Category Archives: Fiction

Fiction Extract: LOVE TUNNEL By Les Edgerton

edgerton-genuine-imitation-plastic-kidnapping-300x450px(From my novel, THE GENUINE, IMITATION, PLASTIC KIDNAPPING from Down & Out Books) 

An hour later, Tommy and me are sitting on the St. Charles streetcar, at the stop by the zoo down by Club 4141, watching people get on in the front. The last two on are a young tourist couple in matching yellow Bermuda shorts.

“Cool,” Tommy said. “Tourists. They’ll have cash.” He took a drag from his cigarette. He was sitting directly under the “No Smoking” sign, but held it outside the window.

I didn’t disagree. There were maybe fifteen people on board, not counting us and the motorman. This was looking better and better. Might get as much as a couple of thousand out of this crew.

“See that?” Tommy said. I followed his eyes which were locked on the buxom female member of the tourist couple. She was a looker.

“Yeah? So?”

“So this.” He brought his forearm up, pretending to take a bite out of it.

“You wish,” I said, grinning.

“Yeah, well I got something her boyfriend ain’t.”

I laughed out loud. “Right, Tommy. Ugliness. But I think she’s maybe one of those weirdos goes for brains and looks. At least one of those.”

Tommy turned and gave me a look. “I’m talking technique here,” he said. “I got this technique.”

“Technique?”

“Technique.”

“What… you got a cute way of gettin’ on and off?”

“Naw, man,” he said, shaking his head like he can’t believe how dumb I am. “That’s like a big dick. Everybody’s got that.”

I snickered. “I don’t recall you was so blessed in the big wang department, Tommy.”

“Yeah, well I was cold that time. We just got out of the lake, for crissake. See, Pete, being a champion at sex is like being good at basketball. You got to be able to go strong to the hole.”

There was a young gal behind us who I could see was trying to ignore what Tommy was saying. She squirmed in her seat and studied the scenery out the window, them mansions sliding by.

I was dying to know Tommy’s ‘technique’ and asked him.

“I piss in ’em,” he said.

The gal behind us grabbed her purse and sniffed, loud, got up and moved three rows back to the last seat.

“Fuck you, lady,” Tommy muttered. “You don’t like the conversation, relocate.”

I couldn’t help smiling. “She did. What’s this pissing thing?”

I saw the street sign flash by. Coming up was where we planned to do our thing. The corner where St. Charles turned onto Carrollton, by the Camellia Grill. Three blocks from where we’d stashed Tommy’s Nova to make our getaway.

“Never mind,” I said. “Here it comes. You ready?”

“I was born ready,” Tommy said. He stood up and reached his hand into his waistband.

The gal who had relocated screamed out, “This man has a gun!”

Shit.

The streetcar went nuts. Pandemonium erupted—passengers screaming, brakes screeching as the conductor slammed the car to a half. Tommy lost his balance and recovered. The tourist woman in the front screamed one long banshee scream—Ayyyyeeeeeeeaaahhhh! She’s just one long scream, punctuated only by the times she has to draw breath.

Eeeeeeeeeaaaaaayaaaaah! Ayaayaaya! Aaaaaayaeeee!

“Shut up!” Tommy screamed. “Shut the fuck up!”

He looked down at me where I was just kind of sitting, pretty much in shock.

“You on a break here, Pete?”

I just gawked at him. This wasn’t what I’d envisioned. His eyes left mine and I followed his stare to the gal who’d blown the whistle on us in the rear seat. She had a gun out, trained on him with both hands, just like they do on TV. I couldn’t move. My entire life didn’t flash before my eyes, but about twenty-six years and three months of it did.

“I’m throwing up in my mouth, is what I’m doing,” I said. What had I got into?

“You’ll wanna brush your teeth before you kiss any girls, then,” he said.

Tommy brought his own gun up to bear on the woman in back, same two-handed grip she had. Mexican standoff.

He turned his head slightly down to me, still keeping his gaze on the woman. “Shoot her!” he said. This was just completely fucked.

“You got the gun, Captain Marvel,” I said, finally. “You shoot her.”

Instead of answering or shooting her, he began to back up toward the front door, his piece still trained on the woman. I got up to follow him. It got worse. Four people in the back pulled out weapons and pointed them our way.

“Shit! Shit, shit, shit!” It was all Tommy could say. My sentiments exactly.

I had to hand it to him, though. He didn’t lose it.

“Look, folks,” he said. “We’re gonna just get off now, leave all you good people be. Everybody just stay calm.”

One of the male armed passengers near the back door stood up. He said, “Like hell. I’m taking you out, cowboy.”

I felt like I was going to pass out.

The conductor opened the back door with his control and stood up. “Let ’em go,” he said. “I don’t want no blood in my car.”

The guy with the gun didn’t like what he was hearing. “Aw, man,” he said in a whiney voice. “You can’t just let criminals roam around. We got to take a stand. This is New Orleans, not Fucking-Pansy-Ass-New-York-City. We don’t take no prisoners in this town.”

“Listen, Dirty Harry,” the conductor said. “This is my streetcar. I make the rules. Siddown and shut up and let these folks pass.”

Tommy ran for the door and I was closer than his shadow behind him, leaping off a nanosecond after he did, scrambling as fast as we could across the street.

The mouthy man and the woman in back opened up with their pistolas. I didn’t turn back to look, just kept running as hard as I could, but I heard glass shattering, people screaming, and the pop-pop-pop of handguns. Something whizzed just past my ear and I was pretty sure it wasn’t a mosquito unless insects came in calibers. I ran smack into a braking car, bounced off the hood, got up and kept on running. My side was on fire. Any second now, I imagined a hot piece of lead finding my skull or some other tender part. The regrets were coming as fast as the bullets and I kept wondering like you do in such times of stress when it was evident that God had dropped my case and went off to take a nap or something.

Ten seconds from our failed streetcar heist and bullets still whizzing randomly, I followed Tommy as he ran around a house, heard the shots cease.

“Fuck this!” I said to Tommy, who’d slowed down to a trot once we were out of sight.

“No shit,” he said. “Who woulda figured the Marines would be on that streetcar?”

We kept jogging until we were three blocks away and saw Tommy’s car up the street where we’d left it. We got to the car which was a good thing. I couldn’t go another step. I leaned over, put my hands on my knees, panted like I’d just run the kickoff back a hundred yards for a touchdown. At least what I imagined that to feel like. Getting my wind back, I twisted my head up to look at Tommy. “You kidding me? A motherfucker without a gun in this town is about as rare as a rabbi in a Santa Claus suit.”

We heard the faint sound of sirens up on St. Charles. Getting louder. Sounded like they were starting to sweep the neighborhood.

We headed out to Veterans’ Highway and the second we turned onto it, a siren sounded at a distance, coming closer. Tommy looked at me and slowed down and my heart speeded up.

The cruiser passed us and the second he did, Tommy tipped the beer can he’d been drinking out of, drained it, and tossed it in his back seat, which was already littered with about two cases worth of aluminum cans. He speeded back up.

“Some Indian,” I said. “This car oughta be reported to Pollution Control.”

“You don’t like it?”

Before I could say anything, he braked for the light we’d come up on. He got out, opened the back door and swept a mass of debris onto the street with his arm. It made a pile of at least two feet high. He jumped back behind the wheel… and ran the still-red light. Cars honked.

What an asshole. “I gotta believe you’re outta the redskin union,” I said. “Chief Sitting-Bull… Bull-shit, that’s you.”

He flashed me a shit-eating grin.

“Screw you,” I said. “That’s the last job I pull with you.”

“Oh yeah? What about Sam the Bam.”

He was referring to the debt I owed my bookie. It was a nut-crusher.

“I’ll get it somehow,” I said.

“Right,” he said. “Your favorite aunt’s gonna leave you her Coke-Cola stocks, right?”

“What I’m gonna do is quit betting the fucking Saints and their lousy-ass quarterback.”

He was quiet for a minute, then said, “Pete, you know I got the plan to get us right.”

“Oh, yeah. That genius plan with the supermarket guy? That’s your much-better-than-robbing-a-streetcar plan, right?”

He didn’t have an answer for that.

There was no way in hell I was going to do his supermarket kidnap piece of shit plan. I’d figure out a way to keep Sam the Bam off my ass until I could come up with what I owed. I just had to figure out an angle.

We ended up going to this hole-in-the-wall bar Tommy could run a tap in. He was going to talk and I said I’d listen, but I knew I wouldn’t. I could use a beer, though.

****

We’re sitting in this dump, knocking back longnecks, staring at the TV where a Giants-Mets game is going on.

A good-looking hooker with a serious hard body, got up from the bar and passed us on her way out. Her ass was flat-out bouncing.

“Now, there’s one I could definitely piss in,” Tommy said. “You just know she’d freak. Probably wanna get married.”

“What the fuck’s up with this pissing thing?”

“You piss in ’em. In their . . . whaddya-callit . . . their vagina. Their love tunnel. While you’re doin’ it.”
“You what?”

“Yeah,” he said. Said it serious as a heart attack. “Nothing to it, really, but you know how many guys do that?”

“My guess would be zero,” I said. “Why would you want to?”

He looked at me and the look he gave me was that he was sitting across from the dumbest son-of-a-bitch he’d ever known. “It drives bitches crazy. It’s like the biggest nut they ever felt. You ain’t been around much, have you, Pete?”

“Jesus, Tommy! It can’t be done, dude.”

“Says who? I done it lots of times.”
“I’m telling you it’s impossible.”

“And why’s that, Mr. Encyclopedia Britannica?”

“Pressure.”

“Pressure?”

“Yeah, moron. Squeeze your cock sometime when you’re pissin’. Use the tips’a your thumb and forefinger. That should be enough.”

Tommy sighed, like the burden of talking to such a dumbass was wearing him out. “‘A woman’s pussy ain’t that tight,” he said.

I had to laugh. “Yeah, well, I guess you got an edge there most of us don’t, Penrod.” I shook my head. “You know, your brain waves is in a perpetual brown-out, Tommy.”

“Crack all you want,” he said. Then: “Forget that shit. What’re we gonna do about Sam the Bam, buddy? I’m into him too, you know.”

Jesus. Sam the Bam. I stared off into the distance. “All I ever wanted to do was open me a lousy po-boy shop. Maybe win fifty grand on the Series. Giants losing…”

LES EDGERTON’s memoir, ADRENALINE JUNKIE  is available for pre-order now!

Fiction: CTD (Circling the Drain) by Saira Viola

sohoThe glitzy eye of the capital dimmed by savage wage cuts, job losses, unlicensed pawn shops, rampant racism, and those over fed piggy bankers. 5am: Underneath Waterloo Station. It stunk of skunk-sick man’s urine and a hungry bull mastiff. Empty cans of Stella, KFC chicken boxes, and orphaned, pound store socks lay strewn across the mouth of the underpass.

 

Sitting on a crinkled grocery bag : Dutchie, a streaky- haired  scrawny seventeen-year-old stretched her arms out. She was a stage school flunkey and forgotten acting ingénue. Now, a part -time flower arranger rough sleeper , and full-time coke addict. Defiant in charity couture. Underneath a beige rain mac, she was trussed up in a lime green spandex leotard, red polyester micro mini, and sheer stockings, mottled with runs. A pair of three -inch black pleather kitten heels, swaddled in a fleece -lined navy hoodie were neatly bundled by her side. Sodium street lights colored  her elfin shaped face. Her huge , heavy -lidded violet eyes flashing violently as a lanky, pony- tailed rake aged about nineteen, slumped in front of her. Ichabod Funk (Ich). Scruffy genteel, in bleached  baggy -denim,  a porkpie hat,  and a drab- green Adidas sweatshirt. Today, he sported a v shaped goatee and a dangly feathered earring in his right ear. On his feet scuffed, branded trainers splattered with months of missed opportunities, bad luck and, hard -nosed rejection. Ich was homeless, a music school dropout, spliff-social poet and street-scammer .

Ich trotted around London Central, selling stolen shit, useless intel ,and mobile phone sims. With his goofy , harebrained scheming mind and child -like view of the world he was waiting for a miracle or something close. His shattered suburban dream of becoming ‘someone’, shredded in the excrement of social cleansing.

 

Still strictly small -time ,Ich  had stumbled on a Baudelairean hangout The Horseshoe a few miles away in Portobello Road . His pinched nasal voice overridden by a see- saw lilt .

‘We gotta go. C’mon.’ Dutchie stared  at him sourly.

‘It took me five hours to get this space.’ She shivered, as if the frost-tipped tongue of December were licking her fingers raw.

‘I have a place for us to go. C’mon.’ Ich gathered up the rain stained ,lightweight duvet ,sample sized toiletries and a half-drunk bottle of mineral water. Everything they owned housed in disposable plastic bags they lugged around town. They left behind their cardboard sheets and Milky Way wrappers.

 

Ich and Dutchie , spent most  of their time  stalking shop doorways and empty benches for places to rest. Blocked by an ugly slew of spiked barriers . All around them , erected  steel fangs jutted over warm air vents, designed  to stop them snatching even a few minutes of snooze time. A sharp reminder of their HOMELESS  status…

 

Dutchie attacked by a nest of erratic cocaine-sprayed thoughts. The bowels of her mind festering with hate as she watched sparkly party -goers slink by: Pretty long-haired bitches with your bottled tans talking- titties singing asses and fake eyelashes -judging me with pouty lip disgust I had a life too, once upon a time, living like a DEBT zombie from 9-5 . And  who are you to judge if I shove my fist in your satin -glossed mouth ? Are you gonna scream and shout? Sometimes I can’t change my tampon for days. Sometimes I wipe the dried blood off with my little finger. And all I can eat is stale cheeseburgers micro flipped for sixty seconds . Or yesterday’s thrown away  pastries from Costa Coffee Will I wake up dead ? Just another statistic in an unmarked grave You look at me like I’m a slimy -back -sliding spider -struggling to climb outta a sink hole. I got big dreams -just ask the angels. Ask them if I’d be forgiven for stabbing you in the throat. If I could wash my fingers in warm, peachy soap. And  not the public scum -furred toilets where that pimpled -chin sex perv’ with lice in his beard- masturbates  while I’m trying to take a dump. Guardian reader ! With your patronizing smirk . You make me puke offering me free lattes ,in your ethnic -free -trade hempy skirt. I’m just a way for you to bag likes and shares as you take another pic for your growing twitter feed. Here’s one for your Majesty ! So beloved of all you gushy Mid West American tourists and  85% of the English middle classes . Why am I the outsider ? And why are you ENTITLED to shit on me and plant your royal arse on acres of land without worrying about paying the tax man ? The poisoned  parasitic slurp of  the English Monarchy fucks us all. What kind of sicko world is this ? Where  hordes of fans  stand in line to catch a glimpse of H.M’s  smug little face  and grovel at her  feet, begging to shake her grasping white- gloved hand? She’s not Jesus Christ and she didn’t discover a cure for Cancer.

 

Dutchie’s intestines were angry. As if her sore, swollen stomach were littered with rail worms feasting on her rotten thoughts. She stumbled and shuffled her way out of the hallowed sleep- spot tugging Ich’s sleeve as he carted their belongings on his back.

‘They treat us worse than strays. Lost puppies and abandoned cats can  get scraps to eat  and the lucky ones can even bag  a warm fucking bed for the night.’

‘Don’t worry. We’re gonna be fine. We’re going to The Horseshoe. I’ve met someone he’s gonna help us out.’

‘Who?’

‘You’ll see.’

 

 

########

 

 

They trudged through a maze of jagged back streets and alley ways. Half moon sweat circles dampened  Dutchie’s underarms.

She  tried to air her unwashed body by pinging the elastic on her leotard. ‘Do you think we’ll always be living like this? I feel worse than yesterday. Like my soul’s choking. She stole three breaths afraid of her thoughts. ‘I can see millions of dandelion seeds in my mouth.’ Ich  marched on without listening, drumming to his own beat. Dutchie’s voice got louder and more desperate .

‘How long before we get there ?’ Ich just shrugged his shoulders and kept going. Dutchie straggled  behind him.

 

It was always the same. Whenever they found a deserted place to camp out, they’d have to move. Like a never -ending story played in real time, with no final chapter in sight. A  long-broken ladder of  nothing. She had climbed thousands of steps everyday on that fucking ladder looking for one lousy penny of hope. And that’s what she feared the most, that she’d never find HOPE.

 

Sometimes Dutchie thought about life before her mother died. She would close her eyes and let her mother’s voice float inside her. It reminded her of a good things. A tiny  snatch  of blue sky . Ice cream Sundays. Mostly it reminded her of a way out. But that feeling didn’t last long and her daily tableau of survival  always brought her back to sick, sordid moments.

6 am. The skies were reddening like a Boschian /Hirst mash up. They were still a few minutes away. They passed a passel of unknown arty types, noodling around, on the edge of insanity, and a slouch of elderly junkies clumped together for their grave -yard fix. Dutchie saw one of them toying  with a switchblade. She hurried after Ich. Finally they arrived outside a narrow, nondescript building with a U -shaped doorway. Ich led them inside. The bar was empty save for some sorry slacks at the back, a thin- boned Chinese barman, and a corner table flanked by three refrigerator sized black- suited baldies. Behind them sat a small, slithery looking man: Zipmouth. Dapperly dressed in a custom made, navy checked wool suit and cream button -down shirt. He had a shock of cinema- bouffant silver curls framing huge walnut -sized black eyes and a de -rigeur Grand Cayman tan which set  off a strong hawk nose, thick mutton chop sideburns, and a misshapen zip-stitched gash/mouth. It was the kind of visceral Freddy Krueger moment that stretched from your eyes and stayed in your stomach for weeks. On his lap a  slim, beach-bunny blonde , even perched on his knee she was a good head taller than him. Zipmouth’s  voice was activated by a mechanized electro throat -back . A hand-held battery powered device used by people who’d lost their voice box.  Zipmouth  pushed the blonde aside and ordered Dutchie and Ich closer. An American – accented ,Stephen Hawking styled ,tinny robotic voice sliced  the air:

 

‘Come. Here. Let. Me . See. You.’ Ich dropped the bags. Folding his palm around Dutchie’s frail cotton thin wrist. They walked gingerly towards the table. The three heavies stepped aside.

‘I’ll . Get. Straight. To. The. Point. I can see you’re in need.’ Dutchie winced . A sharp intake of breath. She tried her best not to stare at Zipmouth’s lopsided jaw. But she seemed fascinated by it. Ich squeezed her hand and she changed her focus, concentrating  instead, on Zipmouth’s eyes. They were roving  black,  horse trading  eyes. As Zipmouth leant forward Dutchie  noticed a floppy wattled strip of skin dangling from his chin. It reminded her a little of shop- worn, cut -price Christmas turkey.

 

‘Ichabod. Does. Me. Favors. From. Time to time. To-morrow. My. Crew. Are . Int- ter -cepting an ele-ctronic  cash transfer. From. Wonga. Wonga Bank. We .Need. You . To create a diversion inside. We . Have clothes and disguises. You’ll be given the details tomorrow and paid after the job. Any. Questions?’ Neither of them felt they had the right to ask any questions.

‘Good. Here. Have. A. Little. Fun on me.’

 

He handed Ich half a dozen red disc shaped pills stamped with a skull and cross bone. Ich popped one in his mouth straight away. Dutchie slipped a couple in her pocket for later. Zipmouth ended the conversation casually.

 

‘See you kids to. morrow . Sharkie has everything you need.’ Sharkie a paunchy,  pigeon- nosed lummox dressed in a  green velour jogging suit escorted them out. He trashed their belongings in a nearby dumpster and handed them a shiny new case of  mixed  apparel. Dutchie secretly wondered if they got her size right. Sharkie chauffeured them to a discreet gated apartment in Central London. They entered the lux hideout with a mixture of awe and excitement. Sharkie left a few minutes later and instructed  them  to be up before noon.

 

On the table in the main room a bouquet of assorted fresh flowers, gift wrapped candies and a generous basket of seasonal fruit. A state of the art high -res plasma screen hung on the wall in isolated glory and underneath it, a built -in desk, housing a fully stocked mini bar . Dutchie was the first to speak.  Squealing like a hopped -up hamster on Ritalin . She clapped her hands over her mouth. ‘What the fuck is going on ? This is like some Bond bollocks or some other freaky shit. Who WAZ that guy? Did you see his mouth? Jeezus . Really fucking freaky. Ich , what the fuck did you do ?’

 

She waltzed around from room to room dazed by nouveau comforts. Every now and then she erupted into sporadic fits of giggles. A small kitchenette stuffed with snacks, pre -packed meats ,soft drinks and vegetables proved too much of a temptation. Dutchie helped herself to fun -sized chocolate bars and potato chips. She  threw her plastic heels down and sunk her feet into the thick soft rug . In between mouthfuls of  food she fumbled around for the little red pills. She grabbed a handful and washed them down with a can of Red Bull. Then she plonked herself onto the bed. A queen sized double deluxe pine fold up. She felt the pristine line of the sheets between her thumb and forefinger and buried her face into the soft covers. She plumped  the pillows and bounced  up and down on the mattress. Ich was quiet- almost sullen. He sat down cross-legged on the floor ,just  staring weirdly at nothing. Dutchie made a beeline for the bathroom. Hurriedly she stripped off and filled the tub with lavender scented foam, soaking in soft ,complimentary bubbles. A three second grin spread across her face. Blissed out, she broke into an impromptu rendition of the cult Clash classic Bank robber, performing  to an invisible audience. She grabbed the shower head using it as a makeshift mic radiating liquid joy as she lathered up.

 

‘Ma daddy was a bank robber who never hurt nobody. He just loved to live that way and he loved to steal your money.Ahhhhhhh.’

 

 

########

 

 

In  the lounge Ich pulled out two more pills and popped them down his throat . Then he  lit a cigarette and took a deep drag.

‘Ugh.’ Two splutters later he snuffed it out with the ball of his thumb .

 

On the other side of London Zipmouth: Fixer , trafficker and organ harvester was briefing his small clique of cutthroat body snatchers, prepping  them  to prowl the city , on the hunt  for fresh blood . They were paid  to maim, and on occasion kill potential “donors”, for a myriad of medical procedures. Of course you couldn’t just pop body organs out .Zipmouth’s recruits had a tried and tested method involving one whack to the head and a potentially fatal dose of morphine or fentanyl.  Earlier that week, Zipmouth  had already met with a high-ranking administrator at an exclusive  London hospital and had created a stack of forged consent release forms and death certificates to validate donation. He had a select, special medical team, private ambulance, and a dozen obscenely rich patients on standby. Transplant tourism, once a thriving black-market economy limited to China, India, and West Africa had gone global. The spike in world diseases meant there was now an unprecedented demand for replacement body parts.

 

Zipmouth liked to squeeze as much as he could out of a deal.

Hearts lungs and livers were all hot properties, but kidneys were the most prized on the black market. Zipmouth could get as much as eighty thousand pounds for just one, on black market rates. He preferred harvesting kidneys as they were generally easy to remove without too many complications. He attempted a smile. His liver spotted blue veined hand clicking the electro larynx.

‘Thank. God. For. Heart disease high blood pressure and diabetes.’

 

 

Ten am : At the apartment. Ich and Dutchie were lost in eternal slumber. Their bodies entwined. Their faces inches apart. Dutchie’s freshly washed locks, braided  with the golden -tipped fingers  of  the sun. Her lips ,half parted like a red tulip in bloom. A look of utter relief on her face.

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Find out more about SAIRA VIOLA here.

Fiction: Drumsticks by Jason Beech

city of forts

We fidgeted on chairs with torn upholstery beneath fluorescent lights. The lights flickered in sympathy with our nerves. Moist clung to the changing room walls as if sweat poured from their pores. The sickly yellow paint reflected on my skin. Maybe the other way round. It’s not what made my stomach turn, though. Mark did that. He sat on his haunches in front of me. His eyes beamed all superior as if he still disapproved of me across that cheap Formica desk in the benefits office.

He shook his shiny just-come-from-a-shampoo-advert fringe away from his eyes and laid a hand over my drumsticks. Stopped me practicing the night’s beats on the empty crate at my feet.

“There’s a scout here tonight.” He should have smiled. Why didn’t he smile?

“Wha …? You’re kidding me.” My mouth curved up for the both of us.

“Nah, I’m not kidding you.” He shook his locks with every word to reinforce how his gorgeousness glued the band together.

Steve and Connor didn’t flinch. Kept their eyes on their mobiles, swished their fingers in studied avoidance of our conversation. They already knew. I tightened my belly to hold its rolls and sways in check. The light above jerked and made me blink.

“We have to stay tight tonight. This could make us. You don’t get too many chances anymore, mate, not with the music industry as it is right now.” He placed a hand on my thigh, gave me a little squeeze. It took effort to restrain a donkey kick into his smug face. “If you miss a beat again, like you did last night, we’ll fire you. Get a new drummer.” He sniffed. “Keep the beat … okay, fella?”

 

***

 

I bang war drums. Keep my eyes on the skins and away from the crowd. Away from that woman cupping her boobs for Mark to leer over. We sound tight. Steve’s hitting the chords just right on bass. Connor’s fingers are all over lead guitar like he wants to take it home and give it some serious loving. I try not to look at Mark, but he draws me in. His locks shimmer in the spotlights. Look how he holds that mic-stand – strokes it like his dick.

He swings it, leans back, points the stand’s bottom at the venue’s ceiling like its 1970-something. I risk a quick crowd-scan. One dipstick surfs the crowd wearing a pair of Doc Martins. I shake my head at the impending black eyes. The walls are drenched. The into-it kids mosh at the front. The cool mob nod their heads further back, above weak beer.

I hold the beat, smash the cymbals sweet, shift my arse in anticipation of the drum solo – the one Mark said I screwed up last night. Fuck him – I never miss a beat. I scan the crowd to see where the scout is stood. Probably at the bar chatting up some woman. He won’t catch any mistakes. But what if he does?

Mark – I can’t call him his artist name: Lou – thrusts his hips at the woman who likes to touch herself a lot. A right pair of wankers.

 

***

 

Mark let go of my sticks. I tapped the crate to my words. “I set this band up. You can’t sack me.”

Steve and Connor swished away on the phones. They’d wear away their fingerprints if they carried on.

Mark stood, kicked away the crate. “And I made the band. Without me, you’d still be looking at someone across a desk with those puppy dog eyes, begging to avoid a job.”

This band is my identity. Mark had sucked away all my power.

“I can do whatever I want.” He messiah-ed his arms, turned, and left the changing room.

***

I bang hard. A lull. I tap-tap the cymbal, build a crescendo, slam the pedal for a boom, visualise Mark’s head opening like a macheted melon. The third verse is about to kick in, where he screams for Van-essssa and the orgasms she conducts from him.

***

“Mother … fucker.” I had my hand beneath a sweaty armpit. The machine tool had put a divot where it should have banged a rivet into the umbrella. The floor manager charged across the factory. Wanted to know if his machine still worked.

“Fuck your machine,” I said. “My hand is going to inflate and take off.”

He continued to fiddle with levers and screws to test its efficiency.

I must have turned purple. “Bloody hell. Hello?”

“Hmmm?”

I lost it. Hit him with my good left hand and headed for the dole queue.

***

Shit, did I miss a beat?

I panic, but I’m sure I kept rhythm. Mark stands before me. Rocks his mane. My sticks blur. My drum solo kicks in. He stares lizard eyes at me, his lids heavy but unblinking. The sticks become heavy – hammers I want to throw at his head. I glare so hard at him that his face begins to melt into that of the dole man, the one who screwed his lips in disapproval at my handout request. Sweat cascades over sweat. Mark’s lips move, but he taps his thigh with the mic.

“You’re going to fuck up … You’re going to fuck up … Miss a beat … Miss a beat … Miss a miss a fucking beat.”

I’ve got nothing else but my band. I’m too old to start anew and get a respectable job like all those dying from boredom in clinic-white offices. If Mark screws this up for me …

I hit a dud. I don’t know if anybody sensed it, but it deadens my heart. Connor’s lead guitar begins to sound like a forty-five on thirty-three. I see dole man tut and pull on his tie like he’s showing how he’d use it to hang me from the rafters. Mark’s reptile-eyes widen with his mouth. I read his lips: “Bye, fella, bye, bye, bye.”

A man in the audience writes on a paper pad. His Elvis Costello specs slip to the end of his nose a few times and he pushes them back into place with his pen hand every other word. He slips the pad into the back of his jeans, turns to the woman he’s with and whispers whatever into her ear. He’s expended few words on us. Maybe I did miss a beat and that put a full stop to his report.

***

I craned my neck to see what he had on my file. I’ve gone from job to job in my life, never settled on anything. He hunched over the keyboard, a finger pressed on his lips. He made the odd cluck, and it made my skin crawl that this fussy hen had power over whether or not I can subsist in the next few weeks until I find another job. I begin to imagine his purple tie a perfect noose, for both of us.

He should have introduced himself. The polite thing to do after all. I gathered his name only from the Jobcentre tag pinned over his cold heart. He’d written his name, Mark, in straight, almost runic lines.

Good hair though. Would look good in my band.

“Can you wash glasses?” Mark tapped the pen on his desk, his eyes holes of boredom.

“What?”

“In a bar. A pub. Can you collect and wash glasses?”

“Are you kidding me?”

He rapped his finger on the desk with each word. “You don’t have any marketable skills. Can you wash glasses in a pub?”

I could have grabbed that finger of his and shoved it in his eye – but his hair, all rock star, had me mesmerised. “I can bang the drums.”

“You’re a drummer?”

“In a band in need of a front-man. You’d fit perfectly.”

I left the place with full benefits and a new singer.

***

I kick the drums over. The crowd surges, as if we’re doing a Nirvana tribute. I smash the right stick across Mark’s left cheek and streak a red line. His head snaps into the left stick as I keep rhythm. He stumbles back, arms out to protect his front-man looks. He’s on his back. I’m on his belly. Lock his arms down with my knees. I drum his temple, dig my knees into his side. The mic reverberates, sends grunge feedback through a thousand pairs of ears. Steve and Connor play on, in the groove, eyes closed. I have the mic in my hand. The crowd becomes still. They follow the mic’s arc as it descends dagger-like towards Mark’s forehead. He bucks like an abused donkey and I miss. He thrusts his hips and topples me from my advantage. The microphone squeals across the stage. Mark grabs the wire and swings the mic like a lasso, before thrusting it at my head. He jerks as I lift my right hand and the wire wraps round my wrist. He snaps the wire and pulls me towards him, right into his waiting fist. My nose cracks and I see red pitter-patter on the stage.

We’ve silenced the crowd. I know Steve and Connor have cottoned-on when their guitars choke and screech like a train piling from its rails. The audience’s eyes are little neon lights, all shining on us. Hands cover mouths. My hot sweat turns icy as my t-shirt shifts over Gremlin goosebumps.

A murmur builds from the left.

“Are they for real?” I hear.

I belly-flop the stage on the run and slide to my drumsticks. I turn and roll before I tumble off the edge into the moshpit, and slash a stick across Mark’s arm as he advances on me with the mic. I slash again, but miss. The first strike must have been lucky because my sight is blurred by tears from my mashed nose. He catches my funny bone and I howl like Mike Patton on Angel Dust. He grabs me in a headlock just as I kick at his legs. We both tumble and he ends up on me. My blood mingles with his in our aggressive embrace.

“You’re going back to the dole queue, my friend.”

I bare my teeth and growl. “Fuck you. You’ll go back behind that desk.”

I crane my neck to the crowd. The scout stares at us. He’s enjoying the spectacle, but he knows we’ve recognized him. The Roman Emperor lifts his hand and drops a thumb.

“Bastard,” I say.

“Twat,” Mark says.

I push Mark from me, thrust to my feet and throw a drumstick into the crowd. My aim is all Robin Hood’ because I knock the scout’s glasses from his face.

The “whoas” Mexican wave to the right, and as I stumble off the stage, I trigger the night’s final crowd surge. Angry men and women storm my space, grab me, and lift me above their heads. I spot the scout scramble around the floor for his glasses as they crowd-surf me to a beating from which my drum career might not recover. I thrash at the crowd with feet and stick, see Mark charge through the crowd like a Viking warrior. He strikes through the hordes with his microphone sword. Steve and Connor strike up Iron Maiden’s Run to the Hills. I hear laughter and screams of fury at the blasé guitar riffs.

I smash down and hear a hollow crack, as if somebody’s skull has just opened like a coconut. I’m dropped. Right on my tail-bone. Hurts worse than my nose, but I manage to stand. The crowd parts and I find myself in a gladiator circle. Part of the crowd bays, part eggs us on. Security guards stand with the crowd, nervous that if they interfere they might get eaten alive. Mark swings his mic. I tap my thigh with my only stick. I don’t miss any fucking beat.

Through my burnt eyes I see the dole queue. I fear standing for what seems like hours for someone to interrogate me and click buttons on my profile in their zoned-out state. I see Mark recognize the same. I’m sure he imagines that purple tie cut at his throat as he interviews the likes of me.

“Thank God for that.”

Our heads swivel from each other to the man on his hands and knees just inside the crowd’s first line. He stands, breathes condensation on his glasses, and rubs. His squinty eyes become owl-like when he wears them. I’m sure I’ve ground my teeth to the gum line. His smile beams awkward. His eyebrows form crow wings in high-flap.

“You’re going to get a solid report, I promise. That was … awesome.”

Neither of us believe him. I didn’t even see the Indiana Jones whip from Mark, but that snap cracked the scout’s left lens. He staggers back but doesn’t fall. Maybe the air from all the gasps behind keep him on his feet. The second crack from Mark sets me off. I wind-mill my arms and bring those sticks down down down on his head. Red spills from the cracks and rolls over burgeoning purple skin.

Hands are all over me. They pull, they push, they punch. Somebody holds me in a headlock and pulls me away. I watch in horror how Mark finishes the job with a hard slam on the man’s head. The mic swings from the wire he still holds, in search of a bell to toll.

***

I bang the drums with my eyes shut. Mark is loud and energetic, but he’s lost his soul. There’s no woman for him to leer at. The crowd doesn’t know how to mosh, or if it did, it wouldn’t. His voice, ah, he’s just shifting through the gears. I keep my eyes shut to keep a bit of magic alive. I don’t want to see shaved heads on packed bodies sat on plastic chairs screwed to the floor.

“Fuck it. I don’t feel it. I’m getting nothing from any of you fuckers.”

I open my eyes. Mark has thrown the mic to the floor. His shoulders have slumped. He walks from the stage under a barrage of spit and the prison governor’s disapproval.

Time for a drum solo. I hit In the Air Tonight to his miserable slouch back to the cell.

 

Drumsticks is taken from Bullets, Teeth, & Fists 2, available FREE on all digital formats except Amazon, where it’s 99p/cents.

Find out more about JASON BEECH here.

 

Fiction: The Goodbye Kiss by Paul D. Brazill

Supernatural NoirThe Salutation Bar was stiflingly hot and cluttered with the usual hodge podge of misfits, waifs and strays. Walter sat at a table by the window watching the streamers of steam rise from his muddy coffee. Beside him, a gangling scarecrow of a man slurped his beer with all the enthusiasm of an ex-con in a bordello. Each sip was like leaky tap drip, drip, dripping throughout a sleepless night.

Outside, the cloak of darkness had draped itself over the city, and the moon bit into the sky like a fang. The night was suddenly filled with the crackle of exploding fireworks as Lena oozed into the bar like mercury. She stood before Walter and a chill of recognition sliced through him. She nodded and he stood.

The next day a church bell echoed through the granite autumn morning as Walter lay slumped against a gravestone. On his forehead, a smear of lipstick and a perfect bloody circle were all that remained of Lena’s goodbye kiss.

Find out more about PAUL D. BRAZILL here.

 

Fiction: Bang to Rights by Tess Makovesky

gravy train“Of course, you’re not one of us, are you?  I mean, not really.”

Jacks stared at the scrawny girl who was supposedly helping her.  Late teens, ratty hair, the scars of acne still visible on her narrow face.  A baby in a world of adults.  A baby who was sneering at her again.

She clenched her teeth.  Fiddly work, this, and if she got it wrong she could blow them all to kingdom come.  She didn’t need the distraction of babies being rude.  “I don’t see why not.  I’m as involved as any of the rest of you.  More.  You wouldn’t have explosives without me.”

“Yeah, but.  It’s not the same.  You don’t feel the same way we do.  You don’t love animals the way we do.”

“I like animals.”  It was true; she’d had a rabbit as a kid, and adopted a stray dog for a while in Afghanistan.  Mangy mutt with matted fur, but it had followed her about and she’d been attached to it, until it got caught up in a roadside bomb.  She still hadn’t forgive herself for that.  Another reason why she was here.  The suffering that man put his fellow creatures through.  She probably had more idea of that than most of these silly kids.  Besides, the way Merry said ‘love’ sounded worryingly wrong.  There was a law against that sort of love.  Not that she was going to point that out.  Too much hassle.  Just when she needed every last shred of concentration.  She snipped the wires.  Wrapped the bare ends together.  Poked them into the plastic packed inside the ball.  “Pass me that flap.”

Merry’s pout said it all.  A thin arm shoved the flap across the table top, jarring precious components, spilling tools on the floor.

“Careful!  Do you want this going off?  There wouldn’t be much left of you.”

The pout became a scowl.  “There wouldn’t be much left of you either if it comes to that.”

“True.  And then who’d you get to make your gear?”

Merry waved a hand as if that was just detail.  Quite funny, really, if you thought about it.  She had so little idea.  So little understanding of the work, or the danger, this involved.  She thought all the excitement was in placing the bombs, not making them.  She needed to learn a thing or two.

Images of red rain hovered in Jacks’ mind.  Serve the silly cow right.  One little nudge and BOOM.  No more Merry.  No more superior, patronising little bitch.  Trouble was, there’d be no more Jacks either, as Merry had already pointed out.  She needed another, less fatal, way.  That copper who’d contacted her the other month.  Put the feelers out, trying to get her to turn “Queen’s evidence” on the rest of the group.  She still didn’t know how he’d tracked her down, although she hadn’t been that careful since she got back.  Other things on her mind.  Usually involving too much violence; nightmares, cold sweats.  She’d kicked herself when he approached her in the pub.  Should have taken more precautions, hidden herself away.  Too late now.  And she’d told him to fuck off, anyway.  But the idea had stayed, nibbling at the edges of her mind.  Help him?  Or help these kids?  They seemed to need her more – her special skills, her experience.  But they weren’t exactly overflowing with gratitude.

“How’s it going?”  Ian, their supreme leader.  Or so he liked to think.  Another jumped-up teenager, although this one was at least old enough to vote.

“Not bad.  It’d be faster if I had more help.”  Or even any help at all, since Merry was being a pain.

“Yeah, sorry about that.  The others are all out on reconnaisance.”

He said it with such a serious air.  Jacks fought back a laugh.  Much he knew about reconnaisance, or any of those other quasi-military terms he threw around.  Making it look like he knew what he was talking about.  It didn’t work on her.  You didn’t spend eight years in the army without understanding the terms.  These kids were so annoying.  She didn’t know why she bothered with them.  The money helped, of course.  Not a fortune, but it helped.  What else could she do when she’d been kicked out, and couldn’t get a job, and had no home?  Sleeping rough was hell.

Ian had wandered out again.  Merry was fiddling with her phone.

Jacks grabbed it off her and chucked it across the room.  “How many times do I have to tell you?  One spark from that and you fry the both of us.”

The pout was back.  Again.  Another mutter, which sounded suspiciously like “Go and screw yourself.”

Maybe if she kept quiet, Merry would go away.  The flap screwed neatly into place.  Now she had the rest of the wiring to worry about – the bit that went at the other end.  That wasn’t the technical term, of course, but it was how she’d had to explain it to the rest.  They weren’t engineers.  They hadn’t learned about this stuff.  Which was why they needed her at all.

“Of course, if you were really committed…” Merry was still banging on, and it was getting harder to screen it out.  Like a dripping tap, moan complain whinge.  She felt her hands tense, had to fight to relax them again, one finger at a time.  No good letting it get to her.  No good making mistakes.

Not one of us, not one of us.  The petulant words rang inside her head.  She couldn’t tell if it was Merry any more, or if she was imagining them.  Trouble was, she’d never really fitted in.  Home, school, army, she’d been a loner all her life.  And hated it.  She’d have given anything to have a friend like other women did.  A best friend, to swap tales of boyfriends and soaps, pour out her troubles, provide support when times were hard.  But somehow, she never had.  Never trusted anyone, perhaps, or they hadn’t trusted her.  That dog was the closest she’d ever come.  Now she was alone, with only these children for company.  Children who weren’t afraid to emphasise her loneliness.

“You don’t understand how important this is.  You’re not one of us.”

Quite suddenly Jacks had had enough.  The shrill, affected voice.  The spiteful words.  The nasty triumphant look.  God help her, she was going to make it stop.  Even if it was the last thing she ever did.

Inspiration flashed.  She was winding duct tape around the wires, needed to hold it down and cut off the excess.  It was fiddly enough at the best of times, but with cramping hands it was nigh on impossible.  “Here, hold this down.”  She indicated the tape.

Merry wasn’t stupid, she’d give the child that.  “What about fingerprints?  I’m not wearing gloves.”

“It’s fine.  This will be vapourised when the bomb goes off – there’ll be nothing left to lift fingerprints from.”

“Oh.  Okay.”  A reluctant finger held the tape in place.  Perfect.  Jacks snipped, careful not to nick the flesh.  Tempting though it was.  A little blood to add in to the mix.  A little DNA.  But no, even Merry might suspect.  She tidied the ends, finally let out her breath.

“There.  One down, five to go.  You can help me the same way with those.  At least that way you’ll be getting really involved.”

The thin face lit up.  “That’s true.  It’s going to be brilliant.”

“It’ll be brilliant all right.  Light up the night sky for miles around.”  She hid her smile.

 

She tugged the rucksack over her shoulders and ran.  Just a few more minutes and this would all be over at last.  There was the entrance to Kings Cross now; all she had to do was cross the road.  Dodging traffic and endless seething crowds.  People who would never know how close they’d come.

She ducked inside the station and headed for the public phones.  Dialled.  Waited.  Dug out the business card with that copper’s name.  Asked to speak to him.  There was a wait; she hoped he wasn’t away from his desk or the whole thing might fail.  She didn’t know who else to speak to; didn’t know who to trust.  Then a voice, a man’s voice, that she vaguely recognised.  She got the information at the tip of her tongue, as few words as possible so they couldn’t trace the call.  “Animal Life Forever.  There’s a bomb at Kings Cross station.  A football inside a blue holdall by the phones in the main concourse.  Two more at Euston, one at Waterloo, two at St Pancras.  Revenge for all the deaths during Foot & Mouth.  What’s that?  No, there’s no danger of them going off.  I made sure of that.”

And she rang off again.  Smiled.  Hefted the rucksack containing her few belongings.  Headed for the desk and a ticket to somewhere, anywhere that wasn’t here.  Secure in the knowledge that the police would find the bombs.  The experts would dismantle them.  And find Merry’s fingerprints on the tape inside every one.

Liverpool, she thought, and then a boat.  She was too young to have served in Northern Ireland but she’d always fancied a trip.  Belfast sounded good.  She could settle, make friends, make something of her life.  Get another dog.  She could be one of us after all.

Find out more about TESS MAKOVESKY here.

Fiction: Rebellious Jukebox by Graham Wynd

satan sHe took the bus because the cacophony was minutely less than on the underground, where the tinny tannoy kept up its assault with nonsense messages meant only to confuse. Not that you could make out what was being said. Anyone who tried was daft. You could read the boards though the times listed were often suspect and changed without warning.

But you couldn’t escape the din.

On the bus there were fewer screens and half the time the speakers were stuttering or mute. The barrage of noise within seemed quiet compared to the cacophony outside. The whole city pulsated. Stepping onto the bus was like stepping into the loo at a concert. The beat still echoed through your bones but your ears got a break for a mo.

He got off at the Southbank. It was a trick he’d learned: by the river at low tide you could find just about the quietest place in the city. The high walls against the tide held the sound at bay somewhat. There were the boats that ran up and down the waves and the voice of the old river itself, but that didn’t compare to the ringing streets above.

Sometimes as he wandered along the water’s edge Martin found things: old things, strange things. Little pieces of pottery from old dishes mixed with weathered bones or smooth bits of glass polished by the waves. He stuck them in his pocket for later. Sometimes they lost their magic by the time he got back to his room, looking ordinary and sad. The rest he arranged and rearranged on his trunk like some kind of altar to gods now lost.

There was also the book seller under the bridge. Martin wasn’t quite sure how they continued to operate. People didn’t much read and anyway they downloaded stuff online. Who wanted to pay for words? Information yearns to be free, they said. Who were they? Dunno. The same people who said if you want someone to hear you, you got to shout to get their attention. Earplugs were contraband due to the Order, but he had heard of rich people who had undetectable ones installed that they could turn on and off for when they wanted to talk to each other.

Money changes everything when you have enough of it.

Martin tripped down the last step from the bridge, looking ahead to the tables instead of at his feet. The neat rows of books filled him with a strange pleasure. His mother always told him there were worlds inside books if you knew how to unlock them. School mates rolled their eyes at him. So retro. He couldn’t remember her face too well anymore, but he still had that stupid book about dogs in cars with her words to him: Happy Xmas, Martin xxx Yor Mum.

She couldn’t spell all that well, but she could read fast. In the evening she soaked her feet with a stack of books beside her, picking up one or another, changing at will whenever she had the urge to follow another story. ‘Good-bye Blue Monday,’ she would say to him no matter what day it was. He laid his head in her lap and listened to her read from the books. They were mostly things he didn’t understand because he was little, but her excitement was contagious. The long days on her feet were forgotten with her nose in a book.

‘Looking for the real thing?’ The painted legend painted in green greeted those who passed under the bridge, though most went on their way heedless of the book stall’s lure. Noise resounded, the traffic thrummed hollow under the bricks: the hum of the city, the ceaseless drone of the speakers scattered at the regulated distances across the streets of the town. There was no escaping it; you just learned to tune it out even as your body vibrated to its pulse. They said the stress drove some mad. They said.

Martin strolled along the first table. The layout was different each week. History here: a pointless topic as no one learned from it as far as he could tell. He found some spec fic: that was more like it. Monsters were always good. Even bad monsters were good.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw a girl about his own age who looked cool. She was picking up a crime book with a lurid sort of cover with cleavage and a knife. He wouldn’t have thought it would appeal to the fairer sex, as his old head master had always called the girls. For years he thought it meant that girls unlike boys treated you fairly. Aoife had cured him of that notion.

This one looked serious or maybe grim. It was probably the black leather jacket that looked real, not petroleather. She wore a black DIY shirt that had words painted on it but he couldn’t immediately make out what it said because he looked away when she looked up. Martin picked up the first book his hand landed on, which turned out to be some stupid space hero nonsense by an author he had liked when he was about ten. Naff stuff. His cheeks must have glowed as he put it down. Maybe she didn’t see.

Martin let his gaze flick across the tables. She was busy looking at a true crime book on the Moors murders. Maybe she hoped for a how-to guide. There was a scar on her cheek like a V that made him think of a kid’s drawing of birds in the sky. He tried to decipher the words on her tee shirt but with the book in the way it was even more of a challenge.

She put the book down and he let his eyes fall back to the table. He spotted a book he’d been seeking for months, the second part of a trilogy. The red knife on its cover had tantalized his thoughts for so long Martin found it difficult to believe he’d actually stumbled upon the treasure. He grabbed it. The book was well-worn. Several pages were dog-eared. Someone had scrawled in the margins, but he didn’t mind that usually—unless they were really stupid. He found it was like having a secret conversion with someone you’d never met, someone dead, someone missing, someone disappeared.

Like his mum.

A desperate part of himself always held out for the hope that she might be out there somewhere. His council processor had suggested that she had been deported or what was the other thing? Transported, that was it. Undesirables sent off to work in the colonies. Undesirability determined by darkness of skin in most cases. ‘You’re not to worry. We should have a placement for you soon,’ the processor had reassured him again this week.

Two years on and still nothing. When he turned eighteen, transporting would be more likely. It was an unpleasant thought.

Sometimes he dreamed of going to Scotland where it was supposed to be quiet and still green. Probably just a myth, but it was more believable than unicorns, dragons and elves.

‘You going to buy that?’

Her voice startled him out of his funk. He gaped at the girl for a tick, then realised his mouth was open and shut it. ‘Yeah, think so.’

‘Any good?’ Up close her face seemed more angular, her gaze startlingly direct.

‘Yeah, I read the other two. Good stuff.’ Jabbering like an eejit now, Martin berated himself. ‘Scary but adventurous. Lots of philosophy in it, too, if you’re that way inclined.’ He glanced down at the books in her hand. ‘Or maybe murder is more your style.’

She laughed. ‘Who doesn’t want to kill someone?’

‘What’s your shirt say?’

The girl gave him an appraising look. ‘Why?’

Martin shrugged. ‘You make it?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Cool.’

Martin waited as if it didn’t mean anything to him what she might say or what it was about or what she was about and he didn’t know the words to ask. For once he wished the constant din of life could just shut up for a minute so they didn’t have to bellow at one another.

‘It says “Rebellious Jukebox”,’ she said finally.

He nodded and tried to conceal the keenness of his curiosity. ‘What’s that all about then?’

She grinned at him and suddenly looked like a little kid. ‘It’s a secret.’

‘Ah. Wanna see my secret?’

Laughter convulsed her face. ‘Is it a big one? Nah, don’t get embarrassed, mate. I’m just funning with you. Show me.’

They paid for their books and Martin led her to the steps. ‘Just over here.’

‘Ugh, you’re not going to kill me and throw me in the river?’ The girl made a face at the dirty water.

‘No, just—c’mon.’ Martin descended without looking back, sure she would follow as long as he didn’t falter. The edge was sandy here not shingle like down east of here. Some other people were wandering around so he led her away towards the wood structure that held up a walkway where people could look down on the river.

Martin tried to hide his excitement. She looked around curiously. ‘What’s all this then?’

‘Close your eyes.’

‘Nah,’ she said, looking at him with sudden attention.

Martin smiled. He put his hands in his pockets. Maybe that would make her feel safer. ‘Close your eyes and listen.’ He went first. After a minute he lifted one eye lid just a little. She had her eyes closed, too.

‘Do you hear it?’

‘I hear the water. The boats. The hum, it’s not so loud down here. I can’t hear a tannoy.’

They opened their eyes. Martin smiled. She smiled back.

‘Martin.’

‘Melka.’

He showed her everything he had learned, like how to keep on eye on the water line to gauge when the tide was rising. They searched along the edge of the river for hag stones and bits of porcelain. They looked at the skeleton of the old bridge and listened to the river’s echo under the bricks that held it up. It was magic.

Best of all it was quiet—relatively quiet, but that was the most you could hope for in the unrelenting din of the capital.

‘So what’s it all about?’ Martin asked Melka when they emerged to the surface once more. She bought them sandwiches from a cart and they sat on a bench by a statue of some old dude with a sword.

‘The jukebox?’ Melka looked off into the distance. ‘You might like it.’

‘But what is it?’ Martin had the same kind of excitement he had when he’d spotted the book today. When you wish for something so long and almost don’t quite believe in it and then it’s there. His fingers touched the shape of the book inside his bag, as if it might disappear without warning.

Would Melka disappear, too?

‘I have to ask the gang,’ she said finally, her mouth full of the last bit of sandwich. ‘They don’t let just anyone in.’

‘Sure,’ he said, but his heart sang with the possibilities.

‘Meet you here. By the statue.’ Melka waved a hand at the sword guy.

‘Tomorrow?’

She shook her head. ‘Thursday. Can’t get away until then.’

It seemed a lifetime away. He hated to watch her walking away, afraid he would never see her again. Martin wandered the streets until late, unable to be still. He was itching to start reading the book, but he wanted to leave it for tomorrow, to make that day pass faster. Every time he looked up from his book he saw her face. That scar. The smile. The look when she was listening.

Looking for the real thing. He ignored the book stall and went right to the statue on Thursday. She hadn’t said a time, so he went there about midday. The benches around the bronze figure were occupied with people, some sleeping, some just looking lost. There was a blue haze over the city today again. Some said it was pollution. Some said it was a meteorological phenomenon. Either way it wasn’t healthy. Everyone was coughing and sniffling. People said November used to be a cold month. Martin couldn’t really imagine it.

He looked up at the statue. The man had a sword like he was fighting but he had a cape like Batman, too, and no armour. What was he supposed to be? He decided if Melka didn’t show up in the next half hour he would read the plaque at the base of the statue, but he hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

Just when Martin was about to give in he saw Melka coming down the steps from the bridge. His heart leaped. It took a force of will to stuff it back down. Wouldn’t do to look too eager. ‘Hey,’ he said with as much of a casual air as he could muster.

‘Doing anything tonight?’

Martin smiled. ‘Maybe I am now.’

Melka grinned. ‘If you’re up for it.’

The plan was very cloak and dagger. He had to meet her at Elephant & Castle at 20:00 and let her blindfold him. ‘I can’t take you right there. Too much at risk.’

‘So what is it really?’ He suspected it was just an underground club, but if she was keen on it he would be, too.

‘Something you’d never expect.’

The hours dragged until he could reasonably expect to show up. Martin was on his second read-through of the new book. He liked the Finnish witch better this time though she still scared him a bit. Yet he couldn’t help looking up from the book and wondering what Melka would show him. He tried not to let his hopes rise. It seemed like darkness would never fall. Walking the whole way helped fill the time, though he still had to wait a good while for Melka to show at last.

‘Here, put these on.’ She gave him eyeshades that looked like something a doctor might give you, black circles that cupped his eyes, held on by stems like glasses. They walked away from the station’s doors and she turned him around and around. Martin thought he could still tell which direction was which because of the traffic noise and the loudness of the tannoys on the station announcing inanities.

As she took him down streets and around corners, he began to lose his sense of direction in the omnipresent hum of the city. He trusted Melka to lead him. She was careful that he not step off the kerb or hit a wall.

Melka knocked on something that sounded like hollow metal. A door creaked open. Cooler air flowed over Martin. ‘It’s a step down,’ Melka said, taking his arm in hers. Cautiously he stepped down. The door closed behind them. She took off his eyeshades.

Martin blinked. There was a single bulb lighting the dark stairs. Someone walked ahead of them down the steps. They turned another corner where another dim bulb flickered, then a third turning where a torch fixed to the bricks with putty lit the way. It was a long way down. The air was dank and smelled of the river, as any space below the water level in the city did, but they were lower than the river now.

There was more light ahead. Martin could feel his heart begin to hammer a little faster. They stepped up to another metal door. The person ahead of Melka—he wasn’t sure if it was a boy or a girl—knocked three times slowly, then opened the door. They walked in.

Martin’s first feeling was disappointment. The strange brick room had dark pillars in the middle, huge cement slabs that must bear the weight of all the building above it. A few candles gave the room a flickering light. Ranged around the rectangular space were broken furniture and mattresses, and on them kids of about his age—some maybe younger, a few older—lolled idly, most with eyes shut, a couple looking up at him. Was it just drugs then? Sniffing the dust or shooting the shot? He had tried drugs. They were a disappointment. Books were better magic and needed no recovery time.

His scorn must have been visible. ‘It’s not what you think,’ Melka whispered and led him to a sofa with no legs.

‘What then?’ he asked, unconsciously whispering, too. The other kids ignored him, put their heads back, eyes closed. Melka pushed him back into the dank cushions and leaned against him. She closed her eyes and leaned back. ‘Listen.’

After a moment, Martin did the same. At first he couldn’t tell what he was listening for. His tinnitus—now the number one physical malady in the nation—distracted him. He did his best to concentrate. He could hear Melka breathing. He could hear someone snoring softly.

Then it hit him. He stiffened. Melka put a hand on his leg, patting it softly. Martin leaned back again and let himself go.

It was quiet—truly quiet.

Martin could not remember ever experiencing quiet. Sometimes late at night, the roar of the traffic was lower and the blare of the tannoy more intermittent, yet the hum was always there. Machines, appliances, other people might be less but they were never gone. The echoing vibrations of the city, of the vehicles, of the people—all still there. Not here. You had to listen hard to hear anything outside the room. Here each inadvertent sound—someone coughing, a shoe tapping the concrete floor, a sniffle—resounded with a newness that made it distinct.

The world shook him daily, distracted him. For the first time Martin felt as if he were himself. It was bliss.

Then he started to shake.

Panic filled him. He was going to be ill.

Melka put an arm over his shoulders. ‘It’s all right. It happens to everyone the first time. It happens to me sometimes and I’ve been coming for ages.’ Her whispered words shocked his ears like car horns. Martin tried not to fear the panic and gradually the shaking dissipated. Melka put her head on his chest and his heart swelled with another emotion. A distracting one. He had an urge to kiss her but thought it would be disruptive to try.

His heart slowed, but the urge to panic rose again. He concentrated on the weight of Melka’s head over his heart. Her breathing was soft. Maybe she was sleeping. All at once he was asleep.

Martin awoke disoriented. The silence was deafening. Panic hammered through his body again. ‘Shhh.’ Melka raised herself from his chest, her hand flat against his shirt. Her eyes glistened in the candlelight. She stood up and reached for his hand.

Together they walked to the door. Melka eased it open and they went up all the steps to the first door. She opened it slowly. It creaked its displeasure. Outside the cacophony had continued without them. ‘Elephant & Castle is just up that way,’ she pointed.

Martin smiled. ‘You trust me now?’

Melka nodded. ‘You’re a member now.’

‘I need to make my own tee shirt.’

He did finally, though it was not as good as Melka’s. She had a better eye or hand or whatever. Martin went for just the initial letters overlapping. It was more abstract, but he liked it anyway.

The silence was like a drug. It buoyed his spirits through the chaotic din of the city. He found his mind crisper, quicker. In time he learned to invoke the silence in the safety of his room. It flowed over him like a cool mist. In the silence, Martin discovered he could talk to Melka with his thoughts and she heard him clearly as if they were in the same room. When he awoke each day Martin felt lighter.

Over the weeks he got to know the other kids by sight, but they all tended to disappear when they left the Jukebox, scattering like pigeons. ‘It’s hard to keep secrets, you know,’ Melka said as they wandered along the river’s bank one cloudy day.

‘You couldn’t,’ Martin said, then immediately felt bad about saying it. ‘I can, but only because I don’t know any one I could tell. My council processor? Nah, don’t think so.’ He laughed. Melka had a family. She didn’t really talk about them—or why they weren’t bothered when she didn’t come home at night. Many times the two of them stayed in the Jukebox from dusk to dawn. No one was waiting up for him.

‘Do you suppose it really is illegal?’ They had gone back and forth on the question for days.

‘The Code,’ Melka insisted, always her point of view. ‘If it’s illegal to wear earplugs, it’s got to be illegal to make a building into a giant earplug.’

Martin considered this. ‘I think a lawyer could get us off on that technicality.’

The Jukebox changed his brain. Martin was sure of it. His council processor even noticed it. ‘Have you considered taking the advanced placement? You might get out of the manual labour rank,’ she said with unaccustomed brightness one morning.

He laughed as he told Melka, but she wasn’t amused. ‘That’s not much of an improvement.’

‘Speak for yourself. I had no hope of anything better than a spade or cleaning windows. Now she’s all like—I dunno. Like I’m educated or something.’

Melka’s brow wrinkled at him. ‘You are educated though.’

Martin laughed. ‘I left school at the first opportunity.’

‘You don’t sound like it.’

‘That’s because I read.’ The one time he lured Melka back to his room she was astonished to see the walls were lined with books. ‘This room would be twice the size if not for my habits,’ he said with pride.

Martin took to bringing her books when they met up at the Jukebox, trying to find stories that got past her reluctance to branch out from murder. ‘There’s all kinds of stories.’ For the first time since he could remember, he was happy. He had something to look forward to each day and he had hopes with Melka. They kissed good night when they left the Jukebox and he woke her with whispers every morning whether they were together or apart.

He carried the silence with him.

Yet there was no comparison to the experience of being deep in the bowels of the rock and brick and dirt. Impossible silence, the echoes of footsteps on the stair, and the soft murmurs as people settled. Sometimes even breath seemed too loud, but Martin loved it anyway.

The explosion was so loud it hit them like shrapnel, though there was none down in the Jukebox. It blew the bloody door off. The clattering heels on the stair assaulted their dazed ears. The physical blows only added to their distress in the lounge. The service personnel took vicious glee in beating the kids as they dragged them up to the surface, shouting at them, too, as if they feared the silence and wanted to fill it in like a hole with their own dirty noise. Some of the kids started screaming. The pain, physical and aural, was excruciating. Martin went limp as they grabbed him, holding onto silence as the officers dragged him upstairs.

On the street there was tape and flashing lights and more people, cameras, media—a circus. They must have known and planned for some time. Martin looked for Melka. The girls were all squished together, getting huddled into a van. Another van gaped for the boys. For his silence Martin received a cosh to the head. Unconscious, the sounds penetrated his head.

He woke in a cell, his skull splitting with an ache. Martin willed himself to sit up, then allowed his head to spin until it stopped. There were four in the cell, guys he knew by sight. They sat dejected, silent. Martin reached for the silence in his head. It took a while to find between the throbbing pain and the unaccustomed clangs and chatter of the lock up.

And then all at once it was there—fading in and out, but there. He held onto it for his life.

He reached out to Melka. Her fear pulsated. With gentle strokes he did his best to soothe her mind. At last she reached back to him. The girls were in a cell not far away. They were scared, too. Melka shared silence with him. It helped.

One by one, their parents came. Charges were laid, arguments reckoned—most were allowed into their guardians’ custody to await trial. Not Martin. No one stepped forward to claim him. Melka tried to get her parents to intervene. They refused.

The work was short. The powers that be wanted to make an example of someone. The Order must be maintained. Most of the kids had respectable parents, willing to make a fuss to get them out, willing also to force compliance. The Rebellion was over.

Martin was alone.

The verdict was transportation. His appointed counsel did her best but she was clearly up against a considerable effort by the powers that be. Woe betide the fly when the spider takes notice, his mother used to say to him. Her mother had said it to her as a child, too. It might be his only tradition, apart from the books.

For loss of his books, he sorrowed. Yet he carried many of them within him like the silence, a power he could tap into that gave him strength through the slow grind of the trial and the sentencing. He told Melka the verdict when it was handed down, though doubtless she had heard on the omnipresent news blaring through the tannoys.

Martin imagined himself on the deck of a ship, sailing away from the tiny land. The reality proved harsher. The prison ship was little different from the detention cells in the city. But he stayed hopeful. Who knew what the colonies would be like? Maybe he would find his mother or hear some word of her. Maybe there would be more space. On the maps the prison colonies looked huge. They couldn’t be locked up all the time, could they?

Maybe he could find some quiet place to hide.

Martin reached into the silence to tell Melka good-bye. Perhaps it would hurt less to speak to her in time. ‘Read a book,’ he told her with a chuckle. ‘Dream me into freedom.’ He pulled the silence around him like a cowl as the ship rocked on.

In memory of MES

Find out more about GRAHAM WYND here.

Fiction: A BETTER KIND OF HATE by Beau Johnson

a better kind of hateFirst time I meet Lamar Purdue is in another life.

Squat for his age, he’s thicker at fourteen than the height he’d come to be in all his years.

Little man had a hound dog face and jerry curl eyes.  He was polite too, politer than most, which is why things played out the way they did I suppose; all his yes-sirs and no-sirs music to my rookie ears.  The coldness in his eyes I didn’t see until later, at his hearing, and then behind bars.  Rookie mistake #1: you cannot fix things.  You can only try.  Not me, though.  Not then.  I knew things.  I was there to save the day.

I didn’t know a damn thing.

We found Lamar’s mom slumped in a chair, the back of her head now the top of her throat.

“Lamar.  I’m Detective Rider.  This is Detective Batista.  You up for some questions?”  I look over at Batista and he gives me the nod.  Go ahead kid, it’s your show.  We’d been partners three weeks.  Three weeks and this was the first time he’d given me the reigns.

“She said her banana…said it tasted like suicide.”  Poor kid is what we thought, but that was it, the kid and our investigation giving us nothing more than what it looked like.  Three months later I enter another house to find Lamar.  He’s on the steps, same hound-dog face, same jet-black eyes.  His hands are bound behind his back though, cuffed and ready to go.  Doesn’t take me much to figure it out from there.

The foster family he’d been living with had been gutted and then cut into more manageable pieces.  By the look of the tub and the bottles of bleach beside, Lamar was looking to try something new.

“Don’t let it wear on you too much, kid.  Sociopaths will always be the hardest ones to catch.”  Batista was right, but even then, it still didn’t sit.

Kuwait had yet to start.

April and my mother were still alive.

But I could not save lives because I had yet to fully see.

I see now, though.  I see very well indeed.  So does Lamar, even after I go to town on his eyes.

“That all you got, Rider?”   He’d been released this morning, seventeen years to the day we shut him down.  From behind I stayed close, followed him to an IHop just off the 15, picked him up just as he sat to eat.  “’Cause they’re worse than you from where I been.”  I move forward, towards the chair, and put a bullet through his right knee.

He screams.  Curses.  Other knee bouncing up and down like mad.

“Man, you was a cop once!  This ain’t right!”

“And all you’ve done is?”  He stops at that, and then everything is still.  We look at each other.  I see the future as well as the past.  I want to go back.  I want to see the murder hidden in that young punk’s eyes.  I want to stop what he did.  I can’t though, and I know that, just as I know I will never stop what I do; what men like Lamar have forced me to become.  I’d like to say its centrifugal force, that something is pushing me on, that it’s pulling as well, but it’s not and I realize as much.

It’s just a different kind of killing.   A better kind of hate.

It’s here I begin to cut.

Find out more about BEAU JOHNSON here.