Imposters

Lawler stood in the vacant corridor as the water washed lazily over his bare feet. Where the water came from was a wonder but it was always there, three inches deep and teeming with hungry parasites, some of which were big enough for him to feel scuttling over the tops of his feet and between the gaps in his toes. He never shuddered, but hovered in the space between disgust and exhaustion. Lawler never went to the Inbetween when he was feeling fine. There were better places to spend the brighter days, infinite places of light and calm and fresh, sweet smells. The Inbetween smelled of desperation and stagnant tears.

            There were nine plain wooden doors running the length of the empty corridor and a single rather ornate door directly opposite Lawler at the very end of the Inbetween. Behind each door, numbered carefully from one to eighteen, odds on his left, evens on his right, there would be someone Inbetween. Lawler began to pad his way through the festering water, making his way down the dimly light corridor. To his left, door number one and to his right door number two. The wood was heavy and old, dead wood some would have said. Dead for the scars it bore, dead for the coldness of its touch, dead for its silence. The doors were unmarked save for one small brass number marking each in its place along the corridor.

            Lawler placed his hand on the cold dead wood of door number one and closed his eyes, wiping the palm of his hand across the space beneath the brass number. He caressed the wood for a moment longer until the wood began to melt beneath his hand and grimy square of glass appeared beneath his fingertips. Lawler brushed a stray curl of hair from his forehead with his now dirty hand and peered through the glass in door number one that moments before had not existed to anyone and was now only his.

            Behind door number one a girl in the midst of her teenage years sat in the corner of the bare bricked room. She was curled into a ball, her face buried in her pale, scabbed knees and though Lawler could not hear the girl through the glass by the manner in which her body shook and convulsed he knew that if he could hear her he would hear sobbing. Her long dark hair covered most of her body, clad only in a dirty white bra and matching panties. Lawler tapped on the glass as a child taps on the glass of a fish tank hoping to catch a guppy’s attention but the girl paid no mind to Lawler or his tapping. She just went on sobbing.

            Lawler looked away from the glass and without his eyes, the glass ceased to be.

            He moved to door number three.

            Through the ancient glass Lawler saw a man in his middle age sitting at a desk made of the same dead wood as the door that held him. The desk was strewn with paper the colour of nicotine. To the man’s left sat a shallow clay pot full of stubbed out cigarettes and to his right a mouldering clay mug that had had many days since it had had fresh coffee. The man was scribbling madly at a piece of brilliant white paper. Over and over again, the same collection of letters and numbers, that made sense to neither of the people looking at them but causing one of the men an extraordinarily greater amount of discomfort.

            Lawler liked senselessness.

            This man did not.

            Lawler moved on.

            He saw a boy of a similar age to the girl behind door number one behind door number five, standing before a mirror of familiarly smeared glass as he carved limp wristed at his chest with a small, chipped blade. After what could have been moments but was more than likely hours, the symbol on the boy’s chest began to take shape and Lawler saw it for what it was and noticed for the first time the boys shaven head and the dark circles smeared beneath his eyes. There were frightened tears on the boy’s face.

Lawler moved on.

            Door seven found a group of three, five or six years from start to end apart in age, huddled in the middle of the room holding one another in silence. The youngest of the three, a girl in her late twenties sat between a woman four or five years older and a man eldest of them all. Lawler felt the water he was standing in warm momentarily as though someone had spilled a cup of tea where he was standing and though the youngest cried the hardest, they all cried just the same. The girl in the middle was holding a photograph of a young couple newlywed, and smiling. The water was still warm as Lawler moved to the next door.

            He placed his now filthy hand on the wood and with his little window safely where it should have been, Lawler looked through door number nine where his breath caught in his throat like a hot wisp of ash, leaving it bitter and hot. Laying in the darkness of room number nine, stretched out as if asleep was a child not long on its feet. Her small, plump cheeks were smeared with dirt and blood and tears and here the water lapping over Lawler’s feet seemed colder than it should have been for the strength of the tears that the toddler had cried. For a moment it appeared that the child had ceased to breathe but the Inbetween was not a place for those so far to or so far from death. You had to be in the middle to be in the Inbetween. This child was alive, though her breaths were shallow and weak.

            She wore dirty yellow pyjamas with smiling rabbits on them the colour of candy floss. Her feet were bare and scratched. One eye was swollen and bleeding. Lawler noticed then that the child, in an act of instinctual comfort was sucking her thumb. The action, so soft and so sweet, seemed ludicrous when everything else was taken into account. Her lips puckered and sucked her thumb deeper into her mouth, half her face shrouded by yellow blonde hair.

            Lawler tapped on the glass.

            The child did not stir.

            Lawler tapped on the glass again and the girl opened her eyes. They were the blameless blue of an autumn sky and Lawler’s face immediately cracked into an uncomfortable smile. The girl, though her smile was much more alluring, mirrored Lawler’s face. He held up one finger and when he was sure that the girl was looking at it he pointed down towards the door handle. The girl stumbled to her feet and as she walked towards the door, Lawler could see that she was older than she looked, just smaller than she should have been. He heard the door handle click and felt the stifling air wash over him as the child pulled open door number nine.

            “Are you here to help me?” The girl said, her voice small but sure.

            “Do you want me to help you?” Lawler asked.

            The girl nodded. “I don’t like it here.”

            “Me neither,” said Lawler, holding out his hand, “do you want to go somewhere better with me?”

            “What’s your name?”

            “My name’s John,” Lawler said, still smiling, “is your name Daisy?”

            The girl’s eyes widened, her hand hesitating ever so slightly.

            “It’s okay,” Lawler said moving his hand towards her once more, “I know everybody’s name.”

            Daisy took Lawler’s hand then, content that that explanation was all she needed. They turned in the warm, writhing water than covered all of Daisy’s feet and ran quite a way past her ankles. Hand in hand they walked towards the door that Lawler had entered through, the door opposite door nineteen.

            “This water is kind of gross,” Daisy said looking down at her feet, “could you piggy me, John?”

            Lawler bowed before the small, blood smeared girl curling one arm across his midriff and lowering his head. The gesture made Daisy laugh, a sound so innocuous it made his skin crawl as it rippled through the walls of the Inbetween. This was not a place that savoured laughter. “It would be my pleasure,” Lawler smiled, “but we have to hurry.”

            Daisy climbed onto Lawler’s back. “I’m going to put you to sleep now, okay?”

            “I’m not,” Daisy yawned, her mouth comically wide, “sleepy.”

            “Just try, okay?” Lawler said to the door in front of them. He felt Daisy’s soft swollen face rub against his shoulder as she nodded. “Good girl.”

            Lawler carried Daisy out of the Inbetween shrouded in the safety of sleep where he knew that her dreams would keep her safe from the nightmare that she would wake up to. It was temporary, Lawler knew that all peace was, but it was peace nevertheless.

How to Die

Some people are just born restless, I guess.

They’re the baby that never slept and the toddler that always got stuck trying to fit through unexplored spaces. They’re the five year old that flooded the bathroom trying to make a swimming pool and the nine year old that broke their arm climbing the fence to see what was on the other side. They’re the pre-teen that can’t sit still in the classroom or keep their mouth shut when they need to and they’re the teenager that experiments tirelessly with all those fantastic things like sex and drugs and alcohol whilst they’re still young and blind enough to see the high gloss these first precious follies into the land of adulthood wear for a time.

It’s rebellion, they say.

A phase.

They’ll grow out of it.

Most of us learn how to suppress every exciting instinct we have by the time adulthood kicks in proper. The vast majority of these restless children figure out a way, all be it and most often subconsciously, to remove the shrouds of mystery and wonder from the even the most common of common place things. The kids that started out with safety pins in their ears and green streaks in their hair grow up and grow tired of the extraordinary amount of effort it takes to be extraordinary. Their futures suddenly begin to stretch further than the weekend and the debauched revelry crammed so tightly into those two days that used to make them salivate now makes them nauseas. The idea of spunking their weeks wages up the wall instead of squirreling some of it away for the ominous “rainy day” that they always heard their parents speaking of when they were small, terribly behaved children, now fills them with dread.

Preparation.

The Prepared Generation.

They have learned from the financial fuck ups, crashes and collisions of their fathers and their grandfathers and now owning their own house and being able to keep up with the mortgage payments is a far more seductive midnight thought than playing to a crowd of a hundred thousands fans screaming the lyrics to their songs back at them or packing a bag and hitting the road Kerouac style. That instability that used to be so ethereal and enthralling is now a nightmare of monolithic proportions.

Stability.

Safety.

And, comfort.

They don’t want the world, these people.

No, they just want a little four bedroomed piece of it with a patio out back and room for two cars on the driveway out front. They want to marry nice people and have nice children that will then go on to populate the world with more nice children. They want to leave a legacy of niceness now, instead of neurosis. They want to go on holiday, all inclusive of course, because anywhere out of the resort is dangerous, especially in all those terribly trendy places like Cape Town and Dubai. They want to drink wine with their lunch on a week day and feel like buying the bottle is a daring feat of absolute insanity. They count every calorie and work off the red playing sports that they don’t really enjoy or fully understand, like badminton, or heaven’s forbid – squash.

And when they’re not on some court or another they pay a portion of their monthly wages for all inclusive membership to some shiny shit hole known as a Health Club (always capitalised, of course, ‘for these are the only places where one can purchase Health with a capital letter) where they run on treadmills like rats in cages never really getting anywhere or anything but heart palpitations and sweat in uncomfortable places.

They spend hours cooking elaborate meals for people that they have known for years and hardly know at all and they spend more money than they ever would have spent on a ten bag and few pints down the pub in their younger years, but it’s a worthwhile expense because it’s all so dreadfully sociable and lovely. They compare their children to other peoples children, but not in a candid or even remotely honest way. If Susan just graduated from Brunel with a BA in Mathematics then Benjamin better be working on his fucking doctorate in molecular biology from Oxbridge, quick sharp. Won’t have the likes of that bastard Benjamin showing me up to Terry and June from the Health Club.

It’s all about appearance, you see.

But then again, it always has been.

And your parents did it with you.

I know it’s hard to believe but when your parents first got together, they couldn’t keep their hands off of each other. Even worse, still, your mother, beloved mummy has at one point or another had your fathers cock in her mouth. Shocking, but true. What’s even more shocking is that the dirty bitch fucking loved it. Your old man probably grabbed a handful of her hair and tugged on it when he shot his load at the back of her throat and depending on what kind of woman your old lady is, she may or may not have gobbled that goo right up.

We’re all interesting when we’re young because we’re dangerous.

And we’re dangerous because we’re stupid.

And we’re stupid because, for the first twenty five years of our lives or more – we have absolutely no fucking idea what we’re doing. And I’d love to tell you that we reach an age of enlightenment when some magical light bulb dings above our heads and we suddenly know exactly what to and where to go and who to be but for many, hell, for most, it’s a slow and arduous trudge to the finish line. Some of us, crippled by the weight of this hopeless disorientation, cash our own chips and punch a one way ticket to the end of the line long before our time, but the comfortable and contented masses wander aimlessly towards death, treating it with a weird breed of apathetic inevitability like taxes or hiccups.

Everyone dies.

It happens to the best of us.

And the worst.

It’s what ties us all together, isn’t it? We’ve all got a whole heap of shit in common with each other. We’ve all got a mother and a father out there somewhere, whether we were raised by them or by wolves, at some point in time, two people came together, figuratively and literally, and boom – there we were. A cluster of tiny cells brimming with infinite potential, cooked for nine months and heaved out screaming and naked and clueless. We were all taught how to do even the simplest of things like tie our shoe laces and write our names and fry an egg and open a window. These weren’t things we were born knowing and at a time in all our lives we were novice egg fryers and amateur shoe tiers.

Repetition, if not necessarily practise, made us into the beautifully broken people we are today. We were taught tact and how to read people’s emotions. We learned slowly and through this art of subconscious repetition, the difference between angry faces and sad faces and happy faces and later on we learned a tonne of new faces like stoned faces and drunk faces and come faces. We learned how to read people around us and how to interact with them like we once learned how to interact with the building blocks we had when we still got a round of applause for shitting in a bucket with feet in the living room.

And whether you were brought up or dragged up, we all learned how to make coffee and how to make out. Some of these things were learned by the art of education, by someone showing us how to do something or by teaching us about it had been done before and hoping that we would have the same successful outcomes were we to re-enact their battles. Others were learned by the brute force of experience, trying something once, realising that you ballsed it up, rewinding and going again until you got it right, or if you couldn’t get it right, you got it better than you did the first or third or fifth time.

Some things, though, even the most intelligent and interesting of people have absolutely no idea how to do. There are some things during the course of all of our lives that no matter how much we prepare or practice for them, when those things come around, we’re just as fucking clueless as we were when we were cutting our teeth.

How to feel.

How to forgive.

How to die.

That last one is probably the most important. I mean aside from being born, the second most significant day in our lives is when we are effectively unborn – when we die. Yet no one prepares you for it. You’re not taught about it at school and your mother never sits you down when you get to an impressionable age and explains that one day you’re going to close your eyes and you’re never going to open them again or that your heart’s going to stop beating and your lungs are going to stop breathing and more than likely you’re going to shit yourself.

They never prepare you for the fact that one day you might find yourself sitting in a little magnolia office somewhere with a doctor whose name you cannot remember and couldn’t pronounce even if you could remember it, being told that you’ve got something really fucking aggressive and nasty living in your breasts or bowels or bones that’s going to kill you pretty damned soon.

And when you’re a kid and you go to bolt across the road and your old lady yanks you back just in time to save you becoming road kill, she never says – “Look, Timmy, if that car had hit you it would have killed you and we would have had to scrape your skull off of that pavement and bury you in a black bag to keep all the leftover wet bits of you together.” And because your parents never tell you that, you’re not scared of a car slamming into your tiny body at fifty and rendering your once wonderful life pedestrian pate on the side of the road. So when you’re mums not about, you cross without waiting for the green man.

That’s universally a very early and very common act of defiance.

A sign of things to come.

But if, if, your old lady had said that to you the first time you did it and put the fear of endless darkness and death into you, you’d probably have grown up to be a much more cautious kid than you were. You wouldn’t have hung upside down off of the monkey bars or climbed loose limbed trees in the sunshine to survey the forest from the heavenly plinth usually reserved for birds and squirrels. You’d never have found the biggest hill you could have and rode your bike or scooter or board down it as fast as you could. And you’d never have jumped off of countless bridges and piers into the perilously shallow waters below to cool off when the air was still and the heat was fierce.

If you’d been warned about the inherent permanence of death as a child, you never would have taken that unknown pill at that party or a bummed a drag of that strange kids long, loosely rolled cigarette in the park when you were a teenager. You wouldn’t have known the bittersweet sorrow of that first, barbarous hangover or felt the pleasant shame of coming inside someone bareback or indeed having someone else’s come drip down your thighs and as a result, you’d never have found yourself alone in your bedroom trying to make your body do what it did with someone else’s hands on your body with your own hands.

And that’s why we don’t tell kids about death.

We don’t want to scare them.

Because it’s hard to live when you’re so preoccupied with dying.

Rivers and Forests.

I read somewhere once that music is like a river. That everyone whilst being able to appreciate its beauty cannot appreciate its power unless they fully submerge themselves in the water and become part of the current. The people that become part of the river, the people that become the continuous ebb and flow of the water, the forever changing patterns of ripples and tides, the sunken debris forgotten by all and missed by none – these people are musicians.

They understand the river better than the river does and when mere mortals hear just an incessant babbling of water over rocks and lapping against the banks, musicians hear something entirely different. They don’t hear the noise of the river, rather than the music of it. They have become part of the river and respect its ability to take them anywhere and away from anything. People who do not have the ability or the inclination to be part of the river become passive observers to something that at first appears as simple as a body of water or a string of chords, but to the river, and to the musicians, there is a far deeper and more complicated meaning to its composition.

When I read this I instantly began to think about the river in all its complexity and my mind drifted to the forest. During the day a forest is possibly one of the most breath taking and beautiful places you would be lucky enough to find yourself standing in and its omnipresence is astounding sometimes. Mile after mile of trees that have stood longer than your lineage and will outlast the best of us, intertwined forever with the earth through a connection of soil, roots and promise. Massive natural structures completely untouched by man that dwarf you into insignificance and remind you just how unimportant you actually are.

Sun breaking through bough after bough of fragile looking leaves, no two the same that seem so utterly breakable but are in fact intricate natural phenomena that put our peasant like cardio vascular system to shame. Trunks as wide as cars and armoured with bark that is so easy to break and impossible to replace. Stagnant earth swamps your head and on a hot day can become absolutely intoxicating. The smell of soft, damp, breathing wood and the muddled sense of belonging to the earth and it to you when standing in such a place.

Every possible crevice your eyes could search rich with life and death in equal quantities, a never quite silent place that is as unnerving as it is attractive. You could be a hundred miles away from the nearest human being or they could be hiding behind the nearest tree but the forest will never forsake your solitude. You came to it and you took the time to breathe with it, if only for a moment and if only coincidentally. For that single moment, you were alive with the rest of the world and in that single moment you were perfect.

Then you start to feel an unsettling kind of bewilderment radiating from your stomach and forcing your teeth to clench. The sun is dipping behind the broken boughs and shadow begins to steal the way out. It’s getting cold and suddenly there are too many trees, too many twisted skeletal remains of various fallen friends blocking your once safe path and threatening to send you spluttering onto the damp, dead floor. You start to shudder as shadow begins to envelope you as well as the forest, and your heart begins beating in your ears. Saliva pours into your mouth and you realise that you are frightened.

Because what was so beautiful just moments before the sun disappeared behind the now suffocating canopy of translucent leaves and insidiously shaped branches, is now one of the most intimidating places you dare to imagine. The liberating closeness of the trees now feels claustrophobic and the quaintly sporadic half walked paths that were roughly guiding you through to the end have now disappeared in the darkness and you are on your own and out of your element.

You are now alone in the dark with the earth and the earth doesn’t seem to like you very much anymore. The fractured roots of monolithic trees catch your feet and send a jolt of adrenaline straight to your already over excited heart. Getting out of the forest is all you can think about now. The sounds of crickets and birds are now haunting and unsafe, the low rumble of what you thought was a toad in the day light, the ruffling of leaves on the forest floor that would have been a rabbit were the sun still up, have now become the sounds of ravenous wolves and angry animals the likes of which your pressured mind need not comprehend for fear of complete and utter terror.

But there is one consistent in it all, one thing about the forest that never changes even when the light surrounding it does. Like water is needed to make a river a river, trees are needed to make a forest a forest and it is the likeness to these trees that call to mind the similarities between musicians and water.

Just as musicians are ever changing, flowing with what seems to be at times unbridled passion and unadulterated abandon for what convention has to say about how they choose to follow the bends in their banks, writers and the words they string together are stoic and unchangeable like the trees of a forest. A musician on stage performing a song can change it at any given moment, improvising or just following a tangent of unthinking trust that the music, the river, will guide them to the end of the performance unscathed.

Writers have a harder time adapting their work once it’s completed.  The moment those words pass through a press and onto the page, they are their forever, the deafening deepness of their roots hard to ignore or escape. Books do not flow, they do not adapt and their trunks are only soft when they are young. Once they are complete, finished and rooted in reality they stay the way they were made forever, or until someone cuts them down and rebuilds them in their own image.

We cannot improvise and we cannot comment, we are instead forced to stand on whilst the sun fades behind us and what you once treasured about the stories we told becomes marred with sadness and fear. We cannot uproot and clear a path for you to follow, we cannot lap against your ankles and offer you comfort when you so desperately need it.

All we can do is what we have always done; look on with concrete confidence and hope that even when the sun sets on our time together, your knowledge of and trust in the forest of the day will accompany you to the end of our affair with a deeper understanding of just how hard it is to be one tree in a forest, one drop in a river and one story that at one point, needed to be told.

It is through this understanding of relative simplicity that we cease to be rivers and forests, men and women, broken and whole and we simply become what we were always meant to be but never really took time to notice we were – alive.

Your Fears – Defined.

When someone says the word “define” to me my stomach knots. When it is followed by the ever faithful “in your own words” a bile sets into my mouth. Yet today, I was asked to do just that – to “define” horror, as a genre or otherwise, “in my own words”.

Up until that moment I had never thought of the definition of what has become throughout the course of my life one of the most influential and poignant tools to not only my writing but in turn, to my view of the world and its inhabitants.

Horror is widely perceived to offer the consumer one thing – cheap thrills. Anything deeper, or darker, than superficial (and mostly superfluous) entertainment usually brings about a completely different genre definition – Dracula for example. I would not define Dracula as horror, for the intimidating elements of Bram Stoker’s classic are not the defining characteristics of what has made it so timeless. It is erotic, thought provoking and two steps away from absurd at times. It’s the ultimate anti-hero tale that just so happens to be set against a spooky canvas with some devilish undertones.

Those of you who know me (and have read some of my rants on here) will be expecting one name to drop now – Stephen King. How you ask, can I write anything about, well anything, without somehow bringing the King into it? Well my friends, you know me well, because I am going to drop his name right now.

I do not perceive what the King writes to be “horror” in any traditional sense of the word, and those of you who are learned enough to have read beyond “It” and “Misery” will know why I say this. I can think of more books that the King has given us that have no supernatural elements whatsoever, that scarred my mind and played with my heart for longer than even his most sickly tales of textbook gore.

Three words – The Bachman Books. A compilation of stories published between 1977 and 1982 all of which are void of the standard boundaries of horror writing as we know it. (*Disclaimer – I refer to the four short stories published in the compilation The Bachman Books and do not include “Thinner” (1984) in the next series of statements (PS. Brackets inside brackets rock! :P)).

“Rage” (1977), “The Long Walk” (1979), “Roadwork” (1981) and “The Running Man” (1982) – These are my examples and if you have not read them, then you have no earthly business here so please move along, long days and pleasant nights to you J

For those of you that remain these stories are in my mind offer some of the most notable and defining characteristics of horror and still to this day haunt my mind from time to time like no others. They have no supernatural beings, no demons in hoods or inbred super humans with chainsaws – all they have is real people, in real (and some would say unthinkable) circumstances. Because at the end of if it all, is that not what we are afraid of most as human beings? The REAL horror?

We are told from the time we can remember that the things that scare us as children are A) not real or B) not threatening – or sometimes both. Therefore we starve that fear within ourselves and no longer as adults find the vampires, ghosts and ghouls of time gone by intimidating anymore. This is a double edged blade in many ways. It allows us to grow up (reasonably) well adjusted as an adult afraid of such childish notions is frowned upon – but the sharper side of that blade is that it desensitizes us to the things we SHOULD live in fear of and paints our world an shade of magnolia.

We should fear the ordinary, the mundane and the dreary that sap at our souls and eat away at our subconscious. We should fear each and everyday being the same, repetition leading to passivity. To be passive, about anything, is a disease. To be passive is to be dead on the inside, if not on the outside too. So we starve the fear of childhood and replace it with the fears of adulthood.

If you were to ask a grown man in the street which do you fear more – a dinosaur coming through your bedroom window and eating you and your wife while you sleep in your overpriced linens, OR lets say life strangling monetary debt? I cannot make any guarantees in this life, for I am not Yoda, but I would bet my breeches on the latter being more scary to anyone “normal” in this day and age.

One simple fact makes this so – debt is real, dinosaurs are not (sad face). Therefore you must ask yourself, as our fears change due to social, political, economical and a whole lot of other -cal unrest in the world, does this not in turn, change the definition of horror?

As adults we fear our cars not starting more than psychopathic clowns lurking in the bushes with razors for teeth. We fear maxing out our credit cards and then dealing with grossly inflated repayments, more so than we fear faceless monsters under our beds at night. We guard our houses with alarms and flashing lights to ward off burglars, feeling no need to have a barrage of crosses and garlic hanging by our front doors to ward off vampires.

The fear of a child is a beautiful, endearing and natural being that should be starved for the sanity of said child. As a person whom read her first King novel at the tender age of eleven, I can vouch for this. We forget that those children, whom starve their fears until they have no strength to scare them anymore, never quite have the ability to kill them completely. They therefore carry these fears into adulthood – that’s when it gets interesting.

Authors are duty bound to make you feel what they are portraying in their prose. To make someone swoon at a love story, cringe at a war crime, or feel empathy towards a lonely old spinster in a wedding dress – these emotions are easy to capture, as love, guilt, hurt, empathy – they are all emotions we are allowed to express as adults. Mummy and Daddy are however, not so easily entitled to fear as their children are.

To make Mummy and Daddy look over their shoulder when they are walking home from work, for fear of what lurks in the sewer grates beneath their feet, to make Mummy and Daddy get into bed before turning off the light at night, for fear of what may grab their bare feet from under the bed in the process – to make Mummy and Daddy’s hearts beat in their throat until they feel as though the bastard were physically trying to climb out of their mouths – this is the power of horror, because when it comes down to it, the things we are afraid of never change, just our willingness to address them.

If as a writer you can force people to address the things inside themselves that they forget they were afraid of so long ago, to make them look at themselves in the mirror and ask themselves what they would do if they actually did find themselves in palaver with a clown with razors for teeth, you are in turn forcing them to question their own psyches and again, as a result – their own humanity.

To make a credit card seem small, to make a deadline at work seem frivolous, to render Christmas with the in-laws worry free, by replacing these fears with those childish notions of fright – to make an adult face that child within them – opens so many doors, the draught alone may cause a complete overhaul of that persons life. It has the power to change them.

If you are capable of doing this, then my friends you will have marked the earth for eternity, for when human beings die, they leave behind headstones but when legends pass on – they leave behind legacies, that long outlive even the stone that upon which the mere mortals of this world will all inevitably carve their epitaphs.

When I Dream of Buttermilk

It’s one of those days when the air just isn’t moving and it sits in my mouth and lungs like ash. I can smell the dirt and the tobacco on my hands as I wipe the sweat out of my eyes and make my way through the crowd. You’re not looking at me because you never do and I’m looking at you because I always do. And I wonder how you’re not clawing your beard off in this heat, effortlessly cool in every possible sense of the word as you sip a warm beer and laugh like a lunatic. People are melting out at your feet. I’m just melting.

She creeps up behind me and asks in her own flamboyant screech if I would like a drink. I see what you’re drinking. I tell her the name of the beer and she scurries off, eager to please me for reasons beyond my own comprehension. She returns and hands me a lukewarm beer that tastes like old milk and I wince as I take the first sip. She asks me why on earth I would want to drink that stuff and I shrug it off, not content to tell her that it’s because it’s what you’re drinking and that it’s probably the closest I’m ever going to come to knowing what your mouth tastes like.

I look at my battered boots and smile, my hair falling in front of my eyes. I look as insane as I feel. Because here they are, suited and booted and dressed to the nines, in their sling backs and halters, all bare skin and radiance and here I am in a sleeveless R.E.M shirt, black jeans and the same dusty boots I’ve kicked the ground with for most of my life. I’m a shadow in a room full of stardust and it’s no wonder you’ve never noticed me lurking in your peripheral. I take another sip of the awful beer as she slinks away to go irritate some other poor bastard with her own desperate sense of companionship.

Everything’s hitting me in monotones and monochromes, a sea of nude fabrics and sterile music thumping through the air like an infected tooth. A woman pushes her ample chest against yours, standing on her tiptoes to whisper something in your ear. Your hand, the tattoo on the back of it crystal in my eyes even from this distance, presses against her lower back and she wafts back down to her normal height, looking at you with expectant eyes that beg you to laugh or nod or shake your head. Instead you look up and through the sea of faceless people in nameless gowns, your eyes find mine.

It’s your turn to whisper and as your hand leaves the woman’s back, violent ripples of gooseflesh break out all over my body. Your eyes are still on mine, those dauntingly dark eyes and as you make your way through the ebb and flow of desperate creatures in dainty gowns, all the blood rushes out of my body and hits my cheeks. My face is on fire by the time our toes touch. It’s like I’ve being queuing for a roller coaster nine hours of my day and when the time comes to get on and buckle up, I want to run. And that’s just what I do.

I run. Through the crowds and out into the blistering heat of the day. The sun hits me like an open palm and I gasp in the dusty air, doubled over with my cold fingers biting into my shaking knees. A few moments later, silence fills the air. You haven’t followed me. I wait for my heart to climb back down from the roof of my ribcage and when it is safely beating at a steady pace, I begin to make my way through the ruins of what was once a car park. Where I’ll go, I don’t know but I know one thing is for sure – I will never come back to this place again.

On the other side of the car park I hear my name, whispered in buttermilk. My heart loses it’s mind again and begins flickering about the place, a manic moth caught in its own dead lights. You say my name again and my shoulders slump, ready to swoon, but I don’t. I hold my shivering right hand out in front of me palm down and force it to still. Then, methodically, as if reciting some sacred incantation, I turn my hand palm up and slap myself across the face hard enough to draw blood. My cheek stings and the corners of my eyes begin to run with hot tears. I run my quivering tongue over the torn groove in my bottom lip and laugh.

You say my name again, and this time, I wake up.

Dragonflies

Suffocated in the silence of splintered injustice, she’d kill herself if someone could guarantee her that the memory would die with her. She’s got this far on the distant dawning of carrying the pain with her through the doors of death and into eternity. Would that be hell? She wonders…to be locked away in a windowless room with nowhere to go but inside yourself? No ones face scares her more than her own, no ghostly shadow cast against the bare walls makes her skin crawl more than the black silhouetted copy of her shape, hunched and vulgar in it’s profanity.

Just a guarantee.

That’s all.

What use would it be to get a little too close to the edge of the canyon – to taste the dust that lifts from the bellies of pebbles pushed recklessly to their deaths by the soles of her shoes that rest unsteadily atop the soft blanket of spicy pine needles, that sting their scent into her eyes, feral wasps, the beauty of the cold air coursing through her veins, her teeth bared in predatory lust – as she stands crucified to the blameless blue of the sky, her bastard shadow grimacing on the ground, the awkward mould of a dragonfly laying in wait behind her on the cracked red clay?

And she’s ready. She’s been ready for a long time. And she listens to him still, now, even though her ears of full of blood and words. Too many words. They cram themselves in, tripping over their own tongues and stumbling just before the finish line, a heap of broken backs and fallen friends, their carcasses piled high on the brink of comprehension. Her ears are heavy and aching, the rasp of their breath that close to her consciousness, toxic and unpleasant. And he told her, didn’t he? He told her all that he is, and all that he was, and all that he’ll ever be. And she knows what he can do. She knows because he did it to her. She is too tired to cry.

Her stained fingers brush against the swollen welts on her face, cracked and red they mirrored the earth where her inner dragonfly still waits. It laughs. Her fingers trace the shape of what was once her mouth. It hurts, the flesh hot and tender, a new burn yet to turn pink and fade to coffee. She bites down, hard, on the bottom lip. It splits, a rotten melon, and gushes foul coppery blood. It spills off of her chin and runs eagerly down her neck where it pools. A warm flower, the colour of claret, begins to bloom across her breasts. She is septic inside.

The muscles in her legs twitch, her chest muscles tensing and relaxing, repulsed by the feeling of blood against bare skin. Her head swims and inside her putrid body she feels something rising, like smoke, violet in the sun, grey in the shadow. Is that sadness trying to escape her, or is it something else? Is it all hope, rising and falling, following the wind obediently to a place where it can settle, where it can be left alone, and nevermore picked apart by the mind of a person addicted to their own cruelty and punishment? A ripple of revulsion crumples her to the floor, pine needles draw blood from her palms, the once great dragonfly now a cocoon of its former self. It seethes.

And she cries. Silently on the fractured lip of the ubiquitous canyon as the smoke that she mistook for sadness envelopes her, hands and lips and faces and eyes, all of the same, all around her. It’s not the sadness that is leaving her tonight, as the sun bleeds red across the tangerine sky.

Tonight is the night that hope leaves this girl and where it stops, nobody knows.

“Intimate and Intimidating.”

“They avoided each other and the subject of conversation as though he had asked her something seedy and secretive that shouldn’t be discussed with anyone at any time like favored masturbation techniques or who she saw in her minds eye when she came. Some things were so deeply in bedded in the dark places of a persons mind that when they are called to question, the conversation freezes and the tongue gets tied for fear of what the world may think of the company you keep inside yourself at such intimate and intimidating moments in time.”

From a manuscript titled “Experiment.”

When I Dream of Snakes

His hair was thick and rough with an earthy scent that hung in my nose and smothered his presence. The smell of sweat. The smell of stress. I had emailed the video off that morning, unbeknownst to him and there was nothing he could do to undo what I had already done. It would be there waiting in the inbox the following morning, a blinking envelope of pixels and promise waiting to be unearthed by an uninterested clerk with sleepy eyes.

And it would be going to the tribunal. Any day now I would be called before a jury of my peers, people who didn’t like me a whole hell of a lot and then the discussion would commence. The decisions about my future at the institution would be divvied up between a group of human beings, in the loosest sense of the word, that would come to convince old men who had never met me, and probably never would, that I was a bad person, a person deserving of punishment of the gravest degree.

I looked down at him chewing on his bottom lip, his face washed out by the grey green colour of his computer screen. He looked more worried than I did. I kissed the top of his head and wrapped my arms around his neck. Silence befell us.  We said nothing because there was nothing left to say, nowhere left to go and nothing left to do.

I turned to leave the small book lined room that among the scent of sweat and worry, was laced with the antiquated spice of old paper and forgotten fables. It smelled like home to me. As I left he reached out for my hand and I allowed him to take it, hold it and squeeze it ever so slightly, a reassuring glimmer in an otherwise grease stained evening. I allowed him to take my hand even if  I wouldn’t allow him anything else – even the chance to save me.

He told me that he was raised was snakes and that no two were ever the same. He told me that he could teach me this, this snake like demeanor, his eyes wide and alive and blue with want. I told him I was raised by wolves and that there was nothing waiting for me in those hallowed halls that I couldn’t defeat, nothing I would come up against that I could not beat. I didn’t believe my own words. I don’t think he did either.

And as he watched me leave I could have sworn I felt his heart break in perfect time with mine.

“Falling.”

“There was always the chance of falling, this was known amongst the roof folk, but I’ve always thought it a strange facet of the human condition – our preoccupation with falling, I mean. We pretend we’re scared of falling but we’re not. We’re scared of the broken bones and infinite end. We’re scared of death, not the path we take to it.”

From my current manuscript, “Rooftops”.