The Company I Keep by Judge Santiago Burdon

The  Company I Keep


I never had the courage to abandon my misery,  because it’s the only company that is able to put up with me. My thinking is that it’s better than being alone. So I pose for paintings, portraits of abuse in every color, a horrible chef but it is eat or starve, dressed in dirty baggy clothes torn and tattered, my pants ripped in the back exposing my ass so everyone can see what an asshole looks like, Spark up the joint, pass the crack pipe, fill the syringe with every drop of forget, are there any lies left in that Vodka bottle?  Enough of this crybaby  testimony, although I would like to offer one last thought, what I’ve discovered is the only truth is in the streets where I sleep, with new cardboard box smell and diesel exhaust, and if you listen closely in between car horns, sirens and screams, you can hear asphalt confessions whispering “Self-loathing is the sincerest form of flattery”  I just no longer get embarrassed from the attention.

Manic by Mark McConville

Manic.

She trembles in the snow. Her first instinct is to light a cigarette and inhale the toxicity. It’s been a long night, battling her own demons and the ones in reality. Reality is a deathtrap, and there’s no energy in her legs to run, to scatter from the position she finds herself in. The cold is unbearable and her lovely lips are chapped, her hands are rough and her whole body shakes. It has been shook for days. It is the 27th of December and the Christmas cheer finally dissipates and normality resumes, a normality that kills every ounce of jubilation. She is naturally a pessimist, void of dreams, lost in the loop of mundanity. A loop which goes on and on, tapping her mind and then resulting in mania. But this night is different, there is a concept to the storyline, a plot, a theme.

The theme is death. Death is on her mind. A bang from a gun, a bullet piercing through the skin and into the vitals, is playing over and over. It’s causing her distress, stress, a heartbeat so rapid that her heart could burst from her chest and onto the snow shrouded pavement. She’s alive with barely any clothes covering her hourglass body, she’s shaking so much that her teeth chitter, and no one asks if she’s okay, they only stare for split seconds. All these woman and men who walk past are going home or going to bars to drink their weight in liquor while this alarmed girl stands rigid.

It’s a shame as the lights shine and the people chat to their loved ones. It’s a shame that this girl, who yearns for closure and warmth, views the world through negative eyes. She’d rather die than watch couples kiss and share sexualized stories. As she dismisses the love bloom, she walks a little, trying to fix her mind into action. Empowered by manic episodes, her life has been one large disappointment, well that’s what she thinks. No mother, no father, no sisters or brothers, it has been one lonely twist of heartbreak.

Timid and sorrow ridden, she walks faster through the alleyway that leads to her apartment. Rats scurry, voices echo, the leaves crunch, and the whole city is louder than normal. The raucousness alarms her and frightens her. The recurring sound of a gun impedes her memory. She can’t dislodge the booming sound and grovels that gather pace. She doesn’t stroll now, she briskly marches towards her destination, a destination which won’t look pristine. In her mind, it will look the same, in reality, it will look torn apart.

She has lost her keys. She hurriedly locked the door and must have dropped the keys in haste. She smashes the window and climbs in, tearing her thin jacket. The kitchen is dark, and the feeling of heightened hesitation controls her. What happened? What unfolded? Is it all a dream, will she wake up and feel warm skin touch hers? Will the nightmare fade?

‘’Adam’’

She trembles again. There is no response from the living room.

‘’Adam’’

Lights flash in the window. The sound of dogs barking interfere.

‘’No, No, No’’

She utters the same sequence over and over.

She treads carefully over broken glass. The living resembles a crime scene.

‘‘Adam’’  

Adam lies on the floor with a bullet wound to his left side.

The manic girl in the frame closes her eyes and staggers into the blood soaked room.

Flashbacks cut through the psychosis, and now she remembers.

It only took one bullet, one bullet to ruin two lives….

I Don’t Want to Live with Monkeys by K A Laity

I Don’t Want to Live with Monkeys

K. A. Laity

‘Another year, eh?’ Norman said as he set the pints down on the table in the usual corner.

‘They seem to go so faster every time around,’ Stanley agreed.

‘What surprises await us in the coming year, I wonder?’

Stanley grimaced. ‘None. That’s my hope. No bloody surprises and everything getting back to normal.’

‘There’s no normal to get back to,’ Lennie muttered from the bar. He was polishing the glasses as if to get ready for a big night that wasn’t going to happen. Strictly speaking they weren’t even open but the two regulars had begged admittance when Norman saw the bartender pull up and unlock the door. After they each gifted him with a tenner he said it was no business of his if they should want to drink from the pints he pulled ‘just to test the pressure of the taps’ as it were.

Not that they were keeping a watch on the pub that day. It was just that Norman lived across the street and happened to be gazing out the window at the time. He did do a lot of that lately. What they hell else was there to do? No sport to speak of. And every time he turned on the telly another advert for Mrs Bloody Brown’s Bloody Boys.

It took a monumental effort not to kick in the screen whenever he saw that face.

So it was good to be sipping a pint of stout with Stanley—of course he called Stanley at once, wouldn’t be the same without him—and imaging it was just another slow night at the local. ‘Did you really come in just to clean glasses, Lennie?’

‘Very funny. Glad to see you’re still the bleeding raconteur.’ Lennie sniffed. ‘No, Harry wanted to meet up and show me his new Christmas present from the babe.’ Ingrid was Harry’s surprisingly young Brazilian wife. Pub regulars would taunt him about what she saw in him, but it was obvious: three pubs and a nice detached house with a river view.

‘Bet it’s a gold watch,’ Stanley said, nodding sagely.

‘Nah, it’s one of them Apple watches,’ Norman suggested, having been harangued weekly by his nieces since September for that particular technicolour glory.

A key in the door signaled the owner’s arrival. ‘Aw Lennie, did you have to let Stan and Ollie in, too?’

‘Evening, Harry!’ Norman said, raising his pint.

‘What the hell is that?’ Stanley said, pointing behind the portly pub owner.

Harry laughed. ‘That my friends is a genuine Capuchin monkey all the way from Brazil. Ingrid got it from one her mates who got it off a ship.’

‘Don’t they throw their feces around a bit?’ Stanley made a face as the creature on its leash trotted behind Harry to the bar.

‘Nah, you’re thinking chimps. They do that at the zoo.’ Harry whistled and the monkey hopped up on the bar with ease and looked around curiously. ‘This one’s quite tame. Used to be a sailor’s pet. Very clean.’

‘What do they eat?’ Norman asked.

‘Mostly fruits and vegetables. Likes to get his five a day!’ Harry chucked the monkey under the chin and it chittered at him and showed its teeth. ‘Look he’s smiling.’

‘Are you sure?’ Lennie looked a bit worried. ‘I saw a nature programme what said that baring your teeth like that was a way to show aggression.’

‘Get stuffed, Lennie.’ Harry said it without rancor and poured a neat whisky for himself.

‘Bet it would like crisps,’ Norman said. ‘All those new flavours they have.’

‘I still prefer my cheese and onions,’ Stanley said.

‘There’s the prawn and pickle ones nobody ever wants. They always end up in the bottom crushed with the Hula Hoops.’ Lennie grabbed one of the garish bags from the bin under the bar.

‘I dunno. Probably not healthy for a monkey.’ Harry sipped his drink as he watched the monkey take the bag Lennie opened for him and sniff at it.

‘Not healthy for anyone,’ Norman said with a chuckle.

The monkey grabbed a crisp in its tiny almost-human hand and crammed it in its mouth. Its head jerked. He’d obviously never had anything like that before. The men all laughed. The monkey stuffed the rest of the crisps in its mouth and chewed in a frenzy.

‘I think he likes ‘em,’ Lennie said.

‘He could be in an advert. Can’t stop eating them!’ Stanley laughed again.

The monkey wanted more. He hopped over to the bin and fished out another packet. Salt and vinegar this time, but when he ripped open the package and tasted it, he immediately spit it out and tossed the package to the floor. He grabbed another packet, ripped it open: nope. And another.

‘Hey now,’ Harry said, gently tugging the leash. ‘Let’s not make a mess.’ He cooed at the little beast. The monkey screamed and ignored the pulling. It was desperate to find the right crisps. It grabbed the bin, tipped the contents onto the floor and began to paw through them.

Harry bent down to retrieve his pet but the monkey shrieked and bit him. ‘The fucker!’ His hand bled freely. Lennie grabbed a broom. ‘Don’t hurt him!’

‘I just want to keep him off me,’ the bartender said, backing away.

Furious he could not find the right packet of crisps, the monkey screamed his anger and hopped back on the bar, throwing pint glasses left and right so they smashed on the floor and the back wall. Stanley and Norman gaped, still holding tightly to their pint glasses for safety.

‘Get him!’ Harry cried as the monkey leaped onto the till.

‘The hell I will!’ Lennie shouted back, brandishing the broom.

There was a sort of gleam in the monkey’s eye when he spotted the billy club, or so Norman would claim later. The truncheon was protection against the rare outbreak of violence in the pub and was claimed to have belonged to the original owner, said to have been a retired officer.

Whatever the origin of the club, it was a dangerous thing in the small monkey’s hands, smashing glasses and bottles and eventually Lennie who was knocked out cold behind the bar and cut up quite badly by the broken glass.

Harry hollered and gave chase but the monkey ran into the gents then swung out the window, club still clutched in one tiny paw, shrieking its love for crisps down the icy street.

‘Guess we ought to be going,’ Norman said, downing the last of his pint and standing up.

‘Yes, on your fucking way,’ Harry growled, looking down at the bloody mess behind the bar as he wrapped a towel around his bleeding hand.

‘Happy new year, Harry,’ Stanley said, slinging their empty glasses onto the bar.

‘Piss off, Stanley.’

‘Well, that was better than Mrs Brown’s Boys,’ Norman said, chuckling.

‘Shall we grab some cans and see the new year in on telly? What is this coming one? Year of the monkey?’

Norman tipped his head back and laughed until he cried. ‘Aye. Think it is. Think it is.’

The Hunter by Sebnem E. Sanders

The Hunter

Blanche stood before the cheval mirror and adjusted her fur hat. Tucking wayward curls inside the headpiece, she buttoned her fitted long coat, and picked up her gloves.

Fat snowflakes dancing like butterflies greeted her as she stepped into the street lined with terraced houses. She pulled up her collar, and glided over the soft mounds on the pavement. Warm lights pouring from windows and lamp posts illuminated the blanket of snow which muffled the sounds of traffic and footsteps. A postcard scene, as though time had stopped. Turning left at the bottom of the road, Blanche continued towards the High Street.

Loaded with bags, Christmas shoppers headed in all directions. Passengers stepped onto or off red, double-decker buses along the main street decorated with colourful lights. Children fascinated by displays, stuck their faces on the windows of the Toy Shop as their parents pulled them away while hailing cabs. Echoes of festive songs spilling from the stores brought an inconsolable pain to Blanche’s heart.

“Ho, ho! Story time!” The words brought her back to the moment.  The Santa in front of Dickson’s rang his bell and invited children inside. Blanche took a close look at him and froze. He hadn’t listened, had he? She had warned him several times, after catching him in front of school yards and following youngsters to the park. That summer, she had seen him peeping at a bunch of blooming teenagers splayed out on the lawn in their shorts and strappy tops.

How could a reputable establishment like Dickson’s employ him? Did his big belly and alcohol induced red cheeks not require further references?  Sly and insidious, perhaps, he had no offence record. Yet, Blanche knew a paedophile when she saw one.  He was on her longlist.

She stood and watched him settle on a red armchair at the children’s bookstore by the toy department. Taking an illustrated copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, he glanced at his young audience sitting on the floor. Then, pointing to a pretty blonde girl, he patted his leg. Once the girl hopped on his lap, he began to read Little Red Riding Hood.

“Ironic,” Blanche hissed, as the girl put her head on his chest and listened. Blanche could see beads of perspiration on his puffy face. He licked his lips as words came out of his foul mouth. Moving his legs and feet at intervals, he cleared his throat and turned the pages.

He summoned two more children, a boy and another girl to his lap as he read the second and third stories. Confident in her next course of action, Blanche waited patiently until his shift ended. She followed him to the staff rooms where he changed into plain clothes and slipped out of the back exit into a dark alley. Whispering ,“Ho, Ho, Ho!” he reached for his pocket, and brought a flask to his lips.

“Disgusting pervert, I will kill you!”

Startled, he looked around, but couldn’t see anyone. Another mouthful consumed, he lit a cigarette and inhaled.

Blanche watched him mellow. Then, grabbing the cigarette from his hand, she extinguished it on his skin.

“Aww!” he mumbled and sucked his hand. Blanche thrust him against the wall, and clutching his neck with both hands, she squeezed it with all her might.

“This is not a heart-attack, you pervert. You’re being strangled. I warned you many times before, but you didn’t listen. You deserve to die.”

Hands like steel around his throat, she pressed until his heart stopped beating and his face morphed to blue from red.

She dropped him on the snow covered pavement, next to the black garbage bags. Smoothing her gloves, she walked to the High Street.

In stark contrast with the wardrobes of the last century, the outfits of the passers-by lacked elegance and style. Stepping inside the main hall of the Toy Shop, she peeked behind parents and their children, viewing the vast array of enticing merchandise. On the way to the first floor, she paused by the hall of mirrors Edward had loved. She could see everyone’s reflection except her own. At the model train department, she  listened to the whistle and choo-choo of the steam engines as children cheered, until tears blurred her vision.

Toys were different, fashions had changed, but not the laughter of children.

The hubbub of the High Street faded behind her as she turned to a side street and headed home.

In the attic, she crossed out the pervert’s name from the list and placed it back inside her pocket. Pain and vengeance had given her more powers than spirits were thought capable of exercising. Yet, she needed to rest to replenish her strength. Exhausted, Blanche lay next to a chest of toys and wept.

“I’m sorry, I couldn’t protect you from the monsters, Edward, but I promise I’ll do everything within my power to save other young ones.”

(816 words)

 This story was first published at Yellow Mama Webzine.

Short Bio

Sebnem E. Sanders is a native of Istanbul, Turkey. Currently she lives on the eastern shores of the Southern Aegean where she dreams and writes Flash Fiction and Flash Poesy, as well as longer works of fiction. Her flash stories have appeared in the Harper Collins Authonomy Blog, The Drabble, Sick Lit Magazine, Twisted Sister Lit Mag, Spelk Fiction, The Bosphorus Review of Books, Three Drops from the Cauldron, The Rye Whiskey Review, CarpeArte Journal, Yellow Mama Webzine, Punk Noir Magazine, Flash Fiction Offensive, and The Cabinet of Heed, as well as two anthologies: Paws and Claws and One Million Project, Thriller Anthology. She has a completed manuscript, The Child of Heaven and two works in progress, The Child of Passion and The Lost Child.  Her collection of short and flash fiction stories, Ripples on the Pond , was published in December 2017. More information can be found at her website where she publishes some of her work:

https://sebnemsanders.wordpress.com/

Ripples on the Pond

Man Bites Trap by John Bowie

Man Bites Trap

Jude Greyson sat at his desk in a cold room. Outside, birds sang as if Spring brought a bountiful feast, and for the time being, the cats in the neighbourhood didn’t exist.

He didn’t hear them. The song. Beauty. Not in the notes or the spaces between them.

Downstairs his friends partied on from the night before. That’s what they called him, a friend. He didn’t hear them either.

The light flickered overhead. Nothing.

A dog barked next door. Silence.

All Jude heard was the zip on a small leather case as he tentatively started to open it. All he felt was numbness. He was a cannonball somehow floating on the waves of life and he knew he was due to fall, sink and rest. Someday soon, maybe it would be today.

His mother hadn’t said a word as she’d helped him pack his bags for college. She’d ironed sheer hell out of everything as she compensated for the weight she knew he carried inside. She saw it in him, the anxiousness. Like he had a crack-filled balloon in his belly about to pop. She’d ironed his clothes so heavily. Trying to purge his worry. Without the emotional tools to do it the way a mother should — she knew nothing else. So pressed, hard. She’d made creases down the front of his jeans as sharp as razor blades. Fuck he hated that. Almost as much as the assumption that his demeanour was nothing more than an adopted artist’s aloof masquerade. Stolen and borrowed from something he’d seen in a book, or the latest band he was into. And that somehow, he was going to come true at college, out of his shell — all crap.

Jude spent a lot of time with his door locked in his shared house at college. When he occasionally ventured out, the others were drawn to his blackheart. It oozed shadows and left invisible bloody footprints as he skulked around the tired old house. What was ridiculed at school, had become a honey-trap at college. An image of something they normally saw onscreen or in music mags. He was the real deal. A walking talking fucked up idol to be built up, and knocked down. They could see it wouldn’t take much. Unlike those they’d read and seen on screen, in bands and in those mags. He was…for real.

He didn’t feel any of that either, their abstract admirations — piss to the wind.

There was no way to see the full extent of his turmoil from the outside. His internal tormentors wore virtual masks, came in many colours and rarely showed an obvious face.

The zip went back on the little black case. As he opened it up, he imagined flying insects buzzing at his head. Carriers of distraction back into life. So, he swatted them away. From the case, rusty shiny blades looked up. He pulled back a shirt sleeve and admired each one of the fresh scars. Pushing. Made them seep.

He turned up the radio, he wasn’t listening to. All white noise drowning out a world; not his. This moment was between him and the blades. His real friends. And Family.

He cut himself, to test if he was still there. To see if he could feel past the numbness. A reality. He cut himself to have control. To be done to, by himself, and only himself. His feelings, born and made fragile by an unsympathetic upbringing, could erupt at any moment with outside influence. Here, he had complete orchestration over his pleasure, pain and when it started and stopped…

He sat back. Tears came. Of pleasure, pain, in the caress of the blade.

‘Jude, we’re having a brew… you want one?’

He wiped the blood away. Put on a plaster and rolled his sleeve down. He was ready to engage again. Although he didn’t know for how long.

‘Jude?’

Silence. Then a zip. Radio turned down.

‘You knocking one out in there, Jude?’

‘I’ll just be a sec…’

‘Filthy bastard.’

‘Be down in 5.’

* * *

Byron Walters was a public schoolboy prick. The rest of the household thought so as soon as he turned up on their doorstep. He stood there, way too fucking proud in his fake-tan skin. Posed catalogue-regal style, like the shitty neighbourhood didn’t matter, and the student house was his new castle. And, his new housemates peering hesitantly around the door were his new servants. His black designer holdall bag that hung from his hand was worth more than the rent they would all pay each quarter.

They let him in.

In the kitchen, the peeling walls bellowed and the others were glad Jude was locked in his room. They could tell Byron’s brash over-confident and constant banter-shit could send Jude spinning off, either in his head or literally. They’d have to ease them both in together, maybe over a brew. At least Byron wouldn’t be mouthing off as he took a sip of something, surely.

One of them went up to grasp the nettle. To get Jude.

            Byron kept laying it on. Really trying to sell himself, all the while misjudging his audience. It was about to go even more off-track, as Jude started to come down the stairs.

The others heard the steps and looked at each other. Byron didn’t notice. He was too busy sucking himself off with stories of girls in each port… How he couldn’t beat them off with a dirty stick — how he was the fucking man. And how all these girls…barely pubescent, were his trophies.

            The rest of the housemates felt the fabric of the house and kitchen change. With each of Jude’s steps overhead on the stairs carrying more weight than Byron’s hard-sell macho shit.

Jude slipped easily into the room behind Byron. And leant in the corner out of sight. One of the others nodded, leant over behind Byron and grabbed the kettle, filled it and returned to the base and switched it on.      

Click.

            Jude rolled and lit up.

            Byron sniffed the air, looked around and jumped at the new member in the room.

Jude was all in black, as usual, a translucent shadow. Aloof. An invisible reluctant observer, wishing to keep it that way.

            ‘What the fuck? You a fucking goth or something?’ Byron barked and laughed. Slapping his leg as if riding a horse, ‘thought this was Manchester…all indie kids, baggy trousers and Reni hats n’ shit,’ Byron’s words bounced around the kitchen. The others waited for their reception to take shape. Insult, a dig or friendly intentions were irrelevant. Jude was like thin ice with a bed of nails underneath at the best of times.

Jude breathed in.

Then out.

He gripped his forearm, enough to feel he could leave the room, at any moment without moving. His recent release was fresh enough that these stranger’s words bounced straight off him. The irony of the pain making his armour thick.

‘I’m going for a piss,’ Jude said to the floor, rolly hanging from his lip. He left, his smoke hanging in the vacuum he left behind.

‘That’s quite an act. Fucking dark arts reaper or something. Watch steam doesn’t come out,’ Byron said as Jude walked up the corridor and back up the stairs.

‘Ain’t no act,’ a voice said by the sink.

‘Bollocks,’ Jude barked. ‘Kid’s been listening to too much Smiths already, that’s all. We’ll get some Boddingtons in him, pills, poppers… Get him out into the big city for fuck sake. That’s just some small-town country repressed fuck up waiting to drink through it, get laid and come out the other side. Hell, he can have one of my birds. Two turning up tomorrow. At different times. It’s a nightmare of a juggling act anyhow…’ Byron’s coffee had kicked in and the others had wished they gave him tea instead. He was off on one, again. The gobshite was churning it out double time. Hyper. Like a dog busting for a piss, hopping on the spot between two lamp posts.

Jude’s footsteps started again on the stairs overhead. Coming back down.

‘Wait… I’ve an idea. It’s a belter — check this out!’ Byron announced to the room. ‘Everyone, hide. NOW! I’ll get behind the door, I’ve got just the thing for the fucking Crow,’ he giggled. No one joined in.

The others looked around, beyond worry. Not confident enough to rein in the ego dominating the room. And a little curious to see what was in store, despite knowing it wouldn’t end well. They knew it was a car crash coming and they were fixed to the back seat anyway.

Byron turned up the radio in the kitchen. Radiohead was playing Creep. ‘Perfect,’ he grinned and knelt down, unzipped the black holdall he’d just arrived with and quickly took something out, and put something under his tracky top before they could see it. Then he stepped behind the door and pulled it in front of himself so he was hidden.

The others all found a spot. Ducking, some in the cellar, others around a corner by the bins. All retreating best they could, out of sight.

From the top of the stairs, Jude heard Radiohead coming from the kitchen but already had Paul Weller in his head, and bits of Oasis, then Joy Division. He might have looked a Goth but his all-black uniform was a mere egoless wardrobe he didn’t have to think about. He was a broken priest of his own religion. His mind whirred on ideas, concepts, existential quandaries of abstract expressionism and broken mirrors. He was a deconstruction of himself. There was no time for public image preening.

By the last step of the stairs, New Order’s Crystal, was playing both in the kitchen and his mind. He floated to the bottom step.

His feet padded down the dark hallway. A thrown beer can had blown the bulb two nights ago and they hadn’t replaced it. The kitchen door was open but he couldn’t hear voices. This was normal over those that whispered in his head and whatever soundtrack he played there too. He heard the Chemical Brothers start and didn’t question whether it was internal or external. This soundtrack meant that rather than about to get worn down by the day, he was in a good place and mood. Ready to crack his own notions over what lay ahead.

He stood in the doorway to the kitchen.

Where had they gone?

The cellar was full of shit, nothing to see down there. And there was nothing much outside…

Longsight wasn’t a place to go sightseeing. Unless you liked boarded up windows, smashed out bus shelters and a community that could chew you up and leave you dead if you stopped still long enough.

They must be hiding.

Maybe they’d been burgled? And the rest were in the cellar tied up.

This area was rough. This city could eat you alive and you wouldn’t even make the second page of the local rag. Only last night a taxi driver had been mugged and killed. Some lads had jumped in, put a gun to his head and noose around his neck. Told him to drive or be shot. Said they’d let him know if he could stop before the rope tied back to a lamppost snapped his neck and his head came off. That was after he’d given them everything and showed them pictures of his wife and kids. His head was found by school kids the next morning and the car crashed into a fence a hundred yards ahead, motor still running as a piss and shit-soaked leg pressed an accelerator to the floor.

Jude grinned. Touched his forearm again — so be it. Muggers or not, he was going in.

Oasis’s Force of Nature played all around as Jude took a step forward. The world slowed.  At moments like this, his nervousness went past boiling point. Like when he had to talk to more than one person at a time, interact with an attractive girl…any girl. Or, just a stranger. Jude always swallowed it down and got on with it — and let a well-practiced zen-like power overwhelm him. When he stopped trying and let it win, he knew that would be the end. It was like the calm ebbs and flows moments before going over a waterfall in a small boat. Knowing…

The boat always goes over. 

He looked out of the kitchen window to the sun, felt nothing.

The door behind him snapped open crashing against the counter. Nothing, he didn’t jump.

He didn’t feel the gun barrel pressed hard against his temple or the arm gripped tight around his neck, pulling the gun and skull together tight. Nothing. But, he knew they were there.

He smiled.

‘Haha,’ a voice said, spitting over Jude’s face, ‘you’re gonna get it now… Say your last fucking words, CUNT!’

Jude breathed out, his eyes looked down. He didn’t resist the grip on his head and neck, instead embracing the moment, slowly closing his eyes as if going in for a kiss. ‘If you’re gonna do it, do it,’ Jude whispered, intimately.

Bryon started to shake.

He saw the Devil.

The others stepped out. The joke was on Bryon. They’d all been there long enough, the city was in their veins. Now it was in his.

‘Like we said,’ a voice went, ‘he’s for real.’

‘Fuck,’ Byron muttered… Gasping as realised he was out of breath. He felt small, naked.

‘Just pull the trigger, will you, so I don’t have to,’ this time Jude’s words sounding like a lover’s whisper.

Byron jumped away, scolded, as his feigned aggression faded fully away to reveal his extreme fear. He could see Jude welcomed the bullet. Any bullet. All the while seeming somehow bulletproof.

Byron’s arms dropped. The one holding the gun raised slowly back up and he put the piece on the worktop, delicately, like a priest holding out a communion wafer as a tear welled in his once superficial eyes. He’d been christened and embraced by loss of control. Now, he felt true darkness. Living and breathing in this place, and in Jude. This wasn’t an act. Byron’s image-persona was destroyed, ‘Pint?’ his lips quivered, conceding his comfortable life was now over.

‘Yes,’ Jude said, ‘and you’re fucking buying.’

As they put on their coats to leave, Byron put a hand on Jude’s shoulder and told him he’d wished he hadn’t pulled the joke. That he was an idiot. He was sorry. It was just a toy; fired blanks.

As they walked up the road, towards the nearest pub, a rope dangled from a lamppost and trailed to the centre of the road. Up ahead a burnt-out Vauxhall still smoked.

Sitting in a beer garden, by the fifth pint, Jude told Byron not to worry. That yes, he was an idiot. He didn’t need to tell him the rest… He didn’t need to say that he was sorry too, that it hadn’t been a real gun. That he welcomed a live round.

They sat in that beer garden in the pouring rain, getting soaked through, drinking down quicker than the heavens could re-fill the pint glasses. Small victories.

Jude closed his eyes and opened them again. There was no one there. Reopened, and they were back, smoking, drinking. The clouds took a rest and the sun strained for a chance as much it could in Manchester.

Jude looked into his glass. He saw just how much Byron had been shaken. He saw what was in him. He saw blackness. Flushing, embarrassed, he smiled again, bashful. Like receiving an unworthy felt compliment — a lover’s gift. Then, it drained away, and the calm washed over.

He rolled a cigarette and eyed a broken bottle with shards of razor-sharp glass by his feet.

It welcomed him. It spoke to him.

The bottle’s neck formed the perfect handle. The glass shon. In it he saw a crossroads — choices. Each, with a welcome release. All of them red as night, dark as sinkholes, and humming like the finest everlong embrace.

He saw the Devil.

This time, he’d be in control…and it wouldn’t be a joke.

John Bowie 2020 ©

John Bowie: Biography


John’s writing has appeared online and in print for the likes of Red Dog Press, Bristol Noir, Storgy Magazine, Close to the Bone, Litro Magazine, Punk Noir Magazine, Necro Productions and Deadman’s Tome.

He writes poetry, short stories and novels. His fiction is a semi-autobiographical mix of dirty realism, crime fiction and noir. Ghostly references to a heritage that includes the Vikings, Scotland, Ireland and the North, U.K. flavour the words throughout. Often with a dark humoured edge.

He’s the founder and editor of the Bristol Noir e-zine which specialises in dirty realism, noir and dark fiction.

John lives in Bristol with his wife and daughters, where he has been since the late nineties. He is a professional designer, artist and writer as well as a proud husband, father, brother and son.

John’s first novel, Untethered, the first in the Black Viking Thriller series is out now with Red Dog Press. Transference, the second Black Viking Thriller is due February 2021.

His pulp noir Weston-super-Nightmare is out in March 2021 with Close to the Bone.

His poetry collection, Dead Birds & Sinking Ships (Little Tales of Melancholy Madness) is due August 2021 with Close to the Bone Publishing.

A collection of Bristol Noir stories (Tainted Hearts & Dirty Hellhounds) curated by and including John’s work, is slated for Q1 2021.

And The Bells Were Ringing Out by L A Sykes

And The Bells Were Ringing Out

L.A. Sykes

I thought she was trying to kiss me. Some mistletoe trick. Tilted my head away from hers and put my hand up between us.

She hadn’t been in long and had eyed me with something bordering on outright hostility in brief exchanges the previous day, so I was surprised at how quickly the Christmas spirit had worked its magic.

Obviously inappropriate relations between staff and patients were a no-no and as such I was trying to delicately disentangle us while trying to see the funny side. Happened to look at a group of other patients sat on the little bench watching the episode unfold and thought they’d be amused. Instead I saw their expressions were ones or either horror or incredulity. Slightly odd. As was the tightening grip. Around my neck. I reluctantly faced what I thought was my somewhat amorous acquaintance, instinctively leaned back to keep out of distance of puckered lips and chanced a glance. Teeth bared, raw hatred beaming from the screwed up eyes. This wasn’t kissing. She was trying to kill me.

This entire experience happened in some kind of slow motion in under five seconds. Prised her fingers from my throat as assistance came quickly from colleagues who had rounded the corner at my voice saying something like, “Please desist from assaulting staff.” What I wanted to shout was, “Stop strangling me, you whopper,” but you’ve got to keep professional, even while someone is attempting to murder you.

“He keeps calling me names, the bastard,” she said.

“Eh? I’ve not even met you proper yet, why would I call you names?” I said.

“Don’t take the piss, I’ve heard you all day.”

Derogatory hallucinations. Torturous affliction. In this instance, attributed to me.

I tried, “I think we’ve got off on the wrong foot. I’m here to help you.”

“Don’t come that game with me, I’ll bloody give you what for, you swine.”

The other staff led her to the clinic while she bellowed threats and expletives. The nurse in charge grinned as she said, “You’re a charmer aren’t you?”

“Fuck off. I’m just glad she didn’t have mistletoe after all. Talk about a femme fatale.”

She laughed. “Get a brew and a mince pie.”

Staffroom: strong tea and a bit of buffet food. One bite was all I managed before the bells rang out. Neither sleigh bells nor Christmas bells. Instead: the alarm bells.

The infirmary, the unit, Roy Wood from Wizzard blaring out the radio at full blast. Christmas bloody Eve.

Ran down the corridor to the electronic panel that indicated the ward below. Sprinted through the unit, bleeped myself out and clattered down the stairs, thinking please nobody hanging, nobody dead or dying or beaten to a pulp. If you’re prepared for the worst and anything less is a relief.

Doors wide open, a bank staff says, “Seclusion room.”

“Ta.”

The back end of a scuffle.

Someone says, “Take his arm off me.” We lay him down on his front on the padded bed. Well drilled staff extraction, dragging out the person in front of us backwards as we hastily exited the seclusion room, slammed shut the door and bolted it locked. The fella inside the room leaped up, going apeshit and kicking Holy Hell at the door from the inside. Me and the others, outside, catching our breath.

“You’d not make a sprinter,” the nursing assistant said with a grin.

“Six seconds it took me, you cheeky bastard. I counted.”

He laughed, wiped sweat off his forehead then came over all weary. Said, “What a bloody cock up this is.”

“Go on.”

“Well to cut a long story short, this fella,” he said, indicating with his thumb to the bloke knocking seven bells out of the woodwork, “thought his missus was cheating on him, having affairs like. She said he’s going bonkers, can’t convince him it’s in his head. Gets the GP involved, who gets the consultant psychiatrist who assesses him as delusional and brings him in here.

Been with us three months. We’ve worked with him, talked with him, tried him on numerous tablets, nothing working. He’s getting in a bad state, not eating properly and all the rest of it.

Anyway, the consultant decides we need some drastic action so he prescribes emergency ECT. Thinking hopefully we get a rapid response and he can have some Christmas dinner with his wife. So we give him something to keep him calm for the treatment and walk him up to the suite. In the meantime one of our staff has gone for a run round the flash on his break. You know the flash is a dogging hotspot. Well, he goes for a piss in the bushes and who does he see on a Christmas dogging sesh in the woods? Only this chap’s missus. Apparently she’s a regular. She’s just admitted on the blower. She had to, she’d been seen in action.”

“Bollocks.”

“Swear down. Our staff phones the ward to tell us, but obviously nobody is in the office. Meanwhile yon mon is having his frontal lobes zapped. Staff gets back, frantically explaining, we run up to ECT but it’s too late by then. Our patient is sat there chewing on dry toast.”

“Oh my God.”

“We bring him back down to the ward, and tactfully inform him of the situation. Needless to say, he went absolutely fucking ballistic.” He puffed his cheeks out and shook his head. “Can you watch him for five minutes while I nip for a quick fag.”

“Aye,” I said. That’s all I could manage. Aye.

It was important when secluding someone to ensure they could see a clock and another human through the reinforced glass panels so as not to go into sensory deprivation. Also you had to watch in case they fashioned a makeshift ligature from clothing, so I pulled up a chair and took a seat.

He came straight over and shouted, “Who are you?”

“I’m from upstairs, I’m just covering for a while.”

“Well these fucking crackpots have kidnapped me, drugged me up and run electric through my brain. Have you ever heard owt like it? I fucking told them she was messing about, I told them. Look what they’ve done! Telling me I’m delusional for months? They’re delusional. I’ll rip their fucking heads off,” he shouted.

I just nodded empathetically. What could you say to that?

Slade. Merry Christmas Everybody on the radio. Me, thinking: what the fuck is going on.

The Infirmary, the unit, Christmas bloody Eve.

Staff came to take over and another one let me out. We did the merry Christmases and the like and I went outside for a smoke myself.

Snow turning to slush.

Bewildered.

The consultant was sucking on a cig and pacing up and down under the canopy. From cocksure to a shivering wreck in three hours.

“These things happen, Doc,” I said.

“You think so?”

“It’s a funny old profession, psychiatry.”

“Yes, I suppose it is.”

He didn’t seem reassured and I couldn’t have given two fucks whether he was or not in all honesty. Saved by the emergency bleep. It was a little black pager type of thing then and the voice came over to instruct me to go to a ward the next shelter down. Dementia and alzheimer’s and other degenerative neurological conditions.

Flicked my cig and kicked up snow. Through the main doors, thinking please nobody hanging, nobody dead or dying or beaten to a bloody pulp. Very different environment from the acute, this. It needed folks with the patience of Saints and not a sinner amongst them, and that’s what they had.

Commotion at the top of the ward. A big bear of a bloke with a nursing assistant in a headlock. Was saying, “I’ve towd thee to keep out my bloody road.”

They were trying to change his trousers for clean ones and he was confused and disoriented, lashing out. Non-threatening body language, non-confrontational verbals, continual reassurances muttered every twenty seconds and they got him sorted. Clean clothes, fed, cared for. A very different type of work from the acute. Staff with the patience of Saints.

We swapped Merry Christmases and cliched jokes along the lines of, “Never mind three wise men, can’t seem to find one in this office,” and the odd flirt saying, “You playing Father Christmas, gracing us with your presence? You can empty your sack for me tonight if you want.” Banter and gallows humour flowed as fast as the non alcoholic wine. I said I’d let myself out and as I neared the exit I heard a nurse crying in the toilets.

Back on my unit. Had a good look for my assailant but couldn’t see her, thank fuck. Local church group choir were entertaining about fifteen patients in the dining area with carols.

Get handed the observation file to do my hour. Had to check certain people at specific intervals, assess their mental state. Three suicide risks, one intrusive behaviour due to hypomania, and the last one recently added to the list because her family couldn’t make it to visit given the long drive and the weather. She was the lady in the green dress, a shade of green similar to the light flaking paint on the corridor walls. Upset. Feeling abandoned. Little to no response to interactions or reassurance.

Did laps of the unit, eyes peeled, ten minute intervals. Playing along with the jollity and joviality with the patients on my route, festive cheer breaking up the usual routines of ward life. No incidents as I hand over the file to the next staff for their turn at the top of the hour. No respite as a congregation gathered at the far end harangue for smoke time. I take a walkie talkie and unclip the fire door as the folks file out with their fags out ready.

Lead them down the stairs to the courtyard with the high fence, no smoking rooms inside these days. Stand at the door lighting them up one at a time. The lady in the green dress, all done up and nowhere to go, preoccupied. Spark the lighter and she inhales but doesn’t go out. Instead she goes to my left. I light another one from the queue with my peripheral vision doing overtime. Split second. The hand with the cigarette drops from the mouth to the dress. Singe. Fuck. Snatch the fag and lash it on the floor. Press the ring of flaming green material with my palms and thankfully it stops the burn. A bit longer and the dress would have gone up like a fountain firework. She weeps softly as I speak into the walkie talkie and staff come running. I mime what she did and then do a talk mime and they nod and walk her back upstairs.

Christmas bloody eve.

The smokers are having a singsong and then they say they’ve got a surprise for us staff. I join them with a cig, not giving a fuck if they grass me up. Couldn’t care less, but they never did. “Go on, what’s this surprise then?”

“You’ll find out in a minute,” one says, and they laugh together.

They throw their stumps in the ashtray and go back inside then I lock up and follow them, flicking the door shut and reactivating the alarm.

Sat on the table at the top of the ward and saw what they’d done. They must have been out earlier in the day, those that were allowed, and had sneaked in a spread for us staff from them. Out they came out of the patient’s kitchen with plates of sandwiches and pasties and little cakes.

“Surprise!” One shouted. “Merry Christmas. We’ll look after you lot seeing as you look after us the rest of the year” shouted another. 

I could have bloody wept.

Radio on full blast. The Pogues. Fairy Tale Of New York.

No fairy tales here, in England, in the infirmary, on the unit, behind the locked doors, with the flaking paint on those walls.

Drug companies raking it in, folk like us giving what we could of the human factor, providing those intangibles that were more than just words, that seem to go missing when reducing life experience to neurotransmitters or whatever else, as best we could, on Christmas Eve.

Shift ending. Stood in the dining room near the nine foot tree the local gardening centre donated with my coat on, waiting for the handover to finish. Laughing at a funny story a patient is telling. Tired, maybe a bit emotional for many reasons, looking back. Lost in thought.

Footsteps.

“You’ll not call me a cunt again you swine.” I glimpse tinsel looped over my head and down past my eyes and round my neck as I try and place the voice. Then it dawns on me, my assailant is back with a vengeance.

Dragged backwards. Struggling with my balance. I grab the tree to keep me up. The entire thing topples towards me as I fall backwards. One set of fingers under the tinsel. The other activating my alarm, setting off the electric orchestra of emergency.

Patients shouting, “Ger off ‘im.”

“Towd you I’d get you, you bastard,” she says through a cackle.

More footsteps and another scuffle as the tinsel slackens. Me on the floor, with the Christmas tree on top of me. Baubles rolling all over.

Couldn’t help but laugh.

In the infirmary, on the ward, on Christmas Eve.

Radio blaring: …and the bells were ringing out…

The End

Bio L.A. Sykes is the author of the short story collection Noir Medley and the novellas The Hard Cold Shoulder and Benediction For A Thief (The Atherton Town Escapades).

War Words by Travis Richardson

War Words

We entered a toy store, wanting to buy presents for our children. It has been an awful year, and they’ve been troopers. Literally. Loading ammunition into magazines. Bringing provisions to the front lines. Treating the wounded and burying the dead. Only eight and five years old. Nobody should witness such horrors at those tender ages. With the shaky armistice in place, we held onto a naïve hope that maybe we could reassemble our lives back into some semblance of how things used to be. Walking on the streets again to buy presents without the fear of attacks seemed like a step in the right direction.

While the busy store had a Christmas tree against a wall, a large nativity scene dominated the center aisle. My wife, Grace, shuddered. I pulled her close.

“Take a breath,” I whispered. “It’ll be okay.”

A clerk turned, his one good eye giving us a suspicious once over. A patch covered the other one. Many of us carried our physical wounds on the surface, but we all had twisted physiological pain buried much deeper. Shrapnel in my shoulder limited the range of motion in my left arm. Grace lost her pinky. And all of that suffering and sacrifice for naught. We’d been on the losing side and had to make concessions. The same hostile feelings that tore our communities apart had not vanished overnight.

I gave the man a reassuring nod and ushered Grace into another aisle.

“This was a bad idea,” she whispered. “We aren’t ready for places like this. Not yet.”

“We need to get something for the children.”

Not only were our kids deserving, but buying gifts for children under 17 was required by law. By the 25th of December, all homes must display Christmas trees, stockings, and wrapped gifts. The victors had pushed for mandatory nativity or religious icons to be displayed, but the negotiators on our side held firm. Wanting to finish the war before Christmas, the other side finally relented.

I lingered by a basket full of plush animals and picked up two.

“Would Laura like a pink unicorn or a purple bunny?”

Grace looked at me with wide, exasperated eyes.  “She’s seen corpses. Built bombs. How can she…”

“It’s a return to innocence.”

She shook her head, her eyes glassy but incapable of any more tears. “There’s no going back.”

My heart ached. Grace, a former progressive who used to brim with hope, wanting to make the world a better place, had become a shadow of that woman.

I tossed the bunny back. Might as well go with fantasy. Reality was too bleak.

Next we needed to get Josh a present, and then get the hell out of here before Grace made a scene. No need to rankle the zealot shoppers with violence still simmering in their brains. Taking her hand, I turned the corner into a crowded aisle. Toy guns and knives lined the shelves.  

“Dear God,” Grace gasped.

Several customers turned our way. With crew cuts, coifed or bobbed hairdos, it was obvious they served for the other side. I pulled Grace away. Spotting a set of toy cars, I grabbed a pack and stood in line. People who tried to kill us a month ago surrounded us on all sides. And while we tried to murder them as well, we never fired the first shot. Nor the second or the third. I will argue until my dying day that all of the violence I inflicted on my fellow man was done in self-defense.

Keeping our heads down, Grace squeezed my hand tight. We’ll just check out and go home. Easy-peasy.

“Merry Christmas,” the woman at the checkout counter said. She wore an elf hat with a button that read, Remember the Reason for the Season. “Will that be all?”

Nodding, I pulled out cash from my wallet.

“You two have a boy and a girl?”

I nodded again. She made change.

“So glad y’all are gettin’ to celebrate with your children, especially after these rough past few years.”

“It’s been hard on them.”

She put the toys in a plastic bag and handed it to me, a big toothy smile across her cheeks. “Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas.”

I took the bag, feeling hopeful. Maybe our two sides could reconcile in spite of everything. Before I could stop myself, the words “Happy Holidays” escaped my lips. 

That’s the phrase that cannot be spoken under the terms of the armistice. The punishable war words. According to the opposing side, the phrase “Happy Holidays” instigated the war. It denied Christmas and the birth of their savior. They felt attacked and responded with violence, dividing the citizenry into two camps: you either said “Merry Christmas” or you were the enemy.      

The woman’s cheery pink complexion drained to snowman white. Voices in the store hushed while “The First Noel” played in through the overhead speakers. The exit stood twenty feet away. I looked into Grace’s fear-widened eyes.

“Run!” I shouted.

I threw the bag of toys at the one-eyed clerk as we sprinted out the door.

A mob of Christmas veterans chased us down the street. Eventually we eluded them in alley, buried under a heap of garbage. Under the cloak of night we grabbed our kids and some provisions, and fled. I understand our apartment has been ransacked and search parties are hunting us with shoot-to-kill orders. We are currently hiding out in a bombed out elementary school. Our third hiding spot. The four of us huddle close under a blanket to keep warm not wanting to keep a fire burning longer than a few minutes. 

I’m not sure if we’ll live to see the new year.

“Daddy?” Laura asks.

“Yes?”

“What day is it?”

I look at my watch and sigh.

“It’s Christmas, isn’t it?”

I nod. She doesn’t say a word, but her shoulders drop as she stares at the bullet-pockmarked dry erase board.

Merry fucking Christmas.

Travis Richardson has been a finalist for the Macavity, Anthony, and Derringer short story awards. His collection of short stories, BLOODSHOT AND BRUISED came out in 2018. His novella LOST IN CLOVER was listed in Spinetingler Magazine’s Best Crime Fiction of 2012. His second novella, KEEPING THE RECORD, came out in 2014. He has published stories in crime fiction publications such as Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, Flash Fiction Offensive, and All Due Respect. He used to edit the SINC/LA newsletter Ransom Notes and reviewed Anton Chekhov short stories at http://www.chekhovshorts.com. He lives with his wife and daughter in Los Angeles. http://www.tsrichardson.com

The Christmas Miracle by Morgan Boyd

The Christmas Miracle

By Morgan Boyd  

It’s Christmas eve, and my wife thinks I’m out buying a necklace for her, and a Barbie doll for my daughter at Walmart, but the truth is I blew the last of our cash on crack. Everything was peachy keen before the pandemic.  My job afforded food, rent and amenities for my family, and crack for me, lots of crack. But once the plague hit, everybody stayed home, the economy tanked, and I lost my means to a steady income. 

I keep at it though. What else is there? I’ve got so many bills I can start a football team in Buffalo. Goddamn, I just need that one big payday, and bang: my family gets the Christmas they deserve instead of jack squat pissing down the stove pipe.

This is the one, I think, pulling my beater truck to the curb. Hustling up the walkway, I notice a security camera above the wreath laden door. Pulling my trucker hat down my forehead, I sprint up the house’s steps. I’m within inches of the package when the door swings open. Instinct throws me into hard reverse as a pile of a man appears on the porch.

“This ain’t the right house,” I say, practically jumping over my own ass to get back to my truck. 

People get their heads blown clean off for this type of shit. It’s open porch pirate season. Hell, I’m no great philosopher or nothing, but it seems to me that something’s horribly wrong with our society when folks like me become less valuable than the contents of a brown cardboard package.

Looking back as my truck leaves the safety of the curb, I cut off a cop car. Shit, I don’t have a license or insurance. I don’t even have a pink slip. It’s going to be a merry Christmas in the clink.

Popo’s lights flash, and I contemplate stomping the gas, but before I make an incredibly stupid decision, Hawaii Five-O swerves around me, and guns it through a red light. I breathe a sigh of relief, and agree with myself to check my drawers when safe to do so.

As the sun sets, the cold, bitter realization that this year’s Christmas ain’t happening for me and mine hits me like a freight train hits a snowflake. The pang of regret explodes inside me like ghost pepper hot sauce, but the rueful ache of failure quickly dissipates into indifference as a UPS truck scutters by me down a cross street.

Following at a distance, I see the delivery woman pull over, and leave a package on a darkened porch. Scurrying up the path, I liberate the box and quickly disappear into the silent night.

Behind a strip mall, I park and open the package: a Christmas miracle! a bracelet and a child’s doll. It’s not exactly what my wife wanted, nor is the toy name brand, but any port will do in a storm. And holy shit. I’m no theologian, but it’s damn hard not to believe in jolly old Saint Nick in an instance like this.

Best Christmas ever, I think, heading downtown to pawn the bracelet and doll for a crack rock.

THE CLOWN BY K A LAITY

THE CLOWN
K. A. Laity

It was the clown.

The party had been lively enough before her arrival. Shrieking children seemed to entertain themselves for a while. She promised fun on her website—that balloon-littered vomit of coarse Pantone tones with too many gurning GIFsa and autoplay videos. That should have been a warning flag. It had been almost impossible to find the contact info. But they persisted: she was local.

Nothing in her arrival suggested more than the usual horrors of face paint, oversized shoes and a larger-than-life ‘personality’ as promised.

But the children were weeping now and several demanded to go home. Unmitigated disaster.

Not everyone could tell jokes, eh? But most would avoid actually blowing up a hamster.

They would never look at a balloon without shuddering now.


Herd of Angels by Mark McConville

Herd Of Angels …

There’s nowhere for me to rest my head, in this pit we all sit in, and drink in, feel feeble in. The light blinds me and my ambitions to stray from this temple of the unforgivable, the heartless, and the people who grind their lives to dust without even knowing it. Sincerity has no place here either. Compassion needs a lifeline, hearts inside these chests in this ungodly room, beat faster than a shooting star. They’re all under the illusion that drugs mean they’re invincible, and their decisions inconceivable but right in their own private worlds. 

I pick up a half-empty bottle of beer, drink it, and then throw it at the coffee table. It doesn’t smash, it only ricochets and drops like a coin into a deep well. Next to me sits a boy lonely in his own mind. He keeps on uttering the word ‘’Hopeless’’ at the thin walls, smoking a cigarette that hasn’t got much life left. And the futures of these people may have been mapped out, puzzled in, as all their eyes droop into a state, a tired state. 

The mixture, the cocktails filled with pills and alcohol have taken its toll on the livers and minds, and the silence becomes a loud noise in my brain. A monotonous sound which reverberates and echoes and my mind feels like it’s a coliseum of raucous thoughts and corrosion. 

I leave my thoughts in the living room and step out into the kitchen where sexual urgency once peaked, where it created some children who have grown into this framework, the walls built around them, where they may die if they don’t depart this dark place where ghosts roam and memories scratch at the skin which is draped over them.  

Water brings me back to life, thankfully. The thirst always comes after the 20 bottles of beer consumed in succession. Like a chain smoker, I consume alcohol rapidly, letting it flow down my widened throat. Then, as I drink more water, I detect freedom of speech gone wrong. 

The living room is bright red. Captivating unconventionally. There’s no paint here, but blood splashed up the walls. The young man, who was lost in his own mind, stands with a large knife in his hand. Brutality has been given a chance to shine here, and I’m the only innocent man alive here, staring at the knife and this kid who has been subjected to a psychotic episode. This isn’t real, it can’t be. I knew there was an oddness to his character, a monster waiting to burst from his thin torso, but on this night, I couldn’t have imagined it. 

He comes closer to me. His eyes like tyrant’s eyes. If they could turn red they’d burn a hole in the atmosphere. He isn’t a superhero, he’s now a murderer, putting it all on the line. Then there’s me, a man with a stomach full of alcohol and drugs, hopefully, caught up in a fever dream, a nightmare, a hallucination. But, no, this is real, this isn’t a figment, it’s an explosion of realism tapered to my imagination. 

As the dead lie on sofas and chairs, the man in front of me looks desperate. He wants me dead, so he can run. His inhibitions tuned out as the drugs moan for an upgrade. Earlier in the evening, he spoke about his heart being broken, shattered by a girl who stole every piece of soul from his battered body. When I listened on, I could hear the pain in his voice, the rasp, the despair. He only stopped when he knew more people were listening in. 

Another step, another broken heart purring for blood. My blood, he wants my blood. Another step, another unhopeful embrace. He isn’t a catalyst for good, he’s damaged, like the writers of this world, the ones who have had afflictions dumped upon them. Throughout the conversation earlier, he also told me about the nightmares he was having, the nightmares where ghosts swirled around and spooked the herd of angels. 

‘’Stay there’’ 

He has me in stuck to the blood embroiled carpet. With me, he shudders and doesn’t know how to handle the situation. Above him isn’t a glass ceiling he can smash and then ascend through. The only way out is through my heart and lungs.  


‘’Stay there I said’’ 

He’s breaking a sweat, I can see the shine on his skin. Truthfully, he’s losing his stance, his defence. 

‘’Give me the knife, we can sort through this’’ 

‘’How can we? They’re all dead because of me’’ 

‘’It was a moment of madness, we all have them’’ 

Under his breath, he utters a name. A name burned into his mind. 

‘’Who?’’ 

‘’They’re all fucking dead, even’’ 

‘’Even who??’’ 

He puts his hand in his pocket and takes out a small bag containing a pair of eyes. 

‘’These, the only part of her I have left’’ 

I try not to wretch. The eyes still have a thin line of blue. 

He runs towards me in haste, stabbing me once, and then he escapes. 

I’m on the floor among dead people and the ghosts who endured much worse in a past that should be kept concealed. 

This house is alive, and the walls beat like hearts, and my blood only adds to a scene that will become a constant nightmare.