My Words, My World

First drafts – A few pages in the large wilderness of the world of writing

Archive for the tag “Death”

Song of the sea

I want to write a poem of the sea
and watch the gulls,
wind-blown and free
and feel the breeze caress my face

I want to hear the story of the sea,
to feel the sun
burn and scorch me,
in the salt spray of the breaking waves

I want to sing the song of the sea,
the siren’s call,
the fisherman’s plea,
as the storm clouds gather on the horizon.

I want to feel the anger of the sea
The pebble rattle
on the shore lee
as the waves beat upon the strand

I want to give myself to the sea
at the end of my time,
and let my body
be taken in the longship’s flames

 

Valkyrie

She walks
in a rainbow shimmer
under a blue-black sky
 
Thunder
announces her entrance
drum roll accompanies her
 
Lightning
illuminates her path
ecstatic in static
 
The dead
strewn on the battlefield
She takes her time, and chooses

Tooth out, all out

He couldn’t remember how long he’d been walking. he remembered coming out of the sanitary-white hospital ward, the stench almost too much to bear. The place was littered with bodies, beyond stiffening, and the buzz of flies seemed like a road-drill in the silence. As he left the building he caught a glance of himself in a shattered window. MacQuade was 28 years old. He’d had black hair when he entered the place, now an old man looked back at him, or what looked like an old man. White, fluffy hair stood up from his head and beneath it a face, as white as the hair, drawn and gaunt.

The scene in the ward was replayed outside, but on a much grander scale. Vehicles crashed in the road, bodies on sidewalks, on grass verges, on the road itself. Whatever had happened had happened with a suddenness that took everyone by surprise. Most car doors were still closed, meaning the occupants hadn’t even had time to stop and get out.

“Hello? Hello?”

MacQuade’s voice croaked in his ears but it was the only sound he could here on the four-lane boulevard which lead past the hospital. He stopped and walked over to a grass verge, ignoring the bodies which had been walking instead of driving. He stooped to look at what else lay on the grass. Sparrows, pigeons and even a crow, its eyes open and as cruel in death as in life. Wholesale human and animal fatalities and yet, here he was, alive, here on this green verge, the grass still healthy. The Rhododendrons in the flower beds still full of colour, roaring pink and fuchsia.

That evening he’d found tins of food in a supermarket but everything else had gone over. Christ! How long had he been out? They’d operated on his wisdom tooth on a Wednesday, the 28th July. He’d gone in search of a calendar. Someone had marked off the 28th on the calendar in the supermarket office. He just had no idea what day it was now. The bodies were skin on bone and that didn’t happen overnight.

He’d found a bottle of whisky in the store and got right into it immediately after the can of tuna flakes. Halfway down it he remembered his wisdom tooth no longer caused him pain. He smiled until he looked out of the window.

The end of his tether

He’d often wondered about his tether and the end of it.  Until he picked up a dictionary only a week before he hadn’t known what a tether even was.  Now he knew and now he thought he’d reached the end of it.

He was glad it was winter.   He didn’t mind the cold and the snow and, in happier times, he’d always been an enthusiastic skier.  In happier times.  Yes, he thought, he didn’t mind the winter with its snowy peaks, white crystal frosted fields and the smell of mulled wine in the market square and steaming paper cups warming hands in the cold.

He looked out of a window to the outhouse.  The cold.  The cold was good.  It killed off many of the pests that hung around in warmer climates or even down in the valley, although now other pests had found him and disturbed his peace.  Footprints and a strange indent in the snow crossed the yard, as if a sack of firewood had been dragged.  Yes, he’d reached the end of his tether, and the bodies mounted up in the outhouse.

The pain and pleasure cycle

An intermittent intermission
while life melts in fission.
Fused and confused.
A pause for breath,
like death
but not so long
or so final
or so primal.
As each beginning is an end
in a cycle which contends with us
and renders us with reality bites.
Slights and fights,
while in the sand we bury our heads
and look for the treasure
of pleasure.
Delectable and delightful…
Any place to leave the pain.

Dry

The old man stood with a length of coiled rope around his shoulder and spat into the dust.  The sky was cold and clear.  He looked at the sky every day but the clouds still avoided him.

“Giovanni, what’s the latest?”

“January, papà.”

In November they said early December, then it was going to be mid-December, then Christmas.”

“No one really knows, papa.”

“No one knows?”  The old man spat into the dust once again.  He took a leather pouch from his jacket pocket and started to roll himself a cigarette.  “My father could tell what the weather was going to do, a week before it did it.”

“You know as well, papa.”

The old man flicked a match.  He scuffed his boots in the dust, kicking up a little cloud.

“I did once.”  His rummy eyes looked up again at the clear blue sky.  “This year is different.”

From their lofty position on the lower slopes of the mountain, where the pastures lay brown and dry, they could see the distant Monte Rosa.  Even from that distance they could see its barren slopes; only its vague glaciers flickered white in the sun.

“There’s no tourism yet.  Tourism’s suffering and we’re suffering with it, Giovanni.”

“The snow will come papa, it has to.”

“Do you think?  When was the last time it rained, son?”

“October.”

“It drizzled for a couple of hours, Giovanni.  It hasn’t rained in anger since July.”  He flicked his head in a backwards movement.  “Those woods are a tinderbox.”

Giovanni nodded his head.  “The weather channel put the area on high alert for forest fire risk.”

The old man crushed his cigarette carefully under his heel.  “It’s about the only thing the weather channel has got right this year.”  He lifted the rope from his shoulder and placed it on the old trunk of a walnut tree that served as a chopping block.  He nodded down the slope.  “I want to get that fence in the bottom field repaired.  If the snow does come at least the animals will be contained.”

This last comment fell like an axe blow between the men.  They’d already lost a few animals, sickened by the drought conditions; they couldn’t afford to lose any more, there dwindling finances couldn’t take it.  They’d lost the annual orders from the surrounding ski resorts, whose slopes were bare and car parks were empty.  In his 72 years the old man had never known anything like it.  He was almost glad his wife had passed away the previous spring and didn’t have to see what the farm had become.  His son brought him back to the present.

“Five months ago we were enjoying a beautiful summer and everyone said we’d pay for it, that the winter would come early and the snow would be heavy.”

“Yeah, and I was one of them, telling the same thing to anyone who’d listen.  Now I’m just the foolish sheep farmer who can’t tell the direction of the wind even if I wet my finger and hold it in the air.”

“Come on papa.  This year’s caught everyone out.  It’s not just down to us anymore.  Think of all those satellites out there and they still can’t give us an accurate forecast.”

“Any farmer worth his salt should be able to mind his own, without the need for satellites or weather channels, son; just like my father and grandfather used to do.  Maybe the people are right; maybe I am just a foolish sheep farmer that prophesises ‘red sky at night’.”

“Enough papà.  Come on, let’s get the fence fixed so I can go to Cristina’s with that firewood.”

Giovanni looked into his father’s face.  This autumn had taken everything out of him.  His face was drawn and his eyes sunken and dark-ringed.  The quick smile was no longer there, replaced by a stare which admitted defeat.

“We can do the fence later, son.  Take the wood over to Cristina; if her father’s down in town, you’ll have to unload yourself, it’ll take time.”

Giovanni considered this.  It was true.  All the while the weather held, and it looked like holding for a fair while still, the bottom field fence wasn’t a priority.  The nights were cold and Cristina needed the wood.  He took the pick-up keys from his jacket pocket.

“Get some rest papa.  I’ll be back in a couple of hours, three at the most.”

“Give my regards to Cristina and her father, if he’s there.  I guess you’re right, I could use a little rest.”

“There’s nothing more any of us can do papa, at least until this weather shows signs of breaking.”  He got into the pick-up truck and the electric motor hummed as the window rolled down.  “Get some rest papa.  How about we go into town for a couple of beers this evening; it’s been ages since we’ve done that.”

“About the last time we saw any money coming through the door, son.”

The truck engine revved into life and Giovanni waved through the open window.  His father watched as the brake lights flashed once before the car drove out onto the road.

With a final spit into the dust, the old man looked once more at the sky.  With his head bowed, he heaved the coil of rope onto his shoulder and walked slowly to the still-empty barn.

She was free

His heart sank.

It happened while she was watching.  She supposed it had always been coming; in fact, she knew it had been.  It was all he’d had to give.  For months; ever since it had happened.  They’d gone through so much together; then the accident, but he’d held on.

“My heart will always be yours,” he’d said, “until the day it sinks so completely and can never rise again.  When it does, you’ll be free”.

Six months had passed since he died.

She stared at the heart at the bottom of the jar of formaldehyde.

She was free.

Reaper

Give me a scythe
but make it sharp;
so I can reap what’s been sown,
so I can gather what’s been grown.
The good.
The bad.
All lying in the sun,
drying in the sun,
dying in the sun.
My hands will blister
in this;
the hardest of harvests.

She smiled

The picture hung askew on the wall.  He tilted his head to get a better look. He couldn’t stand modern art but it pleased his wife.

‘It’s straight’, she said.

‘What?  Don’t be ridiculous Alice.’

‘You looked at it wrong when you stepped into the room; it’s the impression it gives.’

‘It’s not straight, it doesn’t matter how I step into the room.’

As he looked, the black and white pixels began to merge.

‘And you can’t see it change, I suppose?’ he said.

‘The only thing that’s changing is your view of it. Of course I can’t.’

He laughed, not meaning to.  It was the stupidity of the situation.  A hamster-wheel rolled in his stomach.  The last time he’d felt like this was on a cross-channel ferry.

Alice fiddled with a coat-button and looked at her husband.

‘You’ve gone a funny colour’.

‘I’m going to find a chair.’

He looked up and the pixels had become rows of black and white teeth; moving, masticating.  Grinding, he thought.  His chest felt tight.

‘I said I’m going to find a chair, I’ll wait for you in the corridor.’

‘Stay.’

‘What?’

‘Stay!’ It was an order.

He backed away and the room lurched as he reached for the doorhandle.

A sound like air escaping a radiator made him stop, as did the click of heels.  But there’s a carpet, his mind argued.

‘Don’t go darling,’ she purred.

He turned, and she smiled; rows and rows of black and white teeth; grinding.

TomTom club

“At the next roundabout, take the second exit.”

“What? The map says go straight ahead. What is she on about?”

She. The TomTom. Faithful navigational servant, and maybe on the blink.

“So, should I go straight or turn?”

“The map says go straight. I think she needs an update, I’ll plug her in when we get back indoors.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, sure.”

Down to third and the roundabout was rounded.

“Go back and take the first exit.”

“Oh, she’s insisting today. Must have her funny week.”

“Go back and take the first exit.”

“That’s not funny Joe.”

Natalie was right, it wasn’t; especially as she’d been suffering for the last few days but I just wanted to find a hint of humour in the situation.

“Go back and take the first exit.” The metallic feminine voice was beginning to grate.

“Sorry baby, just kidding. Shall I turn her off?”

“No. What if the map’s wrong, or the road’s new?”

“Nat, this road was made when Kennedy was still banging Marilyn. If anything, the TomTom’s wrong. Technology eh?”

“Go back and take the first exit.”

“Joe, I’m gonna turn round.”

“Either you drive, or I will.”

“At the next roundabout, take the third exit.”

“Why the third?”

“She wants us to go back on ourselves.”

“So…?”

“So, just drive. Nat, it’s a short-cut over the hills.  It was probably just an old sheep-herder’s route years ago and they came along and stuck tarmac on it.”

“Take the next left turn, proceed for 200 metres then take the next left turn and proceed for 4 kilometres.”

“Must be the sun, it’s got to her circuits.”

“Stop it Joe, I don’t like this one bit.”

Now Nat’s voice was beginning to grate. Two hysterical women in one car and one wasn’t even human. Breath whistled between my teeth as my shoulders slumped in the seat. The road narrowed and continued its ascent as the sun did the opposite, and sank with reluctance into the sea which glowed in late evening shades behind us.  Trees arched over the road and the light retreated. Nat switched on the beams.  Soon the last traces of the sea fell back behind the folds of the land as we climbed further into the hills.

“What’s that sign? Slow down Nat, how fucking freaky is that?”

STAY WITH THE SHEPHERD! badly hand painted in black on an old whitewashed door which leaned against a rotting fence post.

“Homemade cheese and a little wine thrown in most probably, I wonder how much he charges, my stomach’s beginning to…”

“Turn round and continue for 7 kilometres.”

“That’s it, I’m switching it off.” My hand reached out.

“No! No Joe, don’t. I don’t want to stop here either, in fact I want to turn round now.”

The last word was final, and I knew the tone. Nat was pissed off and I understood her.

“Turn round and continue for 7.5 kilometres.”

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and gave in.

“You win Nat. Turn round and let’s get out of here. I want some civilization and a pizzeria.”

The car slowed and nosed into a small track which narrowed into a small dirt track barely wide enough for a car. Either side in forgotten fields lay the rusted hulks of old and battered cars.  The place looked like a breaker’s yard, an auto graveyard.

Nat stuck the car in reverse and manoeuvred to turn round, her eyes wide and accusing when she glanced at me. She ground into first gear and started to accelerate. Through the open windows came a bellowing roar and from the trees burst an old tractor. A wrinkled grey-bearded man with angry eyes sat atop of it.  He turned the machine to face us and it stood in the road, . The road back was now blocked. He revved the machine, and its engine rose and fell, rose and fell as the old man continued to just stare at us.  He pointed at the sign and something akin to a grin, demented and evil, crossed his face in a second and was gone, replaced by the stare, red eyes burning.  He flicked his beams to high, its lights pinning us as the mechanical shovel began to rise then fall, rise then fall, like some masticating prehistoric nightmare.

“Joe?”

“What the…?”

“Joe?”

The metallic TomTom voice broke in.

“I told you to turn around.”

Nat screamed.

Hospital food

He looked out the window at the peach dawn lighting up the sky as the last shreds of the night’s storm disappeared.  He had turned off the light so he couldn’t see the room’s reflection.

The towelling dressing gown hung on his sagging shoulders and he pulled the belt tighter around him; looking at the sky made him feel cold but he liked to stand at the window and watch the dawn break; God knew he wouldn’t see many more.

Below, an ambulance pulled out of A&E with its lights blazing and sirens blaring; too late, he thought.  The ambulances were the only constant as wave after wave of suffering was deposited at the entrance of the A&E.  There were no more beds; only the lucky ones had beds. The rest were left in corridors; some didn’t even have a stretcher to lay on.  He was extremely lucky, he had a room to himself; now.

The hospital now had no more space.  It also had no more food.  It probably had no more doctors; none had been round in 3 days.  A staff nurse had brought the tray of food yesterday; he’d heard her tired breathing bubble in her chest on the other side of the door.  This morning’s medications hadn’t arrived, and now probably wouldn’t ever again.  He pulled the dressing gown tighter around his thin frame.

He was hungry, very hungry, but he’d only eaten half the food they’d left him the night before.  The other patients in the room hadn’t eaten any of theirs.  He looked at the two still forms lying in their beds, their faces still covered by their pillows.

He’d made sure they hadn’t.

In the dark

I woke up and Donald Trump was in his chair and Kim Jong-un was in his and it got out of hand.  I don’t trust either of the bastards with their hand over the button…

In my bed, I slept
as half a world wept
at its sins and punishments.
In the dark bombs fell
a dictator laughed
and split the night, open.

Half a world sat motionless
arms raised in surrender;
to no avail.
In the dark machine guns rattled
an army laughed
and tore the night, open.

In the shower I stood, thankful
as water washed over me like tears
and half a world looked for water.
In the dark a mushroom cloud
a despot laughed
and lit the night, forever.

Contradictions

Love is a stroll in a sunlit garden, under a perfect blue sky

Love is the lurching axeman, blood dripping and stumbling through corridors hard and white

Love is the warm sun and a light summer rain

Love is the vise-grip of ice, the cold that rips the breath from your lungs and tears from your eyes

Love is the warm bed, as sunlight drifts through the gaps in the blinds

Love is the sword on which we commit the ritual of Seppuku: and give all.

No going back

‘So, who do you write like?’

‘Bukowski.’

‘Bukowski? You write like Bukowski? Ha!’

‘No, I drink like Bukowski.’

‘That’s why I’m here. So who do you write like?’

The doctor unzipped his black bag and raked around inside.

‘Why do I have to write like anyone? Why can’t I write like me?’

‘Everyone has influences. I aspire to attain the heights of some notable surgeons, in time.’

‘Hemingway.’

‘Hemingway? You write like Hemingway? Don’t kid yourself.’

‘No, I drink and fight like Hemingway.’

I coughed as the stethoscope was placed at various points around my back. I looked at the cigarettes on the table.

‘What about your poetry?’

‘Rimbaud.’

‘Rimbaud? You …’

‘No, I drink like Rimbaud but I’m not French or gay.’

‘You’re going to die like Rimbaud.’

‘There is a heaven after all.’

‘No, seriously. The alcohol is killing you. You’ll have to stop.’

‘No going back.’

‘I can’t make you but as your doctor I’m telling you, you’re going to die, and soon if you don’t stop.’

‘How long?’

‘If you don’t stop? Weeks, months. I can’t tell unless we open you up.’

‘I’ll stop.’

‘You’ll stop? Really? Just like that?’

‘Do I have a choice?’

‘No, not unless you want to die. However, you still haven’t been published so it wouldn’t even be a very good career move.’

‘Well, I sold a story and one article.’

‘That’s good but you’ll have to do more and to do more you’ll have to stop killing yourself.’

‘Doc, take that bottle of grappa. It’s a good grappa and I don’t want it.’

‘Sure, I’ll take it. Thanks.’

‘Doc, there’s some good wine in the kitchen, take it, give it to your wife or your secretary.’

‘OK, thanks. Remember, there’s no going back. Falling off the wagon is not an option, you’ll die.’

‘No going back. Sure doc.’

He got his things together, wrote out an illegible prescription and told me to get my ass down the pharmacy. I passed him a bag with the bottles as we stepped out and I shaded my eyes from the low winter sun. He clanked his way to his car. I pulled a couple of envelopes from the mailbox.

‘No going back,’ he reminded me as his car coughed blue exhaust smoke into the cold air.

Back in the kitchen I tore open the post. My head swam from the hangover.  For once it wasn’t a bill. It was the agency, they’d found a publisher, a real publisher who wanted to publish me. Me.

I opened the cupboard under the sink, reached behind the bin and pulled out a bottle.

‘No going back,’ I said, to no-one in particular as I toasted myself.

Bleach dilutes

Heart
stopped
Sliced by razor
made hollow
bleached with sorrow
Hung out to dry
to die
Then I
saw your smile,
felt your kiss
The razor’s wound
internal, infernal
but never eternal
As the heart beats once again

Like the passing of wind…or was it air?

The heavy, oak door slid on hinges oiled better than a Neapolitan donut-seller’s hair and Gaum heard it. Well, he sensed the liquorice black room slip into a shade of night slightly less gloomy, but still far darker than charcoal, jet or even coal. He stopped breathing. Well, he’d actually done so 14 years previously and just never got back into the habit. What a waste of energy, he thought, and carried on living his life in apnoea, oblivious to the need for ins and outs of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Ah yes, the door.

He had to hide and moved with so light a presence that the dust under his feet, which had last been swept around the time Gaum still breathed, failed to raise a speck. He heard giggles as light flooded into the room for the first time since the floor had last been cleaned. Bollocks! he thought, Kids! What are they doing in here? It had been some time since Guam last laid eyes on children, in fact probably around the last time a dim light rolled in from behind the heavy oak door which swung on an oiled hinge, but they’d never been in this room, ever.

The giggling got louder and the light lighter. Gaum kept still behind the ancient teak desk, as the giggles became murmurs. Dust kicked up, swirling and dancing in the shaft of light from the open door and a heavy scraping sound made Gaum’s heart leap. The chair, its cracked and faded burgundy leather billowed more dust.

“I thought of it first.”

“Get off; I got us in here didn’t I?”

“Yeah but I thought of it.”

“Only because I told you about it.”

The tussling continued, dust was thrown up everywhere. Gaum wanted to sneeze but then remembered he’d stopped breathing, so sneezing seemed irrelevant. A loud, metallic ringing followed by a series of taps told Gaum they had knocked a pen off the desk. Still they pushed and grunted and still the dust flew.
A heavy groaning sound was followed by a grinding crash. He looked out from behind the desk. Busted, bent keys lie about like dead soldiers, the ribbon strewn across the floor in a last bid for freedom and the carriage return lever lay twisted under the bulk of the old Remington like a broken leg.

“Look what you did.”

“It wasn’t me, you pushed it.”

“Let’s get out of here before someone comes.” Two shadows leapt through the open door.

As their footfalls faded, a light shone down on the remains of the typewriter. Gaum felt strange and light, so light in fact he could feel himself floating as he looked down on the senseless mess.

Then, with a shake of his head and something resembling a sigh, or maybe the passing of wind, or a breath of air, the ghost of the muse of the long-dead writer was finally free.

Keep her well hid

They were sitting in the corner, I guess looking for a little privacy but they came to the wrong place if they wanted that. The tables were too close together for one thing, and besides, everyone had to pass by that table to go to the toilet.

She was angry, upset, pissed off. Choose any adjective you want; she looked ready to stick her cocktail stick and untouched olive where the sun don’t shine, his sun at least.

I arrived after being dragged around the shops for two hours and I’d run out of patience and my credit card out of, well…credit. I put Lucy in a cab, with bags, they were all hers anyway, and made my way down to the King’s Head. Football was on the TV and I wanted, no, I needed a pint or two and anyway, I was busting for a lash. I nodded to the barman, asked for a pint of ale and made my way to the Gents. That’s when I noticed them.

He had his hands out in front of him when I passed, and, relieved at being relieved, I made my way back with less haste and he still had his hands in front of him, like he was praying or testing for rain or something. Whatever he was doing was having no positive effect whatsoever; maybe he’d run out of credit too. I got my pint and made my way to a little table, a little way off to the right of them, with one of those retro Heineken mirrors on the wall next to me and I could see them in action, as well as hear them.

“You were a twat Paul.”

“I know love, I don’t know what happened, it just happened.”

He’d chatted up, touched up or ballsed up by the sounds of things. Typical bloke, I know how you feel mate, I thought. I went back to the football, trying to concentrate on the game which was slower settling than a pint of Guinness. The ball was pinging about all over the place, no fun to watch but I watched it anyway, it certainly beat the hell out of shopping. A free kick got my attention but not for long.

“Where is she? Where did you put her?” Her? This made my ears pick up a bit. I pretended to watch the football.

“Behind the allotments near the railway embankment. There’s some old garages there and I left her there.”

“You f…”.

“Do you want some more drinks?” It was the barmaid, taking their empties from their table. He said yes, she said nothing so I guess she either nodded or shook her head, there are only so many things you can communicate without words. The barmaid plonked the glasses on the bar and poured a lager.

“It won’t be for long, it was like a temporary measure, you know. I didn’t have the time.”

“You could have done better than that. She’ll be found in no time Paul. What the bloody hell were you thinking?”

“Shh…, she’s coming back.”

The mirror told me she’d folded her arms, a frown that looked furrowed with a hand-plough creasing her forehead. She looked at her phone, he looked at her. The barmaid put two glasses down, it was a nod then.

“I’ll go now, after this drink, alright?”

“Yeah? Well, I suppose it will be dark in half an hour, won’t it?”

“Yeah, it’ll be alright, you’ll see.”

Who was she? What had she done? What had he done to her? I had a hundred questions and didn’t know what to do with the information I’d heard.

“I hope you’re right Paul, she’s been in the family for years.”

“She’ll be alright Trish, really. Who’d want an old car like that anyway?”

************

I entered a competition recently where I had half an hour to write on one of three subjects given.  I chose “a conversation” and out came the above.  While I was writing I didn’t know who “she” was but as the minutes ticked away I decided I wanted to write something that didn’t involve death or murder, and as we English-speakers have a penchant for talking about our cars as feminine, the little ending came to me.  I submitted with one minute left and received a ‘commended’ so it was ok. 

Hemingway once said “write drunk, edit sober” – when you only have half an hour to do both, which do you chose? 

Over yonder

Do not step into yonder pasture,

however the grass may be greener.

Do not follow the grass-flattened footsteps

of another,

who will lead you tither.

For the fickle will change

and though you may rage

and cry against your injustice

and spill tears that are useless.

 

To whom will you turn

when the wild winter wind burns

your face and tears your eyes,

as you stumble and chastise

your decision taken,

your intention mistaken.

 

For however that distant green field

may taunt you,

do not stray across those borders,

entrapped by those hoarders,

who will suck your soul

and bleed you dry and left to lie;

choked and broken

Hours

The hours slip through time,

as time seeps through the hours;

and flowers

mark the beginning

and the end of time.

Celebration of life and death;

eyes open for the first time

or close for the last,

and tears tear the heart.

A new life now grows

for time never slows

but seeps through the hours.

God speed this bullet

96 years ago the First World War, the Great War, was finally over.  A generation of young men, those that returned home, were left to pick up the pieces of what they had experienced, seen and endured.  They said it could never happen again. but it did; 21 years later.  As terrible as the Second World War, the same as any war, was, there is something truly horrific about the trenches.

***

The ground heaves and shakes and small rivers of dirt fall, splattering my helmet and the pounding of the earth is like a fist in my back. I look at Jenkins; he’s now bleeding from the ears and nose from the concussion of this incessant artillery barrage. I look at the lieutenant; his face flares white in the explosion flashes; dark rings his eyes and he’s gaunt, like the rest of us. He’s one of us now. After two years in this hell-hole the only part of Cambridge that remains is his manners. He looks at me.

‘Don’t,” he says.

He knows I want to look, I can’t help it; George was my friend from the pre-war days. George who had the nerve to stick his head above the trench, only for a piece of shrapnel to tear it off and fling the rest of him across the trench. The trench, this devil-made wormhole. What will I tell his wife when I get back…if I get back?

A let up in the barrage and the shadow of the black Somme night passes across the trenches, leaving destruction, torn and twisted bodies, fatherless children and husbandless wives but now all was silent. We’ve been stuck here for months, barely advancing, barely retreating. The smell of the ripped earth and dank mud in which we wallow is everywhere, except when the wind blows towards us and the stench of death and decay replaces it.

‘Help…’

The voice is faint but it’s there. In the sudden and welcome silence it’s as clear as birdsong on a June morning, agony and suffering coming through in just one word.

‘Who the bloody hell is that?’  Symes; newly arrived from the train, all shiny boots, clean puttees and enthusiasm. They always arrive with enthusiasm. What the hell are they telling them back home? Five days a week killing the Hun then Saturdays and Sundays off, French whores and bistros thrown in?  ‘Can we not do something for that poor bugger sir?’ he says, turning to the lieutenant, who sighs.

‘Corporal, take a look and be bloody careful.’

I take off my helmet and place it on the butt of my rifle and slowly raise it above the trench, joggling the rifle to simulate movement: nothing. No sniper fire to split the night. The lieutenant hands me his field-glasses as I replace my helmet and climb the ladder. They say there’s nothing blacker than no-man’s land at night but that’s not strictly true, especially following a barrage. The artillery will always find something to burn, even if it’s just human remains, and little fires dotted around cast an unholy light in the field-glasses. I first scan the enemy lines, looking for movement, but I see none.

‘Help…’

My vision jumps from crater to crater, searching for life and hoping for it also, in this God-forsaken pit of human misery. At first I see nothing, then I take a slower, longer sweep with the glasses. I see movement; slow, shambling movement some twenty yards away where the barbed-wire is stretched across and upon which hang torn and crow-picked corpses, like some infernal spider’s web. A slow, crawling movement catches my eye and even in the dead-light I can see enough. It’s a soldier, a German soldier, gone from the waist down, pulling and dragging himself inch by agonised inch towards our trench.

‘Well I’ll be damned. It’s a Jerry sir and in an awful state by the looks of it.’

‘What the Dickens…’ as he climbs up, taking the field-glasses from me and looks upon the awful site before us. He wipes his mouth with the heel of his hand, sighed and turns, stepping down into the trench. Not a moment too soon, as a high whistling noise is followed by chaos. The concussion from the blast is enormous, filling my head with a death-roar and I could feel my ears and nose bleeding freely. Symes is on the floor of the trench, his legs pinned down by dislodged sandbags but he’s ok. Upon hearing that whistle, the lieutenant, Jenkins and I all threw ourselves against the wall of the trench. Symes will learn, if he has time.

‘Corporal, who’s our best shot?’ but he looks at Jenkins, the Welshman is a crack shot and needs no introduction.

‘Help…’

‘Take him out Private. I won’t risk stretch-bearers to bring him in but the sorry blighter has suffered more than enough.’ He moves aside from the ladder to let the Private through.  The figure is nearer now but still a good fifteen yards away. No trouble for Jenkins, who could shoot a canary in a Welsh coalmine from fifty. The first signs of dawn are beginning to pink the early clouds, which a rising breeze is scattering. Jenkins brings the rifle up to his right shoulder, intent only on what he sees at the end of the barrel.

“God speed this bullet and put that poor devil out of his misery”, the lieutenant says, to no one in particular.

“Amen,” says Jenkins, and his finger tightens on the trigger.

As if in response the morning sun throws its first rays of light through the breaking clouds and onto the battlefield. The bombardment has done a lot but not enough; the barbed wire is still in place. If we have to go over the top we’ll be torn to pieces by the German machine-gunners.

The report of Jenkins’ Lee Enfield barks out. The lieutenant raises the field-glasses but they aren’t needed. As more lights floods across the battlefield the sliding, shuffling figure shimmers and fades to nothing.

We look at each other in silence. We’ve all heard stories of ghosts on the battlefield and I guess with so many men butchered on a daily basis it was only a matter of time. I wonder, should God grant any lasting peace on this Earth, in 100 years how many of our souls will still wander here, lost in a foreign land far from home.remembrance_day___poppy_day_by_daliscar

***

I’d like to acknowledge http://femaleimagination.wordpress.com/2014/11/11/11-november-world-war-i-ends/ for the use of the photograph.

Flash Fiction Friday 146: Colours frozen in time by Chris Farley

My ever present and never diminishing thanks once again to Morgen.
I’m still unsure as to whether I should be disturbed about the fact that I sat in a pub looking at a tattoo and invented this story around it…

MorgEn Bailey - Creative Writing Guru

Welcome to Flash Fiction Friday and the one hundred and forty-sixth piece in this series. This week’s is a 436-worder by Christopher Farley.

Colours frozen in time

The tattoo was the first thing I noticed; it was beautiful. She sat opposite her friend drinking Belgian beer from a huge glass and I saw it as I walked past, making my way to the men’s room.

Her thin, white arms poked out from her even whiter t-shirt, then a waterfall of colour burst from the sleeves of the t-shirt. Three lotus flowers, red, green and pink, one on top of the other. But oh, the arm. How could something so pale and delicate suffer so much pain? I returned to the bar and pretended to look at the game on the big screen. Her friend rose from the table and headed for the toilet.

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

“Sorry, I couldn’t help…

View original post 661 more words

I see you in the darkness

The sunlight for a second
Blinked
A shadow
Its shadow
By my window whispered
Or did it laugh
As I felt its draught
And shivered
My skin crawled,
then froze
The shadow passed
for now
But it’ll come back
When night falls chill
For I will give it life
In black and white

There is no war to end all wars

One hundred years on and…

A brief truce broken
A steel head awoken
And glared into the night
A firefight,
Candlelight: mourners
Apparently security means a dawn raid
An air raid,
Siren
Not silent
Blaring, uncaring

The choke of smoke
Ashes to ashes
Dust to dust
On whose hands the blood
That puddles the street
Beneath frightened feet
Running, fighting
Toe to toe
Door to door
Calibre counts much more

A prayer for the lost
And for those who remain;
Once again
The blinding smoke
The dust that chokes
The blood that soaks
The tears that burn
Amid the fires that turn
Earth to hell
A hell on earth

Suffer little children
As men hide among you
While their enemies’ bomb you
Poor innocent souls
As the death toll
Rises
Through wars’ devices
Bodies twisted and torn
Lives shattered and shorn
Of all hope of peace

A three day pull-out
A humanitarian hand-out
Look at me
Through your blood-shot,
Blood filled
Hateful eyes
They say security means war my friend
Do you really think
It will ever end?

The dark kitchen

Another tip of the hat to Morgen Bailey and this time her poetry prompts. “the dark kitchen” immediately took my fancy and this time I had it down in less than a third of the allotted time.  Once again, thanks for that Morgen.

The Dark Kitchen

The dark kitchen
The darker drawers
The still darker knives,
Each telling their story

The darkened oven
Black from the roasts
The un-cleaned fat
That spat; and sizzled.

The dark old woman
Dressed all in black
Black widow in waiting
Black venom giving

The death-grey husband
Now ever in the dark
Her dark kitchen her web
Her poison pernicious

The dark pantry
Away from the light
Locked in tight
Opened only at night
When all is black

I’ll just close my eyes a while

Ah, at last.  I’ve finally written something fictional, it seems ages since the last one.  Thanks to Morgen Bailey and her Story Writing Exercises I found myself writing this at half past midnight, using the keywords:  need, leave, Nebraska, pick, song.  I went slightly over the 15 minute limit – 17 to be exact.  Then I left it, went to bed and came back to touch it up this morning.  So, thanks for that Morgen.  Great exercise!  So, let’s see how this little 550-worder stands up in the warm light of a summer morning shall we?

  ***

My back is sore, my legs cramped and my coat can’t be pulled any more tightly around me. My breath fogs and my fingers and toes seem to have left me for warmer climes, but my ribs, hard against the hard cold wood, jolting and jerking, are the worst.

I’d taken a beating before leaving Summer Creek. Panning for gold in them hills can make you feel like a king, but it can make others feel like killing you, make them envious. I’d gotten away as best I could I suppose, considering the kicking I got. Still, I kept my gold, or most of it. They only found a few nuggets and the rest was well-hidden. It was the gold I’d promised not to touch: Janie’s gold. The gold I wanted to win Janie back with, the gold I need to win Janie back. As I move I can hear her letter rustle in my coat pocket, a crinkled reminder of a love gone bad, and a love now gone.

The hell was she doing in Nebraska anyhow? What, or rather who made her leave? I knew the answer to that; she couldn’t live alone for long, she needed company and preferable the male-type. The Lincoln postmark was the first thing I saw when I received the letter, two months ago now. It made my heart sink, then I panned just that little bit harder, worked just that little bit longer to bring her some gold from the Black Hills, to get her to come back to St. Louis. I’m a fool, I know but this is no fool’s gold in my possession. She’ll see that, when we meet. I still can’t believe she’s gone even now. I can think of nothing else as I sit, freezing my ass in this slow, empty cattle wagon, shunting and bumping through the South Dakota night.

I lay my head back, close my eyes and listen to the movement over the tracks, each cross-tie and rail joint out to get me. I’m sure I can taste blood now; punctured lung? Could be, 6 pairs of boots can do damage to a man already weakened with a broken heart. I begin to hum an old song; The ship that never returned, one of our camp side favourites. Billy would take that banjo from the sackcloth and pick like an Appalachian angel. Billy. Billy bust flat this autumn, running up debts and making enemies. They took his banjo, then they took Billy. Mountain justice. No one said anything, we all had debts but most of us were panning enough for our need; except Billy.

All this gold weighing down my pocket and I’ve not eaten in almost a week; feels like my stomach is touching my backbone: it probably is. At least I’ve Janie’s gold, hidden good. I would write her a letter or a note but my fingers couldn’t hold a pencil. I’ll just sit here all quiet. I wish there was at least a cow for company.

I feel so weak, so tired, it’s getting colder. I can taste the blood good now, getting stronger with every jolt of the train. I think I’ll just close my eyes a bit. I know I shouldn’t but just for a short while, I’m so tired. And so damned cold.

Once green world memory

Where be now the wind
that once blew?
Around the compass, all around;
south, east, west and north true.
Flag flutter memory
just choking on dust.

Where are you now rain,
that once fell?
Down from the heavens, drenching me;
downpour, shower, drizzle.
Umbrella memory
doesn’t dampen dust

You frost, cold and white,
that once lay.
Covering the fields, chilling me;
your kiss hard underfoot.
Winter boot memory
now walking in dust

And you the snow, you
fall no more?
Stinging my face, red cold my nose;
freezing, numbing my hands.
Sheepskin glove memory,
tracing in the dust.

From you the sun, where
can I hide?
From your lofty perch, glaring;
shrivelling, withering.
Once green world memory,
now turning to dust.

 

 

Story A Day May day 4 – I do it for you, baby

I’m a day behind – there’s nothing I can do although this was half-written yesterday. Life gets in the way sometimes and certain people and things cannot be refused. I aim to be back on track by tomorrow evening…promise!

************

‘You have pen and paper in front of you, and an hour to produce an award-winning competition piece. Today’s prompt is “The empty chamber”.
There comes a time when you lose control of your dream and it takes control of you. It doesn’t happen often, at least not to me. This time though it’s worse; this one’s really got me.

I, like you no doubt, let my passions intertwine with my dreams. The things that I want in life, the things that are tangible, doable, reachable – they become my dreams. I don’t dream lottery wins, a Rolls Royce or a mansion on a hill, I dream in words, in black and white, created by me for me, usually. This time it’s different.

Mr Farrow, Martin to his friends so he remains Mr Farrow to me, teaches afternoon writing classes at the local college. He’s good, I’ll give him that. He’s published; he wins things, people look up to him. Last year I started his creative writing class, in the hope of a little dream realization; I was working a couple of bars at the time, keeping myself busy at night and staying at home during the day; perfect.

Except my days now are empty, with only words to fill them. My live-in partner, Shareen, left me months ago, calling herself a victim of my obsession. I’m not jealous, I just like to know where she is, who she’s with, what she’s up to. In addition there was my writing. At first she thought I was a novelty, someone to show her friends – a writer. I write all the time but I’ve never won anything. After a time she saw that as a reflection on me and saw my lack of success as a trigger for my obsession with her. She’s wrong. I will win, I know this time I’ll win and win big too then that’ll get her back, that’ll teach her. She’ll want me then. My name and my fame, she’ll want that.

‘Just fifteen minutes left now, you should have closed your story and now be reading through, editing where necessary. Polishing till it shines – this is the big one.’

I sit there looking at Martin, at Mr. Farrow, and sight the barrel on him. I hope he’s written for his life, there only one empty chamber.

StoryADay May 2014 (day 2) – My fridge, my end?

I know, I’m late but there was no way of doing this yesterday, work gets in the way sometimes. “Magnetic words” – that took some thought and alas…this is all I came up with. Roll on to Day 3

**************************

I can feel my heartbeat, my temples are thumping; a bit like the sound of a washing machine on slow spin at the end of its cycle. My stomach cramps, or rather alternates between cramps and butterflies that flutter by. I need to step away, I need to get a grip. What is going on?

I woke up, splashed my face and made my way to the kitchen, no changes from my usual Sunday morning habit of making myself a pot of tea and preparing a plate of digestive biscuits and placing both on the little coffee table, spreading out and opening a book. This morning however I awoke early; thunder trounced my head and lightning tried to sear its way through the blinds and the rain hammered on anything it touch. A perfect day for reading, I thought, pouring the first cup from the pot. Then, without taking either opening a book or switching on my laptop, I step over to the fridge.

I, now, you, why, see, kill

It’s been a week now. Last Sunday morning I awoke, made my tea and started to read when a whispering noise made me look up from my book. I didn’t see anything; at first. The words, they rearranged themselves, on their own. There’s no one else here except me. There hasn’t been since last Saturday, except now I think she’s come back. Or she sees why I did or else…I’m going to see why she will.

StoryADay May 2014 – Getting Home

Well, I didn’t expect to take part in this, I never have done. When I received my StoryADay May 2014 email this morning I paid it little attention as I had a busy, busy day ahead of me.  However a couple of inspired hours this evening have produced 1,500 words – whether they’re good words or not I’ll leave up to you.

I’ve no knowledge of Ohio but Google maps gave me a geographic idea. I’ve no way of knowing if there’s a bus station in Marion, Ohio. I know there’s a Route 23 – Google told me. Anyway, here it is.

Thanks Julie, thanks Neil.

**********************

It isn’t normal, there’s no way this is normal. Bob Dylan once said you don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind blows and normally I’d say Old Bobby was right. I do however wonder what he would’ve said if he was stuck here with me in this dog-turd bus station, where the lounge caters for both arrivals and departures, somewhere in these back-fields of Ohio, watching a little Vespa getting blown around like a dropped chewing gum wrapper on a Chicago street. The wind and storm came from the north; now it comes from everywhere. What can I do to get back in time for my presentation tomorrow in Chicago?  I look out of the greasy, finger stained window. The rain meets the glass two inches in front of my nose horizontally.

‘It’ll blow over,’ says some farmer Joe, probably a local from two fields down the road, ‘it always does.’

Genius. A down-home nougat of wisdom from the corn flats of Ohio. It most certainly always does, it’s called a weather pattern, and weather patterns; unlike other patterns, like those of the floral leaning on my wife’s dress, blow over.

‘You hear that honey? The man said it’ll blow over.’ Mrs 1978 big floral dress speaks just as I was thinking of her. Is that a sign of true love?

‘Blow over, my ass,’ not even bothering to turn around. I can see her reflection in the darkening window, trying to look sympathetic with arms folded, at least, when one of them isn’t shoving a donut into her cake-hole. Then, joy of joys, the baby starts crying. Tommy was fed only an hour ago but now he took up a wailing normally reserved for paid mourners at funerals. He takes after his mother; two peas from the same pod. I snatch half the piece of donut from her hand and shove it in the baby’s face. He shuts up and eats, he always does. It’ll give me a chance to think. If I wasn’t at the presentation at 9am the next day I was out of a job and out on my ass. And here I was stuck near Marion, Ohio. Not even Marion, Indiana, where at least they have the ghost of James Dean for company.

‘Don’t give him crap to eat; it’s not good for him.’ I presume she must’ve sprayed donut as she had a mouthful when I took half of it from her. Shame it didn’t fall backwards.

‘Start taking some of your own advice sweet cheeks and lemme think.’

‘The hell you think you’re talking to? I’m your wife and dammit you better treat me like it.’

I jump with a start as horizontal water turns to horizontal hail, big enough to bring joy to any gin tonic. My reflection mopes back at me in the now-black glass. The overheads come on full and an announcer’s muttering something through a wall of static. Hell you say boy?

‘I said, you skinny son of a bitch that you’d better treat me like it.’ A sugary paw that seems to be growing around the wedding band given aeons before pinches my shoulder and scatters refined fat-powder over my jacket. Enough weather watching. I drop my shoulder and spin round, nose to donut-crusher. The view outside was better. The rustle of the donut bag plays me in.

‘We flew to Cincinnati and we came here to this forsaken land of the corn, to see your father who doesn’t know who you are, your mother who’s too drunk to remember who you are and your shit-for-brains farmhand brother who doesn’t give a ding-dang-doodly who you are. Any why? Because you get…’

A chubby hand with weight behind it pushes me up against the window. A spray like a winter gritter truck fans out to great me. I blink.
‘You leave my family outta this.’ Another push and a podgy finger wave. ‘You leave my poor daddy outta this. Ma mama’s worked double shift trying to bring up Billy and care for pa.’ Tears somehow found their way around her ample cheeks. She’s a-hurting. Not as much as she will be if I lose my job and she has to cut back on her pastries. Hell, this is her fault anyway. Even the lack of rental cars is her fault.

‘Start eating three, yeah just three square meal a day and maybe, just maybe, you could get your ass in the car and travel further than the KFC before you start complaining and threatening to throw up. If we’d brought the car we would’ve been halfway to Chicago now.’

‘Maybe if you had yourself a decent car I’d be able to travel in it; that thing stinks and makes me sick.’

‘It stinks from the shitty Marlboros you smoke and the greasy food you eat. And what about my frigging presentation tomorrow?’ I bang my hand against the window, punctuating every syllable, raised voice barely audible over the wind trying its best to rip the roof off and the windows out.

People start to give us some space and make an unconscious ring around us. Great. End of the world weather outside. Hey honey; let’s watch the Laurel and Hardy couple go hammer and tongs in this excuse for an bus station lounge.

‘Maybe if you were the sort of husband you should be, I wouldn’t eat so much.’

‘What? I do 12 hour days in the studio to keep you in ices and him in diapers.’

‘You don’t know what it’s like bringing up a kid on your own, cos your husband ain’t there half the time.’ Thank God for small mercies. I take a series of deep breaths, my eyes blaze fire. She steps back and takes her hand away.

Noses and glasses peered over sports pages. To hell with them; I have to get out of here. I look around just as a gust hammers the window. Suddenly a garbage bin, the size of a small car, spins away from its post and heads toward the window. A communal intake of breath: even we’ve taken second billing now. I push my wife away from the window but she takes it badly, falls over on her ass and curses me to the four winds, except I think there are more than that outside.

Mr “it’ll blow over” comes over to me, holding up a key. ‘Son, we ain’t going anywhere yet. I got a cousin down in Columbus, you can take my car and leave it with him. You can get a plane from there; sure as hell get you there quicker.’

I liked the sound of down. The storm came from the north, from the lakes. Maybe it wouldn’t get that far. My wife, still sat on the floor, looks at me and shakes her head.

“It’s the job or us,” she says, without a hint of emotion.

I take the key and thank the man, and promise to fill up with gas when I get there. The address of his cousin is written on a torn flyer for a nearby agricultural show and tucked in my back pocket. I go over and ruffle Tommy’s hair and bend down to kiss him.

“Without my job there’ll be no us. Now get up and get going.”

She pulls Tommy away from me and holds him close. “Get away from us you selfish piece of shit.” The last word spat with cobra-like venom.

Against the advice of a security guard I head outside. The door is almost ripped out of my hands as I step out and hail rips into my body as I look for the brown pick-up. It’s sitting 50 yards away, rocking on its springs. I’m finding it hard to breath but tuck my head down and try to run. I fall over twice before getting to the door, fumble with the key in the lock and get inside. I turn the ignition and the truck starts straight away. Even with the lights on visibility is difficult. I head out onto the back roads trying to find my way onto Route 23.

I manage about a dozen miles, the last two through a black wood, without seeing another vehicle, which begins to concern me a little. I think back to my wife and kid sitting there in the airport, no doubt wondering how I can be so callous as to leave them there. Lost in thought I don’t see the fallen tree until it’s almost too late and I slam on the brakes. That was a close one. Now what shall I do?

I’m sitting here feeling the will drain out of me and join the puddles of water around my feet. A head-wrenching ripping sound comes from outside the car and I look up, and see a huge, dark shape crashing down in my direction.

Smoke, ash and death to all

His eyes reflected the glowing, boiling mass of cloud, which masked the fear that lay behind them, as the first cracks appeared in the ground beneath his feet. The raining, burning acid ash now found its way to his skin. Confusion, as he looked around.

An hour before, the blue morning sky had been rendered and torn as a distant flash ripped through the atmosphere. The forest he had been looking at from the brow of the hill had danced before his eyes as the very Earth shook and moved on its axis, unable to sustain the blow which punched through its hide of rock and water and deep into the mantle.

He made his way down the gentle, stony slope and came to the first trees of the forest. He had no intention of getting tangled up inside but at the moment the trees offered protection from something as yet unknown but he felt sure of its arrival. His senses were in overdrive. Nothing moved and no animal called, and the only sound was his own reluctant footfalls as he wandered in rough circles, unable to decide any immediate action. Even the ground was silent in its shudder.

A vague, low movement on the horizon caught his attention. In the distance the blue of the morning was replaced by darkness and lightening flashed within the grey, growing veil, spreading over the sky, snuffing out sunlight with every passing second. He knew this was different to the frequent, sudden thunderstorms that marched through the low, wide valley, which were pedestrian compared to the jostling knot of clouds that raced towards him. His reluctance to enter the forest proved wise as huge clouds of smoke started to billow from the green foliage, obstructing his view and making it hard to breathe. He had to move.

Suddenly, from the trees there was movement as animal after animal crashed through the undergrowth and out into the open. Without waiting he followed, starting to run, his burning skin pushed to the back of his mind as instinct took over. The animals bunched together and ran before him as he gave chase, gaining ground with every stride. He was now on the level plain of the valley floor, and the tremors were less obvious now he was moving. The distance between him and his prey continued to lessen until, for no reason he could understand, he started slowing to a walk, the hunt for food no longer a priority.

He looked up at the sky, the seething cauldron of smoke, ash and fire replacing the daylight. He started to run but this time Tyrannosaurus realised that for the first time in his life if wasn’t hunger that filled his belly and drove him on, it was fear. His head filled with sounds of terror and ruin. There was nowhere to hide now.

Yesterday evening I flicked through the channels to find something which would make a good background as I ate my sea-bass.  I tripped over the last 10 minutes or so of a documentary on National Geographic about the last extinction of the dinosaurs, 65 million years ago.  I like the asteroid theory.  An increase in volcanic activity is far too slow, almost glacial.  I like the idea also of T-Rex chasing something, but for the first time in its life not with the idea of eating it.

My T-Rex here is portrayed as ‘he’.  I can do that, he won’t mind, as either by slow volcanic ash or mad meteorite mayhem he met his end a long time ago so I can call him what I want, although Lassie or Fluffy probably wouldn’t suit him very well.  If Thomas Hund hadn’t thought of it first I may have called him Toby. 

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