We’re sat on two fishing chairs at the foot of the sand dunes on a remote part of the beach. The sun’s touching the horizon and there’s a light breeze coming in off the approaching tide. It’s no cold, but I still done the natural cave-man thing and got a wee fire started. Alright, it’s no exactly wee, but who doesn’t love a roaring campfire?
Sally’s building a joint – just to take the edge off later if needed, she telt us. She’s wearing a pair of black leggings tucked into fur lined boots, and a grey hoody that’s two sizes too big. No matter what this bird wears, she does so like a boss, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping to go all Peter Andre and have some sex on the beach. No sure how to broach the subject, though. After our heart to heart last night, and her…revelation about her past, the last thing I want is to pressure her. I did sleep in her bed, but nothing more. She’s telt us it doesn’t affect her sex life, but I know if it doesn’t happen soon, we run the risk of making it weird. Probably best leaving the ball in her court.
We lay on till near lunchtime the day. No sooner had she opened her eyes, and she was asking when we were going on our trip. Being the cocky fucker I am, I said there’s no time like the present. She near exploded with joy. She’s buzzed about all day like a bee-keeper with tinnitus, blathering on about set and setting, being in the right frame of mind, and treating the ritual with respect. It was my idea to come down here. It was her idea to put the poncy music on. You know the kind – pure mad hippy Buddhist shite. All bells and wind chimes. Like the shite they play in doctor’s waiting rooms to calm your nerves.
Well let me tell you, I’m far from fuckin calm.
When Sally asked if I could get DMT, I had to look into it, as it’s no the kind of thing my clientele would ask for. I did have one boy ask us if I could get crystal meth. He got told to go and take flying fuck to himself. Being the first dealer to unleash that shite over here? Fuck that for a game of soldiers. That’s a Pandora’s box I want absolutely no part in opening. Most of my punters are only interested in going to the moon. By all accounts, this stuff rockets you to another fucking dimension. To say some of the trip reports I’d read were fantastical would be an understatement. And honestly? I don’t have a fucking clue. The logical side of my brain is dismissing it, telling us it’s no possible, that it’s only hallucinations caused by chemicals in the brain. But there’s another bit of me that’s…well, absolutely bricking it.
But I’ve promised my wee Sally Cinnamon I’d do it with her to see if it helps with her…issues. And, if there’s one good thing you can about me, it’s that Malky would take a broken back over a broken word. All day, every day, and twice on a Sunday. No question. Plus, I couldn’t live with myself if she tries to throw herself in front of a train again without even trying something to help her. So here I am, about to break drug dealing rule number one. The things men will do for the toosh.
Sally’s face is the epitome of concentration as she sprinkles the ground-up weed into the joint – the tip of her tongue sticking out the corner of her mouth.
I glance over her head at the old wooden pier away along the far end of the beach. I don’t think I’ve been down the shore at all since my brother…left.
I spent a vast amount of my childhood here. As mum couldn’t afford to take us abroad, we spent much of our school holidays down here. She’d pack some sandwiches, juice, and sweeties, and trot us off to the beach. She’d spend the day sunbathing and reading on a big towel while me and my brother played in the sand dunes or – if it wasn’t too baltic – paddled in the sea.
Then, when I got older, I started coming down myself. Absolute ages I spent fishing from that pier during one school holiday catching fuck all but the cold. Didn’t help that I had an old shitey rod with a fucked reel I found in a skip. The first few times I don’t even think I used floats or baited the hook. Just flung the line in and hoped for the best. That’s what happens when you’ve no father to show you these things. You fuck up then give up. That’s exactly what I did. I remember walking home from the third or fourth day spent wasting my timeabsolutely raging.
As I passed the Harbour Inn, a familiar voice said, ‘Any joy the day, Wee Man?’
I turned – my big brother’s pal Zander walked out the boozer. I don’t know if my brother was inside as I wasn’t exactly in the mood for chatting. That would’ve depended on his current status with the landlord. My money’s on him being barred. Zander was sound, always giving us a couple of quid and that, but I wasn’t wanting any cunt to know about yet another failure, so I kept walking.
‘Where’s your rod?’ he shouted.
In the fuckin bin, I said, before running away.
Sally holds the joint in both hands and puts it up to her lips. Her black locks sway from side to side as she moistens the skins with her tongue.
The morning after giving up on the fishing, my bedroomdoor gets booted in before the sun’s even up.
‘Drop your cocks and grab your socks,’ my brother said.
I remember telling him to get to fuck, and pulling the covers over my head. He ripped the quilt off my bed, skipping away from my kicks. I roared at him to give it back.
‘You can have one thing,’ he said. ‘This…’ He held up my fusty batman quilt. ‘Or this…’ He held up a black case, like what folk carry guns in but longer.
I said, is that a…
‘Brand new, top-of-the-range, all singing, all dancing, undamaged from its fall off the back of a lorry, fishing rod,’ he said, all smug.
The beaming smile I felt cross my face must’ve told him exactly what my choice was.
He flung it at us and said, ‘You’ve ten minutes to get ready or I’m out the door without you. I’ll no be missing the early worm.’
No knowing the meaning of that saying, I thought we were going to dig for worms, but he’d already got some. As well as everything else a budding fisherman needs – floats, anchors, a net, and best of all, a big-bastard Rambo-knife. ‘Just in case a shark tries to fuck with us,’ he said.
And by the way, that blade did save us from a few sharks over the years. Just no the marine kind.
He’d even made us chopped-pork rolls and packed my favourite munchies – Bikers crisps and Taz bars. What a day that was. Sitting with my legs hanging over the pier, listening to my big brother’s stories. And let me tell you, he had a few. I’d heard whisperings about him, and it seemed the police were always at the door for him, but I think that was the first time I’d actually heard it from the horse’s mouth. Now, I’m sure he gave us the watered down version, but still, some of the things he got up to would’ve put the Devil to shame.
He even told us something no one else knew – that he’d enlisted to join the Royal Marines. If only I knew then…
Sally’s glancing round about her feet while she twists one end of the joint closed, and preps the other end for the roach. Muscle memory at its finest. She finds her fag packet under her chair, picks it up, and tears a piece of card off it.
Hand on heart, that day fishing with my brother was one of the best days of my shite life. We never even caught any fish. We did, however, catch quite a few eels. Long, black, slippery things that were murder to unhook. One even slipped from my brother’s grasp and back into the sea as he swung it down to smash its head against the ground. Lucky bastard. I thought we were keeping them to take home and cook up. I remember asking if they tasted any good.
He laughed. ‘Only if you don’t know you’re eating one.’ Then, he told us the plan. ‘Take these into town and go to all the takeaways. Some will chase you but others will pay for them. Back in my day, the Jade Dragon paid best, but go round them all and see who offers you the most. Let them know you’re offering them to every other restaurant and the highest bidder gets them. So’s they don’t try to rip you off.’
And that’s exactly what I did. Our wee fishing days turned into a regular thing and a good wee earner for a primary-school wean that rarely got any pocket money. God knows how many cunts over the years thought they were tucking into chicken curry. Little did they know, it was the Cunninghame brothers eels!
That’s why I don’t do takeaways.
Fuck, I know cunts that laced bread with rat poison and fed it to birds. Bags of dead pigeons and seagulls they used to flog to them. The sick bastards. Never could bring myself to do that. Killing fish is one thing, but birds? They’ve too much emotion in their piercing, knowing eyes. Some folk don’t like these “rats with wings”. I say they’re just trying to survive like the rest of us.
Sally holds the finished doobie up and gives it thetradesman’s eye. Satisfied, she tucks it behind her ear and looksat us.
‘So…’ she says, her hazel eyes wide open. ‘When do ye want to do it?’
Like a dog before it lies down, I give a cursory scan all around. The beach is deserted. ‘Let’s get this party started,’ I say, trying to sound confident.
She squeezes my arm. ‘Eeek!’ She reaches into the big pocket on her hoody, pulling out a wee bamboo pipe and the bag of DMT. ‘So, who’s first?’
‘Give it here.’
‘Are you sure?’
Fuck no. ‘Fifteen minutes it lasts?’
She nods. ‘Yep.’
I tut. ‘Piece-a-piss.’
‘Don’t be getting all cocky, Malky, this is serious stuff.’
Don’t be fuckin making this harder than it already is, I want to say. ‘Relax. I’ve faced down scarier things than this.’
‘I know. It’s just—’
‘Just get it sparked and give it here.’
She takes a deep breath. ‘Okay then…’ Swings her chair around so’s she’s sat in front of us. ‘Here, hold this.’
I take the pipe while she opens the bag. It’s all crystalisedlumps, like demerara sugar. She squeezes the bag between her forefinger and thumb, opening the top. She delicately pours half into the pipe before sealing and pocketing the bag. She takes her lighter out and the pipe off us.
I dry my palms on my jeans.
She looks us in the eye, a solemn expression on her face. ‘Remember, three big draws.’
‘I’ll hold it for you, and remember, I’ll be here the whole time.’
I force a smile. ‘Don’t be dipping my pockets or rifling through my phone.’
She smiles. ‘Ready?’
Nope, but I nod anyway.
She sparks her lighter and holds it above the pipe.
I take a massive draw. It’s no as harsh on the throat as I wasexpecting. I exhale and before I’ve even emptied my lungs, the world starts to shimmer and distort.
She sparks her lighter again. The flame seems alive. It’s bigger, brighter, and is dancing before my eyes.
I take another draw. My body’s went that gouchy way when you’re coming down from an eckie. When the smoke clears from my exhale, Sally’s face is like butter being churned.
She’s saying, ‘Quick! One more!’
I can’t look at her, so I glance over her shoulder as the pipe gets pushed between my lips. I’m focusing on a seagull – at least I think it’s a seagull – bobbing on the tide. It feels like that part on a roller coaster where the clicking stops.
I take another draw. The sand, the sea, the gull, the whole fuckin world, stretches away into the distance like it’s cocked back on a massive slingshot. I can feel its tension. I exhale as the whole world rushes towards us at breakneck speed…
I’m getting hurled through infinity. It’s like whizzing down a flume. One made outta morphing and constantly shifting geometric patterns. Like when the Starship Enterprise goes to warp speed. But it’s no smooth sailing. It’s absolutely torturous. I’m panicked and feel like I’m about to simultaneously implode and get torn apart. My whole body’s tense, trying to fight it. There’s a chant of, ‘silly cunt, silly cunt, silly, silly, silly cunt’ echoing around my head. I get it. I relax and embrace it. I stick my fist out like Superman and fly headlong into the abyss.
I’m on an island. The beautifulest tropical setting you could imagine. Too beautiful to be anywhere on our fucked up world. Wee…things, Mogwai looking fuckers, come out the water on all sides, looking at us queerly and whispering in each other’s ears. A fish through my pockets and finds the big shortbread tin I keep my gear in. It’s filled with the Cunninghame brothers special curry. I feed them. The skies darken and sea churns. They turn into monstrous looking fuckers. All teeth, claws, and rage. They go at each other, ripping and tearing till there’s only one left. The biggest. And it’s grown bigger, stronger and scarier from eating its kin. It turns to me, a look of malevolence in its one, dark eye. I back up. There’s a fishing rod and Rambo knife at my feet. I pick up the knife. It’s heavy as fuck and dripping with blood. The blood sizzles as it hits the sand like acid. It comes towards us. I back up more. It keeps coming. I step in the water. Closer. It feels sticky. I look down and it’s a sea of blood I’m standing in. The monsters right at us. Towering over us. I’m stood on one leg. The other’s raised to protect my belly while the knife’s held above my head in shaking hands. Arrgghh!! It opens its mouth and swallows us whole.
I’m in the belly of the beast.
I can’t move. Can’t fuckin breathe. I’m panicking and struggling but with each movement, the monster’s intestine clamps tighter. What in the actual fuck is this? I’m needing outta here pronto. I’m trying to remember somebody but I don’t know who. The words fifteen minutes bounce about my head but I’ve no fuckin idea what a minute is.
Fuck sake, heeeellllppp!
A sirens call. Beautiful and welcoming, but distant. It’s urging us to fight. To no give in. To rise and come to play. The knife’s still in my hands. I move it backwards and forwards. Tiny movements that are getting bigger with each cut. The siren’s getting clearer. I’m now thrusting the knife from nuts to napper. I break through and am blinded by the brightest light I’ve ever had the pleasure to behold. I drag myself out the carcass, blinking against the light.
My eyes adjust.
I’m in a picturesque mountain land. But it’s no…normal, whatever the fuck normal is. The grass, plants and trees are a mishmash of unusual shapes and colours. Fuck, there’re colours I’ve never even seen before. And they’re alive. No like with faces and legs and that. More…sentient. I can feel them. The siren calls again. It’s atop a mountain. A big bastard seagull. It speaks to us. No in the traditional sense or even in a recognisable language, it’s more…a feeling. All the feelings. Words that mean nothing but everything at the same time. It’s more like an emotion it’s putting in us. And a warning. The smell of burning assaults my nostrils. The gulls telling us to look…look what you’ve done…look behind. I don’t want to. It tells us I must. I know, with every fibre of my being, that it’s right. I reluctantly turn.
The land’s burning all around. The wall of flames is higher than I can see. It’s closing like a tsunami, morphing into tortured souls. The heat becomes unbearable so I turn away. The seagull’s right there. It’s ginormous. Like how I’d imagine a Pterodactyl would be. A thing on its forehead like kryptonite, but no green, it’s more..it’s more…fuck knows what it is. It’s connected to everything that’s ever been, and everything that ever could be. It’s beautiful. It’s infinity. It’s love. The heat on my back’s becoming intolerable. The gull wants us to climb aboard. I go to do it but it backs up. Something’s wrong but it’ll no tellus. I lunge for it and it rears up, flapping its massive wings and squawking like fuck. I shit myself, stumble back, and drop my knife. It shuts up and crouches down. Got it. No weapons allowed.
I clamber on its back and it flies just in time.
We’re soaring above the world…this world…if it even is a fuckin world. As far as the eye can see, there’re flames. Tearing across the land, consuming everything and growing. There’s folk trapped among the encircling flames. I can feel their despair, their pain, their absolute anguish. Make it stop, I plead. The gull tells us it can’t, only I can. How? You know. I don’t. Yes, you do. I don’t, help us understand. Silence.
Fuckin tell me!
My arse near comes out my throat when the gull tips us. I’m hurtling towards the flames, the heat’s scorching us. Just before I hit the flames, the gull swoops below, catching us on its back. I let out a sighed thank you. My breath is like a CO2 extinguisher, instantly dousing the inferno below. I get it. I blow out hard and my breath forms a cloud that turns to rain, leaving a clear aired sky, and a flame-free land in its wake. The gull cocks its head back at us and flashes a cheeky wink.
Let’s fuckin do this!
The gull spreads its wings and banks down like a war plane on a bombing run. Except it’s no death and destruction we’re unleashing on this place. No. It’s the complete opposite. We soar above the flames speaking benevolent words of joy, wisdom, and truth. I feel like a god but more powerful. Like all the answers are coming from within. Answers to questions I never even knew existed. We spend what seems a lifetime extinguishing the flames with Oasis’s ‘All Around The World’ playing on repeat from the wee CD player on the seagulls back. You know, the one that’s just materialised.
Job. Fucking. Done.
The gull’s wings swoop in and out as it brings us down to land. The CD player’s gone, replaced by a tiny wee Noel Gallagher, strumming away on his Epiphone-Sheraton, union-flag guitar. He’s playing ‘Don’t Go Away’ with a passion I’ve never seen before. I don’t want to, but I know I have to…have to…fuck knows, but there’s something I need to be doing. Somewhere I need to be going. I nod at wee Noel and make to step off the gull. It’s head’s changed. There’s a mane of black hair where feathers should be. I step off and walk round the front.
It all comes back as I’m staring at a giant seagull with Sally’s head on it. She’s smiling at us, telling us…telling us…fuckin everything I need to know. This world starts to distort and it sounds like being underwater. I’m focused on Sally’s eyes. No amount of words could ever do justice to what I’m seeing in them. Everything’s slowing down and becoming all warped. I don’t want this to end. I want to stay here forever, lost in my Sally’s eyes.
I glance over Sally’s shoulder and near explode with joy. There, stood atop the sea like a cool-as-fuck Jesus, is my brother. Just like the last time I saw him when he was getting lowered into the ground, he’s wearing his army uniform. But he’s got his legs. And he’s alive. He smiles and nods at us before disappearing with everything else…
‘Malky, Malky, can you hear me? Are you okay? Talk to me, Malky.’
I look into Sally’s eyes, give her the once over to make sure she’s no got any wings, before grabbing her and holding her tight as I break down and bawl like a wean.
Peter is a new writer who bides in Irvine, Scotland, better known as The Riviera of the North. His work has appeared in Misery Tourism,Scare Street’s ‘Night Terrors’ anthologies, as well as The Scottish Art Club’s ‘Life on the Margins’ anthology, as the winner of their 2020, Edinburgh International Short Story Award. The latter being the first story Peter ever got published. He likens it to losing your virginity to a supermodel. Not that he’d know how that feels.