Monday, September 6, 2010
Barry opened the door.
“Good morning! Mr. Jenkins?”
“Yeah, that’s me.”
“Hello, Mr. Jenkins, I’m Bob Wilkinson, your Labour candidate in this election, would you mind if I came in for a moment?”
“Dunno,” said Barry, looking up and down the deserted terraced street. “When can I come round your ‘ouse for a cup of tea?”
Mr. Wilkinson looked a little taken aback, but before he could speak Barry continued, “Only joking, mate, course you can come in!”
They went into the little sitting room, and Barry indicated a threadbare grey sofa. “’Ere, ‘ave a seat. Would you like a cup of tea?”
“Thank you, that would be most kind of you.”
Barry went and put the kettle on, and came back a little later carrying a beaten old tin tray with a steaming old teapot, a small jug of milk with no handle, a little plastic sugar bowl, a cracked china cup on a mismatched saucer and a glass of water.
He set it down on the table, lifted the lid on the teapot, and gave it a good stir.
“Milk and sugar?”
“Just a splash of milk please.”
Barry served the tea, and then took a sip from the glass of water.
“Are you not having any?” asked Mr. Wilkinson.
“Nah, I’ve just ‘ad a cup thanks.”
“Well, it’s very kind of you to make it for me Mr. Jenkins.”
The candidate took the tea, holding it carefully by the saucer in his left hand, and Barry asked the million dollar question.
“So, Mr. Wilkinson, why should I vote for you?”
“Please, call me Bob.”
“OK, Bob,” said Barry, pointedly not giving his own first name. Bastard probably knew it anyway, if he knew his surname. Must’ve been snooping into his details somewhere.
“Why should I vote for you then?”
“Have you read our manifesto Mr. Jenkins?”
“Don’t need to, do I! I’m sure it’s full of beautiful promises, like they always are, but will they ever materialise?”
“Well Mr. Jenkins, you must understand that we in the party of the working man face a lot of obstacles when implementing policies that make life better for ordinary people like you. Sometimes it’s slow progress, but progress, nevertheless, it is.” He took a swig of his tea.
‘Ordinary people like me!’ thought Barry, ‘Condescending cunt!’
“But I ain’t a working man,” he protested, “Got laid off, didn’ I.” Shithead probably knew that too.
“Ah, but if you had a job before, then I’m sure you’re a working man at heart, and we’re the party best able to get you back into work. I mean, you can’t imagine the Lib Dems are going to help you. They want to be all things to all people, playing Tory to the rich and powerful, and socialist to the poor, but they can’t be both now, can they?
“Anyway, their chap here cares so little for work he’s gone swanning off on holiday, nobody’s seen him here in the constituency for almost a week now. Probably sunning himself in the Caribbean while his PR men work on his campaign for him.”
“I can’t see that your lot ‘ave done much to put the rich and powerful in their place. ‘Alf of your geezers come from posh schools now, just join the Labour Party for a cushy job in politics, rather than earnin’ an honest livin’!”
“Mr. Jenkins, one cannot choose one’s birth and upbringing, but one can turn against it. Yes, some of us have been to public school, but even there one can learn about socialism and the importance of implementing its strategies to achieve lasting results that have a positive impact on the common man and the nation as a whole.”
‘Christ on a bike!’ thought Barry, ‘Wanker’s calling me common now, just ‘cos ‘e went to posh school!’
“More tea, Bob?” he offered, pouring another cup.
“Furthermore,” the man in the suit went on, “you can’t honestly expect the Tories to be in the least concerned about ordinary workers, much less the unemployed! I accept that things could be better than they are, and that’s why we need to continue to work together, to improve job opportunities, as well as pay and working conditions. You must be aware that if the Tories had been in power all this time things would be much worse than they are at present.
“The Tories have always been the enemy of the poor, not to mention their being such terrible hypocrites. I mean, just look at their fellow here, taking the moral high ground, church every Sunday, saying such awful things about homosexuality and promiscuity, and now it seems he’s eloped with his secretary, abandoning his wife and family! At least that’s what everyone’s saying, they both vanished a couple of days ago at any rate.”
Now the politician looked across the shabby room at Barry. The little table with the tea tray on it had seen better days, the armchair where Barry sat had the stuffing falling out of the loose seams, the paint was peeling from the wall behind him and half-tattered curtains of indeterminable colour were hanging at the window.
Then everything began to spin slowly round and round, or was it his head? He put down the cup and saucer, and tried to stand up.
“Mr. Jenkins, may I use your bathroom? I’m afraid I’ve come over rather queasy,” he said, before he crumpled to the floor.
Barry stood up and stepped over to him. He wasn’t breathing. He took the cup and the teapot back to the kitchen, washing them both out very thoroughly. Then he came back with a roll of masking tape and a big cloth sack, and taped the dead man’s wrists and ankles together, before bundling him into the bag.
‘I’ll bury ‘im in the allotment with the others,’ he thought. ‘Then I’ll put the shed over the four of ‘em, no one will ever find ‘em. Shame about the girl who came with the Tory, she’d been quite a looker. Still, couldn’t miss my chance just ‘cos she was ‘ere.’
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
I was quite surprised, as he had no apparent injuries and looked to be in good health.
When I awoke that morning, it had been a gorgeous summer’s day, so after a quick breakfast of fruit salad and coffee, I packed some food and a bottle of water in my knapsack, and set out for a walk in the countryside.
I had been in Scotland for a couple of weeks, making a tour of prehistoric stone circles, tumuli and such like, a perennial fascination of mine. My OS map clearly showed a couple of sites near the small town I had lodged the night in, so I set off to see if they would be interesting.
The circle had been fantastic, set in craggy highland, the rough dark monoliths jutted suggestively up towards the heavens, enclosing a space of soft lush turf which contrasted with the heather all around, and in the centre a wide flat stone, perhaps the scene of ancient sacrifices, orgies, or unthinkable rites. I lay on the altar stone and soaked up the mysterious atmosphere for a while, sinking into a deep reverie. After some time - an hour, two, three or more, I don’t know - I began to feel hungry, and noticed that it was already well past midday.
After eating my lunch, I carried on following a narrow track that wound through crags and across valleys, slowly circling back round towards the town. At length, towards sunset, I came to a strange knoll, and on the knoll the ruins of a tower.
This was what I had been looking for, in Scotland there are several of these ancient ruined round towers, always on the tops of hills. There would not be much unusual about that were it not for a remarkable feature that they share - the entire surface of the stones at the base of the towers has been melted, in places fusing them together. There is of course no known way in which the ancient Scots, Celts, Picts, or anyone else could have achieved this.
Climbing the steep sides of the mound had left me panting for breath, but the spectacular views made it well worth the effort. The emptiness of the place began to fill me with a profound sense of loneliness, until I spotted the lad.
I hadn’t seen him when I got to the top, but suddenly there he was, standing inside the doorway to the tower, and he seemed to be scanning the horizon intently for something. He was dressed simply in black trousers, a white cotton shirt and leather boots. I walked slowly across to greet him.
“Help me!” he implored, unexpectedly.
As I looked at him questioningly, he repeated his plea, “Help me!”
“What’s the matter?” I enquired?
“If you have time to hear my tale, then listen,” said the lad, “but please promise to help save me from my captivity!”
“I have time enough,” I replied, “and if I can help you, then I shall.”
So the lad began his story.
“One day as I was coming home from work to my cottage, I saw an old man sitting on the stone wall across the road. He was all dressed in green, with a scarlet cap, and he just sat there watching the door to the house. I thought this rather odd, but decided he had probably become tired, being of advanced years, and was just resting a while.”
“The next day, when I came home from tending the sheep in the field, the old man was there again, with two more like him, old and quite short, dressed in green tunics, and breeches, with colourful caps upon their heads. Well now, I thought, this is unusual. But again I thought the old men must have become weary and paused to rest a while.
“The following day, as I was returning from the fields, again I saw the three old men. This time they were with two more, who, though younger, were somewhat short like them, and also there were two fair young women amongst them, dressed one in an orange dress and one in a red, and all the men similarly attired to the first old fellow. This time, as I passed by, the old man spoke to me.
“Good evening young Angus!” he greeted me, though I knew not his name. “How are you lad?”
“I am very well, thank you sir,” I rejoined, “may I enquire who you might be, sir?”
“We are your neighbours from across the glen,” he informed me, though never had I seen a one of them before, “and we have come to invite you to join us in a celebration.”
“I should be very pleased to join your celebration good neighbour,” I told him, “but first I must advise my parents, or they shall worry that I do not arrive.”
“Have no care, for we have already spoken with them of our invitation, and they are pleased to let you accompany us.”
“Now the old men and the young men and the two women all looked of such kindly disposition that I never suspected any evil could come of it, so happily I followed them across the glen, and they led me up the hillside until it flattened, and we continued until we came to a hummock, and on the hummock a beautiful round tower.
“This is where we live,” the old man declared.
“We went up the hummock, and marched through the door to the tower. Inside was a sight I could not have imagined! A marvellously sumptuous hall, with fine tapestries hanging all around the walls, and long tables set out for a feast! There were places set for scores of guests, and along the middle of each table food arrayed for the banquet.
“There were silver and golden platters laden with roast meats and fowl, plates of braised potatoes and other vegetables, huge serving bowls steaming with green and yellow and orange soups, dishes piled up with apples and pears, peaches and grapes, and some fruits I had never seen before. Cakes of every shape and size were on the table too, and at each place was a fine silver goblet, with pitchers of mead set between the plates of food.
“I was shown to my place as the other guests began to file in. My amazement continued, for all the guests were of the same diminutive stature as the ones who had brought me, and dressed in such colourful livery!
“The men wore pointed black shoes of the shiniest polished leather, yellow breeches of velvet, orange shirts of silk, scarlet waistcoats of satin and shimmering violet caps of the finest brocade - even the men who had brought me were changed into this new festive attire, though I had not seen them leave or return.
“The women too were a wonder to behold, each in a unique and glorious gown flowing to the ground, also of the most precious cloths with golden threads and jewels woven into them, cloths of every colour you can imagine, and certainly several that you cannot imagine! About their necks they wore necklaces and pendants, and on their heads they bore tiaras, and all of the most detailed workmanship possible, fine golden filigree forming the most intricate designs with rubies and sapphires, emeralds and diamonds set in them. Each seemed to surpass the one before!
“When they had taken their places, six more little men emerged from a high door at the back, with bejewelled trumpets, and stood three on each side of the door blowing a fanfare. Everyone stood, and the little fellow next to me instructed me to do the same.
“All eyes turned to the doorway, and out marched the Fairy Queen, for fairies by now it was plain that they were. Wonder mounted upon wonder! Her orange silk dress trailed along the ground behind her, and in its folds bright hues seemed to flicker like flames. Over this she wore a cape of cream coloured velvet, with satin embroidery of leaves and flowers, and precious stones sewn to it. She carried a long silver sceptre, sparkling with huge diamonds, and in its head an emerald the size of my fist. The golden crown she bore on her head was tall and thin, and every point tipped with a large sapphire, and on the front of it a ruby the size of my two fists!
“When she had taken her place at her ornately carved throne, we were seated once more, and the revelry began. First I tried some of the green soup, and it was the best soup I ever had tasted in my life. Then I tried the yellow soup and it was better than the green. Next I tried the orange soup, and it was the best of the three!
“And so it passed with everything I ate, meat and fowl, vegetables and fruits and cakes - each morsel more delicious than the one before, and all washed down with a never ending flow of sweet mead.
“When the eating was done, the tables were cleared away, and the chairs put against the walls to leave a large open space in the middle of the hall. Out came a fiddler, and a piper and a drummer, and they set to playing the merry music of the little people, that magic music of theirs that causes all who hear it to jump to their feet and jig and reel and whirl and spin.
“So I danced and I danced, and the fairy women danced with me too. Such fair lasses they have amongst the fairy folk, such smoothly chiseled features, such lithe forms, such elegance and grace of movement! And we danced and we danced, and even had I so wished I could not have stopped dancing, for the music moved my legs of itself!
“Until finally the music stopped, and all of a sudden the tiredness that I had not felt from the whole evening’s merriment came upon me all at once.
“I found my way to the Queen, and courteously bowed low before her, and then addressed her.
“Your Majesty,” I said, “may I thank you most profoundly for the generosity you have bestowed upon me with your invitation to this most wonderful entertainment, but now I must humbly ask your permission to take my leave.”
“On hearing this, the Queen began to laugh. The others chuckled with her too in a rather menacing fashion.
“Young lad, of course you may leave,” she then said, “if you can find the door!”
“Why that’s easy!” I replied.
“I walked across the hall towards the door that I had come in by, but now there was no door to be seen. Perhaps in all the dancing and spinning round I had become disorientated, so I began to follow the wall around the hall, looking for the entrance.
“When I had followed the wall all the way around the edge of the entire hall, with no door in it, and found myself back where I had started, I must have appeared most perplexed, as indeed I felt, for when I looked at the Queen she threw her head back to let her laughter echo out so that I thought her crown would fall from her head, and all her subjects roared with laughter too!
“Oh, silly boy!” she admonished me. “Don’t you know the rules? If you eat of the food of Fairy Land then you can never return to your own world.”
“So you see they tricked me, and I have been kept here as their servant since that day.”
I studied the lad’s lean features, sharp nose, and his grey eyes that were filled with a look of infinite despair. Even his long black hair seemed to hang forlornly around his face.
“How long have you been here?”
“I don’t know a few weeks, I suppose.”
“Let me take you with me now then.”
A look of fear and panic came over him.
“No, if you tried to pull me down the hill they would surely come and take you inside the mound too!”
“Then how can I help you?”
“Sometimes they send me to fish in the river, by the bridge.”
“So why don’t you just run away when you go there?”
“Would that it were so easy! They have me under a powerful enchantment, so that I may only go to the river, and when my buckets of fish are full, return directly.”
“What can I do then?”
“At midnight on the full moon, come and look for me there by the bridge, and bring a horseshoe on an iron chain. Hang it round my neck, and I will be able to escape. And you’d best protect yourself in like manner too, or they’ll take you in my place!”
The full moon was only two days away, so the following morning I went to the ironmonger’s store, and bought two horseshoes and some iron chain, preparing the two ‘necklaces’ as the lad Angus had instructed me.
The appointed night arrived, and I made my way along the road to the bridge over the river. There I waited in the moonlight for midnight to come around, wearing one of the horseshoes on its chain about my neck.
Sure enough, at the allotted time, Angus appeared nearby with two wooden pails and a fishing rod. He was down on the rocky shore of a fishing pool, and he sat upon a large stone, casting his line into the water.
Without hesitating, I ran over to him, and put the chain around his neck, the horseshoe hanging over his chest.
“Quick!” he cried, “We must flee!”
So we began running back up towards the bridge.
“Stop!” cried an evil little voice, “Stop at once! Come back here!”
Stones began to fly past us from behind, and one of them struck me hard in the middle of my back. Looking over my shoulder I could see five small men all dressed in green, shouting at us. Two of them were hurling pebbles from the bank at us, whilst the other three were notching arrows onto their little bows!
“I thought you said we’d be protected with these iron chains!” I complained.
“Somewhat!” replied Angus.
Not wishing to find out how much ‘somewhat’ really was, I carried on running as tiny arrows began to whizz past our ears. The two of us frantically scrambling back up the slope, Angus suddenly cried out in pain, but made it onto the bridge just behind me, and we ran off down the road together.
Once we felt we had got to a safe distance, we stopped to examine Angus’s injury. A tiny flint arrowhead was embedded in his left calf. I gently pulled it out and popped it in my pocket, and he rolled up his trouser leg. I had a clean handkerchief, so we tied it tight around the wound, until we could get back and clean it up.
Walking along the lane towards the tavern where I was lodging, the rumble of an approaching car began to make itself heard. It grew loader as the car approached. Angus looked scared.
“What in the name of God is that?”
“It’s just a car, don’t worry!”
The sharp beam of the headlights came around the bend up ahead, throwing its glare over us. Now Angus looked panic stricken, and threw himself over a low wall into a field. The car sped by and rumbled off into the distance, then the lad’s head appeared over the wall.
“Has it gone?”
“Were you not afraid?”
“Why should I be afraid, it was just a car?”
“A car? Like a cart?”
“Like a cart, but without a horse.”
“A horseless carriage? I never knew they went so fast! Or made such noise! And who around these parts could ever afford a horseless carriage?”
“When did you say you were taken into the mound?”
“I told you, a few weeks ago, it was on Midsummer’s Eve last.”
“Well that was just a few weeks ago, but Midsummer’s Eve of which year?”
“Well, 1910, of course. Which year do you think it is?”
“I’m afraid that was a hundred years ago, it’s 2010 now.”
“2010! But…my family!” Even in the dark I could see the great sadness that filled his eyes.
“I’m sorry, …they’ll all be gone now.”
“And what am I to do in 2010? How shall I make a living?”
“This is still a rural community, I’m sure you can find work as a day labourer on a farm to begin with. Later, who knows, if you study you could even become a pilot or a computer programmer!”
“I don’t think so, I know nothing about boats, still less about this ‘computer programmer’ you speak of.”
“Don’t worry, I can lend you some money to eat and stay tonight in the tavern where I am lodged, tomorrow we can see about getting you a job.”
We arrived back at the inn, and rented another room for young Angus. I went upstairs with him, and we washed his wound, put some antiseptic, and a plaster from my first aid kit on it.
“There,” I said, “it shouldn’t get infected now.”
Downstairs in the bar I ordered a hearty dinner, and some beers, over which he told me about his life as a shepherd’s son in a tiny village nearby, his boyhood playing in the fields, and the simplicity of his rustic existence. He said that he had often heard tales of the little people, that all of the older villagers believed in them quite firmly, but the younger ones had laughed at them and thought them foolish.
“And who turned out to be the foolish one, hey?!” he added.
Then he talked about his parents and his brother and sister, and a deep regret began to overcome him.
I decided to change the topic of conversation and started filling him in on the huge changes that have taken place in the last hundred years. He listened wide eyed as I told him about aeroplanes, the two world wars and space exploration. I don’t think he believed much of what I said, but he seemed to enjoy the stories. When I got onto computers he had no way to understand what I was on about at all. A thought struck me.
“Here, I’ll show you, come with me,” I said.
I led him through to the back of the bar, where an old arcade machine stood against the wall. I put some coins in, and started to play Pac-man, explaining the idea of the game and how to move. He was fascinated, and once he was absorbed in playing he soon seemed to forget about his former concerns.
The evening wore on, and after several pints and a few whiskies we both began to feel quite drowsy and decided it was time to sleep. I agreed to help him look for work in the morning, and bidding him goodnight went to my room.
The next morning, before breakfast, I knocked on his door, but there was no reply. I went downstairs for some toast and jam and coffee, and when I had had my fill I went back to knock on his door again, but again he did not answer. I supposed he must be sleeping off his great tiredness after a hundred years as a servant in Fairy Land, and decided to wait for him downstairs.
So I sat in the barroom reading the newspaper and drinking coffee. The hours passed slowly by, and still there was no sign of Angus. Just before midday, the landlord asked me about my new friend.
“Checking out time’s twelve o’clock you know, any later than that and guests have to pay for another night.”
I explained that I had called twice at his door and received no answer, so the landlord decided to go up and knock and I tagged along. The landlord knocked at the door. Silence. He knocked harder. Nothing.
“Hello, are you in there laddie?” he called, and still there was no response.
Taking a bunch of keys out of his pocket, he opened the door, and walked in. I followed him. Angus was lying there on the bed, motionless in the gloom of the curtained room.
“It’s time to check out lad,” said the landlord, opening the curtains.
As the sunlight streamed in, the two of us stood dumbfounded by what we saw. I nervously fingered the fairy arrowhead that was still in my jacket pocket. There on the pillow was the same lean face, the same sharp nose, and the same grey eyes that I had first seen on the fairy mound, but the black hair had turned white as snow, and the face was wizened and wrinkled from brow to chin. The breath gone from his body, all that remained was the lifeless frame of a hundred year old man.
Monday, July 5, 2010
It was the middle of a moonless night. Both of us were terrified, but we thought we’d be able to hide ourselves better in the darkness. In the soft starlight the street appeared deserted, so I slowly opened the gate, not letting the hinges creak, and slipped out. Up and down the road all was still.
“OK darling,” I whispered, “the coast is clear.”
We crept along to the corner, avoiding the debris, and set off down the lane to Bob’s farm. There’d be something to eat there - even unattended, potatoes and tomatoes grow well round here.
Now the overhanging trees cast impenetrable shadows and the distant stellar twinkling showed nothing more than a faintly lighter trail where the bare earth track stretched off between the bushes.
Almost tiptoeing, we made slow progress, but stealth was more important than speed. We both grew up round here and knew the way perfectly. It wasn’t the first time we had sneaked off towards old Bob’s barn under the veil of night. The days of our clumsy teenage courtship flooded back to my mind and, despite the circumstances, I couldn’t help but smile.
After an eternity the solid blackness of the bushes fell away on either side and we stood at the low gate before a dull grey clearing with a square shadow on either side - one the ancient stone farmhouse, opposite it the big wooden barn.
I felt along the top of the gate, released the catch, and gently eased it forwards. A sharp squeak pierced the cold night air, and the blood froze in our veins, fixing us as statues for an instant. Now we had to move quickly, so we passed through, and I shut the gate behind us, quietly this time.
I pulled Jenny to the right with me, and we squatted in the shadows close against the bushes to our backs. I silently wielded the shotgun in front of me, scanning for movement.
We listened intently. I could hear nothing, but my heart was pounding in my ears like a funeral drum, and I felt like a juggernaut could have passed without me hearing it.
After a few minutes, I raised myself up, and helped my sweetheart to do the same. We moved carefully round to the back door, lifted the latch and I shone the torch into the passageway. It was empty. Jenny closed the door behind us, and I quickly checked the rooms. All clear. We locked ourselves in the bedroom, and together lifted the wardrobe, placing it carefully against the window, before collapsing on the bed.
When I awoke a soft light was seeping out from behind the cupboard. I kissed Jenny’s forehead, “Wake up gorgeous, let’s look for some food.”
We slipped out the back, and seeing no signs of movement I started exploring the vegetable plot. There were plump courgettes and ripe tomatoes, and after a little digging I had a small pile of potatoes, a few carrots and an onion. I looked up, pleased with my work.
“Jenny!” I yelled. It was just a few steps behind her, tottering closer.
She turned, screamed, and ran towards me.
“Quick, get in the barn,” it was the closet shelter, and we ran for it together. I bundled her in, and turned to defend the doorway, firing off a quick blast. Half the zombie’s head disappeared, and it slumped to the ground with an agonising groan.
The others were already arriving, and I took the first one down immediately, reloading as quickly as I could. I fired off both chambers again, and got lucky - two more monsters fell.
There were three left, ambling across the yard. I had just enough time to reload before they reached me.
I raised the twelve bore and let fly. More rotting brains sprayed into the air, leaving just one, who was nearly upon me. Looking round frantically, I grabbed a shovel and swung it at neck level. The grotesque head flew in an arc and thudded onto the dirt path.
I dropped the spade and reloaded quickly - I wasn’t taking any chances.
I whirled round and saw the thing emerging from under a pile of straw next to my angel.
BANG! BANG! And it was in pieces on the floor.
“John!” she sobbed as I held her comfortingly, “My leg, it grabbed my leg!”
We had a look, and there on the calf were the teeth marks. Jenny dissolved into a torrent of tears.
“Don’t worry darling, I’ll take care of you,” I soothed. “We don’t even know that it’s spread by biting,” I lied.
“There, there,” I hugged her tight, “It’s OK, everything’s OK.”
I sat there, cradling her in my arms. No more zombies disturbed us, most were in the towns, so I comforted her until she began to twitch and tremble and dribble. And when eventually she sank her teeth into my shoulder, I didn’t resist.
That was a long time ago now, and I’m hungry again. There has been no more fresh flesh for many moons, and most of the zombies are wasting away. My poor Jenny looked so forlorn when the food ran out, what was I to do? First I let her gnaw at my shins and arms. Then she ate my thighs and buttocks. Now she’s started on my ribs.
Soon I shall be just a skeleton, but I don’t care. With her plump grey flesh and flowing locks, my sweetheart’s the finest looking zombie in all the world!
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Zombie Luv Flash Fic Contest
Word count: maximum 1.000
The story must be a romance between two zombies. Make it as horrific as you like. ;
Stories containing animal cruelty, torture, graphic sex or violence, any form of exaltation of violence, racism or other forms of prejudice will be immediately disqualified.
Post your entry on your own blog, with a title resembling this:
Zombie Luv Flash Fic Contest: Story Title
Leave your story title and a link to the story entry post as a comment at mari's randomities: http://marisrandomities.blogspot.com
Copy and paste the contest logo and the guidelines at the end of your entry post.
Sunday, July 4, 2010
Startled, I leapt to my feet.
“Ouch!” cried the carpet, “That bloody well hurt! I’m sick and tired of being trampled on all the frigging time.”
“You think you’ve got it bad,” called the wok from the kitchen, “You should try being me!”
Disorientated, I bolted for the door, slamming it behind me. “Bastard!” it shouted at my back as I ran down the stairs.
I went down to my neighbour Jim’s flat, and knocked on the door. “Hey, what’ve I ever done to you?” it complained, before Jim’s face appeared as he yanked it aside.
“Thank God you’re in, Jim, I’ve gotta talk to you man!”
Jim looked at me curiously, his mouth opened and he said, “Mwer!”
He opened his mouth again but, “Mwer, mwer, mwer,” was all I could hear coming out of it when he spoke.
“OK, stop messing around, will you?”
I followed him into the living room, and we both plonked ourselves down on the sofa.
“Ow! My fucking back!” it exclaimed. I jumped up again. Jim gazed at me with a look of intense curiosity on his face.
“Mwer mwer mwer mwer mwer?” he seemed to ask.
“Sorry, I haven’t got a clue what you’re saying, but this is really freaking me out!”
“I wouldn’t bother if I was you,” said the table in the corner of the room.
“Did you hear that?”
Jim just stared at me, puzzled.
“He doesn’t understand you any more than you do him,” chipped in the clock from the mantle piece.
I swivelled round to face it, “And what the fuck would you know? You’re just a clock!”
“Oooh, just a clock! Charming, how d’you like that eh?”
“Typical!” said the table, “As if he could keep track of time as well as you do. They think they’re so fucking superior.”
“Of course we’re superior, we make you.”
“Well that doesn’t prove anything,” the dirty mug on the table joined the fray. “I’d like to see what you’d do if I poured boiling hot coffee straight into you.”
“Ah, but that’s exactly my point, you can’t pour coffee into me can you? You’re just a mug.”
“I am not just a mug, I was issued to commemorate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, I’ll have you know!”
Meanwhile, Jim’s face was showing deeper and deeper concern as he occasionally mwer-mwerred at me. He stood up suddenly and walked across to the phone in the corner.
“Uh-oh,” mocked the phone, “Now you’re in trouble!”
“Trouble? What d’you mean?”
“Ha, ha, just you wait and see,” it taunted, as Jim anxiously mwer-mwerred into the receiver.
“Ha, ha, just you wait and see!” they all chorused together - phone, mug, clock, table, and so many other objects in the room that as they repeated the chant over and over again the noise deafened me.
I fell on my knees, hands clamped hard over my ears, and bent over forwards till my forehead touched the floor, trying to calm my head that was spinning like the cylinder of a revolver in a game of Russian roulette.
I was still collapsed on the ground when they arrived. I looked up as the three men walked through the door, their white coats almost glowing. Two of them held my arms, as the other one manoeuvred the jacket onto me, and together they tied it up at the back.
“All right, all right, you don’t need to pull so hard!” grumbled the jacket.
“And then they brought me here, doctor, I really have no idea why.”
I look across the small room from the couch where I lie. The doctor sits silently in his chair, the sun at the window casting dark stripes across his pristine coat. He smiles sympathetically as his steely grey eyes meet mine searchingly. His mouth slowly opens.
“Mwer mwer mwer mwer!”
“It’s no good,” the pen in his right hand tells me, “he doesn’t understand a word you say!”
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
I was at Don Gerardo’s house that evening. It was his son’s ‘novenario.’ One year previously his son had died trying to get to ‘el otro lado’ - the other side, the USA, the American Dream. He had been part of a group of about forty, who’d been abandoned by the ‘coyotes’ who took them across the border, and left to fend for themselves in the vast, empty desert. After a few days they died of dehydration. All of them.
It had even made the news on British TV, where they’re usually too concerned with which celebrity has split up from their celebrity partner, preferably with sordid details of affairs, and hopefully including mildly deviant sexual practices, to worry about such trivia as faceless, dark-skinned peasants dying in horrible ways in far distant, god-forsaken lands.
In fact, it was soon after that had happened that I met Don Gerardo. Having recently arrived in Mexico, I was at a friend’s farmhouse for my first Temazcal, or Mexican sweat-lodge, which is something else you never forget. Don Gerardo was there, a fairly well-built, middle-aged man with an honest face. There he was, weeping, sobbing, regaining his composure before bursting into tears again. Yet still he seemed dignified.
We sat in a circle on the mud floor, about a dozen of us, in the small, steam-filled, igloo-shaped tent. The only light was the dull red glow from the hot stones, fresh plucked from the embers of a large fire, where they’d been heated over a couple of hours. A Temazcal is an intense experience. Especially when Pepe keeps splashing more and more water onto the stones, and the steam rises up in the middle before following the roof back down onto you, almost suffocating you. Almost. Intense. Especially when there’s a man in there grieving for his lost son, that terrible inversion of the natural course of things which predicts that we shouldn’t have to grieve for our children, they should be the ones who’ll one day grieve for us. One day.
We sat for a while absorbing the heat, adjusting to the quiet darkness, the splash of the water on the stones, and the hiss of it evaporating the only sound. Then everyone has a chance to introduce themselves, and say why they have chosen to enter the Temazcal. One by one we say our names, give thanks for being there, add a few words of explanation or philosophy. Then it comes to Don Gerardo’s turn.
‘Ya es muy fuerte el calor,’ (The heat is very intense now) Don Gerardo says firmly, his dignity rising now towards a crescendo.
‘Pero nomás pienso que esto no es nada ¡no es nada comparado con lo que tuvo que sufrir mi hijo!’ (But I just think that this is nothing, nothing compared to what my son had to suffer!)
The tears flow again, but this time from many more eyes than just two. In the Temazcal we are one, and his dark pain now burns in the pit of all of our stomachs.
* * *
Now a year had passed since my first days in this country of which Buñuel said, ‘In North America and Europe, surrealism is a school of art. In Mexico it’s part of everyday life!’
A year had passed since Eric crossed the border, with no papers, but full of hope. A year since he was left to turn painfully into a dried husk in the land of the free.
So here we were at the ‘novenario,’ nine days of praying the Rosary, crowded into Don Gerardo’s front room, facing the alter set up to Eric’s ghost. A simple table with a cloth over it, Eric’s photo, memorabilia from the Aguilas de Americas football club - the team he supported, plenty of flowers. A picture of Christ on the cross, and of course, Nuestra Señora De Tepeyac. She had to be there.
She is everywhere in Mexico, she always has been. The Aztecs had already worshipped her on the sacred hill of Tepeyac for hundreds of years before the Catholics arrived and called her La Virgen De Guadalupe. They used to call her Tonantzin, and knew she was the mother of all the Gods. But she was, is, and always will be Nuestra Señora, ‘Our Lady,’ whatever nicknames different tribes and cults invent for her.
In Mexico she’s never far away, painted on a random wall in the street, set up in a little shrine between two stalls on the market, on display behind the counter in shops, stuck next to the driver’s seat on the bus - a much surer protection against accidents than any profane driver training programme!
Even when you can’t see her, she’s still there. If you are quiet you can hear her speak to you in the wind that rustles the high branches in the depths of the forest, in the gurgle of the mountain brook, in waves lapping the shore of a white virgin coral beach, in the patter of the raindrops on lush green leaves, in the soft swishing of a field of sugar cane with the breeze. If you are quite still when you sit to rest on a rock or fallen trunk, or when you lie on the soft Earth, perhaps you can even feel her fingers running gently through your hair.
So here she was, Nuestra Señora, Tonantzin-Guadalupe, and here we all were, to remember one who had crossed over to ‘el otro lado’ in quite a different way to that which he’d anticipated. Here we were. Praying. Hail Mary. Blessed art Thou amongst all women. Plead for us who are sinners. Plead for us now and in the hour of our death. Our Father. Forgive us our trespasses. We who are sinners. Plead for us who are sinners. In the hour of our death. Our trespasses. Plead. Forgive us. Sinners. Death. Trespasses. Death. Sinners. Death!
Again and again, the prayers slowly, relentlessly piled onto this poor lad’s memory. This is the Catholic path to Enlightenment - transcendence of the ego through numbing the brain with interminable repetition of the litanies. The only Mantra Yoga in the world that’s specially designed to make you feel as guilty as possible, and then some more, on the way to Nirvana!
And just when it had already gone on forever, when it felt like it would never end, suddenly it did. So then we sat outside in the street on chairs placed in two rows facing each other on opposite pavements, and Don Gerardo’s wife and daughters did the rounds with trays of tamales and sweet black coffee in polystyrene cups.
After a little while, I noticed that people started going over to others, saying a few words, then leaving, causing the people they’d just spoken with to get up, walk across to others, and after a few words also disappear. Something was amiss!
‘¿Qué es?’ (What’s happening?) I asked someone.
‘Es la gasolinera, (It’s the petrol station) ¡se está quemando! (it’s on fire!)’
‘¿Cuál gasolinera? (which petrol station)’
‘Pues ¡la nueva! (The new one!)’
This was bad news indeed! The new petrol station had opened just a few days before. When I saw it being built I had thought it wasn’t a good idea. Just four blocks from the main square in the town centre, it was surrounded by houses, if anything happened there it would be a real disaster.
The news spread rapidly, and with it an atmosphere of foreboding. People rushed home to save their families and most valued possessions, before the imminent conflagration destroyed all in its path. Half eaten tamales lay abandoned in their banana leaves on disposable plastic plates, strewn amongst cups of coffee spilled on the pavement. Soon people were telling the few of us left in the street to get out of there while we still could.
But the room I was renting was in a house only three blocks from the new petrol station - where could I go? Then someone suggested going up the hill for a better look at what was going on down in the town. Don Gerardo’s house was at the foot of the hill, which commands an excellent view of the houses below, so we immediately began climbing the path towards the summit.
After a couple of hundred yards, I was astonished by the most spectacular sight I’ve ever witnessed! The whole sky, horizon to horizon, was filled with an intense flash. From my vantage point halfway up the hill, I looked down and saw the town below me lit up as bright as day. Then the bang shook the air and even the ground beneath my feet. The strangest thing of all was that the light wasn’t going out. The sky and the town remained perfectly illuminated for several seconds, five, seven, maybe more, it was very hard to tell at the time, but certainly long enough for me to think, ‘OK, it’s blown up with a huge flash, but why doesn’t the flash stop, as you’d expect it to?!’
Before the brilliant glare dimmed, the people who’d been walking up the hill ahead of me suddenly came running back the other way. ‘¡Córrele!’ they shouted (Run!), ‘¡Que viene la lumbre pá acá! (The fire’s coming this way!)’ I paused for a moment. It had been an almighty explosion, but up here on the hill, amidst so much lush greenery (rainy season was almost upon us, and some rains had already come, so the hill was far from dry), surely it would be all right, the whole hill couldn’t catch light! The fire would have to advance more slowly here than down in the town. Still, those who’d been further ahead might have had a better view of the explosion, and in that kind of situation it’s probably not worth taking any chances. If I burnt to death on that hill just because I wanted to see what was happening I’d feel very stupid. Not to mention very burnt!
I turned and made my way back down the cobbled path to the top of Don Gerardo’s street. His wife and daughters had disappeared towards his brother’s house, down another road that leads away from the back of the hill and off into the countryside. Don Gerardo had driven off in his beetle to look for his mother who lived near the petrol station. I went back to Don Gerardo’s house and waited outside for him to come back, somebody had to tell him where his family had gone, or he might start to get worried, as it was now impossible for people to phone each other.
In a small place like Las Culebras, everybody has a brother, cousin, aunt or close friend in every part of the town, and suddenly they were all trying to call loved ones who lived near the petrol station. So the entire phone network, both mobile and land lines, had been completely saturated with calls, until the whole system collapsed and nobody could get through to anyone. Anyway, there was no sign of flames leaping from nearby rooftops yet, so I still felt fairly safe.
Finally I was left alone in the street, standing in the middle of the scattered meal, wondering what would happen next. A few minutes later a white beetle pulled up, and Don Gerardo got out with his thankfully unharmed mother, and some good news. The initial panic, as so often happens, had distorted accounts of events. The petrol station that was on fire was the old one on the edge of town, not the new one closer to the centre. We all made our way to Don Gerardo’s brother’s house, and sat in the front room nervously drinking coffee.
All the way down the road, even here on the far side of the hill a good two miles or so from where the fire was raging, people were standing around in small groups, frantically praying Hail Marys and Pater Nosters, and crossing themselves again and again - as if we hadn’t already done enough of that for one day!
Don Gerardo’s brother worked in the Town Hall, and was part of the ‘Protección Civil,’ so he had a radio, a handheld walkie-talkie, from which he was able to tell us what was really going on. The news gradually came through that fire engines were on their way from the state capital - Las Culebras had no fire service of its own. They would still take some time to arrive, even though the capital wasn’t far away, the fire station was on the other side of it, and they would have to negotiate the city traffic before even getting onto the main road. So a helicopter was sent too, and started dropping water on the houses around the petrol station that were already consumed in flames.
As it became apparent that we were in no immediate danger, everybody began to calm down, and after a while I made my way back home. From the window of my room on the top floor I could see the glow on the edge of town where the fire raged on, but was now being brought under control.
Over the next couple of days the story of what had happened began to crystallise into a coherent account. The petrol station that had caught fire was the one that had been closed for several years. It was closed down after they had been caught selling stolen petrol. In Mexico hijacking petrol tankers on the highway, out in the middle of nowhere, can be a very lucrative business. So for years this petrol station had been to all appearances closed. But if you’re prepared to run your business on stolen petrol, I guess you’ll also be prepared to open it clandestinely at night, which is exactly what they had been doing since shortly after it had ‘closed’!
On the night of the fire owner of the petrol station had received supplies of stolen diesel and petrol. As the illicit fuel was being pumped into the underground storage tanks, somehow some spilt diesel had caught fire, setting the whole tanker alight. That was how the fire started. Contrary to what everyone had thought, the huge fireball that was seen for over ten kilometres around had not been the whole station going up, it was just one tanker of petrol. One tanker! In the movies, when a tanker explodes there’s a big flash and a bang, and in a second it’s all over. What we had witnessed had been such an incredible blast that many people had thought it was judgement day and had immediately fallen to their knees begging God to forgive their sins!
About a dozen people perished in the blaze, including the garage owner, who, to his credit, had stayed in the fire pulling others out, and was taken to hospital afterwards where he later died of horrific burns over about eighty percent of his body.
Apart from that, several people had suffered minor injuries tripping over things in their haste to get away. The panic was so great that many sought refuge with relatives in neighbouring villages, and only returned the next day!
After the fire was extinguished the authorities started to pump the fuel that was stored in the underground deposits back out. It took the best part of a week. I dread to think what would have happened if that lot had gone up too, especially considering that there is another petrol station about a hundred metres up the road, which could well have been caught in the ensuing conflagration.
And that was the most exciting thing that’s happened in Las Culebras since the Revolution, until a policeman was gunned down in the street by machine-gun fire a couple of years ago. But that’s a story for another day!
Sunday, April 25, 2010
by Ddraig Ddu
It was almost dawn when William arrived home. He went straight upstairs to his room, and didn't even undress before lying down to sleep. As he lay there, he remembered the old days, when he was younger, and he'd have happily carried on well into mid-morning, maybe even into the afternoon. All that was behind him now, had been for a long time.
Nothing had been the same, of course, after he met Cassandra. Enchanting, fascinating Cassandra, who'd stirred such irresistible desire within him. He'd been powerless not to go with her, back to her place, where he'd thrown himself into the frenzy of that unforgettable night which had changed his world forever. He still remembered her long dark curls, her soft tanned skin, those clear green eyes, whose gaze drilled into his very soul, her caresses, her kisses so intense and full of hungry passion - his hand rose involuntarily to his shoulder, just below the neck, at the memory.
Tonight he'd had a successful evening out with his friends, drinking late with the girls they'd picked up. He wouldn't say he'd got lucky though, it wasn't hard when you'd been playing the seduction game as long as he had - longer than most, yet you wouldn't guess it to look at him. His hair was still as black as a hearse, his skin still smooth, his piercing blue eyes almost hypnotically captivating.
He lay down, closed his eyes, and drifted off. In his sleep he dreamed, a distorted version of the night's events. After the concert they had gone to a bar, where they had met the girls, fresh young beauties, like bluebells newly opened in the first spring of their lives. There they had gained their confidence, and taken them on with them.
He dreamed of how it would have been in the old days. In his dream he didn't flirt so easily, he still felt something of the awkwardness of adolescence, and at the same time its intense expectation, the adventure of the uncertain, unknown future, before life becomes too predictable. And in his dream there was too that lost innocence, the innocence of the young suitor whose intentions, whilst not necessarily sanctioned by the church, were still pure and natural, not like now.
The tinkling noise woke him suddenly, though coming out of his sleep he couldn't be sure what kind of noise he had heard. The room was still dark as night. It would be, even in the middle of the brightest day, the heavy drapes formed an impermeable barrier against the light, which let not even the slightest glimmer penetrate the chamber.
Through the window he'd just smashed, the man outside tugged sharply downwards on the drape, and as the rail came away from the wall, the whole lot crashed to the ground with a loud clatter. As if someone had shattered the side of a water-tank full of sunshine, the golden glow gushed into the room, pouring into every corner.
The glare seared William's bleary eyes, suddenly blinding him, and he tried to jump to his feet. But the unforeseen heat that now tormented his skin kept him down just that fraction of a second that the man at the window needed to leap across the room to his side and position the sharpened piece of willow stick, striking a heavy blow on top of it with the hammer.
When the stake pierced his heart, William's anguish, as he felt his life finally slip away, was mixed with an unexpected feeling of relief, that at last he would be able to rest, after 300 years of this hellish addiction that had tortured his undead body every time the blood began to run thin in his veins, and needed topping up again with a fresh victim.