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Stories

Without Purpose or Direction – A Story by Robert Honour

Apparently, depression affects around five percent of the adult population. I’m not sure if the knowledge of this shared melancholia is comforting or whether it simply adds to the feeling of despair. Perhaps it’s meant to help us feel less isolated, though I can’t say that I find any solace in the fact that others are suffering just as tragically as I am. How about the joyous ninety-five percent?  Their contentment doesn’t exactly bring a smile to my face either. I guess I’m not unhappy that they’re happy, but I can’t help but sense that they’re simply just unaware of their underlying unhappiness.

I guess it’s this sort of cynicism that led to my depression in the first place. A never-ending cycle of bitterness and pessimism. A tornado of dissatisfaction and distrust.

There’s almost a sick enjoyment that comes with reaching the depths I’ve reached. The lower you get, the less you care. The less you care, the more fun you can have. Though, it must be said that this ‘fun’ does have the potential to distance yourself from others. Especially those in the content ninety-five percent. 

When my depression was at its peak (or more accurately; its trough), the sort of fun I was having landed me in a lot of trouble. Most of that trouble could be forgiven, but some of the damage it caused proved irreparable. Let me give you a piece of advice; no matter how low you go, never, I repeat never, reveal that your cousins are secretly fucking behind the rest of the family’s back. Especially don’t do this when the story is entirely fabricated and solely for your own amusement. Also, doing it over Christmas dinner doesn’t help matters much either. 

It must be said that the cousins involved; Matilda and Ronan, actually found the accusation quite amusing. They were understandably far too scared to defend me at the time. I don’t hold that against them though. When you have a room of livid parents screaming their lungs out at my ‘incredibly inappropriate and disgusting’ behaviour, it’s pretty hard to get your voices heard.

At the time, I remember being taken aback by the sudden escalation of the outrage, but as mentioned, I had long passed the point of caring. I was interested in finding out how the family would react to my dirty little revelation, and  I was more than satisfied with the result.

As you can probably guess, that was the last I saw of Matilda, Ronan and the rest of my family. Christmas ended abruptly and my parents shunned me for the entirety of Boxing day, all the way through to New Year. Over that period, I heard murmurings between them such as “there’s nothing more that we can do ”, “she’s a lost cause”, and the ominous “how long do we give her?”. On the morning of the second of January, I gathered a feeble collection of my belongings and set out before their alarms would spark them into life. I wanted to boot myself out, before they had a chance to do it themselves.

Travel is often self-prescribed as a cure for depression. Some use it to escape from their woes at home, while others use it to broaden their horizons. There are also some that use it as a way of ‘finding themselves’. A truly sickening phrase. I wasn’t interested in any of these things, however, I couldn’t exactly stay home after trying to convince my family that my cousins were secretly fornicating, could I?

My absence would allow my parents to let go. Perhaps to even forget that I ever existed. Maybe they’d even invite our various aunts and uncles back for Christmas 2023. Without my presence the family could thrive. So, off I went into the unknown. No plan. No ambition. Just a severe lack of purpose or direction. 

Most people choose to travel to exotic lands. Places where they can lose themselves, only to rediscover a new, ‘better’ self. A self that they can embrace and appreciate. Again, you guessed it, this wasn’t on my itinerary. The last thing I wanted to do was to travel to somewhere new and revelatory.  In spite of this, I found myself shuffling towards the town’s train station. I let my instincts lead me, even if they’d given me plenty of reasons in the past that they were not to be trusted. 

Our local train station was so small that there was an absence of any barriers to gain access. There was a window where one was supposed to purchase tickets, but this had a permanent ‘back after lunch’ sign crudely taped to it. We did have a ticket-machine, but that too had seen better days. After a particularly embarrassing loss, a local football fan had tested its hardiness with a beer bottle. Now, half the screen was rendered inoperable. As a result of this, it was now only possible to purchase tickets to locations starting between the letters A and G.

As a train approached, I let my instincts lead once more and jumped on without having a clue where it was headed. I found myself in an empty first-class carriage and fell into one of the plush seats. Despite it being peak time, there wasn’t another soul in sight. It suddenly hit me how far out of my comfort zone I was. I’d spent the last few years avoiding humans as much as possible, but in that moment, I would have cut off a number of my toes to be surrounded by the inane chatter of others. Anything to drown out my own thoughts.

Just as the shakes were beginning, the door behind me burst open. This resulted in me letting out an unwelcome yelp.

“Tickets from King’s Sutton, please”. 

An exceptionally tall man loomed over me with a suspicious glint in his eye. We both knew that I wasn’t first-class material. We held each other’s gaze for an uncomfortably long time, neither of us wanting to crack.

“You know it’s actually impossible to buy tickets from King’s Sutton, don’t you?”

The inspector rolled his eyes at my legitimate, but probably overused excuse. He then theatrically swung his portable ticket machine into his hand and started tapping away, now averting his eyes from my own. 

“Where are you going today, please?” He asked, still pressing arbitrary buttons on his device. 

“Wherever the train takes me, I guess.” His gaze returned. I thought I sensed a smirk forming on his face, but the tone of his voice indicated otherwise. 

“Where would you like a ticket to, young lady?” His tapping stopped as he sternly awaited my response. 

“Anywhere really. I should probably tell you that I don’t have any money, though.”

“Can I take your name and address, please?”, he requested, not missing a beat. 

“I have a name, but not an address.” This threw him somewhat, but he quickly regained his composure. 

“Then I’ll have to ask you to leave at Banbury.”

“What if I don’t? What if I never get off? Then surely I don’t need a ticket at all?”

“The train is not a hotel. You will have to eventually get off. Even if it’s after our last service.” His voice trailed-off. He probably concluded that chucking a sixteen year-old girl off the train at midnight wouldn’t be quite as ethically sound as he’d imagined. 

“What if I end up getting off where I originally got on? Then I wouldn’t have technically gone anywhere, would I? Surely you can’t charge me for just having a little sit down?”

At this, the inspector raised his eyes to the ceiling and let out a short, shallow sigh. The train arrived at Banbury, and judging by the crowd outside, it was about to get very busy. 

“I have a job to do, but I’ll be back soon. So don’t get too comfy.”

“Too late. First-class isn’t bad, is it?” There was that smirk again. This time I was certain of it.

I leant back in my chair satisfied, but also uncertain of what to do next. He was right; I couldn’t exactly live on the train. Person after person, bustled on and raced to find an available seat. I gathered that I wasn’t the only one to sit in first-class without having the appropriate ticket. 

A young man gesticulated wildly as he struck up a meeting with whoever was on the other end of his phone. A woman of around sixty leant her head on the glass window and almost instantly began snoring. A mother with a pushchair dropped her child’s belongings to the floor and fought against the legs of strangers to gather them before they were carried further down the carriage. All part of the typical morning commute. Each stop brought a new cast of characters onto the train to replace the ones that had departed. A hum of noise remained constant throughout. 

I found the mayhem oddly calming and I too closed my eyes, quickly falling into a shallow, almost hallucinatory slumber. The accidental poking and prodding from the other passengers ensured that I never fully rested, but I remained only semi-aware of the activity surrounding me. 

I awoke as the train departed Dorridge to find a small cockapoo licking my left foot. I looked to the owner, only to find a couple passionately running their tongues over each other’s necks. Perhaps the dog found inspiration in this, but I was not about to reciprocate. I gave it a small pat on the head, then opened my book, jabbing an elbow into the male necker’s hip. 

“Oh shit, sorry about Colin. He’s a fucking idiot.” He violently pulled on the lead, jerking the dog away from me. Within two seconds, the dog was back at my foot, licking once more.

I stared straight ahead at my book, not reading a word, but choosing to ignore the growing fury of Colin’s owner. He tugged the lead again, causing Colin to let out a pained squeal.

“Leave Colin alone!” This plea impulsively flew out of my mouth, consequentially spraying the couple in angry spittle. 

“You know what, fuck you! And fuck Colin! Good luck, bitch.” A middle finger lingered an inch from my nose. Colin’s owner then threw the lead into my lap, put his arm around his partner and swaggered off the train into Solihull station. 

Colin looked just as perplexed as me. Though it only took a moment for his coarse tongue to return to my toes. Colin didn’t strike me as the sharpest knife in the draw, but I couldn’t help but feel an instant companionship with this fellow reject. I took his dirty red lead in my hand and gave him an encouraging stroke. He responded by wagging his short stubby tail, then looking up at me, opening his slobbering mouth and panting with enthusiasm. 

“Where the hell did you get that dog?” The lofty conductor had returned and loomed over me once more. 

“What do you mean? This is my dog. Colin, this is the moody conductor. Moody conductor, this is Colin.” That slight smile appeared again.

“Well, the next stop is Moor Street, which is the end of the line. I’ll open the barriers for you if you want to sneak off, but I’d recommend staying on and going back home. Your parents will be worried.” 

I nearly thanked the conductor, but bit my tongue. I was far from ready to make a decision. I nodded at him and that seemed to be enough.

Colin’s large brown eyes fixated on my own and I felt a pang of responsibility. The doors opened and an announcement echoed through the train insisting that all passengers depart. I looked back at Colin, hoping he’d make the decision for me. 

The conductor stood by the door, awaiting my choice. Ten minutes passed. The doors shut and the direction of the train changed.

“Thought so.”

Now it was my turn to smirk.

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Stories

The Chick-o-land Man – A Short Story by Robert Honour

The Chick-o-land Man

The man first appeared during my fifth visit to Chick-o-land.

In my thirty-something years on Earth, I had never previously seen the point of fast-food but, like many in post-pandemic Britain, my job had become increasingly more time-consuming and stressful leading to a reliance on the cheap and easy. For some reason, this was something we all accepted with a docile resignation and, like many others, this resulted in my laziness reaching previously-unknown levels. Hence, my newfound lust for devouring a fried bird.

When I was a young, fresh-faced ‘noughties’ go-getter, I remember peering through the steamed-up windows at the oversized families devouring anything and everything, and I swore that I would never be one of those people. However, as the years flew by, my shame dissipated as my idleness and gut steadily grew. 

Just in case you were unaware; Chick-o-land is not a classy establishment. The name probably gives it away. You’re not exactly going to order coquilles Saint-Jacques at a place named Chick-o-land, are you? That being said, it’s not the worst place I’ve ever eaten. It has an admirable ‘food hygiene’ rating of 4-stars, which is displayed proudly both inside and out. The staff wear plastic gloves, so there’s a lack of fingernails found in the food, which has frequently been a problem at other fast-food outlets in the area. All in all, it could be worse. An A for effort if not for overall quality. Although, I also must admit that there is a certain something that sets their chicken apart from the others. A glutinous satisfaction that I have yet to achieve elsewhere. 

Needless to say, by my fifth visit, I’d grown rather attached to this plucky little place. That is, until he came. Before his arrival, I saw myself as a step above the other clientele. Now, I don’t mean this in some arrogant, bourgeois way. I just felt like more of a tourist, or perhaps some kind of anthropologist, than one of the regulars. I was a visitor, enjoying the spoils of a foreign land, rather than a native feasting off the fruits of my own labour. My fifth visit didn’t feel like this at all though. I noticed him immediately, as he did me. In fact, he made an active effort to notice and acknowledge every comer-and-goer with the same self-satisfied nod each time.

Every aspect set him apart from the other patrons. His pointed brown Oxfords shot out from under his ironed-at-the-seems chequered trousers. A patch-pocket blazer covered a shockingly white shirt, which hugged his slim physique. Though he was almost certainly above sixty years of age, his body disguised this well. His thinning hair and deep-lined face were dead giveaways though. Every smile brought with it a flurry of waves between his eyes and tips of his lips, which settled immediately back into position once his neutral expression was resumed.

And then there were his hands. Though they didn’t appear to be typically ‘working men’s hands’, they’d clearly been used excessively over the years. A tapestry of pot-marks and scars were scattered from his wrists to the tips of his fingers. The fingernails were spotlessly clean, but far longer than I’ve ever seen on any other man. I never saw him eat anything in Chick-o-land, but I can imagine it would be a procedure of almost medical precision not to soil his fingernails or muddy his clothes. 

I sat at my usual table, but it didn’t feel anywhere near as comfortable as it had done on my previous four visits. The atmosphere was polluted by his presence. It still smelled overpoweringly of deep-fried chicken, but an unmistakable feeling of unease now lingered in the air. I pulled out my newspaper, as was customary on my visits, and opened it to an arbitrary page. The article I landed on was one about a Maine Coon kitten that had managed to travel the world by itself. Somehow, it had boarded a boat in Australia and ended up in Italy via a stop-over in India. This is the sort of article that would usually have fascinated me. However, even though my eyes followed every line, word-by-word, nothing was sinking in. I just couldn’t concentrate knowing he was there. Every time I glanced up from the paper, he was eyeing the door, greeting patrons as usual, but I couldn’t help but feel that I was also being monitored. I started to overthink every one of my movements, resulting in me functioning in an almost robotic manner. It was only after a full ten minutes that I realised that I had yet to order.  

As I approached the counter, I noticed that my hands were unnaturally clammy. I raised them to my forehead and discovered myself to be absolutely saturated. My shirt clung to me, like a new-born to its mother’s teet. My nipples were clearly visible through my cerulean shirt. I no longer felt any semblance of the superiority I had enjoyed on my previous visits. In fact, I felt deeply embarrassed. The staff had yet to approach me, so rather than summon them, I decided to make an exit. I hurriedly gathered my belongings and awkwardly shuffled towards the glass door, still feeling like every movement was being both observed and judged under hiswatchful gaze.

“See you next time”, he offered as I made my escape.

I half-turned and stammered a clumsy “goodbye”, temporarily catching my jacket-sleeve on the handle of the door before ripping it off and almost falling onto the pavement outside. As I paced down the street, my step perpetually quickened. My head hung low and I found it difficult to catch my breath. It was like he’d climbed inside of me and was feasting from within. I felt violated. 

It took a full three hours and two drams of whisky for my heart-rate to slow back to its regular rhythm. The experience continued to haunt me though. How had this man managed to burrow so deeply under my skin? We’d barely even shared a sentence between us, but yet, he’d left an impression that I was finding impossible to shake.

My daily commute to and from work walked me right past the entrance of Chick-o-land. For the next few days, I was so spooked that I took another route entirely, adding a good ten minutes or so onto my journey time. The most delusional aspect of this is that Chick-o-land isn’t even open during my morning commute. Something still lingered in the place, and I wanted to keep my distance as much as humanly possible. 

Since that fated fifth visit, I’d lost my appetite completely. That is, my appetite for anything other than fried chicken. Not any fried-chicken; Chick-o-land fried chicken. I attempted to dissipate this hunger-lust at both ‘Chicken Licken’ and the ‘Hungry Hen’, but their poultry tasted like ash on my tongue. It was almost like my taste buds had changed to only accept Chick-o-land produce. My colleagues expressed their concern at my increasingly gaunt image and I momentarily considered opening up to them about my troubles, but the absurdity of it all made this unthinkable. I waved them off with the excuse that I was recovering from some unknown ‘bug’ that was going around. 

There was only one thing left to do. I had to return to Chick-o-land. I’d always seen myself as a rational human, but the irrational side of my brain was now well-and-truly at the wheel. I knew he’d be there and I’d have to face my fear. 

The rest of my working afternoon was consumed with dreams of fried chicken, punctuated by the nightmarish image of his smile. Every email I sent to clients made little-to-no sense and almost certainly contained the word ‘chicken’ somewhere within it. My sanity was retreating into the shadow of my very being.

Six p.m. came and went. My colleagues reminded me that it was time to go home, but my limbs refused to function. It was only when Brian from H.R. physically shook me and told me that he had to lock-up that I managed to pull myself to my feet. My legs felt heavy, but I managed to find a steady rhythm and my instincts led me to my old haunt. 

The ding of the door signalled my entrance and a member of staff greeted me with a welcoming smile. The table he’d previously sat at remained vacant. The lack of crumbs meant that it probably hadn’t even been used yet that evening. My anxiety temporarily subsided. 

“Welcome back, friend”. He was sitting on my table. In my chair. 

I felt like turning around and exiting immediately, but I unwillingly collapsed onto the nearest chair instead. I acknowledged him with a half-wave then ordered a chicken burger out of starving desperation. The sweat had already begun to trickle down my spine.

He looked as immaculate as ever. His shoes somehow shone even brighter than before. This time it was just the two of us and his eyes pointed directly at me without wavering. He remained unsettlingly silent. The man didn’t even seem to breathe. Complete and utter silence reigned. That is, until he chose to speak. 

His voice cut through my body like nails on a blackboard. 

“Ever wondered where we source the meat?” 

What did he mean by we? 

“I mean we. The Chick-o-landers. Ever wondered where we source the meat?” 

He’d answered my question before I’d even had the chance to vocalise it. My body was tense and my throat had swelled up, leaving me unable to respond. 

“I knew I recognised one of my own as soon as I set eyes on you. You’re not one of them are you?” 

I couldn’t tell whether the question was meant as rhetoric or not. The subsequent silence indicated that an answer was expected.

“One of who?”, was all I could muster.

Whom. You know who I mean. One of them. The others. The dispensables. The expendable masses. You’re better than them, aren’t you? A level above.” 

Another silence followed.

“I wouldn’t say that I’m better than them…” I wasn’t sure whether I believed this statement or not. It just felt like the right thing to say. 

The mood shifted. I sensed he was now questioning his prior judgement of me. I felt uneasy in aligning myself with this man, but the last thing I needed was to juxtapose him.

“Now, I’d be very careful with what you’re saying young man. If you’re not one of us, as I hoped you were, then you’re one of them. The swines. The bovines. The meat…Our meat.

It was clear that he’d chosen his words carefully. A smirk formed once more as he waited for me to reach my own conclusions. 

I had become paralysed with fear, which caused his smile to widen.

A chicken burger was placed in front of me by a staff member, who was clearly unaware of my state. A physical urge was pulling me to eat it, but I also felt like I wanted to throw-up at the very sight of it.

“You’ve got a taste for it now, haven’t you? A taste for them. Soon, nothing else will do. I know the feeling well, of course.”

Closing his eyes, he appeared to be salivating at whatever memory was being projected within his skull. 

“Anyway, I’ve kept you long enough. I’ll leave you to enjoy your feast. Just remember, the decision is yours.”

He smoothly lifted himself from his chair and briefly acknowledged the staff as he made his way to the door.

“I’ll be seeing you again soon, friend.”

As soon as the ding indicated his exit, I broke down in tears. The release of energy was overwhelming and I felt like something deep inside me had been tampered with beyond recognition.

I peered at the chicken burger in front of me as my stomach rumbled audibly. I wiped my tears with a branded napkin. Slowly but surely, I lifted the burger and bit through the coarse, fried skin and into the soft flesh beneath it. 

It tasted divine. 

Categories
Stories

The Ocean Floor – A Short Story by Robert Honour

The Ocean Floor

Last Tuesday, I finally did what I had been aching to do my whole life. I walked straight into the ocean. No turning back. One foot in front of the other.

See, I’ve lived on the coast my entire life. And I mean right on the coast. To give you a basic idea of the distance; the world’s best spitter could probably just about reach the beach from my bedroom window. I’ve tried many times and failed, but I’m certain someone with a special talent for propelling saliva could manage it.

Each and every day I would peer out onto that vast unending blue expanse and, though it may sound mad, I could feel it calling me. It came to me as a whisper, but rather than enter through my ears, as is expected, it somehow came from inside of me. Though physically we remained apart, I felt a connection with the ocean that I knew I could never feel on land. 

I wanted to throw myself into the water. To become one with it. But sadly, my body had other ideas. Despite the countless lessons I was made to attend, I never quite figured out the art of swimming. My arms just never worked the way I wanted them to, no matter how hard I tried. And, believe me, I really tried.

Every swimming lesson, without fail, I’d end up jumping straight in the deep end, head first. Then, seconds later, I’d feel the instructor’s arms around me, dragging me back to the surface. I’d keep jumping in and getting saved, over and over, until we were politely asked to stop attending classes and my mother was told that perhaps I was more of a land child. But, deep down, I knew that I needed to unite myself with the water. What other option did I have? 

To me, there was only one solution. So, at 7:15 last Tuesday morning, I put on my best walking shoes, strapped on my goggles and set out, step-by-step, towards my destiny.

The only other person awake at that time was Jemima, our local baker. We were lucky enough to live just two doors down from ‘Dreams Crumb True’, which meant our house always smelled delicious.  When I passed Jemima that fateful Tuesday morning, she asked why I was up so early. 

“I’m walking into the ocean”, I replied. Somewhat perplexed, she offered me a fresh croissant for my journey, which I accepted gratefully. Only a lunatic would go on such an adventure on an empty stomach! I thanked her and walked on with a smile on my face and a croissant in my hand. I could almost hear Jemima shaking her head as I walked away, which she often did whenever I was getting up to something she considered ‘foolish’. 

The sky was clear and the air was still, which resulted in the ocean calmly lapping back-and-forth, ready to welcome me to its depths. Without hesitation, I strutted onwards, finishing off the last few crumbs of my croissant as I strode.

My first step into the blue was one of self-assuredness, though my right boot quickly became saturated as the water engulfed it. What was I expecting, eh? I decided that the walking shoes were a daft idea to begin with and as such, I discarded them under a nearby parasol. If I ever came back, I’d be sure to pick them back up, but for now, they were just a hindrance.

Without the buffer of my shoes, the sand felt soft and warm beneath my feet. It rose up between my toes as I re-entered the water. I felt lighter and freer. Now I was truly ready to begin my journey. 

First, my legs were submerged, then my hips and, before I knew it, only my head remained dry. I splashed my face with water and let out a small chuckle of excitement. Though, it was undoubtedly tinged with nervousness too.

The next stride bode me goodbye to the realm of the land-dwellers and plunged me into the new world beneath. It was a lot murkier than I imagined, but I was still far too close to the land that I wanted to leave behind. This was just the start of my adventure. The highlights of a story are never at the beginning, are they? 

My legs felt heavy, but it didn’t take me long to become accustomed to their new weight. Before long, I was back in the steady rhythm of putting one foot in front of the other. After ten minutes or so, I was lucky enough to spot my first fish, then my second. They were only tiny little things. Not nearly big enough for a Friday-night supper. Though they were small, I was taken aback by their beauty. I watched as they danced and played before my eyes. They looked quite surprised to see me, which caused them to temporarily stop their games, but after I offered them my friendliest smile, they continued their play with just as much energy as before.

The glow of the morning sun dimmed as I ventured onward and subsequently deeper into the unknown. The fish grew in both frequency and size the further I went. Though the light from above was diminishing, the colours of the fish became more and more mesmerising. Vibrant flashes of blue, red, orange and every other colour imaginable sparkled before my eyes like a private underwater fireworks’ display. I temporarily halted my journey, transfixed at the dazzling performance before me. 

A gigantic shadow passed overhead, and I was struck by a brief wave of fear. I hesitantly raised my eyes. Looking skyward, I saw the most magnificent creature that a boy has ever seen. It was like an eagle of the ocean.  I couldn’t remember its name exactly, but I could remember that it had the word ‘ray’ in it.

“Hi Ray!” my muffled voice shouted. 

The beast couldn’t vocally reply but it responded in its own way by soaring majestically around me, spinning me like a super-charged carousel. I giggled as I was caught in the current and let the flow of the water take control of me. 

Once I’d finally managed to stop my rotations, I realised that I had become totally and utterly disorientated. I couldn’t figure out which direction led me deeper into the abyss and which way would lead me back to the life I had chosen to leave behind. 

I may have been completely lost, but contentment washed over me.

A soft whisper echoed from both nowhere and everywhere.

“Welcome home.” 

Categories
Stories

The Tremors – A Short Story by Robert Honour

The tremors started on a Tuesday.  I can’t say exactly when, but it must have been some time between 12:37am and 7:16am, as I noticed them reverberating the beer next to my bed as I awoke. Now, don’t go thinking that I’m a morning beer drinker. Far from it. I have an affectionate, but controlled relationship with alcohol. That beer was simply a leftover from the previous night. The fact it remained unfinished is all the proof I need for my innocence. The previous day had been a long and arduous one (though the details of it escape me) and I couldn’t quite manage to drain the dregs before sleep enveloped me. It’s a simple as that.

Ah yes, the tremors. Back to the issue at hand. It’s fair to say that initially, I simply felt annoyed by their presence. More peeved than nervous, which may surprise you considering the circumstances. My usual time to wake is 9:10 and, without the requisite sleep, I could be quite the grump. Not that I had anywhere to be or anyone to see that day, but being a grump can be detrimental to one’s day whether it be spent alone or not. Waking up nearly two hours before scheduled to unnatural tremors is a perfect recipe for a day of grumpiness. Add to this the smell of stale beer and you’re looking at a full-throttle grouch-fest.

At this point, the tremors were somewhat feeble. After all, it was the liquid beer that was trembling, not the bottle in which it resided. My hamster, Steven, looked fairly nonplussed too. Though, I’ve never seen him looking particularly plussed. His bulbous black eyes observed me as they often did. My blue ones returned the favour. If Steven, a tiny Syrian hamster with a pronounced limp isn’t bothered by a few unwelcome tremors, why should I, a grown human, be? That being said, in my thirty-nine years on this Earth, I’d never experienced anything of the kind before. Also, I live in an area that regards phenomena such as earthquakes, typhoons and genocides as exotic matters. They’re things we read about in the newspaper rather than witness first-hand. My head stayed glued to the pillow for a fair while, watching Steven scurry to-and-fro and the amber liquid move of its own volition. As I watched it gently dance in front of me; you’ll never guess what my initial reaction was? That I should call the police. Quite crazy, eh? But please, don’t judge me. Remember, I was battling a severe sleep deficit and the cogs within my brain had barely began to turn. I reached for my phone, but it wasn’t located in its usual holster. I peeled my head from the cotton and discovered my phone’s charger cable was simply just emitting its power into thin air.  What use was that to anyone? My phone was nowhere to be seen. I must have been really out of it the night before.

Like a typical 1980’s Miami detective (tired, grouchy and possibly hungover), I began my investigation in earnest. The tremors themselves were coming in short pulses. At present, they were like a tepid wave machine in a kids’ swimming pool. Not troubling for an adult, but undeniably noticeable. I traipsed through my house, room-by-room. Everything but the liquids had remained unaffected thus far, which quelled my nerves somewhat. I even took a moment to observe the pulsating toilet water as it changed into a translucent light yellow with the flow of my dehydrated urine. Nope, the house was still intact. Not panic-time yet.

Next up; the rest of the world. How were they reacting to this strange turn of events? Unfortunately for me, I live in a street full of ‘nodders’. I’m sure you know the types. When I first moved in, I assumed the issue was with myself. I’m not everyone’s cup of tea after all.  But, from my daily window surveillance, I’ve witnessed them endlessly performing the ritual to each other.

You live around here. I live around here. So, let’s nod. There’s no need to waste our time needlessly getting to know each other when a nod will suffice, is there?

If I’m lucky, a small greeting may accompany the dipping of the head, but I’ve never received anything more than a two-to-three word pleasantry from my neighbourhood of nodders. Someday, I’d like to upgrade to a neighbourhood of ‘chatters’, but right now that remains just a pipe dream. I just hope my neck muscles can take the strain.

The street didn’t seem up to much. Just a normal row of normal houses with people acting normally. Just like any other day. Lights were beginning to turn on, and I could just about catch a few TV screens flickering from behind the curtains. I guess everyone had already accepted the tremors as a part of life and were getting on with their days. For all our negatives, there’s no denying that us humans are an adaptable species.

I concluded that if they were getting on with their days then I might as well get on with mine. The only issue was that my day was officially yet to start. I looked at the clock; 7:58. I still had an hour and twelve minutes before the non-day ended and the true-day began. The tremors seemed to have intensified slightly, so a return to bed was out of the question. In a mild huff, I lowered my rear onto the sofa and fired-up my overused TV. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. I thought that perhaps the TV people might have some explanation for what was going on. I flicked from channel-to-channel, but I could not find the ‘breaking news’ I expected. I turned to the 24/7 news (who needs that much news?!), but the only thing they seemed to be interested in was how awfully our local sport’s team had performed the previous night. I guess that is important for a lot of people (myself not included), but surely it’s not as interesting as my beer and urine moving of their own free will? When I was young, I once witnessed a man in the local park preaching that ‘the world has lost sight of what’s really important’. Mother said he was a ‘crazy loon who should be locked up’, but the events of today were definitely on his side.

It didn’t take me long to get frustrated with the lack of tremor-talk on the TV, so I pulled the plug out and replaced it with my record player. I’m one of the few people who knew the popularity of records would one day return. With a little bit of love and oil, I’d managed to keep my player fully-functional since 1978. Impressive, eh? It doesn’t sound as crisp as it once did, but it’s a high-quality bit of kit, let me tell you. I get bored of humans very easily, but music never. Not when I’ve found the right music. I don’t have the largest record collection, but this is unimportant. All the music I own, I could listen to endlessly.

I felt a shade of grump creeping over me, so I decided to counteract this with something jolly, but not irritating. There’s a fine line between the two. The opening riff of ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ brought a faint smile back to my sagging face. I even managed a hip thrust or two, in spite of my sleepy and confused state. This joyous moment didn’t last. Can you guess why? That’s right; the tremors. Their confidence had gained so much that they now had the power to skip Robert Smith and make him sound like some stuttering fool. It fouled my mood completely. I wrenched the needle from the vinyl in such a rage that I scratched the bloody thing. As you can imagine, this only darkened my demeanour. I picked up the record and smashed it into the wall. I was in an absolute fury. Now I felt foolish as well as angry. What would Robert Smith say if he could have seen me? This thought crossed my mind, and although I wanted to weep, I dared not.

You know what the British always say in situations like these? “It’s nothing that a cuppa tea won’t sort out”. It’s a pretty idiotic saying, but there is something cathartic about that first sip of English Breakfast in the morning. I switched on the kettle and tried to unwind on the sofa while I waited. I could now feel the vibrations on my scrotum. I wondered if the rest of the neighbourhood also had pulsing scroti? I peaked out the window once more. Nothing. It was nearly time for the school run. Then I’d have answers. They might all be petrified for all I know, but it just didn’t feel like it. An air of calm lingered throughout the neighbourhood. An atmosphere that was increasingly different to the one within my own house. A satisfying click emerged from the kettle. One of my favourite sounds on Earth. With added difficulty, I poured the boiling water into my ‘J’adore Paris’ mug (if it was a truthful mug, it would say ‘I could take or leave Paris’but that’s not quite as catchy). I usually let the tea brew for three minutes, but the sway of the liquid troubled me. I had to tightly hold the mug and keep a constant eye to ensure that my morning beverage wasn’t lost to the lino beneath it. I started to worry about what had happened to the beer by my bed. I’d only washed my bedsheets a week ago, and that was to get the hum of the previous beer spillage off. This time it was cheap beer too. I carefully spooned out the teabag with all the precision of an Afghani bomb-disposal team and flicked it into the bin with a satisfying thud. I finally felt like I was getting on top of this thing.

Just as a smug grin had began to form on my face, the entire kettle toppled over the counter-top directly onto my poor exposed foot. I didn’t think there were any agonies worse in life than a heavy object falling smack-bang onto the top of your foot. However, this particular heavy object was also boiling hot, therefore a new level of pain was revealed to me. Rather than lament in my agony and misfortune, I hurriedly hobbled through the kitchen, pushing item-after-item as far from the edge of the counter’s edge as I could. They were all now vibrating, each in their own irritating way. This thing was beginning to get serious. Once the toaster and George Foreman grill were secured, the throbbing pain came back to the fore. And let me tell you; it was horrendous. I almost collapsed right there on the soaking kitchen floor, but I somehow managed to drag myself back to the refuge of the sofa.

That’s when I saw them.

Multiple doors were opening along the street. Wives and husbands were waving goodbye to their partners and offspring as if nothing had changed. The same faux-cheery look that they sported every morning. Why weren’t they concerned? Why didn’t they have their feet covered in scolding water such as I? They can’t be that ignorant, surely?

With a grimace, I pulled myself to the window so I could properly observe their antics. My initial prognosis was correct. Complete and utter normality. I wanted to call out. To ask how they could remain so oblivious of all that was going on around them. Then it hit me; what if everything was standard for them? Surely not? An earthquake in this area is extremely rare, but an earthquake occurring entirely within the locality of my property was surely implausible?

My phone.

I caught its familiar metallic glint out of the corner of my eye. Most people have their entire lives contained on these little bits of metal and plastic, but alas, I was one of the few who still clung to the simpler times of using phones purely for phoning. Though, it must be said that I have become an absolute master of the game Snake over time. I’ve often wondered if a championship of some sort exists for this game, because I’m sure I’d be an absolute shoe-in. Anyway, back to the phone. It may have seemed premature earlier, but I now felt that it was high-time the authorities were questioned. The nodding neighbours are unaware of most things in life and the news is overflowing with irrelevance. Neither were to be trusted. The police were my last hope.

They answered on the second ring. Their efficiency impressed me, though it did catch me rather off-guard. I had no plan on what I was going to tell them and the tremors had now gained such strength that even sitting and talking was a trial.

“Could you state your emergency, please?”

“The same as everyone else’s’, I imagine!”

I immediately regretted my argumentative nature, but it was something that I had never had control over.

“Sir, this is an emergency line. It is a criminal offence to call if you don’t….”

“I do have an emergency! Surely, I’m not the first to call?! Everything is shaking! I’m covered in boiling water and there’s beer all over the bed… probably.”

At this, there was a short pause. Then, a second woman chimed in.

“Hello sir, do you have a medical emergency?”

A medical emergency?

“A medical emergency?”

“Yes sir, do you need medical assistance? If so, please let me know what your issue is so we can supply you with the correct service.”

Now, my patience was beginning to run thin. The hospital was less than 420 metres away. They must have been overrun with tremor-related emergencies. Why is this woman time-wasting with her ridiculous formalities?

I thought about yelling at her, but over the years I’d learnt that this never ended well. Instead I calmly uttered “Get back to work” and pressed the big red button, bringing the call to a sudden end. I thought that got my point across pretty well. Whatever that point was.

Things were now beginning to fall. Big things were beginning to fall. There was no end in sight to the tremors. This much was clear. It was time to make some important decisions, and they had to be made quickly. The issue was that my foot felt like it had been covered in petrol and subsequently ignited. I could just about manage to put pressure on it, but the pain was causing the vein in my head to reach its bursting point. The microwave teetered, then smashed onto the floor. Its screen splintered and scattered over the already treacherous kitchen floor.

The electricity faltered for the first time. Then for the second. A few rumblings emerged from unknown areas. A feeling that ‘there isn’t long left’ began to wash over me. I hobbled back into the bedroom and saw the evidence that the beer had in fact toppled. As frustrating as this was, it was now the least of my worries. I grabbed my favourite jumper from the wrack and gave my hamster one last defeated smile. He looked back at me with the same vacant look he always gives me. I almost expected a nod from him. I turned to return to the living room and watched with horror as the entire light-fitting fell from the hallway ceiling.

For a brief moment, I imagined I was the star of some of Indiana Jones knock-off. Dodging debris and danger as I made my way heroically to safety. This moment was far too brief though. The TV sparked and fell onto the sofa, instantly starting an electrical fire that brutally reminded me of the precariousness of my situation. I may not be an expert on such matters, but I do know that the triangle of electricity, water and fire do not mix well.

I tiptoed as close as I could to the outer wall, avoiding the growing puddle of water. The tremors were making this increasingly difficult, and they caused me to stumble and subsequently fall. I narrowly missed the windowsill with my head. My strength was beginning to wane, but I pulled myself along, bit-by-bit. The heat of the room was now becoming unbearable and the noise around me was deafening. The entire structure of the house seemed to be at its breaking point, however, my front door was now within sight. I needed to get there as quickly as I could. My shoulders felt like they could pop at any moment as my skinny arms struggled to hoist myself along. Only then did it strike me that my legs weren’t helping at all. In fact, they seemed to have stopped working altogether. I hesitantly lowered my eyes to inspect them, but nothing seemed untoward. They were completely numb, and the lack of feeling was rising. My navel was next. Then my chest. My hands clawed at the floor. My last ounce of strength left my body, leaving me stranded as the house continued to collapse around me.

They say that the saddest thing a human can do is lose hope, but I found it strangely comforting. I had become the tremors. The tremors had become me.

My eyelids grew heavy. A faint noise dribbled from behind my lips. I no longer sounded like me. Among all the destruction around me, there was a clear, rhythmic knocking. I caught a glimpse of hand appear through the door. Then it fell. It was like a ballerina prancing and pirouetting during a mighty crescendo filled with violins and cymbals. A single letter floated down from the mailbox, landing softly on the carpet below.

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Stories

The New Normal – A Short Story by Robert Honour

It’s incredible how quickly the human mind can normalise any given activity. No matter how strange or potentially traumatising an experience is, practice it often enough and it soon becomes just as routine and mundane as everything else in life. I guess the best way of explaining would be by comparing cultures or different time periods. I’ve never been able to successfully operate chopsticks, for example. To me, they’re a difficult and foreign tool, but to the average East Asian person, they’re just a regular part of living. If you don’t use chopsticks, you don’t eat. In the Middle Ages, children were given beer as opposed to water. This was due to the brewing process destroying any harmful bacteria that could be present in the fluid. Try giving beer to a child nowadays and you would most likely be arrested, or at the very least given a scolding from that child’s parents. Perhaps these are trivial examples, but they’re the best I can muster right now. My powers of imagination have diminished recently, swallowed by the strain of day-to-day life. These comparisons aren’t a way for me to legitimise the way I live. It’s just one of the many methods I use to convince myself that what I’m doing is not completely bat-shit crazy. That my existence isn’t quite the farcical mess that others would conceive it to be. That potentially, somewhere in the world, someone is doing something even more disturbing than I am. Or, that at some point in history, someone has potentially gone through the same ordeals as I. However unlikely that may be. One man’s normal is the other man’s strange. One man’s beautiful is the other man’s ugly. This is the mantra I’ve adopted as I go through the motions of my daily cleaning rituals. You see, my ‘normal’ has become the cleaning and disposal of blood. Blood from the floorboards. Blood from the kitchen counters. Blood from the sofa. Blood from the bedsheets. Blood from the cot. Of course, any action or routine takes a while to become the actor’s version of normal, especially one this niche. It’s safe to say that the cleaning of blood took an exceptionally long time for me to get used to.

Though that winter’s evening, as Bowie serenaded me through the portable speaker, I found myself humming along to the melody while scrubbing the last of the claret from around our breakfast table. Every now and again, the absurdity of the situation would evade me and I would find myself carrying out the task as if I was emptying the washing machine or cooking that evening’s meal. Not that I really bothered cooking any more. I stood and took a moment to peer out of the kitchen window at the endless sea of pine trees that reached towards the horizon. A mist had formed over them as twilight dulled the already cloudy sky. In the foreground, the Red-and-White cattle were following their matriarch on their slow and steady evening stroll to the edge of the forest and back. A few of the younger calves would be brave enough to venture beyond the border, but only briefly before returning to the herd. For the heifers, it was the same old routine. Out of the barn, to the fence, to the trees, to the other fence, then back to the barn. Always the same. Never deviating from the plan. Their walk would always coincide with the dimming of the light no matter what the season. At present, there were precious few hours of daylight, which meant their window of opportunity had become so tight that their evening stroll was getting dangerously close to merging into their morning one. I once viewed this scene as a landscape filled with opportunity and mystery. Now it had gained an overpowering air of claustrophobia. Those forests felt like they were closing-in rather than stretching out, and the cattle’s daily routine failed to bring the comfort it once did. There was no mystery or hope, just bleakness and predictability,

Breaking myself out of my trance, I filled the cat bowls with their old favourites. A half-pouch each of Feline Best – Meat with Sauce. They hadn’t and would never touch the ‘Meat with Jelly’. It seems cat minds don’t operate quite the same way human one’s do They would never normalise themselves to accept the concept of jelly, no matter how hard they tried. I squeezed out the last chunks of meat from the pouches, making sure it was split into almost exactly equal amounts. The sauce had leaked all over my fingers, and in my sleepy state, I almost licked the juices off before stopping myself and rinsing them in the kitchen sink instead. I had no idea where the cats were, but I needed to sleep. They’d eat the food if they needed it. I showered and checked my body for any remnants of blood. This used to be a long, drawn-out affair, but my aversion to the substance had weakened over time. I sleepily brushed my teeth, barely looking at the mirror then stumbled into my unmade bed. I contemplated reading, but my mind was too exhausted to process anything at this stage, especially the surrealism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Besides, it had been so long since I’d touched the book that the story had become hazy. I could either plough on and hope my memory triggered the lost plot details or accept defeat and start again. This, however, was a decision for another day. I reached over and turned off the lights with a groan that sounded as if it had been produced by someone twice my age. Closing my eyes, I tried to empty my mind. That, as always, was when the inevitable buzzing began. A sound that seemingly remains almost mute throughout the day, but at night it’s impossible to avoid.

Buzz… buzz… buzz.

Swiping the flies away had proven to be a fruitless exercise, so I buried my head between the duvet and the pillow. I’d created a system that dulled the sound as much as humanly possible, while still allowing me a small opening for oxygen. It was by no means ideal, but that’s another thing about humans; we’re highly adaptable to any situation, no matter how bad it gets. Well, at least this is something we try to convince ourselves. Darkness began to envelop my mind and a knowing twitch in my right leg indicated that sleep was just around the corner. Just before unconsciousness took hold, a sound penetrated through my fortress.

Meow.

Then another. This time louder and more ominous.

Meowwwww!

From the tone of the call, I knew, without doubt, that Oscar had brought in a ‘present’ for me. I closed my eyes and hoped that the last of the meows had been heard and the twitch would return. I felt a paw on my leg and knew this was no longer a possibility. Without looking, I sensed that there were at least three beings in the bed, one of which was no longer alive.

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Stories

A Lounge Full of Demons – The Story of an Album by Bert Honour

Art by Joe Garwood – Instagram: ‘snappedleg’ Website: garwood.bigcartel.com

‘A Lounge Full of Demons’ – The first album by Bert Honour – is now available to buy for just £5 at http://www.berthonour.bandcamp.com

Keep Independent music alive.

An Evening at The Lounge.

The Tiger

A room full of smoke and regret. Dust covers all.

Red upon red adorns the cavernous space. The kind of red only witnessed in porn parodies or in inaccurate remakes of ‘Western’ saloons. Neither of which are too far removed from the scene that is beginning to unfold.

The night begins like many before it. Cheap lager and wine flow freely, while Devils (those that can be found on Earth) in their ‘Friday best’ pursue Faux-Angels, who are already growing tired with the relentless advances. Though, deep down they sense a disconcerting inevitably, much like the countless nights that have preceded. The seedy backing-track slowly dissipates as a musician (at least that’s what he appears to be) stumbles onto something that resembles a stage. He steadies himself and settles at a piano that looks more decorative than playable. Last night’s whisky still swims through his skull and he purposely refuses to acknowledge his audience who respond in kind. A mutual tension is established between The Performer and his reluctant listeners. A few chords are struck which result in enormous discomfort for all.

Build A Coffin For Me

With the soundcheck and the first whisky both finished with, The Performer begins slurring a tune laced with self-pity and narcissism. Its message is almost certainly intended to be metaphorical, but there’s a worrying sense that his morbid request is more literal than first thought. Few are roused by this turgid, introspective number and most continue their night unaffected by his presence.

Other musicians slowly appear from the shadows with hope of contributing, but a spiteful gaze makes them hesitate and partially retreat, particularly the drummer. The Performer’s delicate head isn’t quite ready for the harsh crack of the symbol. Once the final chord is a memory, a fresh drink is poured and he acknowledges it with a shameful nod. This is the indicator that the night has officially begun. Unfortunately, the time for turning back has passed.

Prepare the Pipes

Self-indulgence is only equalled by self-pity. The Performer is intent on bringing the room down to his level. Why else would he be doing this? His contempt for the room is palpable and he begins another tune that is clearly more for himself than anyone else unlucky enough to be within earshot.

Away from the stage, a different kind of night is beginning to develop. Sobriety is nowhere to be seen and consumption of less-than-legal substances is not as inconspicuous as it once was. The Devils are revelling in this development.

As the song develops, there’s is a noticeable change in The Performer’s persona. It may be small, but something has awoken within him. The alcohol now coursing through his veins may well be the reason for this rejuvenation. Much of the venue remains nonplussed by his efforts, but one or two take notice and a few stray voices can be heard even attempting to join the chorus. The Performer looks towards the audience for the first time and the tiniest of connections is made. Whether this will last is up for debate.

The Python

This loose unity between ‘artist’ and subject is short-lived. Another song of self-pity results in the tension spilling over from the floor to the stage. A spat ensues that results in the song being cut painfully short, much to the ire of the stage-dweller. Words are exchanged and, this time, the audience are the victors. Enough is enough.

Through clenched teeth, the mob are given what they desire. Well, at least his perception of their desire. The drummer is readied as the Devils and Angels prepare to join in dance. The Performer empties yet another glass in both frustration and anticipation. The bar staff now know that a refill is obligatory. No acknowledgement is needed.

WORMFOOD

Though his head is pounding, the few drinks that have burned their way into his system have resulted in an unnatural energy pulsing through The Performer. The band have moved to the forefront and his jealousy is growing. With difficulty, he rouses himself from his piano stool and begins to semi-rhythmically stumble across the stage, imitating a far more successful performer who has probably left this world long ago.

The dance-floor is no longer empty, but to call it busy would be a lie. Most of the Devils that occupy the bar are still more irritated than enamoured by the performance, but some use the increased tempo to up the level of their pursuit. The Angels’ anxiety rises and control starts to be loosened.

By the end of the song, the room as been transformed and debauchery reins. This is undoubtedly both the peak and the trough of the night. The Performer looks regretful at his misguided rise in energy, but chooses to remain standing, awaiting the beginning of the next tune.

She Has a Way

The atmospheric change within the room has rubbed off on the once-docile Performer. The man is now, failingly, attempting to be unironically sexy. His reddened eyes remain closed for the majority of the song while his hips attempt to shake to the rhythm. Not knowing what to do with his hands, their movements are almost farcically hypnotic as they dance in front of him. Some find the performance unnerving, some amusing. None find it as arousing as The Performer would have hoped.

A few of the audience are now, for better or worse, ‘coupled-up’ and this tune proves a catalyst to their courtship. This night is descending much the same as any other. A heavy smell of sin wafts through the room and engulfs all under its roof.

Bird’s Eye Penis

Just as the audience are finally enjoying something that could be compared to ‘fun’, the worst happens. The dreaded words spill from The Performer’s mouth; “This next one is a poem”. An audible sigh is heard, followed by antagonistic howls.

Attention is lost and tension between stage and floor is renewed. The Devils thirstily consume their beverages and return their attention to their immoral conquests. The Performer is strutting around the stage observing events with a look somewhere between annoyance and arrogance. There is now a fire in his eyes that only ever occurs after the optimum level of scotch has reached his veins. He delivers the ‘song’ far more like a Biblical preacher than a contemporary performer. Only the existence of distorted guitars ensure that the delicate bond between Performer and victim is not completely broken.

That, and the repeated use of the word ‘penis’.

Tower of Hate

Reinvigorated by his ill-conceived growing self-assurance, he launches into a number lamenting his, and the rest of the room’s, current circumstance. Despite its lyrics, the upbeat nature of the song manages to rouse the room and the night reaches a crescendo of sorts. The dance-floor ebbs and flows, and feet traverse over broken glass and spilt fluids. Even the Angels temporarily lose their inhibitions and begin to feel a crumb of empathy with the troubled Performer.

The band and their ringmaster have also finally achieved a parity, or something close to it. A few moments of awkward eye contact between those on stage creates a sense of togetherness that was perhaps missing before. Meanwhile, the Devils and Angels are oblivious to this as they are far more concerned with their own delicate circumstances. Time is accelerating fast and this is the point of the night where battles are won or lost. Many of the Angels’ eyes are scouting for exits, whereas The Devils’ are focused elsewhere.

The smallest round of applause greets the climax of the number. The Performer is even tempted to bow or at least take a second to enjoy the moment, but he decides against this and requests one final drink for the evening. He sleuths back to his familiar stool at the piano’s edge, knowing that it’s all downhill from here.

Late Night Bitter Poem

This fleeting feeling of togetherness and unity is cut painfully short once more. The additional drink has left The Performer slouched over his instrument like a slain beast, with a feeling of hurtful nostalgia and bitterness running through him. The rest of the room is forgotten once more and he aims a slow number directly at the ones unwittingly paying for his presence.

The Faux-Angels take notice of the opportunity and glide unnoticed to the exit, silently thanking the drunk for his distraction. The Earth-Devils are far too preoccupied with anger to even attempt to stop the retreat. The evening is drawing to yet another disappointing and unsatisfying climax. A knowing smirk forms on The Performer’s contorted face. The night is almost at an end and with this comes release.

The Dismantling

Though, before leaving stage, The Performer and his band are reminded that their payment is time-dependent. They’re nearly there, but ‘nearly’ isn’t good enough for the proprietor. This causes The Performer great annoyance and, as he sheepishly looks towards the audience, he is reminded of the figurative distance between them.

Perhaps it is out of pity, or perhaps boredom, but he finally gives the room what they want. Just for an ephemeral, final moment, a warmth between Performer and Devil exists. They join each other in harmony, both in the figurative and literal sense. Then, as quick as it arrived, it’s over. The spell is broken, the song is stopped short. The shadows engulf the performers once more.

Realisation that the bar is closing leads to scrambled mayhem. The musical performance is all but forgotten. A distant, hazy and unpleasant memory.

Another night in The Lounge is drawn to a close.

The Monster – An End

Unfinished business. The song that is never completed weighs heavily on the The Performer as he sits in the wings, drowning his sorrows once more. His audience has reduced to just one, but this suits him just fine. They were never of any importance to him anyway.

Perhaps this is the closure he’s always needed. Perhaps this is the last time he’ll grace this stage. He fights back the tears and says a final goodbye to all around him.

However, it is far more likely that he’ll be returning to do it all again tomorrow. 

___________________________________________________

‘A Lounge Full of Demons’ – The first album by Bert Honour – is now available to buy for just £5 at http://www.berthonour.bandcamp.com

Keep independent music alive.

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Stories

A One Way Ticket – A Short Story by Lily Bell

The train chugged forth, leaving my mind spinning. There was no one there at the end destination to greet me. I was on my way to nowhere, and I couldn’t help a tear from falling. I had lost so much in the packing of that suitcase, and gained a paper ticket to tug at my paper heart.

The scenery zoomed past my eyes. And I half expected zany merry-go-round music to launch into my cabin. The doors flew open to my wretchedness and I was asked if I wanted tea. No tea, no money, no fun, thanks. I’ll just take some bland water to go with my bland outlook.

The man in the corner snored and belched in symphony as I searched my heart for warmth. No more Tom. My heart cried and repeated; no more Tom. This staccato rhythm had been my playlist for days, always with me reminding me of my recent fate. He had gone so quickly but had left me with a trail of tears so long.

I glanced down at the one tear stained photograph I had of Tom, and I was catapulted to better days. Laughing together until our ribs hurt, singing together while our favourite music played. Making love and basking in the heat of it all afterwards. The man in the corner made a noise like a pig in pain and I was transported back to my reality.

My destination neared. An empty vast horizon strangled me and I slouched down in my seat to await my fate.

Lily Bell
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Stories

The Story of the Boy and the Girl – A Short Story

There’s a stream. On one side walks a boy. On the other, a girl. The sun shines brightly and there’s a warmth and stillness in the air. Birds sing and flowers decorate their separate, but similar routes. They’re walking on opposite banks at an almost identical pace. The boy regularly glances up at the girl and believes that once or twice he catches her glancing back. Her steps are light and the faintest of smiles has formed on her face. Though when he dares to momentarily focus on her, her gaze remains dead ahead and his own presence is never formally acknowledged. He feels a growing urge to jump across the stream to join her, but resists and continues on his own side. They keep walking, parallel to each other, neither saying a word.

The stream grows wider. Wide enough that it can no longer be called a stream. The wind noticeably picks up and leaves start to scatter and crunch beneath their feet. The various birds hush their song and the sound of the river begins to drown them out altogether. As the boy continues to observe, now with more confidence, he notices a marked change in the girls emotions. No longer carefree, a small but definite melancholia is taking hold. In that moment, all he wants to do is be with her. To comfort her, to make her smile again and to love her. Her sadness appears to increase with every stride she takes. The river is clearly too deep to walk in now, and far too dangerous to swim across, but he can see the girl is close to tears. The river widens once more. Rocks and tree-trunks sporadically penetrate through the white water, which has quickened its pace and bounces off the obstacles, spraying the air above. The boy and the girl shiver, almost simultaneously. He notices this and, to the boy, the girl now looks even more desirable than before. There’s an unmistakeable beauty in her growing sorrow.

A wave of anxiety washes over the boy. The river is treacherous, more treacherous than ever, but he must accompany her on her journey. Their co-existence is now a necessity and it’s up to him to make it happen. Turning back and returning to the stream is briefly considered, but the thought of losing sight of her fills the boy with more fear than the turbulent water that now thunders between them. He needs her and she needs him. The roar of the river has become almost deafening and nothing else can be heard. Item by item, he rids himself of his clothes, leaving nothing but his underwear. The piercing chill hits him immediately as his body is engulfed by the water. The current takes hold of him effortlessly and his limbs never have the opportunity to attempt to swim. He tries to call out to the girl, but she has now stopped her journey and is facing away from him. Her hands cover her ears and her body is crouched and almost foetal. It’s impossible to hear, but her mouth is open and it appears she too is crying out. The boy’s body joins the rest of the debris as it is swept downstream, never to reach the other side.

A solitary tear falls from the girl’s eye. As it hits the ground, the first signs of life appear from beneath the Earth. Her breathing steadies and she wipes her cheeks. The girl stands, glimpses towards the river then continues on her walk. The dawn chorus serenades her once more.

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Stories

The Influencer -A Short Story

Scrolling through his phone, Simon selected the most outrageous shot he’d taken that day, perhaps ever. The others screamed with delight and speculated how the world was going to react to his latest masterpiece. How could this level of debauchery ever be accepted by the perpetually-outraged masses? Mark was taking bets on how long it would be until he was formally reported, while William posted a live video, warning the digital world excitedly of what awaited them.

Simon uploaded the file and held his breath. This was a process he’d been through countless times, but perhaps this time he’d gone to far. He couldn’t help but feel that, for once, the repercussions could well outweigh the enjoyment. Sure, he’d made a more than reasonable living from causing outrage. Everyone had to sacrifice something to make their way in the world and Simon had jumped on the ‘Influencer’ bandwagon just as it got going. He had all the right attributes and all the right friends, but now it was fast becoming a game of who could provoke the most, without stepping over the imagined, but dangerously fluctuating, line. A line that, if crossed, would immediately send them spiralling into obscurity and irrelevance. A line that separated icons from nobodies. His latest effort was a huge risk in this regard, but Simon was more concerned that the post could well be the last straw for his less-than-perfect relationship with his less-than-forgiving family. His father was still living in hope that this whole thing was just a phase that his son had to work through, while his mother was living in shame and denial as a Tory MP for the constituency for Basingstoke. She refused to believe that her son’s antics held her back professionally, but she had heard the whispers countless times. The rebellious part of Simon was ultimately what drove him into this lifestyle, but it was financial and social necessity that kept him pursuing it. It all began as an act of defiance, but now he found himself secretly hurt by the lack of pride he sensed in both his parent’s faces every time they met. As he became more connected to his new world, the connection between him and his family was waning.

An enthusiastic group hug followed and their ultra-expletive mantra was repeatedly shouted at full volume, much to the annoyance of the rest of the bar. As always, no fucks were given and maximum enjoyment was to be displayed to all around them. Cocktails were consumed at haste and the bar bill rose dramatically as did the pitch of their screams. The post was having an even more dramatic effect than any of them had imagined. Anger was emanating from just the right people, while drawing admiration and love from their usual crowd. However, this crowd was now growing at an increasingly accelerated rate. Simon was used to going viral, but this was getting somewhat ridiculous. He could already imagine the look of condemnation he would receive from his father the next time they met. That is, if they ever met again.

***

The sun was coming up, and Simon slinked through the familiar streets towards his studio flat while wiping off his make-up in a hurry. The locals of Leyton were less forgiving than those that frequented the Soho night scene. He put his false eyelashes in his bag and pursed his lips to hide the luminous red lipstick that coated them. He had become well-known in the area, and a few of his neighbours tended to react particularly violently if he was ever spotted looking that little bit too fabulous. His outfit that night had consisted of tail-feathers, a blonde afro and a studded dog collar. Even after de-feathering, he was not at his most inconspicuous, and would have been the prime target if spotted. For once, luck was on his side and he managed to sneak his way home with little disturbance. As always, Simon breathed a sigh of relief as he delicately eased the door shut behind him.

Showered, and in his most comfortable pyjamas, he climbed into bed and pulled out his copy of Walden. The smell of kebab meat wafted through his window and he could hear an intoxicated gentleman below discussing how West Ham are now ‘shitter than they’ve ever been’ to the owner ‘The Cod Father’. The man wasn’t particularly shouting, but due to his proximity, every word of his rant echoed clearly through the room. The words on the page were dancing in front of his eyes, but Simon now knew well enough that reading wasn’t necessary. He pinched his ear plugs and pushed them as deep as he could bear. He then attempted to imagine a simpler life, far away from the sights, smells and pressures of the city. His phone had now been silenced, but it continuously flashed with alerts and missed calls. Some of them almost certainly would be from his parents and the rest of his family, but now was not the time to respond. Now was the time to escape, if only psychologically. He turned the phone over, closed his eyes and dreamt of a log cabin in the middle of nowhere. A soft smile formed and he gently drifted off into a world where none of this mattered. There was just him, his dog and the sound of a flowing river. A land of simplicity and bliss. A land devoid of technology. A land without stress or pressure. He fell into a deep sleep filled with visions of a different world that perhaps he’d never truly know, but would always hope for.

Everything else could wait until the morning.

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Stories

Prompt, Civil & Obliging – An Extract from a Semi-Autobiography by Chris Chapman

Photographically speaking, Dad was a recorder. He was a technician. Professionally, having been apprenticed to become a lithographic artist, he had by that time over twenty years experience working ‘in the print’ as he called it, making technically perfect work for difficult clients who always wanted a shade more colour or light or subtlety or pizazz in the proofs that he presented them. No wonder he took to the sticks at weekends with a camera in order to photograph, to document. There’s nothing better, actually – going out and about with a big bag of black and white film and taking pictures is fun, even if you have to work at it technically. The rest of it – developing, printing, archiving, presenting, selling, publishing – is just a slog.

Perhaps I got my quirky eye from Mum?

My parents met in the belfry of St Mary’s church in Southampton. He would have been cheeky, aiming to please, a charming man; she would have been aloof, distant and resistant. Dad was a native of Hampshire, near as dammit, having moved from Surrey at the age of three just before war broke out in 1939; Mum a student down from Warwickshire studying mathematics at Southampton University. Their common interest was bell ringing. He wrote love letters to her in his newly found italic handwriting, an imagined reinvention of himself, perhaps. He’d given up on the girl from Leytonstone by then. How strange to think my parents might have had other fancies. Or how naïve of me? Mum was a child protégée from Nuneaton with proud bell ringing antecedents and Dad been taught to ring two bells at once by a one-armed man called George Pullinger at Bishopstoke in the late nineteen forties.

Lizzie and I grew up with this backdrop of bell ringing. We had a childhood of churchyards. Sunday mornings were spent in the interior of the flint stone belfry at Bishopstoke, within earshot of the last of the steam hauled trains; the belfry lined with enamel signs stolen from various army ranges by my kleptomaniac Dad. Weekends in general were church and bell ringing related, usually in Hampshire but sometimes slightly further afield for ringing trips, photos of us taken by Dad in a churchyard somewhere in Southern England, documenting us forever on Kodak Bromesko double weight photographic paper.

A chance meeting on a day in 1973 with a bell ringer who seemed to be the sole employee of British Railways at Portishead in what was left of the station area became our first interstice with the railway. I think it formed a natural progression for Dad; in that it started off an interest in the railway and rekindled his photographic pursuits. I realise now that he was also encouraging me to gain interests, both technical and artistic, neatly combined by getting to grips with the intricacies of manually operated cameras, exposure settings, film loading and all. I also started learning about the railway. Which then was in the midst of a lull, following the excitement of modernisation plan in the fifties and the terrible worst of Beeching in the sixties. Railway stations were still being closed in Britain during the middle of the nineteen seventies. Can you imagine how well appreciated the Bridport branch, closed in 1975, would be now?

Via the medium of photography my interest in railways germinated. I learnt how to develop films, loading them into black Paterson tanks in an even blacker, absolute darkness. Then, process. Then, that magic moment of unscrewing the top of the tank after developing, stopping and fixing and washing the film was complete, realising that the film had been exposed to light whilst in the camera and feeling relieved that there was now a record of that exposure on the negative, later on printing an image from the now dry negative in the womb of the darkroom safe light, then another magic moment when the print was placed in the tray of developer, the image starting to reveal itself after ten seconds or so as I rocked the dev tray back and forth, like the slow rocking of a swing after the children have left the playground.