shouting became louder as his fogged brain cleared. He tried to get up but felt a weakness in his legs. He sat on the grass with Bob by his side, his breathing had become shallow and for the second time that day he vomited.

He began sweating profusely,  one of the young lads stood over him. 'Hey, are you alright mate?'

He tried desperately to answer, but couldn't speak, then he felt a crushing pain right across the centre of his chest. He could feel himself drifting in and out of consciousness, pretty dancing lights flew across his vision, almost like a deathly Aurora. It was like a dream state or an out of body experience, he was looking down on himself, he could see people hovering over him trying desperately to revive his lifeless body. Then there was silence. As he looked down, there was just a husk, an empty vessel that was once full of life - his life. Darkness surrounded him and he ascended.

The trouble with Hector Blake was he was human, with human emotions and human weaknesses,  making human mistakes. He paid the ultimate price for his frailties.  Was it fair? Maybe, maybe not. But one thing was for sure, Hector Blake was no more.

Grizzly and the Killer Vampire - Part I

Written by Sophie Ramshaw

 Photograph by   Ján Jakub Naništa

Photograph by Ján Jakub Naništa

Grizzly the friendly hobo was just that – a friendly hobo… Not much else to say about him really. He was in his mid 70’s, enjoyed a good club sandwich (when he could get it) and often found himself in situations he'd be more comfortable away from. Because of Grizzly's pale, bushy beard and child-like mind, people tended to give him a wide birth, and, because of his homeless status, would assume terrible, slanderous things about him.

And that wasn't nice.

It didn't matter how timid and friendly Grizzly was, how often he cleaned the sidewalks of rubbish and debris, or how much he smiled and waved at passers-by, urging them to have a happy and healthy afternoon; people would see his rugged clothes and wiry whiskers and dart in the other direction, careful not to make eye contact with the strange old man.

It made Grizzly cry on more than one occasion.

One Tuesday evening, Grizzly had just finished scraping gunk off the park benches and rearranging the Marguerite daisies in a more homely manner, when his stomach started to bark at him and he realised he hadn't eaten in over 18 hours. Across the street he spotted an inviting café that looked to be closing up its doors for the day. A few of the tables outside had yet to be cleared and Grizzly squinted at what appeared to be the almost untouched leftovers of an American-style hamburger.

His belly roared upon seeing the dish and he patted it comfortingly.

'Well we can have that!' he said to his stomach. 'It just gon' get thrown away otherwise! Ain't no harm in it, ain't no harm at all.'

Apparently there was harm in it.

A bus boy by the name of Lars stampeded from the café as Grizzly got close, shooing him away with a damp dish cloth and urging him to 'Get! Get!'

Grizzly didn't like being yelled at. Especially when he believed he hadn't done anything wrong. He jumped with fear as Lars brandished the towel and he quickly bolted away with his dishevelled backpack tightly clasped around his moth-eaten overcoat.

'I ain't done nothin' wrong! I ain't done nothin' wrong!' he cried as he ran.

When he believed he had gotten far enough away from the threatening teenage boy and his café of meanness, Grizzly hunkered down on the edge of a forest path and hugged his knees as close to his chest as his old age would let him. He gazed up into the pale night sky that was quickly getting greyer and greyer with every passing moment. The darkness of winter drowned out all forms of warmth. Heavy clouds began to accumulate in front of the crescent moon.

Tears swelled in Grizzly's eyes as he darted his gaze from different sections in the grass beneath him – promising himself he wouldn't cry. His shoulders shook and his hands were clammy and cold. Winters were harsh in this part of Europe and Grizzly was well acquainted with the horrifying sensation of bone chill and hypothermia, and he didn't want to know them any better.

As he looked back up he noticed something beyond the distant hill he couldn't recall seeing before. The silhouetted protrusion of a gothic-style steeple jutted out from the tips of the alder trees. He cocked his head at it, trying to remember if he had ever ventured that far in his travels before.

Surely not.

He fished around in his coat pocket for a little toy nutcracker and rubbed it between his thumb and forefinger. 'Who d'you suppose lives in that there castle?' he asked the toy, sniffling between words. 'Maybe they'd be kindly folk?' He stared down at the worn face of the nutcracker with his brow heavy with sadness. 'You're right Sebastian, they could well be meanly folk too…'

The sky erupted with a blinding flash of white and purple as lighting whipped across the stars followed by a monstrous explosion of thunder. Fear made Grizzly's heart jump and he clutched the nutcracker close to his chest. Tears threatened to appear again. With no hobble to call home, food to comfort him or blankets to keep him warm, our friendly hobo had no choice but to take his chances and venture to this castle for himself. 

'I bet the thing's abandoned anyways!' he assured himself. 'No harm stayin' the night if ain't no one there to mind!'

He picked himself off the squeaky grass and gently stuffed Sebastian back into his breast pocket, pulling his hobo pants high up his hips with a new-found purpose. He nodded at the silhouetted steeple and began his adventure through the forest.

He waded through the mud and cobwebs, desperate to find his way to this mysterious castle. As he carefully followed the faint remnants of a forgotten footpath, he told himself over and over again that if this place did indeed turn out to be abandoned, then surely, surely it was okay for him to stay the night. And maybe a few nights after that. Possibly the weekend too. Just until it got a little warmer outside.

The determination on his face was evident as he snapped passed branches in his way, shuffling boisterously through the moist underbrush. Our friendly hobo was so determined in fact, that he failed to notice the myriad of brittle, wooden signs that sporadically lined the forest's dull and desolate landscape.

“COME IN” a lot of the signs read. “LORD ALPHEZ WELCOMES YOU INSIDE”, “DON'T BE FRIGHTENED”, “FREE CANDY” and all sorts of similar, creepy nonsense.

If Grizzly had managed to make out any of these signs, it may have swayed his prospects just a little – possibly even causing him to faint slightly. But no, he continued to walk and strut, quickly getting out of breath and beginning to feel his knees ache.

The sky was now pitch black with not even a single star visible from beneath the swelling clouds. Rain began to fall again and spit through open sections in the Forest's shrubbery. Each droplet of rain felt like a bullet made of ice on Grizzly's age-spotted skin. He tightened his overcoat, rubbed his fingerless gloves together, and stomped his feet as he walked in an attempt to heat his body from the toes up.

Grizzly started to think that maybe this had been a bad idea. How far did he have left to go? Would it just be easier to turn back and try his luck sleeping at the local park's public toilets? But he knew people would get scared if they found him there in the middle of the night – and he didn't like frightening people. He began to cry silently to himself, the tears cascading down his face one after the other in a solid, steady stream.

These tears ain't helping matters, he thought, looking up momentarily at the rain.

The brief distraction proved almost fatal. The dense bush around him suddenly stopped and opened into a dirt clearing. Since Grizzly was busy staring up at the clouds, he didn't see the sneaky tree root popping out from under the cold ground. His wet loafers jammed underneath it and he came crashing down with a terrified shriek, smashing his elbows against several more hidden roots, and hearing what sounded like his knees braking upon impact with the icy soil.

He blinked hard, the pain behind his eyelids pulsating with each and every movement. He lifted his chin and saw a huge stone monument inches from his face. If he had been that tad bit taller, he'd most certainly have a broken neck and caved-in skull. He shrieked and shuffled backwards. There were numerous rips in his swede trousers and blood was trickling down his shins. But he brushed his tears away and panned his gaze up the front of the monument. His face contorted into a fearful expression and an overwhelming sadness gripped him.

A beautiful woman carved of stone stood atop a thick slab. She had a calmness in her face but something not quite human exuded from her appearance and gave Grizzly a fearful scowl.

Then he noticed an inscription carved neatly on the surface of the stone. It read:

            Here lies Mona Mikkael. Staked to death on the 6th of July 1769. May her soul

            forever roam these grounds and keep me company from the loneliness I feel

            without her.

Grizzly gulped hard as he read “staked in the heart” and looked again at the face of the lady. Despite his fear, he felt sorry for her and for the person who wrote the inscription. Because no one deserves to lose a loved one, as he knew all too well. He picked himself off the ground and brushed the dirt from his knees and torso, wincing at the pain he felt from the scrapes all over his body.

Just behind the tombstone was a long set of stairs that reached up towards a beautiful ancient mansion that clung to the side of a steep hill. It was riddled with moss and winding thickets and appeared more or less empty. Which was perfect. Although a slight tinge of disappointment poked at Grizzly's chest. He could always do with company.

He braved each step honourably and tried not to wince at the flashes of pain that exploded through his legs with each bend to the knees. He had tied a strip of his shirt around each thigh and prayed the wounds wouldn't get infected from the cold. He reached the top with much exhaustion and effort, then breathed in deeply, thrust out his big chest, and knocked daintily on the castle's wooden doors. He heard the echoes of his knocks bounce around inside the stone walls, but no answer came.

So he knocked again. This time a little louder.

Still no response.

'Evenin'... anyone?' he called out. 

It was at this moment he realised the doors had creaked open slightly and a pleasant, homely aroma wafted through the lobby. Grizzly gulped hard. Despite the sweet smell a voice in his head told him danger lurked inside. But he had come this far, it would be an embarrassment to turn back now.

He pushed open the doors as gently as he could and softly stepped inside.

A comforting warmth washed over Grizzly's poor skin and he melted with it. Candles lined the walls and illuminated the castle with a sombre glow. The room he had found himself in was large and elegant. A red carpet ran across the floor at his feet and twisted in the direction of several different doors and ascended up a large spiral staircase. The place looked immaculate! Recently dusted, polished to perfection, and not a piece of furniture out of place.

Someone had to be living here.

'I'm so sorry for bargin' in!' Grizzly shouted cautiously. 'I ain't no burglar and I ain't mean no harm!'

No answer.

From the darkness of the stone walls, a bright colour popped out from the side of his vision. He turned and saw an arrow painted across the wall, pointing at a particular set of doors. The arrow was made of a dark crimson and a candle was lit above it. Grizzly stepped towards it and eyed the arrow carefully. A sinking feeling quickly plunged down his chest as he looked down at the blood dripping from his knees and back at the arrow. They looked the same colour.

The entrance doors slammed shut behind him. From the aggressive wind outside? Maybe. But Grizzly believed they hadn't shut on their own. And it scared him. There was a sign above the arrowed doors that read: “COOKERY”. Grizzly's stomach growled and he patted it again, each time it made a quiet, hollow sound. Despite his better judgement, he twisted open the set of doors and began to follow a hallway made of stone and bright red carpeting.

It was too cold outside, Grizzly decided. He had better luck convincing someone of his good intentions than he did with the unforgiving weather.

Extract VI

Written by Melissa Booey

 Photograph by   Adam Smigielski

Photograph by Adam Smigielski

Sometimes it feels like a furious fixation, but the more often it occurs you realize that your instincts can sniff out that which will never make it to your table. And not that piece of shit you’re eating off of while you sit on the couch watching Bob’s Burgers and smoking bowls, or your great-grandma’s wooden chest she brought over from Lithuania in 1898, not even your lame-ass countertop with the faux wood and cheap coasters, I mean the table you get for your first home-your first real permanent something or other. That table.  

You always knew they’d never make it there.

Edited on 27/05/2018 by Author's Request

Extract V

Written by Melissa Booey

spring-leaves.jpg

I remember when we started writing together, and how sacred the setting of the cabin was to him, it became like another character in the act. I loved hearing him talk about this magical place, this safe haven he held so dearly and so close to his heart. It was the only physical place he said he’d ever felt at home. He promised he’d take me there one day. In retrospect, I suppose it makes sense that I never made it up there. Six and a half years and he never made it happen.

Sometimes I’m just mad at myself for not admitting it, since I knew it in my heart all along, but I couldn’t say it out loud. Sometimes I still can’t say it out loud, but there are days when the rain hits the palms and I pretend that they’re pines and I can smell the Yosemite wilderness on a crisp, Spring morning. I can smell freshly cut wood in a roaring fire and Irish whiskey poured.

I can almost smell you.

Edited on 27/05/2018 by Author's Request

The Maureen Show

Written by Tiana Lucaccioni

 Photograph by   Joss Woodhead

Photograph by Joss Woodhead

In 1964 I murdered my husband, and thank god that axe was there because he was beginning to annoy me. First, it was the little things: beard hair in the sink, dirty socks on the floor and always trying to have sex with me. Not like it was any good, he knew it, I knew it, fuck, even the dog knew it. The worst was when he’d get out of the shower and shake his dick at me. Can you believe that? Am I supposed to be flattered? Oh, thank you sweet Prince for bestowing this limp dick in my hands. Jesus, whatever happened to foreplay? Romance? I would’ve welcomed anything at that point. Growing up, people have always told me, “Maureen you are just too nice.” Nice? Nice? Grandmas are nice. I wanted to be sexy, I wanted to be fierce and desired by all who I encountered. Is that too much to ask? No, but instead I got nice.

David on the other hand is a beautiful man. Excuse me, was a beautiful man - I was the ugly one in the relationship. When people saw us together I knew what they were thinking: “He’s way too hot for her.” I don’t blame them.  Everyone’s going to say I’m crazy, and yes, yes I am, but you need to hear my side of the story before you lock me up. Metaphorically speaking, we all know I got away with it. August, 6th 1964, Kennedy was dead, the world was chaos and while everyone was enjoying their summer I was chopping up my husband and burring him in the backyard. Tacky, I know, but what else was I supposed to do? I couldn’t leave him in the refrigerator, where would I put the cold cuts? But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s begin with the night David and I met. Now, I’m no Jackie O, but there have been moments in my life where I’ve turned heads. I wore a long satin green dress and poor David had no chance. The minute I saw him I knew I had to have him. My best friend Claire, was the above-average suburban girl; blonde haired, blue eyed. A showstopper. Once again, I found myself being the ugly one in the relationship. So, when I saw an opportunity I bee-lined through the sea of drunk people and before I knew it I was standing toe to toe with David.

'Hi, I’m Maureen,' I blurted out. 'Usually I don’t do this but can I buy you a drink?' His eyes examined every inch of my body. 

He laughed. 'Isn’t that supposed to be my job? I’ll buy this round.' A smiled formed in the corner of my mouth. One drink lead to two and so on, the bar died down and David told me about his life growing up in a small suburb outside Chicago. His father worked on the south side stock yards, his mother stayed home and raised the children, a picturesque childhood, if you ask me. A life I was never lucky enough to have. He walked me home and I was sure we would spend the night together but no. Instead he kissed me on the cheek and said goodnight. I was furious, I had just spent the better part of my Saturday night listening to his life story only to be left with a peck on the cheek. Absolutely unacceptable. I marched up to him and shoved his shoulder, gaining his attention.

'Hey!' David turned around, confused, 'I’m sorry, I thought we had –' I wrapped my fingers around his coat cutting him off and yanked him towards me. Kissing him felt like the first day of fall, when you wake up and can smell the change in the air. It sent shivers down my spine - part of me embraced it but the other part was terrified. I pulled away embarrassed and walked off. David refers to it as the best moment of his life, I find that funny since it was the worst moment of mine. I never meant to fall in love, it was the worst decision I ever made. Not because I feared getting my heart broken, but because I was now liable for someone else’s heart and that kind of responsibility isn’t something I ever wanted.

We married on October 10th 1958. A Sunday. I wore my mother’s dress. The only thing I can remember of the day is getting rice thrown at my head - not the most joyous of memories. There are events in my life that I have chosen to block out, not because they’re too horrific, it’s the opposite really. Happiness is a feeling that I loathe, it disgusts me. It swells up inside me like an infection, making my skin crawl and body shake. I have never chased happiness and because of this it has followed me like a plague.

“Happy wife, happy life” that’s the saying, isn’t it? David lived by this saying, unfortunately for him his wife was evil to the core. So, to ignore the fact that I was not the woman he thought, David would garden. He’d spend hours in our back yard tending to tomatoes, cabbage and every other vegetable he could get his hands on. It was his place to unwind and forget about the world around him. That’s why I buried him there, so he would forever be surrounded by the beautiful things he grew. You see, I’m no monster.

In June of 1960 we moved out of the city and into suburbia. My husband bought a tiny yellow house on Burning Bush Lane. It was repulsive, surrounded by a white picket fence and red roses. I could feel the house mocking me as we pulled into the driveway. This was supposed to be the American Dream? Slaving all day over a hot stove, popping babies out left and right, and for what? To be the perfect housewife? Nothing had ever sounded so revolting. Be that as it may I was a married woman with no job and zero intent on getting one. Therefore, I needed to slip into the role of the beloved wife, and may I say I was the best damn housewife anyone had ever seen. I was ruthless, shoving my way into every book club, ladies lunch and town activity, making sure that everyone knew our names.

After two years on the lane, David and I were a sensation. Summer in the suburbs is one big show; constantly hosting parties, dinners and barbecues. It’s a chance for everyone else in the neighbourhood to praise you and hate you at the same time. At the end of June, we always hosted a huge barbecue for everyone on the block, no children aloud - it was the highlight of the summer. I glided through the back yard in a one-of-kind dress passing out the Hors d'oeuvre. David strutted around the yard with such grace and poise. He was memorizing. Pouring drink after drink, discussing everything from 18th century literature to comic books. Every woman fell in love with him and every man was envious of him. If it weren’t for Maxine Howard we could’ve gone on living our picture-perfect life but she just couldn’t keep her fucking mouth shut.

June 30th, 1962, David and I were hosting our annual barbecue. This time it was different, however. Homemaker Magazine contacted me a few months prior hoping to come and take pictures of the event at our home. I was ecstatic. Finally, someone was noticing me first! I was no longer the ugly one in the relationship. For weeks, I prepped; redecorating the house, creating an impeccable menu and fixing the backyard until it illuminated with supreme beauty. When the day finally arrived, David and I scrambled around the house fixing any last-minute imperfections.

When the guests arrived, I knew tonight would be the highlight of my life. David passed out the scotch as I floated around with the food. At 6:30PM the doorbell rang and Homemaker Magazine arrived. I hurried into the bathroom for a last minute look when David entered with a glass of wine. “Well, honey you did it” We touched glasses, I took a sip of my wine and kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you, sweetheart.” I turned around and looked in the mirror one last time. My face was glowing, for the first time in my life I let happiness in and exited the room with my head held high. The back yard was stunning, flashing blubs went off all around me, the moment felt like sheer bliss… That was until Maxine fucking Howard came up to me and ruined the photo and my life.

She leaned into my ear with her grisly looking front teeth and hissed, 'You know Maureen if you added more flour, these cream puffs would be much better.' 

With a disgusted look on her face she picked up the cream puff, smelled it and dropped it into the garbage. Another flash went off and with that an eruption of fury welled up inside me. My organs tightened, my blood boiled and my skin blistered. Without hesitation, I swatted the rest of Maxine’s plate out of her hands. Time slowed, I could see the plate fly out of her hand, over her head and onto the floor. Everyone stopped talking.

'Excuse me!' Maxine shouted as if I was the one who offended her.

'Excuse you? Excuse you?'

 David ran over trying to defuse the situation but it was too late.

'Maxine Howard who do you think you are coming into my house, eating my food and bashing my cream puffs! Especially when we all know that you haven’t cooked a day in your life!' David placed a hand on my shoulder to calm me down. In a fit of rage, I turned and shoved him, he couldn’t help, no one could, the damage was done.

'Everyone get out of my house! Now!' I kicked my heels off, walked inside and spent the rest of my night sitting in the bathtub starting into the mirror. I wondered where the women who felt so beautiful just a couple of hours ago had gone. But I knew better, she was gone and never coming back.

By noon the next day the entire neighbourhood had heard about my outburst. After that, nothing was the same. The barbecues stopped, book club became full overnight and all the spots for Town Event Coordinator had been filled. I knew what was going on, we were being banished. Shoved out of suburbia to fend for ourselves, and by August we were lepers. Or at least I was. David still had his friends, the golf club and Monday night poker. My outburst at the barbecue had driven me out of the inner circle. But not my husband. And that was something I just couldn’t allow.

After two months of living in exile I was beginning to lose it. The days began to blend together; I would wake up at 7am, cook David breakfast and wish him a good day at work. By 9:30am the entire house would be spotless and by noon I was ready to shoot myself from boredom. I tired gardening, knitting and reading but nothing satisfied me like running the housewives of Burning Bush Lane. Summer was over and I was convinced that I would be let back into the group, that wasn’t the case. I became sick with hatred. I hated the people surrounding me, I hated the house I lived in, but most importantly I hated David for leaving me to fend for myself. That type of hatred doesn’t go away. It festers deep inside your brain, whispering delicious words into your ear reminding you that it’s all his fault.

The thought polluted my brain and it drove me to butcher my husband. For an entire year, I planned on killing him, I just needed the right time and place. As the months passed I reassumed the role of the perfect housewife; I cooked, cleaned and even had sex with him on a somewhat consistent basis. When summer came back around again I was ready and it just so happened that Maxine Howard was having a barbecue at her house. Before the barbecue, I sat at my vanity looking at myself in the mirror. A year had passed and it showed; wrinkles hugged my eyes and around the corner of my lips. My hair, once a vibrant red was now a dull grey-brown. A hollow and exhausted woman stared back at me that I didn’t recognise.

David walked in still as beautiful as the day we met, and for a moment, I questioned what I was about to do. But that was only for a moment.

'Honey, we should get going. Maxine wants everyone there by 7pm.”

I forced a smile. When we arrived, Maxine’s husband George, took our coats. He’s was large man, round like a boiling ball, and he lead us through the house, grunting with every step. The entire neighbourhood stood in small clusters all over the back yard. Maxine saw us from across the yard and rushed over.

'Oh David I’m so glad you could make it.' 

 Maxine looked at me and the same disgusted look fell over her face. 'Maureen, you look... rested.' She smiled and walked away yelling about her corn on the Cobb.

David leaned over and whispered in my ear. 'We’ll only stay for a few minutes.' He kissed my cheek and left me again to fend off the sea of judgmental eyes. After an hour of sitting in the corner alone, I had smoked all my cigarettes and drank five martinis. I poked my head out to find David standing next to Maxine. She was holding a small cream puff and slowly placed it into my husband’s mouth. In the corner of my mind the words whispered, Take care of it now in front of everyone. Let them all pay for what they did. 

I stood and began shoving my way through the crowd. I wrapped my fingers around David’s wrist and leaned in to his ear. 'I am leaving.' 

He looked at me confused. 'Mo we just got here, but okay, I hope you don’t mind if I stay a little longer.' 

I smiled. 'Of course honey, just come home whenever you’re ready.' 

He kissed my cheek but not before Maxine could interrupt. 'Don’t worry Maureen we won’t keep him too late!' throwing her head back and letting out a cackle. I kissed David on the cheek and left. I needed to prepare once I walked in the door. I went straight to the garage; grabbed a tarp, an axe, and my yellow cleaning gloves. After that I went upstairs and put on the best dress I owned - a stunning lavender silk dress that hugged every inch of me - David only deserved the best, of course.

I hid the tarp behind the garden and the axe next to a grassy spot, and then I waited. At 10:14pm David got home and by 10:45 he was dead. I stood in the backyard calling for him to come find me. He stumbled his way through the kitchen and into the garden. Standing there in the stalks of sunflowers with the axe between my legs I looked at my husband. His appearance still catching me off guard after all these years. We stood there in the moonlight looking into each other’s eyes. I leaned in and kissed him hard so that all the passion, hatred and love that I had felt after all these years escaped.

Then with all the force I could muster I picked up the axe and swung. The edge of the axe struck David’s stomach with such precision it made my knees shake and for the first time in my life I witnessed pure perfection. It was remarkable. I hushed him with blood dripping from my fingers.

'Shhhh, we both know you deserve this. You left me alone with those suburban savages!' My lips trembled but my mind was clear. David fell to the ground yanking sunflowers down with him. I kissed him for the last time and then with all love I could summon I swung the axe straight into his heart.

On August 6th, 1964, I murdered my husband by chopping him up with an axe. Afterwards I buried him in the backyard and let the flowers cover his body. It was the best moment of my life.

Possibilities

Written by Sarah McCarthy 

 Photograph by   Georgi Petrov

Photograph by Georgi Petrov

Hi,

Thanks for your time.

I’d like to tell you a little bit about myself and my life.

I have a good life, a happy one for the most part.

I was born on the 28th of July, 2003, in Seattle, Washington. Middle Class family. Middle Class Jobs. An older brother. Yay me. No, I’m joking, he’s awesome.

I love my parents.

My dad tells me when your child comes into this world, it’s a love like nothing else, you see all the possible things they could become. In his case for me it was an ‘A’ grade student, a moody teenager, a psychology major!

Pretty much everything from a doctor, to a world record holder!

‘The most, hot dogs eaten in under five minutes’ – just kidding.

I’m pretty sure that didn’t occur to him, and if it did he never told me about it.

But he did see my future and the paths it could take.

He’d be there through it all, to be my hero and my inspiration. To see me happy. Over-coming life’s many obstacles.

First obstacle. Pre-school, I was two.

My brain just starting to comprehend the vastness of the world. It was no longer confined to my family and our tiny house, where gripping on to the vacuum cleaner, my legs first understood what it was to stand straight and stretch out a foot. Slowly making my way through the house to stand behind mum doing the dishes.

 She turned around and screamed.

Think I almost gave her a heart attack. Guess I’d been quieter than I thought.

‘Fred, she’s walking’. She shouted.

Maybe that’s the moment I first thought about MY voice. Which when loud enough could gain the attention of everyone within a block radius.

Or at least a whole shopping mall.

And with words, a new form of communication was a part of my life. First encountered playing pretend.

… And learning to lie about why there was crushed crayons behind the sofa.

Compromising during play-time at kindergarten. Who would be doctor and who patient?

Developing my brain to process complex ideas … far more than I ever contemplated.

And then - Friends!

People who understood me, or at least tried to.

I could tell them my secrets and knew they would be safe and in return they’d share theirs.

Play dates and birthday parties. Best friend forever promises. Some of them I’d stay close to through sixth grade.

Even after the move with my family, we’d keep in contact. I would message them for years to come. I knew I’d go back and visit them someday.

My legs now fully accustomed to moving, my adventures reached new heights. Walking turns to running. Extension of muscles and ligaments turns to pointing. From point, to leaping. It’s the thrill of dancing for me. Letting everything go.

My cares, and the millions of worries circling my head, fly out of it as I pirouette and Chaîné down the centre of a studio. My place to shine.

Competitions … failing and winning – it’s all worth it. That rush of feeling and emotion at the applause, when you realize you have a special talent at something. And everyone else see’s it too.

Next step on the journey - Junior High.

Now I loved dancing. But …

P.E was utter bollocks… unless you like running in a circle (or playing rounders)!

The hole in a hedge was great luck however.

If you got tired or bored, you could just sit in it for a couple of laps. Pretend to be really out of breath when you finally emerged.

There were subjects where my head would be on the desk. Doodling diagrams or wishing I was old enough to drink hoping it might make the subject of ‘superficial anatomy’ actually possible to listen to.

Driving lessons needed to happen sooner!

I just wanted to get in my car and be able to escape. Once I got that pass, I’d go anywhere I wanted to go. Total freedom.

Everything I want to do and be, just out of reach.

Starting each day again. Learning to ride a bike and realising each new day, that you’re back to square one.

Trying to take off the stabilizers when you don’t feel ready. But everyone telling you, you’ll never succeed if you don’t fail. And you’ll defiantly never succeed if you don’t try.

But that doesn’t calm down the nerves when you step up on to that stage or sit down for that test, when your body is telling you the complete opposite of everything you want to feel.

Even just to put yourself out there is a scary thing. It’s hard to believe your worth something, when your own head tells you, you’re not.

But that’s the human condition.

Then there are those, golden moments, breakthroughs, where none of the other worries matter… you’re happy. It’s the place we try to keep ourselves in permanently, where we realize our worth.

Years fly by.

I’m wishing my teenage years away until I’m old enough to start wishing for them back. My to do list getting longer by the second, even as my time to do it all in, shortens. Glowing memories within my own filing cabinet. Picking out the golden moments of my life and the grey.

High School. The first heartbreak. Tears, leaving black trails on your face and soaking your pillow, are expected, you’ve been warned. Burying your face into your duvet – hopefully never to surface again. Disbelief and Numbness pumps through your bloodstream.

It takes time. Ice cream helps.

Putting his face on a dartboard and going to town on it helps more.

Life’s not perfect, but it’s yours to make of it what you will. Endless possibilities to travel, love and live. To grow.

I understand what my dad meant. When your first child comes into this world and your filled with so much love for such a tiny thing.

You see their future and would do anything to protect them from any pain or sadness.

You literally become Superwoman. You withstand any amount of torture for them, to have the life they dream of. YOU do. Child-birth is not something you want to go through twice but you do for your babies.

And no matter how tall or old or annoyed at you they get, they will always be your babies.

You grow. They grow.

You grow old with someone. Arguing with them about where they’ve put the bloody remote this time. They can’t hear you. They keep forgetting to turn their hearing aid on.

Grandkids for Sunday dinner – they come into the kitchen for a hug – they know there’s a biscuit and 10 dollars in it for them if they do.

And life’s good. There may be some regrets. But if you didn’t have them, you wouldn’t be here. Surrounded by this family and you wouldn’t wish that away for the universe.

But I have a confession. There’s one thing I never told you.

My name.

My name is Jamie Guttenberg.

And on the 14th of February, 2018, a troubled kid of nineteen, who needed help and should under no circumstances have been allowed to purchase a gun of any kind. Walked into my school with an AK-15 and took my life and all those possibilities away from me. My life ended about two minutes into this speech.

I’m one of the lucky ones.

Some of my fellow sacrifices to America’s gun war, at the Sandy Hook Primary School, didn’t get to the second paragraph.

Avielle Richman, or ‘Avie’ as she was known, was six years old.

She loved horses and Harry Potter, and her dream car was a mini-van.

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This is me talking now, Sarah McCarthy.

A twenty-one-year-old, from South West London. I’ve already lived 7/8 more years than Jamie. Almost a quadruple amount of time that Avie was given.

I feel like my life hasn’t even begun yet.

I also can’t remember any memories I have from when I was six.

And I definitely have no idea how it is possible to go into a store, buy a gun and then enter a school with it.

A child from America, a child from Syria, a child from England. They are still just that – A Child!

We will have no idea who these children would have become to the world and society, but I think it’s fair to say, that each and everyone of them was already someone important to their friends and families.

As I was writing, I sat and watched people describe the most amazing kids who had barely begun. No-one should have to write an obituary about their child or father or mother, who went off to school and didn’t come home. No-one should have to write an obituary about someone not coming home after they went for a night out with their friends.

Losing a child is heart-breaking, as is losing a family member who died protecting those children. But that is their reality.

Their reality is that, those students will never be able to go to school without remembering that day.

The parent’s reality is that they will be putting flowers on their children’s graves instead of in their hair on their wedding day.   

The gun law needs changing.

Stricter enforces need to be put on those who could buy guns, as does the safety within schools.

Yes, it’s happening in America, and we’re in England so why should we care?

Again, I repeat a child is a child. A human being is a human being. Take a look at ‘Avie’ or the life of ‘Jamie’ and tell me their lives aren’t worth us standing with the students who are bravely taking control because their government refuses to listen.

I’m in England and I realize that their law on guns doesn’t make sense anymore.

How fucked up does a law have to be for somebody in another country to realize it needs to be changed?

Your thoughts and prayers are great. We send our thoughts and prayers too. Together we have all the thoughts and prayers kids like Avie and Jamie could ever want…but what they needed, what we need… is action.       

Yippee kayah anti-gunners!

A Postcard

Written by Jean Roberts

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Picking up the coffee cup she saw it was empty, except for the dry residue of the Cappuccino froth. She sighed as she replaced the cup back on the saucer and looked out of the window. It was beginning to rain. She checked the time on her phone. 14:53. There were no messages. No missed calls. A waitress cleared away the dirty cup.

'Would you like anything else?'

'Um... yes, another cappuccino please.'

When the coffee arrived, she stirred it, slowly. Clockwise. Then anti-clockwise. She read the menu and contemplated having something to eat. Ham and cheese toastie. Club sandwich. Victoria sponge. Lemon drizzle. The choice was tempting but she decided against it. She checked the time again. 15:08. Carefully she took the postcard out of her handbag and read the front: 'To boldly go where no night bus has gone before' was printed above a map in the form of a constellation naming the stops on the bus routes. She studied the locations. Trafalgar Square, Croydon, Edgware and Dagenham, amongst others. Places she was familiar with. Turning the postcard over she smiled to herself as she read what he'd written. Apart from her name and address, the only other words he'd written were 'Love, Tim x.'

Her finger traced the words and tears pricked at her eyes.

Remembering her coffee, she took a sip. It was still luke warm. She read the front of the card again, and then checked the time. 15:16. Looking at the postcard again, she read the post mark; Mount Pleasant, 14 July 2015. Had it been that long? And Mount Pleasant, which was two minutes from her flat. If he'd posted it there, had he lived that close all this time? Could she have passed him in the street? Sat next to him on that night bus? Stood next to him in a queue at the newsagents? Sitting here now, she wondered if this was a good idea after all. Up until now he had been nothing more than a voice on the telephone. An e-mail. A text. But after today, he would be flesh and blood. He would be a real person. Really real. The postcard had been the personal contact, until then all contact had been through a third party. She couldn't have met him out of loyalty to her mother. But after her mothers' death almost three months ago she agreed to meet him and today was the day. Hearing the bell of the café door she looked up from the postcard, to see, for the first time, the man who was her biological father.

Where Do you Get your Ideas? (Universe 1)

Written by James McCann

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1

‘Where do you get your ideas?’ The one question every writer has been asked, and if they’ve heard it once they’ve heard it a million times. It is not a good question to ask. Not only will it infuriate the writer, but it also presumes that there is one answer. There isn’t. This is something that most people will never understand

William Clemmons was a first-time novelist and a man not really cut out for the lime-light of the Big Time. He was thirty-three years old, had spent most of his twenties having short stories published and his attempts at novels rejected. Rejected, that is, until he wrote a novel called The Swarm, at which point he became if not-quite the darling of the literary world then something approximate. He had a chip on his shoulder about the many years that he was over-looked, most of his previous work he considered to be of superior quality to The Swarm, and so once in a while a little venom would seep out in his interviews, thus earning him a reputation as the bad-boy of the literary world, as bad as that could actually be. His agent had hired a PR man to make the most out of it, which rubbed William the wrong way, resulting in his being surlier than ever in interviews, which naturally led to the bad-boy rep growing.

The badder the boy, the more the chat shows will clamour for him.

It was backstage at a taping of The Richard Jarvis Show that the incident began. It was not the most normal of settings for a conversation that would lead to a bloody and horrific crime, but when someone’s on edge, the slightest thing can set them of. Richard Jarvis was a failed stand-up whose lanky and boyish look and attitude made him completely non-threatening and personable, and as a result had led him to one of the highest-rated Friday night chat shows, the landscape of the guest sofa usually littered with actors and musicians. As far as anyone could remember, William was the first novelist to be a guest.

Also appearing on the show that night was a pretty-dark-haired Dutch singer named Buse Rutten (William didn’t care for her type of music, but it wasn’t the way she sounded that had grabbed his attention) and an actor named Bart Hodgkin, a likeable enough chap who had been in the industry since he was a child of eight, and now promoting the first film he’d made in his fiftieth decade. William had seen most of Bart’s films (his favourites being a very good Western and a handful of Sci-Fi comedies), and was actually quite pleased to be on the same show as him. Everything during the filming of the show went well. It was when everyone was gathered in the green room later that things took a nasty turn.

 

2

The green room was full of show guests and their management people, the show’s crew and, of course, Richard Jarvis himself. Everyone was commending everyone else on a show well done, and more than a few glasses of wine were downed. William hated the falseness of the whole thing, all the handshakes and claps on the back made without eye contact counted for less than zero in his world. He was anxiously waiting for the opportunity to chat with Buse; finally a chance to use his writing to get close to a good-looking brunette, when Bart stepped out right in front of him, a huge Happy-as-Shit-to-be-Here-Buddy grin on his face.

‘Hey,’ Bart said, the smile was also in his eyes and his voice. ‘Didn’t get a chance to ask you earlier-‘

William knew what was coming. It was the same question that always came up if the writer hung around long enough, which was usually more than ten seconds. It was the question.

Bart continued, blissfully unaware how annoying the question was going to be, ‘I’m a big reader myself, man, how the hell you have the discipline and all those ideas to get all the all way to end of a book, sheesh.’ Bart gave out a little chuckle and a little shake of the head, punctuating his disbelief. ‘Hey, where do you get your ideas from?’

Ah, the magic question spilled out over his lips at last. Richard Jarvis had managed a full fifteen minute interview without asking that question, whether he’d been tipped off beforehand not to mention it or he just knew better, William couldn’t say, but hey, either way, Bart Hodgkin hadn’t been privy to the same information.

‘Well,’ William began, his focus over Bart’ shoulder to the far side of the room where Buse was chatting and laughing and looking amazing. ‘I have a shoebox at home, full of these scraps of paper. On each scarp is a story idea. When I feel like writing something, I just reach in blindly and pluck something out. Would you excuse me?’

William clapped Bart on the shoulder without making eye contact and walked away to Buse. Bart had a knowing smile on his face and gave a polite nod, obviously the answer he’d been given was a joke; the Almighty Author was taking the Almighty Piss. Well, that was just fine and damn dandy with Bart, yessir! It wasn’t the first time in his life some younger, arrogant prick had tried to get cute and clever with him, and it probably wasn’t going to be the last, but it sure as shit from a goose was going to be the last time this clever little dick got cute.

With anyone.

 

3

William had crashed and burned with Buse in both epic fashion and epic time (she said she had a child she wanted to get back to, but he didn’t believe her), and had subsequently struck out with some random bar skanks before calling it a night and heading home. His home was a nice, small and, for the most part, secluded bungalow with amazing views of the coast but it was dark and empty and by that point William was too drunk to enjoy the late-night porn. He entered the living room, all wooden floors and glass walls and sparse furniture. He hadn’t lived here long, and the small amount of belongings that had over-filled his apartment now came nowhere near filling even one room of the new home that he didn’t even want. It had been a marketing ploy, if he was such a womanising, hard-drinking street-fighting bad-boy why would he be still be living in a one-room apartment? So the machine had gone to work and bought his a fashionable bungalow on the coast that William knew he’d need to sell a lot more copies to ever pay off.

We feed the machine, he thought then, looking out at the night sea and trying to not to catch his own reflection in the floor-to-ceiling window that made-up the entire wall of the bungalow. We fall into it, we bleed to it, and all the while it only ever wants us to say thank you for the privilege of being raped.

The place had an odd feel to it, it always did. William didn’t really think of it as home, he didn’t think he ever would, but on that night it was something more. William had always thought the problem with the bungalow was the sense of something missing, now he thought the problem was something was there that shouldn’t be.

He just had time to notice the slightest of flickers in the corner of his eye.

‘Hello, William,’ Bart said, stepping out from the shadows behind William. ‘Have a seat, please.’

‘Bart?’ William asked, turning to face the shadowy figure standing by the interior wall. William had sobered up considerably on the lonely walk home, and what little drunk was left in him had completely cleared out. ‘What are-‘

‘Sit.’ Bart interrupted. He took a step forward into the half-light, something reflective and gleaming in his hand. ‘I wont ask again.’

William sat, for the first time in his life feeling the real of fear of having a gun pointed at him. He didn’t know what was going on, or why Bart was here, or so many other things whizzing around his head without an answer, but he knew for certain that the gun was loaded and that Bart meant to shoot him. Whether or not Bart would shoot to kill was still up for debate.

‘Why are you in my house?’ William asked, sat in the chair looking up at Bart who still had not emerged fully from the shadows.

‘You’re the clever dick,’ Bart said, the barrel of the gun trained on William’s chest. ‘You tell me.’

‘My first thought is that you’re crazy,’ William responded with what he knew was probably the dumbest thing he could have said. ‘Maybe an entire life on the fame treadmill has made you loopy? Hell, I’ve been on it less than a year and I’m ready for the nut-house.’

‘Is that what you think? You think I’m run-of-the-mill whack-job? Really? You really think I’m crazy?’

‘Well you’ve broken into my house and you’re pointing a gun at me-‘

Bart pulled the trigger. The bullet went high because the trigger had been pulled, not squeezed. The round flew over William’s shoulder and exploded a chunk of the supporting beam behind him. It was white, but here in the darkness it looked a deep, soothing blue. William had crouched down and pulled both arms up over his head, sweat had broken out all over his body. He wasn’t sure if it was perspiration or piss that had soaked his crotch.

‘You really don’t know when to keep your smart-ass mouth shut, do you? I’m not crazy, Billy-boy, no, just pissed off. You think you can just talk down to anyone you want, don’t you?’

In the half-shadow, the gun and Bart’s eyes shone as brightly as beacons, and William knew that he could say anything at all and it would have zero affect on the out-come, because Bart was clearly bat-shit, rat-shit, cat-shit, gnat-shit crazy. The man had demons inside his head, and none of them were willing to listen to reason or logic.

‘I have no clue what the fuck you’re talking about,’ William spat.

‘You make your little jokes,’ Bart said. ‘You make your witticisms, and you think that’s okay. You get all this without actually having to do any work, the world at your feet. Well not this guy, not me right here! I wont bow down to you, I demand the respect I deserve, you little shit, you little piece of… shit.’

Bart took three steps forward then into the light coming in through the window-wall. His hair was a mess, as though someone had been pulling at it all night. His eyes were larger than they should have been and his lips were thin slithers of pink, pulled back over expensively fixed and whitened teeth. There was a trail of silver-looking saliva hanging from one corner of his mouth. His shoulders seemed to be shaking, but shaking wasn’t the right word, no, they were vibrating. That was the word that William thought described Bart; Vibrating. Yet the gun hand remained perfectly flat and steady.

‘Once again,’ William said as calmly as he could, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’

‘Really? Well, William Clemmons, author of The Swarm, let me ask you a question. Would that be okay?’

‘Was that the question?’

Another blam! from the gun, this time the bullet pushed its way into William’s right thigh, sending a pulse of pain through his body. William yelled in agony and fell off the chair as the entry wound burned and throbbed out great waves of blood. He clutched at the weeping hole in his leg with both hands, but didn’t think it would do any good. Not in the long run.

‘No,’ Bart said with the inflection of a robot. With no emotion in his voice whatsoever, he continued, ‘That was not the question, but this is; where, oh where, pray-tell, do you get your ideas?’

William took a few deep breaths waiting for the pain in his leg, in his entire being, to subside (which it didn’t; it felt like fire coursing through his body and burning nerve endings), and looked up at the mad man stood above him holding a gun.

William, ol’ friend, he thought. You are about to die.

Bart squeezed the trigger, keeping total control over the gun, and fired the bullet directly between the shitting-little-bastard author’s eyes. The back of William’s head exploded, showering the wooden floors and glass walls (reflective even in the darkness) with red and pink pulp, large shards of fragmented skull, thin strips of scalp with bloodied hair, chunks of brain so big you could scoop them up with your hand. Blood oozed out and puddled around the half-obliterated bowl that William’s head now was. A decent quantity of blood had already sprayed against the glass wall-window, looking like Jackson Pollock’s most violent work.

The mad man-gun-man-actor took a step forward and kicked at William’s lifeless foot.

‘Good. Good,’ Bart muttered to himself. He placed the gun carefully in the shoulder holster beneath his jacket (wouldn’t do to accidentally shoot himself in the lung at this late stage of the game, no indeed) and walked slowly from the premises. It would be a good long while, he knew, before that clever-dick author took the piss out of anyone again.

A Cluttered Life

Written by Olivia Goldson 

 Photograph by   John Sekutowski

Photograph by John Sekutowski

There is a chair; I’m sitting on it. It’s one of those office-like swivel seats. I’m at the desk. It’s IKEA, but then again everything in this room is IKEA. The printer to my right works although I know that a green vase of sunflowers isn’t supposed to live on top of it. I don’t have anywhere else to put them. They’re the only sunshine I get. I can see the stapler and the hole-punch. The three together look like a still life waiting to be drawn.

The wall I’m staring at between sentences is blank, apart from the little circles of missing paint. The wall to my right is busy and colourful, my assignment list reminding me of the work I should be doing. A few photos line the edge of the desk, the people in them all have smiling faces: more reminders. A pile of paperwork lies to the left of me, I’m finding it hard to type with it sat there, but there is no room for it to go anywhere else.

The kitchen trolley is full, and out of place, it’s from IKEA too. My treasured possessions and my book, the one with the felt spots on it fill the trays. My life literally, crammed into three shelves.

The wall beneath the window makes for a makeshift bookcase; unread National Geographic and the Wanderlust magazines wilt in the damp. Some still in their plastic postal covers. A few books on how to write non-fiction are there too. They’re useless to me now.

That mood light that we haven’t used has managed to find a shelf on top of the unread magazines, the Argos catalogue providing a sturdy base. The extension cable I can see out the corner of my eye, the one I hate, becomes my primary focus. Between that and the missing paint, it isn’t any wonder I’m getting nothing down on paper. 
My bed is unmade - unsurprising really. It’s the only clear space I have.

There’s condensation on the old window frame, but it’s not raining.

Our cupboard is full, not with my clothes but with his. I loved him. He’ll be home soon, and this room with get even smaller. He fills the space with what I thought I wanted.

I hear the door shut, he’s home. Those are his footsteps on the stairs. Unmistakable. He’s talking to me; I should stop typing.

I’m surrounded by clutter. I can’t stand it. Letters from the bank and the taxman are strewn across the floor with the underwear he was wearing last night.

I hear people talking outside my window. They may as well be inside. Their conversations are clear; they’re almost refreshing.

I can see through the window of the church across the road. This country is claustrophobic. I’m living in someone’s pocket while someone else takes up residence in mine.

Between the clutter, him and the people talking there’s no peace. He’s piling more paperwork onto my desk; more letters from the taxman.

The two Gin and Tonic glasses from the beginning of last week are still on the floor. I bet the lemon is mouldy.

He has put candles on the mantelpiece. This room is already too small and cluttered for ambience. More flowers are taking up the last little corner of space. Dead now. They were beautiful, once, like this room.

 

Extract IV

Written by Melissa Booey

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Fifty-three days after I crashed my car into a tree I got out of my wheelchair, and that April was one of the best months of my life. I was preparing to finally go away to college, and I was falling deeply in love for the first time. He and I had spent my handicapped days writing scenes between two characters, Joe and Gwen - an honest attempt to dissipate the sexual tension between a handsome young gentle-wolf, and a crippled rapscallion.

We performed the final scene at a showcase in front of our peers, and everyone knew we were in love; everyone could see it. One of the final lines was his character, Joe, yelling at me, Gwen, because he knew she was scared of how strongly she felt for him, and that he was afraid too.

After that he took me in his arms and kissed and me, our first real, full-fledged, passionate kiss; I didn’t know it then, but that was our last moment onstage together. He took me up the mountain to “Wild P” as I called it, and we spent Friday nights dancing on the lake. I didn’t know what I had, and like precious grains of sand he gradually slipped through my post-traumatic, alcoholic fingers. But not before we inflicted irreversible damage on our paradise. Last I heard they drained the lake.

Extract III

Written by Melissa Booey

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Christian was not the kind of person who opened up. We at least had that in common. He and I often bantered and with drinking and smoking no one was ever surprised when it escalated to malicious. I maintained that he wasn’t as smart as he thought he was. He was a veteran weed grower and supposedly graduated to making wax; he caught fire in his kitchen and underwent second degree burns, but anyway, that was later. Back in 2010, “before the war” as we once called it, he and I were considered worthy adversaries, flirting more than anything, but we’d never admit it, so it was just easier calling it shit talk.

One night, everyone else had gone to bed, but he and I stayed up drinking and smoking and talking into the night. Minus the rest of our friends and our bull shit facades we were able to show compassion and understanding towards each other. I saw through his arrogant sarcasm on a daily basis, but this was the first time I noticed his indisputably mild-mannered nature. He usually saw through my overly independent hostility, but this was the first time he witnessed my Wendy Bird, Tinker-bell hybrid the other boys swore I was.

He cried to me on the bong-water-stained sofa as the sun rose outside. Hot, hushed tears flooded my eyes as I listened to his heartache. He had been broken, and he was hardened, perhaps permanently. The truth of it seemed to empty him, and watching his evolution throughout the tale terrified me; what would happen when I fell in love? For real? Both ways? Legitimately? One of the guys burst through the door at six AM. I can’t recall where or even who they’d been, but I do remember that it seemed more normal than Christian and me sitting so close on the dingy couch, hands intertwined, foreheads touching, both trying so hard to wipe their tears the moment morning light hit the floor. I wonder if Edmonds remembers. Pretty sure he’s graduated to selling meth to the outskirts of town.

Edited on 07/05/2018 by author's request

Some Days are Bad

Written by Samantha Verheyen 

‘You did this to me,’ she wanted to scream. Her hair dripped with water, landing into small dark spots on the carpeted floor. For mid-November the air felt slightly warm, but maybe it was her long repressed anger bubbling to the surface. Her apartment was dark, the radiator wasn’t on, and in the distance she could hear her cat Gary playing with her pile high dirty dishes. A slight thunder rumbled from far away.

Just a few hours before Erin had woken to her alarm. It was a shrill beeping from her phone that was always kept at a walking distance from her bed. She had shivered as her blanket was lifted from her small frame. She sat up in bed with a long yawn, and her arms stretched to her pop-corned ceiling. Her pink fuzzy socks covered up to her ankles; her black cat Gary crawled from under the covers.

She woke up feeling normal and bright. Her mind focused on her next interview; giving her high hopes on finally finding a job that gave her more promise than serving coffee to middle aged unappreciative business men, who were always attached to their IPhones, and Blackberrys. She would finally be able to afford the good cat food; the kind with real salmon bits instead of the fake stuff.

She turned off her alarm, turned on her shower, and put coffee grounds into her coffee maker, all while her fuzzy black cat Gary followed in her shadow. She entered her small bathroom. The small, white, circle tiles made her shiver as she pushed her fuzzy, pink socks aside. Her black pj’s were discarded as she stepped into the shower. Small, cold droplets of water hit her skin causing a shriek to fill her tiny insignificant San Francisco apartment. She jumped in surprise as the water hit her caramel skin. Her unsocked feet slipped on the floor of the tub, causing her to land on her ass; her head lightly hitting the side of her bathtub. Her large fuzzy black cat Gary appeared from behind the shower curtain. Its two front paws holding it up to see her laying at the bottom of the tub floor in embarrassment.

She told her large fuzzy black female cat Gary, ‘You didn’t see that,’ as she slowly stood from her wet bathtub floor, grabbing the cotton towel from the towel rack, and carefully stepping out.

She realized she had forgotten to turn on her coffee maker, and had to growl at herself, because one cannot live without coffee in this kind of world. She instead looked for her nice white blouse and skinny khaki pants that she loved to wear for interviews, because she thought it brought out the gold haze in her eyes, but realized that her large fuzzy black female cat Gary, who loved to tear down her clothes from the place they hung, had brought it into her litter box to bury, and it now smelt of ammonia and poop.

She went with a green dress instead, because it made her caramel skin glow more than usual, and with her leggings and some boots she wouldn’t be too cold in the mid-November air. Her puff of curly black locks hung to her shoulders, and the hopes of straitening it quickly faded. With a bumpy morning and no coffee to make it better, she hoped that her frizzled ringlets wouldn’t make the interviewer think she was a lazy millennial that didn’t want to give into social norms, like taking control of uncontrollable hair.

She nearly fell off the F-Line trolley in the Financial District. She did a slight trip off the trolley steps, but caught herself as half of her papers in the manila folder she was holding fell out. She wondered why Chicago was the one to be called the Windy City, as she watched her papers fly down the San Francisco streets; the wind causing her hair to fly around her face, blind to the cars that tried to pass. A slight mud stain at the bottom of her resume made her growl; because that’s something she did now-a-days, and locked the idea of laminating the next print out in the back of her brain.

She sat in, what looked like, a swanky business building from the outside, where she watch people on the inside in their tiny cubicles mindlessly working on their computers. She sat in a foldable chair looking down at her outfit and realizing she didn’t take a lint roller to her dress, and fuzzy little Gary’s hairs snaked in and out of the fabric. In this moment she thought, maybe I’ve been cursed, but before she could find the courage to stand and leave, the door to her left opened. A middle aged man holding his coffee and IPhone walked out.

This middle aged business man asked if she was Erin Cruise, and ushered her into his office. They shared their ‘how are you’ and began talking business. He asked about her goals and accomplishments, wondered where her past experience would apply as a simple secretary, and then finally rubbed the smudge of mud at the bottom of her resume. After she went through her many memorized answers, his eyes laid on her breast for the remainder of the interview. As if he asked this question to every person, he said, “How dedicated would you be to this job?” raising his eyebrows at her, and “Are you in a serious relationship?”

She nearly ran out of the building and the mid-November air slapped her in the face. Tears were hidden behind frustration as she took in a large cold breath; letting her head rest high. She looked down at her manila folder; taking her flip phone, because not all people can live like royalty, and called her work. She said she would be late and she was on her way, but knew that from one to seven in the afternoon it was impossible to get anywhere in the city when driving.

Erin stepped onto the F-Line to make it to the E-Line, but half way there the trolley hit a dog and broke down. The sky was getting darker with rain clouds, and no one wanted to leave the covers of the trolley for the possibility of the rain to start falling. She watched as animal control came and took the dead dog away, only to realize she was going to be a little more than late.

She realized it would be faster to run there than sit next to the weird San Franciscan people on the E-trolley going two miles an hour up a hill. Instead of getting off at the next stop, she went through the back door onto the balcony, jumping off the steps, and letting her right boot land in a large puddle. The dirty water sank into her sock and as she stepped to the sidewalk; every other step gave a quite squish.

She realized it would have been faster to stay on the E-line trolley, because she moves half a mile an hour up the San Francisco hills.

Erin arrived two hours late to her shift, and she was already wet since the rain started one block away from the coffee shop. She peered through the window and watched as the employees worked through the afternoon rush, and felt that deep down in her heart she didn’t want to go in. The rain kept falling through her uncontrollable fuzzed hair and both of her socks were now soaked to her toes.

It was just then she turned away from the door and walked to her apartment just five minutes away. She realized that she didn’t want to work today, because for some reason she wasn’t feeling it. She thought about how she needed cat food, and just as she finally reached her apartment door she heard her large fuzzy black female cat Gary meow at the door as her keys went in the lock.

She saw that Gary had thrown up on her living room carpet. A large flash of lightning went through the room and she looked out the window. Her reflection stared back.

‘You did this to me’ she wanted to scream at herself, because who else would be to blame for her incredibly bad day, as she heard her stupid large fuzzy black female cat Gary eat her scraps in her pile high dishes.

The Last Time

Written by James McCann

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He was angry this time, very angry. He'd been riled before, but tonight Ellie Tozier might go as far as to say he was livid. Furious. There was a demented look in his eyes, the left kept twitching, a sure sign he was angry enough to finally do it this time, this would be the time he went too far and killed her. There was one time before, last Christmas it had been, when he whacked her in the face with the back of his hand. She'd fallen over and bounced her head off the kitchen table hard enough to knock her out, when she'd come-to she was lying in a hospital and had several stitches in her scalp.

But this time... this would be the time he killed her.

Why she stayed with Tom Reiner after the first time he hit her, nobody knew. Ellie herself was truly convinced that he didn't mean to hurt her, he just got so angry sometimes and he didn't know his own strength. That was all. And she knew that really he did love her, and it was because he loved her so much that form time-to-time he got angry when she didn't think or listen or when she forgot things. She forgot his rule about not smoking in his car one time, and he had smacked her around pretty good, finally putting out his own cigarette (Tom Reiner always smoked a cigarette after he beat the shit out of her) on the underside of her thin, pale wrist. That pain had been bad, but fleeting. After a day or two she'd completely forgotten about it, but not the lesson that had been taught. The small white blister by her hand reminded her of that for a while.

The small white scar it left would remind Ellie about that lesson forever.

But this time... this would be the time he killed her.

And she knew it.

Tom's pudgy physique was slicked with a greasy, oily sweat that made the once-white now badly yellowed t-shirt he slept in cling to his belly. The blue boxer shorts that were supposed to be baggy were filled by his corn-beef complexion fat thighs. And the look in his eyes, dear God, if only you could have seen the look in his eyes. The veins throbbed in his temples, his face was red and going to purple, she'd never seen him like this before, not this angry, and she hated the way the network of veins in the end of his nose (the battle-scars of the life-long heavy drinker) looked now.

'You know I don't like doing this,' he lied, taking one step closer to her. In the dim half-light of their bedroom, Tom looked like a bulbous monster in a cheap horror movie. 'But I have to, you see?' A small, reptilian tongue darted out of his mouth to lick at thin, greasy lips.

The fear grew in Ellie until it became sheer terror, the type that paralyses people and makes bowels loosen. A small voice deep inside was screaming at her to move, to pick up her feet and get moving. Get out out of the way before he, that monster, got any closer. To beat her feet, to start moving and keep moving, to make a break for it and get the hell out of here, God damn-it! Get out of the house, get out of Tom's life, get out of danger.

What exactly was she hanging around for anyhow?

But there was another voice in her head, this voice was calm, calculated, honest and defeated. It begged Ellie to remain where she was, and welcome the beating. To rejoice in the fact that, as angry as Tom looked now, this was going to be the end. The end of her life, because he clearly was going to go too far this time, he was going to beat her to the point that there would be no recovery. No, not this time. A peculiar thought floated aimlessly across the confused scrub-land of her psyche at that point; how funny it was that she was going to die in this stuffy bedroom that smelled of sweat and beer farts. She was going to die at the hands of that bloated, stinky, half-drunk half-mad monster in the ill-fitting clothes. No matter how good of a start you have in life, no matter how much money your well-to-do parents throw at the right schools and colleges, no matter how clean you keep your nose or how good your job is, you can still be killed in a darkened room by your lover.

Don't flinch

Where did that come from? Ellie had no idea, but it sounded like an angel whispering in her ear, only the voice came from within.

Don't flinch, don't go down, the voice instructed her in no uncertain terms. Make him work for it.

Ellie, from a place up until now unknown, stood where she was, no-longer cowering, no-longer trembling, well at least not that she noticed. She still had the look of a dog left out in a cold rain, that slight shiver still barely there, but her face was stoic and her eyes, although fear remained there was also something else; defiance. Whether it was brought on by the acceptance that death was close or because she had the sense that this time was going to be different she did not know. She did not care. A logical thought process was completely impossible at this juncture, she going purely on instinct and feel. It felt right to stand up. It felt right to not be totally consumed by fear right now.

He stepped closer now, his lips pulled back over jagged, tombstone teeth that poked out from pink gums.

In a shaky voice that sounded to Ellie as though it came from a billion universes away, she asked, 'What are you waiting for?'

Had she ever been so surprised in all her days as when she asked that? Tom stopped in mid-step, his chubby right foot hovering a few inches above the carpet of the bedroom. As shocked as Ellie had been at asking the question, it was nowhere near the sea of confusion that Tom currently found himself drowning in. There was no way that this could be Ellie, not his Ellie.

Sweet, dumb, knows-her-God-damn-place Ellie. The Ellie who often learned her lessons slowly and hard, but always did learn them in the end. No way could this be her standing across from him now. No way.

'What?' Tom asked, half not wanting an answer, half really needing an explanation. 'What was that?' A sly, disbelieving grin curved the left side of his face as he tilted his head to the side, all the better to hear Ellie's answer. After several slow, silent seconds had passed, Tom's grin grew into a smile. 'That's right.' The blood was flowing through his body now, sweat rolling freely down his forehead and temples, he knew what was coming and he knew that she knew what was coming. First the fighting then the fucking. He would be harsh and maybe brutal in order to teach the lesson, then he would show his loving side by having sex. In Tom's world it made perfect sense, it balanced things out. To Ellie, or a voice deep within her, it would be called rape. There had only been two times before when he'd felt the lesson had been particularly well-taught and rewarded himself by anally raping Ellie, the woman he'd swear he loved. The first time she'd bled for three, maybe four days after. The second time she'd kept her mouth shut, and the lack of appreciative noises meant Tom had to punch her hard in the kidneys to get a sound from her pretty mouth. Ellie had pissed crimson for two weeks following that.

Taking the back door was what Tom knew he'd be doing tonight. Oh yes, after all of this was over, Tom was going to bend the mouthy bitch over and-

'What... the fuck... are you waiting for?' Ellie asked again, slowly, deliberately. Steadily. She knew now that Tom would be angrier than he had ever been (and yes, he was) and that whatever may come now, it would be for the final time.

With alarming agility for such a big man, Tom lunged across the room, both arms stretched out in front of him, the hands large bent paws, the fingers claw-like, reaching for her throat, he was going to strangle her. No, that wasn't quite right, he was too mad for that. He instead would grab two handfuls of her hair and bash her head against the wall, he would keep bouncing her head over and over until the back of the skull was no-longer there, bone and brain and blood would be smeared and splattered against the wallpaper and on the carpet. What a mess she knew she'd make when her head exploded like a ripe pumpkin dropped from a great height.

He was almost on her when she moved. One of his finger nails grazed her cheek, drawing a thin white line across her flesh but not drawing any blood. She whirled away to her right, leaving Tom, and all his girth, to crash into the wall behind. She heard the muted thump as he connected, followed by an audible groan laced with expletives. When she turned to look she saw Tom stand up on very unstable legs, his right hand clamped to his forehead above the right eye.

From the shining slick of black that was seeping through his fingers like oil she gathered he'd busted his eyebrow open when he hit the wall.

'God-damn cunt bitch!' Tom yelled as he turned to face back into the room, leaning his back against the cool wall, his breathing now heavy and laborious. His chest was heaving, a disturbing wheeze escaped from his throat with each breath. 'I'm gonna get you good....so good...'

As he lurched and staggered towards her like a drunk, Ellie saw that Tom's mouth was ringed with spittle. He came for her again, his eyes wild and animalistic, the whites glowed in the dark like moons in a night sky.

Again she moved out of the way, ducking down low under his left arm (the smell of sweat washed over her, and for a brief moment she pictured a surfer being swept under by a wave) and avoiding any real damage, except the bottom of his triceps hit the top of her head and knocked her a little dizzy. She fell to a knee, but got back up on her two feet as quickly as she could. Now was not the time to sit and rest for a spell. Ellie made it clear across the room to the door, her hand clasped firmly on the knob, but something was stopping her from leaving. If she left now, Tom could recover. He would regroup. Then it would all start again, maybe not for a few days, but it would start up again. And if she did leave, where was she planning to go? It was two in the morning and she was wearing nothing but a white night gown.

There was no way she would have time to get dressed, put on shoes, grab her purse. So she stayed. And she turned back to face that sweating, bleeding, bellowing monster.

He was not charging at her as she thought he might.

Indeed not.

Rather, he was stood with his legs slightly more than shoulder-width apart and bent at the knee. His rotund torso was listing to the left. The left arm was straight and hanging across his large gut, the right hand clasping at the elbow. His face was a contorted mask of fear and dread and, yes, pain. His face was glowing bright red, even in the little light that there was, Ellie could see that Tom's face bore more than a passing resemblance to a tomato.

His eyes glazed over, became vacant, and then he slumped down to the floor, one last groan of unarticulated agony came faintly from his crooked O of a mouth, and then he fell silent. He was silent for quite some time, the minutes being passed-away punctuated solely by the beating of Ellie's heart. She could not just hear but feel the beats in her ears like an ominous grandfather clock tick-tocking away. After what felt like an age, Ellie summoned the courage, some might think foolishly, to check on Tom. She was just about to kneel down beside the motionless body when the idea struck her. She could clearly see Tom's dead, pudgy hand spring up like a fleshly Jack-in-the-box and clutch at her throat.

Ellie moved to the dresser and took a black circle of plastic from it. She flipped open the compact mirror and knelt, cautiously, by the side of Tom's head. She leant forward slowly, the scent of sweat and beer filling her nose, and held the mirror by Tom's face. She counted, evenly and slowly, to ten. No condensation, no breath. No life. Tom was dead. A shiver ran up her spine, her skin broke out in goosebumps, this was the first time she'd ever seen a dead body in person. The thought came to her that she'd been right after all, this had been the very last time. It hadn't gone the way she'd expected, but it had been the final time. Tom Riener would never beat Ellie Tozier ever again.

Extract II

Written by Melissa Booey 

pexels-photo-145512.jpeg

He pretended he didn’t remember, but I reminded him the next morning that he had thrown up in her sink. I wonder if it was the same sink he washed his face over and looked in the mirror at after he slept with her. He made me feel so insane as I walked into the kitchen and caught him with his arm around her. He was so apologetic - it was a shame to see. He wanted so badly to have his cake and eat it too, because he thought he could be “happy” with her. Should have given that more time. I guess he did have his cake, and ate it too. After all… I took him back.

Extract I

Written by Melissa Booey

 Photograph by  Krista Mangulsone

Photograph by Krista Mangulsone

I have recurring nightmares that haunt my daily life. After experiencing trauma, often times one tries to cope with said trauma through their dreams during sleep. I went from a few familiar sequences to an entire outer cerebral hemisphere when I closed my eyes. It became so real - seemingly more relevant than that which occurred in my reality: dark waters; free falling from high-rise overpasses in an uncontrollable car… accepting horrific fates seconds before submitting to gravity - a plunge I’ve somehow always landed. I had a nightmare that he’d stopped loving me - suddenly, unforgivingly. It was our last blissful moment, that summer night. When I awoke the next morning, I was somehow fully aware of the stakes of my situation - I knew what a precious thing I had and it became too terrifying to accept. My fear made me despise him, persecute him, ridicule and abuse him. I blamed him for the sins of others, of all men and all nightmares. He became my scapegoat. I became his trauma. More is contagious than we think.

Scarborough

Written by Sophie Ramshaw

 Photograph by  Kilyan Sockalingum

Photograph by Kilyan Sockalingum

Amy pointed at the large stone mural that stood awkwardly in the centre of the town square. She made a strange laugh from the back of her throat and drew everyone's attention.

'Jesus, guys! Do you remember this thing?' she said, speaking as loudly as humanly possible.

We all gazed over the polished rock and nodded hysterically. A huge stone carving of a man with an eye-patch and a long sword by his side stood heroically in the centre of a small pond. I can't be sure what it is about revisiting your old childhood town that turns everyone into an obnoxious child seeing everything as some magical antique. All I could say was – the nostalgia was real.

At least for all my friends.

I gazed up at the monument and squinted, trying to recall any form of it in my memory. Nothing came. In fact, this whole town seemed a little odd. Something off about it and all round not quite right. All four of us stood in the centre of town, the rest of them laughing joyfully and retelling stories of past high school shenanigans. But something inside me felt loopy and uncomfortable. I scanned the area, seeing nothing but a bunch of scattered brick houses, limestone buildings that were decades old yet still in pristine condition, wiry trees sprouting out from small patches of soil in the otherwise perfectly symmetrical yellow bricked pathways, and finally, a large – almost impossibly large – oval to our left. It spanned out as far as my eyes could see and looking at it gave me a strange sense of claustrophobia. As weird as that sounds. 

But where were the people? The animals? Cars? Buses? Anything?

What is this place?

Tom patted my shoulder and I jolted back to reality.

'Does anyone even remember who that's supposed to be anyway?' he asked, laughing at the sight of the statue.

Amy shrugged and Brandon suggested maybe if we had listened more in history, we'd probably remember.

To that Tom had to say: 'Fuck history.'

I laughed and suddenly the uncomfortableness of the past five minutes vanished and I was back to my usual self.

This is Scarsborough. Your old home town. Born and raised.

I hadn't been back in years. No wonder it felt weird.            

My eyes started to wander and I noticed a large square clump of buildings on the other side of the square. My mind immediately identified it as the old cinema, and coincidently, our favourite place to hang out as noisy youths. 

'Guys, guys,' I said, nodding towards the place, 'now there's a piece of history.'

Everyone looked at it for a moment, then at each other, and at the same time we all howled out a loud hoot of nostalgic merriment. The looks we gave each other appeared as if we were all in the midst of telepathically thinking up ways to commit some juvenile crime. It would probably cause strangers to give us a wide birth, if there were any strangers around. 

'We've gotta go in,' said Amy. 'I bet it still looks the exact same inside!'

Brandon agreed, quickly followed by Tom and myself, and before you knew it we were already outside the cinemas doors looking up at the ancient lettering and boring, broken sign. I squinted and tilted my head back and tried desperately to read what films were being shown, but my brain decided reading wasn't going to be on the tables today. Each letter appeared slightly fuzzy and bleeding at he edges. It was like my mind knew there were words there to be read, but just didn't want to acknowledge it. However, even stranger than that, was the fact that I still knew exactly what was being shown just by glancing at the titles.

Dr. Strangelove, Murder Most Foul, The Flesh Eaters, The Incredible Mr. Limpet...

My brow furrowed, but before I could think too thoroughly about it, Tom butted in with his usual snark.

'Are we gonna go inside, or are we just gonna fucking stand here like a couple of retarded assholes?' he said.

'Okay, rude,' replied Amy. 'And offensive.'

Tom stroked her shoulder flirtatiously. 'You love it,' he said, slowly licking his lips.

Amy laughed at him then flung his hand off with a firm flick.

Brandon poked his head in as if from no where and gave the both of them a sly smile. 'I know I do,' he winked, jerking his eyebrows up and down like some kind of creepy porn star.

'In your dreams, fag,' Tom laughed.

'Are we gonna go inside though?' I interjected.

Amy smiled at me and nodded. She looked at Tom and nudged his elbow. 'See? Our beautiful Miss Curtis here didn't need to use the word “asshole” once.'

'It would've been so much cooler if she had.'

Brandon looked at Tom and shook his head while laughing before we finally made our way inside. The place still had those old rotating glass doors that creaked and groaned as you pushed through them. Each of us piled inside one slot and crammed our way through. As we burst out into the crisp, buttery air of the cinema, our eyes immediately were drawn to the strange contraption in the centre of the lobby. 

We stood there staring at it for a good couple of moments. Almost frozen. It looked like a stiff bear suit strapped to one of those gym machines with the weights on ropes. A “rope pull machine” I think they're called. Needless to say – super creepy. 

I noticed a short blonde lady behind the candy kiosk at the end of the room. The first person I'd seen this entire trip.     

Like four minutes?

She was slumped over the counter resting her head in her palm and seemed to take no notice of us, or maybe she just didn't care.

'I don't remember this thing,' said Amy.

Tom leant back and gave the contraption a tentative frown. 'Me neither,' he said. 'Its fucking creepy through, isn't it? Like, Jesus.'

I scanned it up and down. Gazing over the weird matte fur of the bear suit all the way to the uncomfortable mechanical aspect. I had no idea what it was, and it made me feel queasy all the way to my core.

'Art maybe?' Amy offered.

Brandon shook his head and pushed his thick glasses up the bridge of his nose, giving him his signature “nerd bro” look. 'I actually think it might be one of those new VR machines. You know the ones I mean?'

I looked at it again, trying to decipher which theory seemed more plausible. VR machine? Possible. Maybe you zipped yourself inside the bear and images of Canada streamed through your vision. However, I believed it was more likely to be artwork. Hey, if people can get away with selling their shit in a jar for thousands of dollars, this had to be at least somewhat of a contemporary masterpiece.

Whatever it was, my brain didn't want to look at it anymore. A strange acidic feeling cascaded down my throat and festered in the base of my stomach. I felt like a kid who'd just taken their first shot of alcohol: strangely excited yet as if I had been severely poisoned.

How did you even get to this town?

'What're those bars supposed to do?' I heard Tom ask. 'Like, if its artwork, why the fuck add some random pulley system? Fucking artists today, man.'

I looked over at the desk lady who still appeared bored and uninterested by our presence. I thought that was odd. I mean, if I was in her position I would've been thrilled to have some customers to converse with. Especially since the place was deathly empty, and looked like it had been for years.

'Hey!' I called out to her, 'do you know what this thing is supposed to be?'

Everyone turned their focus to her and awaited a response. She just shrugged her shoulders, averted eye contact and all around seemed completely apathetic. She mumbled something about “the newspaper” but I couldn't really hear. I quickly realised I wasn't going to get any more out of her, so I just let it go.

'whatever, guys. Instead on focusing on this trash, why don't we just go see a film while we're here?' I said.

'Only if its an R rated horror,' smirked Tom. 'Anything less and you may as well go home, shit into a diaper and call yourself a baby right now.'

Brandon popped his head back in and gave us all a grin like no other – like he was trying hard not to crack up and subsequently crap his pants. 'Hey, do you guys know what a pirate's favourite letter is?' he squeaked.

We all looked at him blankly and Tom's eyes narrowed almost to a close. 'R?' we all replied, regretfully.

Brandon raised a sassy eyebrow and shook his head. 'You think it'd be R, but it really be the C.' He burst out into a spout of fake, evil laughter and we all rolled our eyes.

Amy and I groaned and Tom's blank expression somehow had a blank expression of its own. 'Go fuck yourself,' he said, and we all laughed. We turned around to the kiosk planning to buy four tickets to whatever horror film they were currently showing.

But I for some reason stopped.

I thought I heard something. Like a scream or cry but from far away or deep under ground.

My heart started beating quickly and I had that sinking feeling like someone was watching me. I slowly turned around and again was presented with the unnerving sight of that weird contraption. Nothing had changed about it. Even so, my heart beat even faster. My skin felt clammy. My eyes wouldn't blink. I stared up at the face of the bear suit and tried to understand why this whole thing made me so uncomfortable. I felt light-headed and floaty.

Why is this thing so familiar?

A gross feeling pricked the inside of my mouth and a rotten taste washed down my throat. Tears started to swell in my eyes – not out of sadness – but fear. A different kind of fear. Fear of the truth. As I glared up at the mask of that ridiculous bear suit I noticed the horrifying fact that it wasn't empty.

Two eyes protruded from the holes in the mask. Staring at me. Bulging. Pleading. Alive.

I heard the faint noise again and realised it was coming from the suit. Someone was watching me – staring at me. Terror and pain painted across their bloodshot irises.

I looked over my shoulder and saw that my friends had disappeared.

Were they even here to begin with?

The desk lady still leant behind the counter. Uninterested.

I adjusted my shoulders and closed my eyes. Mentally preparing myself for what I knew I was about to do next. My brain screamed at me to stop. It was so loud and violent I felt like smashing my head into a pillar until blood caked my face and little lumps of brain exploded down the walls. The urge was so strong, but somehow I stopped myself.

Instead, I split open the back of the bear suit. A man tumbled out along with a foul, putrid odour. He landed roughly on the floor and curled up in the foetal position. I stepped back and looked down at him.

His hair was in clumps and blood was melted through it. Skin pale like snow and small bits of flesh were torn off or pecked at and he had multiple stab would across his entire body. It looked as if he had been fed to a school of very pissed-off piranhas. Tiny nibbles had been taken from sections in his body, and raw, exposed flesh was flaking off from everywhere.

I couldn't do anything but look.

The man's eyes were wide and wild-looking. I could tell he wanted to say something, but a gag strapped to his mouth prevented him from doing so, and bindings around his hands and legs didn't make things any easier.

I heard voices in my head telling me I shouldn't be doing this. This wasn't something I was supposed to be seeing.

But why aren't you scared like a normal person?

I knelt down quickly and unbuckled the gag around the man's mouth and threw it to the floor. He glared up at me with eyeballs still bulging. The sight of them made me want to be sick.

'Kill me,' he moaned. 'Kill me, please!'

I found myself stepping back again, shaking my head and shivering all over. I heard a creak from behind me and darted my head in that direction. The desk lady stiffly bolted upright and then casually sauntered over to me and the man. All the while rolling her eyes and sighing like I had just spilled something for her to mop up.

I stared in awe as she picked up the gag and stuffed it back into the man's mouth. He screamed and flung his head in every direction, kicking and writhing around like a dying lamb. The lady stomped on his spine and I heard a crunch that sent a shiver through my own. He screamed and saliva spat out from around the circular gag. Bits of skin rubbed off on the carpet and blood began to smear across the floor.

I was completely frozen. Why wasn't I helping? Why wasn't I doing something!? My blood pumped through my veins and I could feel it up and down my arms and neck. For some reason I knew I had no control over the situation.

My attention stayed cemented on the girl as I saw her begin to cram the man back into the bear suit. She heaved and groaned, lifting him up with all her strength and using the metal bars of the supposed “artwork” as leverage.

I watched.

When it was all done and fixed, with the suit back in its proper condition and stuffed with human meat, the girl looked at me and smiled. This was the first time she had properly acknowledged my existence. A shiver cascaded down my entire body. I didn't know what to do or what to say. For some reason I knew she wasn't going to hurt me, but an alarm in my brain still urged me to run away.

The silence was painful and the unintelligible voices in my head didn't help my composure.

'Well, Miss Curtis,' the lady said, placing a blood smeared hand on my shoulder, 'that's enough reminiscing for one day. You'd better wake up before you remember something else you probably shouldn't.'

I cocked my head at her and frowned before a deep breath shot into my lungs and I woke up gasping in my bed with sweat soaking through the sheets. I grabbed ahold of my chest and let out the longest breath of my entire life. Dry tears streamed down my face companied by fresh ones and the room spun around me.

'What the fuck was that?' I asked myself aloud.

I looked around my bedroom and grounded myself in reality. There was my bookshelf. There was my window, my door, my TV… It took a few moments to realise what had just happened and I sat up scared in bed and hugged my knees close to my chest.

It was a dream. Just a dream

Pretty weird that you would wake up right when that girl told you to though.

That doesn't mean anything.

Great! Now you're arguing with yourself! Congratulations! You're fucking crazy.

As I calmed down I let my head relax against the wall behind me. And when I had time to think and rationalise things, I realised small little clues that made it obvious I was dreaming. Like why I didn't recognise that stupid statue, or why I couldn't read the cinema sign and didn't even remember travelling to that town. That place didn't exist. And no wonder my friends just disappeared like that. Dream physics.

Still though. It didn't feel like any average nightmare. That man's eyes and his dry, brittle voice begging me to kill him – it all felt too real. And why did I know the name of that place? It seemed pretty strange that my mind would come up with something like that just for the purpose of some random dream.

I grabbed my phone from its resting place on my bedside table and quickly went to the internet.

Scarsborough I typed into the searchbar and within seconds ancient articles and photos came up showcasing some old town. I clicked on one after another and read through each and every piece of information I could find – figuring out what kind of place this was since apparently it was real.

But so what? So my mind read the name somewhere and my subconscious jammed it into my nightmare. No biggie.

Then my heart stopped. I came across an old newspaper article from the 60's with an old grainy photo of a girl standing proudly beside the bear suit from my dream. GIRL SAVES LOCAL THEATRE WITH HUNTING SKILLS the headline read. It went on to say how a young girl by the name of “Sandy Gillburt” revitalised Scarsboroug's old cinema by donating multiple taxidermy animals of her own making as a way to give the building a more “clubhouse feel”. Below the article was another photo. This time of Sandy with six other contraptions, each one a different animal.

I couldn't blink. And I couldn't stop reading. No matter how hard I searched, I found very little else on Sandy. No where did it mention a murder or any jail time. Not even a whiff of something dodgy going on at that cinema.

I frowned in disbelief, so much that I gave myself a headache. How did my brain know this? Especially since no one else seemed to. I had to be there. Witness it. How could I possibly know any of this otherwise? But this was way before I was born and in a different country too. I pulled up a picture of Sandy and stared at it. And stared and stared until my eyes felt like they were going to bleed.

That now familiar tingling feeling spread through my body as I stared into her eyes and those voices echoed back inside my skull to stop. Looking at her I felt something was wrong – something was weird. Like when you look at yourself in the mirror in the middle of the night and you feel like your reflection isn't just your reflection, but a different person actually staring back at you. And as I stared into Sandy's cold, phony, tainted eyes I felt like what I was looking at... was an old photo of myself.

I calmly turned off my phone and placed it back on the bedside table. Never blinking.

Well Miss Curtis, that's enough reminiscing for one day. You'd better wake up before you remember something else you probably shouldn't.

I don't believe in Buddhism or Hinduism or any of those cultures that believes in reincarnation, but my mind ached and felt as if it had thrown up on itself, and I rationed that if such a thing did exist, then your brain or soul or whatever sure as hell wouldn't want you knowing about it.

Whatever the reason for that hellscape of a nightmare, I can certainly say I have never been more disturbed in all my life. And because of it I will forever believe there is innocent blood on my hands in some weird, twisted way. But to Sandy Gillburt and the ancient history of Scarsborough, all I have to say is: fuck history.   

Time in My Hand

Written by James McCann

 Photograph by  Abdiel Ibarra

Photograph by Abdiel Ibarra

1

Bobby sat at the crossroads, waiting for the lights to change. He was thirty-two, married to Ellie, and had a three-year old son, Jack, at home. Back when Bobby was Jack’s age you couldn’t drive through this part of town, it was a thriving retail district, not quite as busy or bustling as the High Street, but it was still packed enough to be pedestrian-only, and the people who worked here had decent homes and drove good cars and received bank statements that didn’t make them cry. The people who owned the stores (five owners between thirteen stores) lived in very nice homes, were driven in very good cars, and had bank statements that read like telephone numbers. It was the type of place where Bobby’s mother or father would have to carry him if they went there on a weekend; it just wasn’t safe for him to be at ground-level. During the summers, people were guaranteed to faint from the heat. Once, when Bobby had been twelve and trying to woo young Hayley Tenner with a strawberry ice-cream (it hadn’t worked), he’d seen an old woman drop dead from the heat.

Now, the only store down here that was still open was the charity shop, selling people’s unwanted books and out-dated CDs, and the clothes of the dead. It was demoralising and depressing to drive by and see so many boarded-up and white-washed windows. With each business that closed down and went under, Bobby felt another piece of his childhood die, another multi-shaded Technicolour memory tarnished and faded to sepia. The busy shuck-ching!of cash registers sounding yet another sale had long been replaced by the hammering of nails going into boards (over windows and into For Sale signs). It was, what, twelve years ago the city council decided to de-pedestrianise the streets, allowing the cars to take that short cut that would save the wear and tear on the main roads and all the maintenance they required. Some people had noted that in turn the road crews were working less hours as well. Whether the retail district surfaces were strong enough or durable enough to withstand the heavy pounding of traffic had never been a concern.

The lights turned green, Bobby pulled the car out. The traffic was quiet at this time of day, everybody was already wherever it was they were going by 8PM, and Bobby enjoyed tremendously when his was the only vehicle on the road. He could clear his head, and really think things through. Thinking. Bobby had been doing that a lot recently, a lot more than Ellie knew of. He was still young enough to successfully start over, he was a fully-qualified electrician, was very close to the same as a plumber, and was the foreman of J and B Construction. Surely he could go anywhere and find work? And, he figured, if he couldn’t find work he’d just start his own company and work self-employed.

He had not, of course, mentioned these thoughts to Ellie. He wasn’t entirely sure what she’d say about it, about his great master plan that contained absolutely no details, but he had a good idea that he could guess. Ellie had always played it safe; in her work life she never went for promotions, just in case she didn’t get it and had rocked the boat unnecessarily. In her private life she was just as bad. Ellie had taken five weeks to give her answer when he proposed (everything was good as it was, why change things?), and then had doubled back on herself several times once they’d agreed the time was right for children (everything was good as it was, why change things? And what if we don’t like children? What if the sprog comes between us?), so Bobby had continued to use a condom every time they lay together as husband and wife. Just as Ellie had asked (insisted). What Bobby hadn’t told Ellie was that he’d sit and pierce each one with a pin every time he bought a box at the supermarket.

Ellie, he’d long decided, just needed to be pushed into a situation. She was more than capable to handle any situation, she just lacked confidence in herself. Bobby had complete belief in her, and a total trust in themselves as a couple and team to tackle anything. But Ellie’s mother and father were the same; they could never decide on anything, it was a wonder Ellie was here at all.

As Bobby drove further away from the retail district and into the residential areas, he saw more and more For Sale signs. They lined gardens like flags, advertising yet another family that had lost the jobs that were paying their way. First the jobs go, then the people move out, leaving behind all that property. Bobby had wondered if it was all a ploy, lower the house prices, then buy them all up. Then lure big businesses back with the promise of cheap rates, and then selling the houses to the new workers who come here. Bobby had mentioned this idea to Ellie who had agreed that was probably what was happening, and even mentioned that with Bobby’s knowledge of property maybe he should get in on it. This was, it should be pointed out, after she’d been at her friend Patti’s for the evening and had helped empty three bottles of cheap white wine.

Bobby had pointed out then, as he’d mulled over it a thousand times, that the couple wouldn’t be able to get the money to purchase the houses to begin with. The best they could hope for in that situation was that once the houses had been bought, Bobby would get employed to fix them up. In reality, Bobby knew and tried to explain to Ellie at a later, sober, date, the people who’d be buying the houses would probably already have their own teams of professionals for that type of thing.

Every time something that resembled an opportunity came along, there was always something there to keep you down, to stop you from rising up. There was always something, it felt sometimes like life was a game played by the rich; the poor, the working class, were nothing but pawns, just props in their game. And staying here, in the town they’d both grown up in, that they’d met each other and made a life in, was going to kill them. Bobby knew that, and could see that things were going to get much worse before they were going to get better. Considering how much hassle Ellie was to get to agree to the little things, how he was ever going to get her to go for this he didn’t know. But he knew he had to find a way.

2

Bobby pulled onto the driveway of the semi-detached home he shared with his wife and son, the latter of whom would be asleep by now. Bobby missed not being there to put Jack to bed, to read his only son a bedtime story, but Bobby had to make sacrifices, he had to do over-time and work longer and longer hours while there were still hours to work. Over the past two or three months it hadn’t been unusual for Bobby to pull twelve-hour shifts while he still could, most of that time would actually be spent trying, and failing, to drum-up new business and secure new contracts. There was no work anywhere, Bobby knew. He knew everyday before he picked up the phone and had it confirmed a million times over by the time he put it back down again at the end of the day. For a man as qualified as he was, with the contacts that he’d had, to not be able to find work in twelve hours was a warning sign if ever there was one.

He sighed deeply, rubbed his eyes with his thumb and index finger, and steeled himself for going in. He had a feeling, gnawing away at him like a cancer, that Ellie was getting tired of putting Jack to bed by herself every day, of being the only parent in their son’s life. In a very real sense she had a very real right to be pissed off, to want her husband to be home more often. In another way, however, she really hadn’t grasped this concept of Bobby being the only one in the family with a job, and therefore the only one allowing them to pay for things. However, Bobby knew that phrasing it quite that bluntly would lead to the inevitable argument where he would be asked repeatedly if he thought raising a three year old by yourself wasn’t work? Did he think she enjoyed not talking to anyone her own age all day? Did he think she had it easy? Did he? Did he?

No. If it could be at all possible, Bobby would like to avoid the conversation taking those types of tones. This conversation was serious enough that he couldn’t risk this becoming a no-go area.

Bobby thought about how Ellie didn't want to believe that all the violence was about something deeper than race, the colour of the person's skin was just the way it had been reported. That was just the easiest explanation the paper could give, and it made better copy than having to go into dangerous details of the truth. The truth was that the people were scared, they were losing their jobs, their homes, they were seeing their home town diminished and vanish before their eyes and they were powerless to stop it. They were losing their sense of themselves. One group blames Reason A, another group blames Reason B, yet another group blames Reason C while trying to defend Reason A, and before you know what day of the week it is, there’s violence. The fights had been minor so far, the abandoned buildings had windows smashed, but there was real danger brewing. It was building and building, and it had nothing to do with whether the bossman was black or white or hiring yellows to work cheaper.

Racism wasn’t a driving factor, at least not at the start. Bobby knew racism was learned behaviour and, once the idea had been planted, it took on a life of its own, like a wild plant that reached out with poisonous vines, killing everything beautiful around it. Racism. It’s the blacks, it’s the whites, it’s the foreigners. It was easy. It was quick. It gave every bad feeling you had a face, it gave you someone to blame. Whether the person you were blaming was responsible or not was irrelevant.

3

That night, Bobby and Ellie lay awake, talking in hushed tones, not so much to avoid waking Jack, but more because their talk had conspiratorial overtones. Bobby pointed out, as gently as he could, that the town was dying, that it was on life-support at the moment, and the moment the fat cats in charge decided to pull the plug the town was dead, as was everyone in it.

‘Is there nothing we can do?’ Ellie asked, pulling the top sheet closer to her chin, a sure sign that she felt worried and insecure. Vulnerable.

‘There is,’ Bobby said, turning on his side to look at her. ‘You know that.’

‘Is there nothing else?’

‘No.’ Bobby gently stroked the side of Ellie’s head with his fingertips. ‘There’s nothin’ else.’

‘My whole life’s here.’

‘It won’t be for long. I’ve lived my whole life here, too, hon. But for the sake of the family we have to get out while we’re still able.’

Ellie rolled to look at her husband. ‘Will we be okay?’

‘Of course we will.’

‘But it’s so risky,’ she said. ‘Where would we go?’

‘Anywhere,’ Bobby said, shifting closer to her. ‘Anywhere at all that we want.’

‘But you can’t just leave your job-‘

‘Honey,’ he interrupted her. ‘By the end of the year there ain’t gonna be a job to leave.’

‘The fighting’s getting worse.’

This was good. Bobby knew that now Ellie was coming up with her own reasons to get out, her own experiences of the town destroying itself. She was silent for a moment, and then, with her eyes wet and the most beautiful Bobby could ever remember them being, she asked, ‘It doesn’t exist any more, does it?’

‘No,’ Bobby answered with a broken heart. The home town that they’d both grown up in, grown up with, was dead. The memory they had of the place would always be brighter than reality. What she wanted for Jack to grow up with did still exist, just not around here.

Ellie let that sink in, she was thinking too many thoughts for it to be healthy. Bobby was pretty sure that she was going to agree. He was pretty sure nobody would be more surprised than she was.

4

‘Promise me we’ll be okay,’ Ellie said.

‘Don’t worry,’ Bobby said and placed a kiss on his wife’s mouth. ‘We’re gonna find a way.’

Love Bleeds Eternal

Written by James McCann

nature-purple-garden-flower.jpg

‘You’re beautiful,' that’s what I told her. ‘Deeply, deeply beautiful.'  And she was. Not just to me but to everyone. She was five feet, maybe five-one, black, black, hair that fell down over her pale shoulders in curling tussles. Her eyes were large, dark brown pools that, crazy at it sounds, I swear to God you could drown in. Her nose was thin and came to a type of squared-off point, the sort of nose that gives out a sneeze you’d expect to belong to a cartoon squirrel.

She was cute, pretty, you couldn’t believe how attractive, I could never truly get across to you how gorgeous she was, I’d have to show you photos or something, but we don’t have time for that right now. I’m sure one will find its way onto the news in the next few days, at the very least her picture will be in the papers. Totally out of my league, totally out of this world. Even my own mother told me she was too beautiful for me, she was too pretty for me. I guess in the end she was. She was too pretty for this world.

When we’d first got together, she was just about to get her first exhibition at some arts gallery across town. I’d heard rumours at the time that the sleaze who owned the place had a habit of launching new, unheard of painters in exchange for, shall we say, services? "Giving head to get ahead", it’s called.

Of course, back then, I didn’t really care. She was just a really good looking woman whom I happened to be introduced to one night at an arts exhibition. By the end of the night, the two of us were hunched up against each other in a closet, acting like a couple of teenagers. It got heavy pretty fast from there. There wasn’t a long “getting-to-know-each-other” phase. We knew each other like kindred spirits the moment we shook hands.

For the next three and a half months we lived in each other’s pockets. We were inseparable. After a while I noticed he kept calling. On the phone, coming round to her apartment, constantly asking to see her down at the art gallery. I knew something had to be done about it, I knew it was me who had to do it, as well.

It would be easy enough, use her phone to text arrangements to meet him at the gallery, go and meet him and whereas he’d be expecting to meet my beautiful princess, I’d kill him. Maybe even do it with one of his own statues. Then of course I’d take his phone. I wouldn’t even let my beautiful, pretty thing know what was going on.

And that was when it dawned on me.

Everyone was right, of course. She was too pretty for me. She was too beautiful for me. She was, and always would’ve been, out of my league. After that art gallery bastard, it would’ve been someone else eventually. A mechanic. A check-out boy. A dog walker. Anyone. There was no way I was going to be able keep her, Jesus she was perfection.

Walking-fucking-perfection. She really was the type of woman that inspires truly awful poetry in college kids, and strange tingling in pre-pubescent boys.

Just… awe-inspiring perfection.

So I decided there was no way I was ever - that I could ever - keep her from other men, there was just no way I could ever keep her. I’m just not good enough for her, nobody was, but in finding that out she’d have to leave me. She would never leave me, I would see to that.

I waited for her to come to my apartment for dinner, she looked amazing. The type of face that you see in pictures and just feel hollow inside because you know you can’t touch the beautiful, perfect contours of her face. I placed my hands on the side of her face and kissed her tenderly. I led her through to my bedroom, the bedroom we’d shared many, many wonderful times, and I gave her a tulip. A rose was too obvious, and the first ever painting of hers that I had seen was of a tulip.

She lifted it to her nose and drank in its aroma. When she lifted it to her face its beauty drained out in comparison to her features. She raised her green eyes to mine, we made eye contact, and then with a brisk whip of my wrist, her throat was slit open. The wound stretched open in slow motion, growing to a wide yawn, blood spilling down across the front of the white shirt she was wearing. My white shirt she was wearing.

The claret drenched the tulip, giving it the appearance of melting, something straight out of a Salvador Dali painting. She liked Dali. The crimson soaked its way downwards towards her blue jeans, completely encompassing the white of the shirt. She brought her hands to her throat as though she was strangling herself. The blood seeped through her fingers.

It didn’t take long for her to die, drowned in her own blood. I sat for a long while on the edge of the bed and just watched her. Flat on her back on the floor, her left leg was bent at the knee and tucked under her extended right leg, the limbs making a grotesque, perverted figure four. Her arms splayed out by her sides, her head cocked to the right, a dark red, already congealing, scarf of blood oozing out across the floor reminding me of if she’d been on the back of a motorbike or on a rollercoaster, her neck garment flapping in the wind.

She was dead now. Just in that instant she had crossed over from life to death, from here to there, from having all the potential to now being the perfect work of art forever more. She would never have her purity soiled by those others who aren’t worthy of her.

That was six hours ago. The city’s quiet outside. I chain smoked through two packs, something I’d completely given up during my time with her. I’d not really touched a drop of alcohol, either. Except the odd glass of wine over a romantic dinner with her.

I have her blood on my hands, her soul in my heart and her eyes on my mind.

The Stranger

Written by Mike Davies

 Photograph by  Clem Onojeghuo

Photograph by Clem Onojeghuo

Minus six degrees, what on earth possessed him to go out anyway with only a t-shirt and a pair of woollen gloves for warmth? I must be mad, he thought, but she was in trouble and he couldn't just walk away, his walks in the early hours were a regular occurrence, his insomnia had seen to that years ago  He stood, shivering, looking in the window of a local charity shop; the shop dummy looked warmer than he did, dressed in a zip up track suit, jogging bottoms and a Doctor Who scarf draped casually over the shoulder.

The cold was biting hard now, as he wished he was the shop dummy, all warm and cosy. The fact that it had no head seemed only a minor inconvenience; at least he would be inside. As he gazed into the window seeing his own reflection, he thought he saw someone else's too. At that point, a serene kind of calmness descended upon him; a white mist clouded his vision and all went dark.

2

Franki went to the Silver Bullet Club every Saturday night in the hope she would meet her knight in shining armour, or at the very least get a ride on his trusty steed. Tonight, though, just wasn't one of those nights. She seemed to be repelling men. Still, with no work in the morning, a purse full of purple bank notes (thanks to Mr. Camelot and his lucky lotto balls) who needed a man anyway? Especially when you have a special drawer at home just waiting to be opened.

It was just after 2 a.m and Franki decided to call it a night, as she could no longer stand unaided and Mr .Camelot's money had nearly all gone. Even though she was seeing double, she managed to see her way down the stairs and onto the street, the doorman asked her if she was okay and offered to get her a taxi. She fell into the cab a little unlady-like to say the least; showing her red and white polka dot-panties. Well at least she was wearing some tonight: usually they would be lying on the club's toilet floor by now. As she lay on the seat of the taxi trying to remember where she lived, she could feel a warmth in her throat and thought maybe that last double Vodka and Coke was probably a bad idea.

'Look love, I ain't got all night, I got a living to make, so where the hell am i taking you?' As the cab driver turned to speak to her, she could control her gag reflex no more. Put it this way: cheap microwave lasagne doesn't look so appetising the second time around.

3

It was 3 a.m and the streets had become silent. All the late night revelers had gone home, except
for Franki who found herself slumped in the doorway of a local supermarket. As she awoke and stumbled to her feet, she felt an ache down below, a pain she'd had on numerous occasions, a feeling that was all too familiar. She approached the pharmacy and looked in the window; the neon light flashed at -6 Degrees - good job she remembered her warm coat, she thought. She caught her reflection in the window and saw a line of dried blood coming from her left nostril and a purple looking ring around her right eye.

Had she fallen at some point? Had she done it falling into the taxi? Unlikely, she thought, but she
was having trouble remembering the last hour or so. As she surveyed her surroundings trying to establish where she was, she saw a man on the other side of the road, he was looking into a charity shop window.

'Excuse me,' she shouted. 'What road is this?' At that moment the man just crumpled in a heap on the floor. His head gave a worrying crack on the pavement as he landed. Franki ran across in a panic but soon stopped, as the pain seared through her body and the pain between her legs became unbearable, she began to recall some of the last hours events.

4

It was 2.05 a.m and pretty quiet for a Saturday night, he'd only made a tenner so far, he'd dropped some well dressed gent home after doing a bit of overtime at the office. Yeah right, he thought, the only overtime he was doing at that time of night was with his Secretary. Probably a blonde with nice teeth and big tits. Dennis had been a Taxi driver for almost eight years now and he loved it, for a man over fifty to get as much action as he did was nothing short of a miracle, mostly blow jobs off some scrawny tart who couldn't pay her fare. Although it meant he wasn't making as much money as he'd hoped, it was still worth going out because he could overcharge the young stags out to impress their latest conquest before they took them home, only to find that their horns had wilted.

Dennis was what's commonly known as a sexual deviant: if it moves, fuck it. If there's grass on the pitch... Well basically, not a nice man to know. He was a short man standing at only five feet and two inches, he weighed in at eighteen stone and had what can only be described as "that single man smell": a mixture of body odour and sweaty feet, cunningly disguised with an underlying waft of 99p body spray. The funny thing was, he kept his cab in pristine condition; personal hygiene was not a priority since his wife of twenty years left him for his brother (they'd been having an affair for years by all accounts, right under his nose, in the marital bed, on the marital stairs, on the marital fucking kitchen table) but he wasn't bitter... much.

5
The Cab Ride.

His quiet night was about to get a little more interesting. A large ape of a man came over with a
gorgeous little brunette hanging off his arm, probably a club bouncer, he thought to himself. The Tart looked to be In her mid thirties, and well proportioned; all the right junk in all the right places, so to speak.

Monkey man opened the cab door, 'Look after her pal, she says she's got the fare.'  Monkey man lumbered away smiling and shaking his head. The Tart tried to turn and close the cab door and lost her balance (not for the first time tonight) and fell onto the floor. Wiping a spot of blood from her nose she clambered onto the seat. She tried to spare her blushes by pulling her skirt down over her spotted panties. Why she was trying to be modest at this stage was anyone's guess.

Dennis looked in his rear view mirror and saw her sprawling all over his back seat and impatiently
asked her where she was going.

'All the way baby, and back again if you can handle me,' she slurred.

Oh great, he thought, another beauty. Still, she was a bit of a stunner. let's see if we can have a little fun. At that precise, moment she turned a funny kind of mauve colour and vomited all over the cab floor.

'Oh for Christ's sake woman, you're shitting me,' he said as he got out to see the extent of the mess. 'Im gonna have to charge extra for this, you know. This'll stink for weeks.'

The Tart had passed out and Dennis tried his best to rouse her to no avail. I ought to just chuck her out on the street, he thought, but no, he couldn't do that to her. After all, it was his duty to look after her, wasn't it?

Artillery Road was well off the beaten track and was often used by, let's say, amorous couples with nowhere to express their lust for each other, so pulling in here meant Dennis was not out of place. He sat in his seat for a few minutes occasionally glancing in the mirror to check on the tart, she was beginning to stir so he had to make his mind up quickly on his next move. He got in the back and sat with her, he noticed immediately that brunette was not her natural colour. Such a soft complexion, he thought as he stroked her cheek. Franki slowly opened her eyes and immediately felt nauseous, that feeling was overwhelmed by one of excitement. Just for a second or two the excitement was immense, a warm sensation between her legs followed by a very strong orgasm. For a moment she let the sensation wash over her, only for the reality of the situation and the pure fear of what was happening occur to her. She tried to sit up but a
hand came from nowhere and struck her in the face. The same hand gripped her by the throat and held her down.

She tried all she could to escape the pressure that was bearing down on her by flailing her arms
around. It was no use. The presence on top of her was too strong. She tried to scream but nothing came out. With her arms thrashing about and slapping the presence on the back as hard as she could, she thought she might find the strength to fight.

Suddenly there was a loud banging noise and someone's muffled shouts, in an excited gravelly voice the presence on top of her shouted, 'Fuck off I'm a bit busy right now.' 

The shouting continued and after a second or two she heard a large crash followed by a thud. She saw an arm reach through the window, unlock the door and grab the presence that was on top of her. Suddenly, the weight was lifted and she was able to scramble out of the cab. Her vocal chords relaxed and let out the worst sound you have ever heard.

Franki sat back against a tree trembling, unable to think through fear let alone move, a figure appeared before her.

'Please, please just leave me alone,' she sobbed, too tired and scared to put up a fight even if her life depended on it.

'It's okay love, I won't hurt you I promise.' The voice sounded calm and friendly but she could only see a silhouette. The figure took a step back and raised both arms up by his side as a gesture of trust. Franki's eyes closed and she drifted.

6

3.03 a.m, Franki bent over the figure lying on the ground and cautiously shook him. At first there
was no response and the thought of explaining a dead body to the police scared her a little. She got to her knees and bent forward, placed her head on his chest. As she took his wrist to check for a pulse, the stranger's eyes shot open, his body gave a violent shudder and he sat bolt upright.

Franki fell backwards and fell on her backside; the stranger stood up and reached out to her. Franki let out an almighty scream and the stranger backed away.

It's okay,' he said quietly. 'You're safe now. Give me your hand.'

She was still on her backside trying desperately to crawl away. The stranger took a step back and
raised both hands up by his side as a gesture of trust.

She had seen this gesture once before tonight, she was sure of it. The stranger stepped forward and held out his hand, she tentatively accepted and he pulled her up. By this time the stranger was showing signs of hypothermia, he was shivering and feeling very drowsy, he stumbled forward and Franki managed to stop him falling and propped him up against the shop door. As the stranger's breathing slowed down, so did the shivering.

 'I've got my car round the corner. Let's go before I pass out again,' he slurred.

The stranger was in a bad way, she managed to get him to his car and fumbled for the keys in his
pocket. Once they were in the car she fired up the engine and turned on the heating. Although the burning smell from the vents stuck in her throat a little, they began to warm up.

Franki was in a lot of pain, confused and cold. She looked into the strangers deep, blue, trusting eyes.

'You saved my life tonight, didn't you?'

The stranger turned to her. 'Ethan.' He smiled and held out his hand, she took it and shook.

'I don't know about that,' he continued. 'I thought you were being attacked so I broke into the taxi only to find it wasn't quite what I thought.'

'The taxi driver!' She said looking frightened. 'He raped me and you... you stopped him, didn't you?'

'Not exactly,' Ethan shuffled in his seat. He still felt like he was slightly floating. He felt a little drowsy and his breathing shallow but he continued. 'I thought I saw a struggle, I had to do something but when I broke the glass and opened the door, the driver was slumped unconscious on the seat next to you and you were, well - putting it bluntly - playing with yourself.'

Looking embarrassed and a little confused, Franki lowered her head. 'Go on Ethan, carry on.'

'Well that's it really, you crawled out of the car, screamed and ran into the trees. The taxi driver woke up, I dealt with him, came to find you and that's about it. You passed out so I carried you to my car, we were on the way to the hospital when you woke up, you jumped out of the car at the lights, I parked here to look for you. I think I must have passed out due to the cold and then you helped me up, and here we are.'

Franki feared the worst, she had been having these dreams, very sexual and sensual dreams,
often waking up mid orgasm. Often feeling that she wasn't alone, even though she was. Often she convinced herself that someone was in the room when she awoke, as she was sure she heard voices. Well a certain excited gravelly voice , which would often say things to her like "Do you like that, bitch?"

She wasn't sure if they were dreams or something else, something unknown, often they scared her to death. They excited her so much but never had she had anything like that outside the confines of her bedroom before. She had looked this up on Wikipedia and read about the Incubus. According to mythology, an Incubus would lie on sleeping women, in order to engage in sexual activity with them. As she said to herself at the time, "That's just stupid, isn't it?"

Tears started to roll down her face, she looked at Ethan and asked, "What did you mean, you dealt with the cab driver? Please say he's okay." 

Ethan put on his seatbelt, popped the car into gear, and headed off to the hospital. He looked straight ahead trying hard to focus.

'I'm sure he's fine, he came round just as you got out of the car. I told him to put his cock away, gave him a bit of a slap, and left him to it.'

In all honesty, it was more than a little slap, and he wasn't sure he would be ok, but dirty little fuckers like him deserved all they got.

***

Extract from The Daily Tribune, Monday 15 January:

Police want to hear from anyone
who may have information about
a local Taxi driver found dead in his cab on Artillery Road.

Officers were called to the local couples spot In the early hours                                                                                                       of Sunday morning , it is thought that the
victim was involved in an altercation with another man about ten                                                                                      minutes earlier.

Any information please contact your local police station.