My Words, My World

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

Archive for the tag “Despair”

Nightly battles #1

Awake. Again.
Counting down the small hours.
Counting out the night.
“Come to bed, baby.”

No one sleeps anymore.  Have you noticed?
Curse of modern man.
Stress of modern life.
Stress?  Ah yes, that new old chestnut.

It’s not exactly the same as being kept awake by the crackle and spit of the fire you need to constantly tend as you peer into the darkness looking for the reflected firelight in the eyes of a predator; a sabre-tooth tiger, for example.

The caveman knew stress.
Did the caveman sleep?
Did his weary body recover after a day traipsing across the plains, spear in hand;
looking for soul food and a place to sleep?

“Oh, I haven’t slept in years”.
It’s the arse-end of 2017.
What’s my excuse?
What’s my sabre-tooth tiger, baby?

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Symphony and scream

The air is filled with the symphony of a thousand broken hearts shattered into a thousand pieces while the remaining void is alive with the anonymous scream of a thousand voices, cried bloody and hoarse.

Symphony and scream

 

On your own

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 one 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 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.

50-word fiction – The footpath

Lost in the forest, I wandered paths now forgotten by men, and remembered only by ghosts of those now long passed.  Restless spirits watched, powerless in the light of day and waiting for the darkness, by which time I would be gone and away from there.

Then the storm came.

Dark morning

Morning
Dark, dark morning
If you were an emotion
you’d be despair
If you were a state of body
you’d be fatigue
If you were a state of mind
you’d be confusion
At this hour my brainwaves
should be delta or theta
but I’m full-blown conscious
brainwave beta
If you were a book
you’d be Skeleton crew
because we that walk the corridors of night
are few
If you were a song
you’d be The Sound of Silence:
Hello darkness, my old friend.

Oblivion

Ambles, shambles
from the bench to the bin
Brain craves for meths
as body cries “no more!”

His brain rules his body
and he rolls the remains
of dog-ends from the bin
and begins
the day’s lonely spiral
to oblivion.

Oblivious
to my observation
but I observe
and offer a coin.

Each to his own end.

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.

3am weather update

3am,
the devil’s hour.
The wind shrieks through the trees
and on a balcony
(mine?)
sends a flower pot flying.

Horizontal rain
sprays the blinds
in a machine-gun scatter.
With heavy head
and heavy lids

I sit
and wonder why.

A little piece of me

Once in a while I look back over my previous writing just to try and gauge whether, over time, it’s improving.  I think it is.  I also look for patterns.  Patterns reveal the state during a certain period.  My writing of late, especially the poetry, has taken a darkened path.

10 years ago I started having massive sleep disruption.  This quickly grew into chronic insomnia, which I chose to ignore at my peril for a few years.  6 years ago I went under the ‘care’ of the local hospital, following visits to psychiatric specialists who tried to fathom out what the problem was.  I was depressed, apparently.  No shit, Sherlock.  A few years of sleeping no more than 4 hours a night was conducive to wiping the smile off my face.  They put boxes of pharmaceuticals in my hand and sent me away.

During this time I started writing.  I was trying to read a book, unfortunately I can’t remember the title, which was so bad I gave up after 20-odd pages, which is something I never do.  One dark morning I decided I would try and write something, surely it couldn’t be as bad as that crap I’d just given to the charity shop?

Writing became a regular in my life and it helped me where no amount of Benzodiazepine or Escitalopram could.  In fact, I stopped taking anything after two years, against the hospital’s wishes.  Fine, the pharmaceuticals help you sleep, but they leave you feeling hollow, devoid of emotion.  I decided I’d rather not sleep.  So here I am, not sleeping.

For anyone who doesn’t know, insomnia is a bastard.  Mentally, it’s a dark and lonely place that leads ever downwards, where you will eventually come to your own private Niflhel.  It cleaves you open and wrenches your tortured soul from your body while leaving you running on empty.

You stop telling people.  You have to, because all you hear is “Yeah, I had a terrible night as well.”  What?  You can’t explain and they can’t understand so your interactions become sullen standoffs.  You spend the day with a head full of cotton-wool; thinking becomes laborious and even the most banal of tasks requires consideration and reconsideration.  Clear thinking is a reality enjoyed by other people.

Physically it leaves you hollow, like a wind-blown wheat husk dried in the summer sun, light and directionless yet always hoping for a respite, a resting place from its torments.

On the other hand, creatively it has been a wonderful input and output, where my notebook, 2H pencil and I join hands in the early hours and together we chase away the demons that frequently slip the pillow out from under my head.  Those deep still hours of the morning welcome me, absorb me in their serenity and give me time and space to write.  Ideas form and become words because of this.  The majority of what you will find here was written while the world outside slept.

I hope reading this blog gives you at least a little of the pleasure it has given me.

Grey

Imagine someone just turning out a light.  One minute I was in the sunshine, strolling over the small bridge that crossed the river that tumbled between grey rocks green with moss.  The next, I’m crushed under a leaden sky and grey walls closed all around me, taking my air.

I find myself in front of what remains of a Cold War-era apartment block, the same colour as the sky with glassless windows, graffitied walls and waste of every kind strewn over the broken concrete.

A cold wind blows along the street and I pin the collar of my jacket with one hand and I look to bury my head in my jacket as litter dances little waltzes around me.  I stand back from the building, taking it in.  My stomach knots as the wind drops and the air stops breathing, tense.  A pale face appears at one of the holes that were once windows.

I start to shake.  The sky mirrors my soul as I wonder, not for the first time, why I came here.  I know why.  Pain.  Pain is why I’m here here.  White shards of pain that strip and shred the nerves as vultures tear at a long-dead carcass.

The first couple of months had been fine, taken care of by concerned doctors whose hands caressed the prescription that I eyed as a spectator watches for the matador to give the bull that final thrust.  Even the sight of that little A6-size slip of paper was enough to alleviate the pain I (imagined?) felt.

Then, when I started to walk without wincing, the morphine prescriptions dried up and stopped.  They stopped but my body’s craving didn’t. And so here I stand, shivering, waiting for a little packet of warmth.

 

Black

The sun draws blinds on another winter’s day;

whose light grows longer,

whose warmth grows stronger.

The sun’s rays of orange, pink and violet

grip the deepening sky,

like cat claws on curtains.

The sun slips below the horizon

like a drowned man

to leave me cloaked in black.

Green numbers

The hand reaches for the button

that flashes the green numbers

counting down the hours

of a night that is endless; and awake,

as I long to fall into sleep,

be it restless and haunted,

sleep it remains.

I envy it.

Cat’s eye

I’m not a cat;

I can’t see in the dark

yet it’s always dark

when I awake

and draw the line

under another night’s sleep.

The crawling night

The cheap quartz wall clock ticked its way through the dark minutes and hours in the studio.  It wasn’t loud yet he was convinced he could still hear it, even with the door closed.  He turned his face from one hot side of the pillow to the other. Still sleep evaded him.

The mind plays its darkest games in those still hours, when fears are more real.  The swoosh of the scythe, like a knife through silk, is only a stroke away, and death stalks those wakeful thoughts.  Car crashes become unavoidable.  Work-related accidents a matter of time and media-induced paranoia of acts of terrorism places packages in every hidden shadow.

He flicked on the small book-light under the duvet and read a chapter of his latest acquisition, a paperback fiction bought at the station when the tannoy announced the cancellation of the train, and the drizzle continued unabated.

Satisfied, he flicked off the light and closed his eyes.  He twisted.  He turned.  His brain churned.  Damn it.  His ears strained for the faint sounds of the wall clock but this time he could hear nothing.  Content, he tried the new breathing exercises he’d been shown and tried to relax.  No good.  His mind shifted up to fourth.  He was awake.  A sigh passed his parted lips and, rising slowly to avoid making noise, he got out of bed.

He sat at the desk in his studio.  He opened his notebook, took a pen from its holder and listened to the clock tick its way through the dark minutes and hours.

Leaving

The hand moved across the table, casting a shadow under the glare of the uncovered light bulb, now dull with dust. There was still strength in the hand, and a life of hard work and physical activity showed in the knots of vein and muscle as it moved.

A muscular forefinger which had shot and killed men in war, under orders and without hesitation, now lifted, paused then started to tap, without rhythm, on the plastic table. The window rattled as the wind picked up snow and threw it against the glass, a draught blowing past the single pane. The finger stopped while a deep, chesty cough ripped the silence and echoed in the room devoid of furniture except the table and two chairs.  A car horn beeped twice outside

“It’s time,” said the voice, finding breath once again.

“Yes love, it’s time to go.”

“They’ll look after us Eve.”

The hand reached out across the table and grasped one no less young but smaller and softer and cold to the touch. A sob broke the brief silence.

“54 years in this house George. We raised children who’ve raised their children and all the while we’ve stayed here. It breaks my heart to leave it yet…”

Another gust of frigid air escaped from the rattling window pane.

“At least we’ll be warm my love, and we’ll have company our own age.”

The smaller hand gave another squeeze.

“You’re right George, I guess we have to go.”

The hand, cold and white at the fingertips, helped Eve to her feet and into her coat. It reached for the light switch, and hesitated, as it touched away a solitary tear from a wrinkled cheek. Wind tore past the loose window pane.

“At least we’ll be warm, Eve.”

Ink

I’m currently trying to work my way through the minefield of novel writing.  Now my teaching course is finished I try to dedicate at least an hour every day before life enters my world.  This doesn’t mean however that I’ve lost my love for the short story, in fact I’m using word limits of late as a writing exercise, to get the brain moving if you like.  Here’s another one of them, this time I gave myself 200 words.  It’s inspired by the black paint peeling off the gate – I just changed place and perspective.  Over to you.

__________________________

 

A hesitant scribble with the last stub of a pencil, trying to make it last.  Where would the next one come from?  He’d tried scraping the walls, adding saliva, hoping to make primitive ink but it dried and faded, a metaphor for life, he thought.  Like a rose, it bursts into bloom then slowly the ground is covered with a silken duvet.

The pencil was his saviour, his sanity.  He wrote to no-one but the words he scrawled were his words, his truth.  He held the stub of the pencil and wondered how many more words he could write before the lead finally gave way and became nothing.

As he lay on his bunk, listening to the night sounds, he heard a faint patter.  His thumbnail struck the match, expecting a cockroach or maybe a mouse for company.  He saw nothing except shavings from the ancient black bars, which he now held the match to.  The paint was peeling.  Before his fingers burnt he scratched the black paint and spat on it.  Salvation. The writer, with another six years to serve, lay smiling on his bunk.  Tonight he could sleep without worrying about his pencil.  He had found his ink.

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

Splinter deep

The old year slipped into the new

While yesterday’s pain

is swept with a broom

Hard bristle scratch

My thoughts, my face

Dust choking

Acid soaking

The handle hands the hand a splinter

Through nail and skin

Deeper and deeper

Poisoning and malevolent

Burrowing and diving

Septicaemic

I can feel it

Arrow sharp

But not enough

To pierce my heart

So it turns on me

and burns in me

But spurs me

On.

Goodbye, my sun

As the leaves burn brown
and rage in a riot of red
The low, winter light losing colour
looking tired and stretched
The sun’s early rising all but forgotten
another life, another time

The soltice shroud of darkness covers all
and the frost fingers;
hard and cold
grip the earth
And its frigid breath
bites the air

As the year ends in a flurry of colour

As the year ends in a flurry of colour

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.

You are reality

The heart doesn’t flutter;
it hammers, in my chest.
On the train,
the rolling motion,
my rolling emotions,
as the station nears.
The final stop; full stop.

Months in the waiting,
weeks in the planning
and my heart beats the seconds
that pass, too fast.

Am I the only one
alive in this carriage?
This miscarriage of humanity.
Where is the humanity?
Talk to me!
You! The Ipod girl,
in front of Ipad man,
beside Facebook boy
and Candy Crush sister.

Ah! Enough of them.
I’ve been drawn to meet you,
talk to you and kiss you.
As I hold your letter.
A LETTER!
Words on a once-tree,
the Parker Pen veins
stand out, draw me in.
As you stand in the rain,
black brolly Polly,
dark as mystery,
deep as a desert night
but not so old,
nor so cold.

Sand stinging, hand wringing
a nervous encounter,
here at the counter
of the coffee bar.
Spoons clink and rattle
And our nerves finally settle.

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?

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.

 

 

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.

Shadowplay

Living in a daily world of imaginary conflicts, in which the tide of others washed and pushed against him, He lived ever in anger’s twilight. The anger simmered, threatening to boil over but not quite managing to do so. In some ways it would have been better if it had.

In his make-believe world in which everything was a hurt against him, either directly or indirectly, he no longer lived; not in the true sense of the word. Whereas sensibility to his condition was heightened, other important aspects of his character were made obtuse. Happiness was an emotion felt by others. His anger would obtund any sense of enjoyment or achievement and his spiral continued downwards.

The world outside is bright
Spring fills the air
The fields and the trees are colour
Animals awaken from winter slumber
But within him the winter remained
And for him the clocks unchanged
He slivered on ice
where others walked on grass
He shivered with cold
while others warmed to the sun
He withered, his face white
when others danced with new life
He lingered in the shadows
whilst others cavorted in the long,
joyful hours of sunlight
He revered in his head
his sufferance in a world
where hurts imaginary
and conflicts obtusely
Beat him to the ground
into the dust, to be found
Where maybe hope one day
will bring him out;
out into the world again.

Depression can take manifest itself in various guises, this I know from personal experience.  Whilst at the height of my chronic insomnia 4 years ago the hospital put it down to depression which, personally, I couldn’t understand as there was no real motive, so I believed.  I just thought it was the other way around – that I was shot to pieces in the head, imagining scenarios which weren’t there simply because I didn’t sleep.  Thankfully, with loving support and no lack of determination, I managed to untangle myself from the shadow-spectre of this awful and destructive condition. 

During last 4 years I’ve started writing, which is a therapy in itself.  I still don’t sleep anywhere near the recommended 8 hours but whoever recommends this probably has nothing to do all day.  The above, in a very rough form, has been around quite a while, probably written during ‘recovery’ stage.  Ordinarily I avoid personally-related posts, but this is different – I want that reminder there.  I want to remind myself of where I was and where I am and be thankful for it.

C.

p.s. – Shadowplay is a track by Joy Division from their “Unknown Pleasures” album.  It just seemed apt in this case.

Flash Fiction Friday 132: Where There Is Hope There Is Hunger by Christopher Farley

Spring is now in full swing and I’m still writing with winter as a background. I think I need to see the sea…
As ever, thank you Morgen.

MorgEn Bailey - Editor, Comp Columnist/Judge, Tutor & Writing Guru

Welcome to Flash Fiction Friday and the one hundred and thirty-second piece in this series. This week’s is a 420-worder by Christopher Farley. This story will be podcasted in episode 40 (with two other stories and some 6-worders) on Sunday 25th May.

Where There Is Hope There Is Hunger

The bees were the first noticeable difference. Within just a few years there weren’t any. The pollen must have been modified in the same way the plants had been. The honey stocks fell quicker than a suicidal stockbroker after a Wall Street crash. They told us to be patient and that they would replenish the honey from laboratory stock, which they did. I don’t know what the hell it was made from but it was soft, runny and sweet, so I guess some people were happy. However, honey wasn’t the biggest problem; after all, we had sugar if we had the money…

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