The opening to Murder Syndicated, the second part of the five part series that I'm working on. Despite the dark opening it's almost universally agreed that this novel is more accessible than it's precursor so I might do a Stephen King at some point and go back and give Murder Inc a reworking.
Anyhoo, I've stopped this excerpt before any spoilers, which is a shame because the paragraph after the excerpt has a spoiler and the paragraph after it has a masturbation joke.
- - - - - - - -
The sky was black and rolling with thunder, columns of smoke rose into the air across the charred landscape and all about there was the stench of death.
Feathers flecked red with blood were whipped into the air by a cold wind and swirled about everywhere as a grim reminder of the slaughter that had come to pass.
I knelt on cold and blackened dirt. Bloodied, bruised. Defeated.
My few companions had lain down arms, we could not hope for victory but maybe, just maybe save those who had fallen, that it wasn’t too late for our wounded.
A tall man in tarnished armour stood over me, his once golden hair matted and dark with blood, his eyes were sad.
He saw no pride in the defeat of his brother.
I was taken by strong hands, my condemnation already decided, my fate writ. I no longer had the energy to stand, my will was gone.
I was led across a desolate waste, scorched by an eternal and ageless heat under the watchful gaze of mountains black as the end of time, sentinels to the death of mercy.
The scar on the face of this vast desolation fractured and opened before us running as far as the eye could see on either side, a split in reality itself between those of us on foot and that faraway mountain range.
Stones cut my feet as I was trailed across that barren waste, dragged inexorably to my damnation.
A craterlike maw raised ahead, the original split where the chasm first tore upon this land and from which a jet stream of smoke and embers spewed forth bathed in a vicious orange glow.
The path to the maw was lined with the ranks of those who had cast us down, those who had once been our brethren their backs turned now on us. They called us traitors.
The others who had lain down their arms were behind me, they would share my fate; we would all be punished.
Catching on a rock I stumbled to my knees, falling from my captors hands I sprawled on the dirt cutting my hands and face, minor wounds compared to those already taking their toll.
The one who led the way in blood soaked armour and long hair perfectly straight and black as jet turned and regarded me only with contempt, with absolute hatred.
He moved to step toward me but was blocked by my brother; under that sky of death and burning embers he turned and reached down for me. Straining, he pulled me up as I struggled to find the strength.
One of my companions, a trusted friend of a lifetime rushed forward and took my other arm; I would be carried to my doom by my brother and my blood-sworn comrade.
A path hewn into the broken stone led to that voracious glow, from here we could see the jet stream, lightning crackling along the acrid funnel of the howling twister.
The ranks of our once brethren ended on a ledge overlooking that damnable pit, the stench of death in the air replaced with the pungent malodour of brimstone carried from the deep.
“It has come to this,” the dark haired one stared over the precipice, his face hued in a spectral orange, “I hope you count the cost.”
He looked to me for some response, some justification, maybe for me to plead mercy or offer one last act of defiance. I would give him no such pleasure.
“Very well,” he turned his back to me, “cast him in.”
My brother like any true brother hesitated, his loyalty sorely tested by the bonds of blood. In this dark and savage place I pitied him more so than myself or those who were to share my fate, I pitied him for what he would have to live with.
“Michael,” I said, my voice broken, in his hesitation they would question his loyalty and he would be condemned to burn alongside me in the Lake of Fire, “do it.”
We took a few slow steps together, the heat washing up was unbearable and cut at my lungs, we stood on the edge of oblivion as brothers in arms for one final time.
“Goodbye,” he said, “brother.”
In that moment time slowed, the end, a funnel of malevolent energy before me, an army behind. I closed my eyes as I felt his muscles tense, I took one last deep breath of free air.
It was as though time had slowed to a crawl.
A solitary white feather flecked with blood drifted before my vision, one final reminder of what I stood for framed against a column of ash and flame.
As I reached for that token I felt myself rise bodily into the air and tumble out over that precipice, thrown to oblivion.
I screamed as I fell through an infinite blackness toward a flaming ball of light, an eternal and damned sun hidden from all creation in the infinity of the pit. The vortex of the jet stream struck me and I was caught up in a swirl of liquid fire.
My flesh burned.
I flailed in agony as I tumbled through all the hatred of the universe.
Nothing existed but this pain.
I saw my flesh stripped away by the fire, I felt my eyes boil and pop but had no loss of sight.
I would experience everything.
I awoke with a start and was momentarily confused by the silhouettes all around me, the strange shadows and slivers of yellow light at odd angles. Eventually it occurred to me that I was lying in my bed and the light was the New York City night peering through the gaps in my curtains like a pervert.
Sitting up I wiped sweat from my brow, feeling like a bit of an idiot for getting spooked by a nightmare, barely noticing the sweat was rising off me in a light steam. A bit of the abyss had come back with the memory.
There was a bottle of sparkling water on my bedside cabinet, cool beads of condensation on the bottle hinting that it had not warmed up much, which in turn told me that I had not been asleep for long.
Gulping down several mouthfuls just a little bit too quickly I burped and then excused myself to the empty room. You never know who might be looking on, and if people knew how real the possibility was then the porn industry would slip into financial ruin overnight.
Lying back into my cocoon of pillows I stared up at the shadows on my ceiling, today had been the last day of my suspension, in the morning it was back to the NYPD, back to the job.
As a followup to yesterday's post, I'm now back on Tinder with the profile as promised and doing my part for thumb exercises. I can already feel my neck getting sore from all the left swipes.
But hey, that VAT information may be useful to a select few of you.
If some mad person actually matches I think I'll write another poem.
It's only Tuesday and already it has been a busy week for picking something to blog about. Trump has sacked a guy, Russia has murdered a guy, and I touched a guy. Well, it was myself but in the dry spell I'm having you've got to count every bit of contact.
So today I'm going to talk about the exciting thing that everyone wants to hear: I'm going to go back to Tinder.
Yes, ladies, get ready to swipe left so hard that you'll hurt your thumbs and give me whiplash. I like to think that my presence on that app has single-handedly created more Thumb War champions than the entire public school system in the UK, and those boys masturbate a lot.
To really capture that dynamic left swipe you need to have the perfect profile pic, something that really speaks to the lady about the bullet she is dodging. An image that simultaneously says 'That guy could be fun' and 'my reputation would never survive this'.
Luckily for me I found my lime-green mankini whilst tidying the house last week.
So, we've got the image and now we have to get the profile just right. Women claim to love comedy right? Therefore the absolute last thing that I want to do is be funny. In the past I somehow managed to get a following on Match.com for my really outlandish profile descriptions, a couple of which I've attached for your reading pleasure.
We want to avoid that kind of attention at all costs.
I think that the best accompaniment to my mankini profile pic would be to randomly copy 500 characters out of Northern Ireland Tax Law from the HMRC website because nothing says sex like the VAT rate for soda farls.
I should probably disconnect my Instagram from the account, but lets be realistic here, the only time anyone goes from Tinder to someone's Instagram is to see bikini or shirtless pics (depending on what you're into). Since I have neither the abs or the pert boobies that would lure anyone across apps I think it's fairly safe to leave it up there.
Last but not least we come to the bit in which you can bind an anthem from Spotify. So, do I pick a really romantic song or something emotional that will show just how deep and soulful I am?
Nah, you know where this is going. If the Fraggle Rock theme isn't available then the obvious choice is Mah Na Mah Na by the Muppets.
And there we have it ladies, I'm ready to be dropped like a retired Russian spy and simultaneously be the best exercise that some of you working in offices will get this week. And people said that I would never contribute anything to society.
Well, I completely forgot to do a post on Wednesday, my plan to create content on a set schedule has taken a bit of a hairline fracture already. Probably will need to work on something a bit more useful than sarcastic blog posts or lazy reposts of stuff that I already have done.
So on that subject here's the second chapter of Merrily Merrily, it's the last freebie from it that I'm giving because I'd like to make some money from it, and I don't really want to set up a Patreon to offer pictures of myself in various stages of undress in return for continued support.
Anyway, when we last met Sophie she had just arrived in the Kingdom of Trancelvania with Walker the clockwork man and discovered that she was now an adult who liked to dress up.
- - - - - - - -
A Walk in the Woods
“Hey, wait a minute,” Sophie tried to keep up with Walker as he merrily strode into the dark woods that surrounded their little cave like icky hair in the plughole, “hey, stop whistling and talk to me for a minute.”
Walker was practically skipping through the mossy ground and fallen branches whilst Sophie was struggling to keep her feet. She thought about how high heels were a bad idea for a forest trek and then with a yelp of surprise she suddenly stumbled forward.
Pulling up the hem of her dress she saw that her high heels had transformed into ugly brown hiking boots.
“Well, that’s better,” she said, confused as to how she was making these changes, “I guess?”
“Come along, Miss Weaver,” Walker cheered as he poked his head from around a tree, “we still have a ways to go.”
“Wait,” Sophie ran to catch up with him, “what’s all this stuff about saving the Kingdom?”
“Do you remember when I wished you a good morning?”
Walker paused and looked back at Sophie and she became very aware of the fact that she was now standing in a spooky forest at night with a total stranger. She was pretty sure that her mummy had told her not to do that.
“Yeah,” she took a step back, “when does the sun rise?”
“It is a little after nine in the morning,” Walker looked past the gaps in the trees to the stars above, “the sun has not risen in two days.”
“What, like it slept in? How does the sun not rise?”
“Nobody knows, the light just went away,” the clockwork man looked down at his oversize feet, “it has been getting colder without the sun. I was sent to find a Weaver in the hope that you can make it shine again.”
“But how? I’m just a little girl,” Sophie lifted her arms in such a way as to show off her dress, “who apparently thinks that she is a princess, I’m not an adventurer.”
To her surprise the gown had become a green tunic and dashing white pantaloons, and matching brown satchel to go with her hideous brown hiking boots; something a bit more fitting for someone going on an adventure. A hooded cloak appeared on her shoulders to round off the look of dashing adventurer chic.
“Well alright then, I guess I’m an adventurer now,” she really wished that she knew how she was doing this.
“I do not know how were are to save the Kingdom per se, but I believe you can,” Walker took a step forward and placed a friendly hand on her arm, “but we will need the help of someone wise and of someone strong.”
“I suppose you were told all this by a kindly wizard who smokes too much and hangs around with dwarves?”
“The Oracowl of this forest came to me. I don’t know if he smokes.”
“Oracle you mean?”
“No, Oracowl,” Walker smiled and started back on his path through the trees, “he is an owl, a really big one.”
“Oh... kay,” Sophie raised an eyebrow and followed the weird tin man a few steps behind, she wondered if maybe there were a few cogs missing from the adding machine in his head.
“Are birds of prey known for their sage wisdom?”
“Eagles live as far away from people as possible,” Walker nimbly jumped a fallen log, “chickens are a tasty dinner. Which one would you say is smarter?”
“I wouldn’t want to fight an eagle for his drumstick,” Sophie said as she brushed a stray branch out of her path.
She noticed that the leaves on the trees all seemed to be fluffy clouds as if they were made from cotton candy, and felt just as sticky. Absently she tore a bit of the fluff from the nearest tree revealing some green underneath and brought a shout of ‘Oi!’
Pausing by the branch Sophie saw something hairy sitting in the greenery next to a web-like hammock, she swatted the air before her as it threw a cloud of hair.
“I don’t go breaking into your house,” the spider said as it wove a patch over the hole, “I swear, some people think they can go around doing as they please, tearing up webs, no consideration for the hardworking arachnid.”
“Oops,” Sophie said, trying not to burst into a terrified run, “sorry.”
The spider continued to grumble about the ‘Two Folk’ having no respect for an honest day’s labour and something about shift work. Sophie didn’t know what that was but it didn’t sound like fun.
Rushing after Walker she grabbed his spindly little arm and stopped him in his tracks.
“Walker, are all of these trees,” she cast her eyes around the thousands of fluffy branches that surrounded them, “are they filled with spiders?”
“Yeah, this is Spiderholme,” he brushed a few of the thrown hairs from Sophie’s face, “they are spinster spiders, they work in the silk factory on the edge of Cuddleton.”
“Are they,” she looked nervously around, having that weird ticklish feeling as if spiders were crawling over her back and in her hair, “you know, dangerous?”
“Nah,” he started walking again, “they can get a bit surly sometimes, but you would get in a bad mood too if you had to spend all day weaving cloth with your bum. Usually they are quite friendly.”
Scratching at an imaginary spider Sophie decided to stick next to Walker and hopefully they would get to somewhere a little less creepy a lot more quickly.
Far away from Sophie and Walker hidden in a mountain valley that would be black even in broad daylight there stood what might charitably be called a Dark Tower. Really though the place looked like a passing Cosmic Horror with a bad dose of the flu had sneezed on the planet and the resultant mess had hardened into this sprawling fortress.
The town within its walls might once have been a lovely place but now it was home only to banshees and ghouls, and one passing internet troll who really liked the ambiance.
The buildings were empty, with tiles missing from the roofs and paint flaking from their walls, the stone walls were stained every colour on the dirt spectrum from snot to pee. Rubbish, broken parts and abandoned carts littered the streets, market stalls sat with their produce still on display but the food long since gone rotten.
It was as if one day everyone had simply vanished.
The black tower loomed over the town like a grim and overly enthusiastic prison guard watching for the first inmate he could beat up and throw in the dungeon. The tower stood silently watching for any movement, it was keeping an eye on everything.
In places it was built in straight lines but in others it looked as though the stone had bubbled and melted to form some kind of living shell, its black foundations had twisted to wrap themselves around the outer walls of the fortress, spreading like a monstrous blob into the valley.
The trees and grass around the fortress had turned yellow and brown like something a heavy smoker would cough up. Animals no longer came near the valley and the once blue river that passed through the city and under the fortress now ran thick with mud.
Once upon a time this had been a beautiful place, that people from all over the land travelled to, but since the dark came and the magic was gone it had turned to brooding and a place of despair. The nightmare had spread out like a sickness to infect everything around it.
Nobody came to the valley anymore, even its name had been taken by the veil of dread. People now only knew it as the Castle of Pandemonium, home to a Queen blinded by anger and paranoia.
Sophie and Walker had been tripping and stumbling through the forest for an uncountable time. With no daylight it was hard to tell if it was even still morning.
Aside from a few bruises from falling as she got used to her new size Sophie found that she was not getting tired in the slightest. She discovered that since big folk didn’t have to waste energy on the whole growing thing they got much better miles per gallon.
A few song birds had tried to sing uncertainly, they knew it was supposed to be bright and singing was their gig but on the other hand people tended to shout rude things if they sang at night.
The birds weren’t the only animals that were having a difficult time of it. A quick and sprightly fox had been seen darting between the trees like a hairy ninja only to be chased home by his vixen for being out gallivanting at this time of the day.
Walker was still humming merrily to himself as if he had not a care in the world, which was quite possible if his brain was just a bunch of cog wheels.
He still had not explained how he expected Sophie to be able to bring back the sun and she started to suspect that his entire plan was:
Step 1) Find a Weaver
Step 2) Go... somewhere
Step 3) _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Step 4) Sunlight
It did not instil her with confidence.
He also had not explained to Sophie what a Weaver was beyond ‘it means being a Weaver’, which in the grand scheme of things was not an awful lot of help.
She couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that Walker was just making this up as he went along and hoping for the best.
“Ah, here we are,” he said as Sophie walked into the back of him, she hadn’t noticed that he had abruptly stopped.
There was a wide gap in the forest and as she looked instinctively both ways Sophie realised that this was a cobbled street. To her right was the edge of the forest and the first of a few odd shaped houses with low walls and high thatched roofs.
Lanterns burned along the road leading into the village and farmers ran carts up and down the street to the market.
“Welcome to Cuddleton.”
Well, this will either be seen as a treat or another case of me just being lazy. I like to think that it's just funny after a video of two holographic campers being violently beaten to death by a space-hockey player to follow up with the first chapter of my fairy tale novella. If you like it feel free to buy it on Amazon and validate my existence.
- - - - - - - -
Gently Down the Stream
Little Sophie Weaver lay in her bed with a yucky tummy and a runny nose as she had done for two not very fun days now. Being sick and getting off school always sounded like a good idea when you are eight years old, when they talked about it at school everyone seemed to forget the actual part about being sick. The dizziness was awful and there was a small fortress of snotty tissues building up around her bed.
There was little to entertain during the day when you had to stay wrapped up, there were no cartoons on television just some people fighting on a stage, and some guy with mad hair looking at antiques. Sophie hated antiques, why did people pay so much for old junk when you could just go out and get new stuff that looked good?
Adults could be quite silly sometimes.
But not daddy, he called her his Little Buttercup because of her blonde hair; he made her feel strong and protected. She didn’t see daddy so often these past few days, he had been away from home a lot recently though he had been with her more since she got ill. As long as daddy was there she knew that everything would be alright. He needed to be strong because mummy cried a lot. She spent a lot of time with Sophie, helping her and looking after her, but sometimes it felt like it was too much.
She was happy now to be tucked up in her bed with her funny green nightlight glowing in the corner next to her gently bubbling fish tank.
As she cuddled her Floppsy Bunny her eyes were starting to get heavy and she could feel herself starting to drift off to sleep. She kissed Floppsy on the head and hoped that her tummy would feel better tomorrow; she was getting lonely away from all of her friends.
A thump came from somewhere at the end of her bed like a toy had been knocked over or a pillow had fallen.
Sophie didn’t think much of it until she heard a slightly squeaky voice say ‘Whoopsie’.
“Is somebody there?”
That was a silly question to ask she thought, of course somebody was there, he had said ‘Whoopsie’.
“Oh my,” a tin face popped up at the end of the bed, “the last step is always a bit higher than you think.”
A small tin man with an oversize pointed nose and a rakish tricorne hat climbed up onto her bed and sat down, crossing spindly legs that ended in oversize shoes and leaned gloved hands on his ball shaped knees.
“You would not think that would be tiring,” he wiped his brow, “but let me tell you...”
“I think I have a fever,” Sophie said, unsure if this was real or a dream, “who, or what are you?”
“Oh right, you do not know me,” he backflipped into the air like his legs were on springs before doing a cute little curtsy, “I am Walker, knight and guardian to the Weaver. That would be you.”
“Weaver is my surname, my name’s Sophie.”
“Yes, Ms Weaver,” he did another little bow and Sophie saw a large brass key sticking out of his back, like an old windup tin soldier or something.
Crawling out of her bed sheets she touched one finger to his pointy big nose and gave a gentle push that made him fall to his backside with a cry of ‘Hey, quit it.’
“You’re made of metal?” She looked at her finger, his skin had felt cold and hard.
“Do not be so judgemental,” he crossed his arms and his robot lips did their best impression of a trout-pout, “it is what is on the inside that counts.”
“Oh, sorry,” she hadn’t meant to offend him, “like a soul?”
“No,” he sprung from one foot to another like a hyperactive Jack Russell terrier, “clockwork. I am a Clankydoodle.”
“That’s not a word.”
“A robot guardian,” he flexed his arms like a body builder, the thin bit of tin actually seemed to bulge, “not as impressive as my big brother though, I just cannot get the Austrian accent right.”
“But why are you here,” Sophie sat on her feet, “why would I need a guardian?”
Walker climbed up the bed to sit opposite her with his legs crossed, he smiled and pushed his hat brim back with one finger like a cowboy about to slur some greeting.
“I am to protect your Lucining,” he said.
“I don’t think that’s a word either,” she crossed her arms, “what’s a lucining supposed to be?”
“You will find out in about three seconds,” he stood, Sophie watched as he came to stand beside her with his hands out and palms open.
Her eyes got heavy and she tipped forward, Walker caught her and gently laid the little eight year old Sophie back in her bed and tucked her in. He placed a hand on her forehead and felt how warm it was.
“See you soon.”
Sophie awoke in near darkness staring at what looked to be the inside of a drain pipe that had not been cleaned in a very long time. The ground beneath her was soft and spongy, like moss, and as she sat up she realised that it was moss.
Looking around she saw that she lay in a small cave and the scraggly bits hanging from the ceiling were actually small roots poking through from the plants above. The dim light of cave was by a small purple thing glowing in the corner, like some weird kind of firefly or glow bug.
“Good morning,” Walker jigged happily through the cave entrance, Sophie looked past him to the starry night time sky and wondered if there was a screw loose in his clockwork.
“Why am I in a cave,” she was pretty certain scary stories started like this, “where did you take me?”
“The Kingdom of Trancelvania,” he said cheerily, “we are not far from the village of Cuddleton.”
“And how did I-oh!”
Sophie stood up and banged her head on the ceiling, which caused her to fall backwards onto her bum, she looked up at the roof and it was far too high for her to have hit it.
Getting onto all fours to stand she noticed that her arms had gotten a lot longer and more slender than the slightly chubby and awkward little things she remembered. As she rose the ceiling got close very quickly and she found that she had to crouch.
“I’ve got bigger,” she said as she patted her arms, chest, and legs, then checked her bum to make sure that she wasn’t massive but it was hidden under layers of lace in a green ball gown, “what’s going on? Why am I in a gown?”
“You are the Weaver,” Walker shrugged with a slight whirring of gears, “you must see yourself as a princess.”
“Princess?” She gave the dress a little test swish, “I didn’t know I was so precious.”
Sophie realised that it was not just her body that had changed but her voice too, she sounded like her mummy. As she stepped carefully out of the cave so as to not bang her head again she felt a smile spread across her face as she was able to stretch out her arms and raise her head high.
In the end Sophie couldn’t help but laugh, this was wonderful, it was amazing to be able to stretch so far. She had always thought it would be scary to be so far above the ground and that big people must have being walking around with this constant dread of tipping over. Now that she was here though it all felt so natural and being small by comparison felt clumsy, and well, a little bit silly.
She fell backward into a bed of moss and kicked her feet into the air, giggling at how long her legs and arms were.
“Did that bump on the head drive you mad?”
“No,” Sophie sat up with a broad smile across her now elegant face, “I’ve never been this big before, it’s amazing. How did you do it?”
“I did not,” Walker offered her a hand, as he pulled her up he seemed to grow in stature as well, “you did, you are the one weaving the world around you.”
“I’m doing it,” Sophie looked puzzled as she was able to look Walker in the eye as she had done when she was the height of an eight year old, “how?”
“I do not know,” he shrugged his shoulders and then spotted her toy rabbit on the ground outside the cave, as he passed it to her he said, “you are the Weaver, I am just your guardian.”
Walker then drew a long and curved sword, the type that Sophie recognised from all the old pirate shows, a cutlass she was pretty sure they were called. He checked that the blade was sharp by slicing through a weird purple plant that looked like a carrot and deflated with a farting sound, and smelled just as bad.
Then as he sheathed the blade he rolled his shoulders in a way that caused his clockwork insides to click and then jumped back and forth from one foot to the other. She noticed that the key on his back had gone soft and was hanging like a rather fetching bronze cape.
“Well, I’m wound up and ready to go,” Walker stretched his shoulders back and struck out his chest, “we should make a start, we have to find the bravest and strongest heroes of the land.”
Sophie never noticed that the firefly that had lit the cave was actually a small sprite who was watching on with interest. When the girl left to follow the clockwork man the sprite let her light dim and she became the pixie that she was, she watched the Weaver walk off and she smiled to the twinkling stars.
“Walker,” Sophie caught up with the tin man and stopped him in his tracks, she looked nervously at Floppsy Bunny in her hands as she knew that she wasn’t going to like the answer to this question, “why am I here?”
“To save the Kingdom of course,” he said with an oblivious smile, and Sophie felt like she needed to go to the bathroom.
Lazy post this evening, was away getting over the cabin fever of the last couple of days by hanging around a shopping centre (that's a 'mall' for my US/Canadian friends). Did a bit more work on the doggy picture too, it's probably nearly done. That'll make up another post when I can't be arsed putting in any real effort.
But anyway, seeing as I'm determined to be lazy here's one of my favourite cinematic murders.
A land frozen out, people left in isolation and plotting to kill their neighbours for food and shelter, planning to burn all our books (except the Bible) and homosexuals for heat. Hoarding canned goods and wondering how long until it will be acceptable to form roving death gangs.
No I’m not talking about Brexit Britain, I’m talking about the cold snap we’re currently enduring in NI. Of course right now you’re probably thinking ‘A land frozen out… sure they’ve always been frozen forty years in the past over there.’
To that I would say, 'ha, up yours'. We actually have at least FOUR different time zones over here, duh: 1970’s, 1916’s, 1690’s and the dystopian future era of a DUP dominated Stormont that allows us to film Game of Thrones because they didn’t read the books in time to realise that there was a witch in it. And lots and lots of sex. Although the Bible is full of begetting so maybe they’re dead on with that sort of thing.
I’d predict however that as the DUP continues to cosy up to the Tories that it is only a matter of time until the Malleus Maleficarum is introduced to the curriculum in place of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, ‘science’ will be renamed ‘heretic studies’, and PE will be replaced with bonfire building. Letters in Irish to your gran in the Gaeltacht will first have to be coded through an Enigma machine to fool the purity monitors lest the Ministry of Thought drag you off to a nondescript concrete building on Rathlin Island to find out what you really meant by “I hope granda’s piles are better”. Meanwhile business studies will be irrelevant as you won’t need that kind of education to work in the dozen or so companies that bought the economy during the Brexit uncertainty. University placements will be determined by where your skin tone falls on UKIP sponsored colour cards.
That’s as political I’m getting as I haven’t been on Twitter in a few hours so I’m missing the latest reactions to the Irish Border Question as addressed by the EU draft Brexit document published today. I could probably guess: the Tories have no real solution that they can propose, the DUP are doing all the talking in the media, Jeremy Corbyn is trying to work out what he’s going to be accused of doing next, and the Liberal Democrats are sticking pins into a Nick Clegg voodoo doll.
Getting back to the cold snap Twitter has proved to be invaluable as receiving a reply from adult actress Nicole Aniston has effectively turned my bedroom into some kind of masturbation-powered reactor. Quantum particles have been popping into existence around my bedsheets so often that the Large Hadron Collider is now essentially an oversize Scalextric set that could be packed away into the Swiss secret mountain chamber with all the gold that mysteriously appeared in 1945.
Remember when they thought that the LHC would create a black hole that could swallow the Earth? Those were good times, and we basically decided we’d just turn it on for the craic. Then Dan Brown decided that he was going to educate everyone about anti-matter and threaten to destroy the Vatican. I’m not mocking… well, not really mocking. I’d rate Angels & Demons the second best of his books (Digital Fortress is my number one), I just felt he wasn’t giving people enough credit on the subject of anti-matter.
But then what would I know about what people really know about these concepts? Whilst my classmates were getting their first awkward fumbles in supermarket car parks I was at home watching Star Trek: The Next Generation and fantasising about an awkward fumble with Counsellor Troi. Probably why I sported a Commander Riker beard for two years.
Of course by now the call has went out to stock up on tea and biscuits as Barra Best wraps himself in a white sheet and stands atop BBC Broadcasting House chanting 'Hi ho hi ho, BBC weather yo' abuse at RTE across the road. He accepts that he's not impressive, hairy, or Australian enough to be Thor but Saruman is pretty badass too. And every man secretly wants to be as metal as Christopher Lee. I won't be making any other jokes about the white sheet because I’m giving American politics a rest.
Well, this post took a bit of a rambling journey, guess that’s me earning the name of the website. I’m off now to watch the survivalist documentary ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ so I’ll know what to do with my neighbours if the heat goes out.
I'm worried that I might have hit the end of the internet and all that remains is the dark net, but I'm alright for hitmen and white-slaves at the moment.
That's my opening line to hide the fact that trawling Twitter today didn't really give me any ideas for trying to write a comedy post. It's all Trump, Brexit, and our own shambles of a government on the feed right now and that just gets tiring after a while. I think that means they've finally won. Good for you, you bastards.
So whilst I go off to slave over a few dick jokes for Wednesday's upcoming post I've uploaded a picture of the latest charcoal project I'm working on for my Crap Artwork page. It's not done yet, despite the signature (I just like signing my name to things).
Oh, and Tootiepie who sent me the hate (as seen on my Home page) never got back to me, which was a real disappointment since he was able to express himself so passionately yet remained self aware enough to ensure he put a signature on it. Liking my own comment was maybe a bit on the nose for him. Ah well, as the poet Taylor Swift said, "Haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate... now please stop writing to me Kyle, you are incredibly far down the list of guys I'd ever go out with."
Never shared this one publicly. Wrote this for the 2017 Costa Short Story Awards, wanted to do something different to the violence, swearing and cosmic horror that appears to varying degrees in my other stuff. It's a bit talky and doesn't really go anywhere but it was fun to explore something with a bit more heart.
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‘Marie, time to get your arse out of the office.’
That’s how my editor put the story to me, fed up with watching me stare out the broad second floor window into the great horizon beyond the Bay. Time to focus on a story because I wasn’t being paid to mope around like a lonely city girl assembling fluff articles from the internet, so I was given a human interest piece for the Sunday edition that I was promised would put a smile back on my face if no one else.
In the afternoon I met the old man by an abandoned piece of railway line outside of Galway. True to legend he was living in an ancient boxcar that looked as though it had not moved from this spot since Ireland was ruled by the English.
No one could say how long he had lived here and he did not record the time, a waste counting away the past and putting a limit on the future he had said. Green fields and grey mountains, what did the hours mean to them? Little more than it meant to the stars in the sky.
Papa Joe was known as the Last King of the Boxcars, an American originally, Tennessee or Louisiana perhaps but through sheer desire or force of will had become a citizen of the world. A man with no means who had took himself around the globe on a shoestring, and who had come to our rugged West Coast to see out his days.
The newspaper had heard of the arrival of this urban legend and had sent me to get the story, time for the Dublin girl to see what the Irish countryside really looked like. So I put on my wellies, parked my car at a farm and hiked my way across three fields of grass in the Galway hills to reach the abandoned line.
Rusted tracks that led to nowhere across an old stone bridge were the final home to the creaking railcar of bygone days, its paint long since faded and peeled leaving exposed wooden panels that had seen too many winters. The side door was pulled open slightly revealing a deep darkness inside, not an imposing black but an inviting dark like it would be home to a crackling fire.
And sitting with his feet over the edge was the venerable Papa Joe, long grey beard and equally long grey hair, neither of which were unkempt; he wore simple clothes that looked as if he had made them himself and a robe that doubled as a blanket on the cold nights. His piercing blue eyes followed me as I climbed the grass verge to the bridge, a small smile on his weathered but strangely compassionate face that was all at once warming and disarming.
“It has been many a year since I have had the company of a young lady,” he said, his voice confident but kind, and just a little bit tired, “what can this old man do for you, my dear?”
“There are stories that you have seen the world,” I said as I reached the old sentinel on the bridge, “I would like to hear the story from you, my paper would like to print your tale. We’ll pay you of course.”
“I have no interest in money, child,” he said, and with a bit of force pushed his door open wider, the rusted runners groaning, “however if you would care to sit and hear the ramblings of an old wanderer I will happily talk to you, something people don’t do often enough, don’t you think?”
Accepting his offer I gave a small jump to sit up next to him in the old carriage, uncertain of what to expect as I landed on the ancient wood. Truth be told I probably expected there to be a smell, there can’t have been many showers on the long road from the American South to Galway. To my surprise the only scent was that of old, weather-beaten wood, the aroma of a long history coming near its end.
“There are all sorts of social media these days,” I said as I sought out my notepad in the confines of the overlarge bag I had carried with me as a memento mori from Dublin, “people have more opportunity to talk and engage than ever before.”
“It’s not really talking though, is it? Peoples’ faces constantly in their phones, carefully editing what they say and mounting any soapbox because it’s so easy to be angry now, I’ve seen a lot of that on my travels. They are marketing a brand of Self,” he summed up his opinions of our Information Age culture, then his square shoulders slouched and he leaned toward me, “but you didn’t come here to listen to an old fool rant about how things were better when people had to make an effort to build relationships.”
“I’m here to listen to you talk about whatever you want to talk about,” I crossed my legs and gave what I hope was an honest smile, “legend says you’ve seen most of this world, anything you say is of interest to the paper.”
“You have very pretty eyes,” he said and I blushed, “but sad. Would you care to talk to me about it?”
“Just a bit tired,” I looked down at the blank page before me, “how about the story of what set you on the road?”
“Love,” he said with a smile, “the most powerful force in the universe. You see, I love people, but I just don’t understand them.”
Papa Joe told me of how he was outside a black church in Memphis one Sunday morning in June, a glorious day and the singing inside made his heart soar. The day could not be more perfect he said, everything was right about this day.
The Klan had a rally planned for the day; they were marching up the street in their hoods and robes, paint in hand to daub the church with their slogans and pickets of hatred ready to plant in the grounds. The perfect day was so close to being awful.
Hell’s Angels have a reputation ranging anywhere from fearsome to terrifying, so when the local chapter set up a blockade in the street with their motorcycles the Klan was stopped in their tracks, they knew better than to touch the bikes. A huge man hidden under tattoos and beard approached the church as the congregation began to file out, he removed his leather hat and held it to his heart as he spoke to the pastor, who embraced the man as his brother.
“Understand that this was during the Civil Rights Marches and I was a much younger man,” Papa Joe said, “but that one act of love told me that there was so much more than the apathy and wickedness that I had come to associate with the world. That inspired me; I wanted to see more small acts of kindness making better a world fast becoming indifferent.”
Furiously scribbling every word he said, trying to capture the tone and emotion of what he was saying so that his tale would ring true on paper, to weave the nuance that would capture the heart.
“On this quest I have seen much love, and much bitterness, anger, and sorrow, like the loss I see in you.”
“It’s nothing,” I said, my pen hovered over the page as if the words had suddenly drained from my mind, “um, where did you visit after Memphis?”
My sins were not something that I wanted to talk about, was not ready to talk about not with a complete stranger. I understand the hypocrisy in that, but this hurt was my own cross to bear.
“I brushed floor and cleaned dishes across the US until I found myself unpacking ships at the docks in San Francisco,” he smiled and closed his sharp eyes, turning his face to the sun as if remembering better days, “tough work with tough men, but they were kind. The fishermen let me work with them to earn a wage; they let me sleep on the boats so I could save my money. I had decided to cross the Great Ocean, to give myself as huge a culture shock as possible.”
Fiji was where Papa Joe next found himself, a tear forming in his eye as he told me of the poverty in the villages there, simple huts without even running water. But the tear was not one of sorrow, no matter where he went he saw generosity and compassion, they had nothing but in their hearts they had everything.
The people there were so full of joy, so open and welcoming; he said he never ate so well with nothing asked in return, so he put his skill as a fisherman to work to ensure that he could provide his fair share. Language was not a barrier when a gesture such as the offering of a fish in friendship could speak a thousand words.
Sometime later when his feet got restless he crossed to Australia and was met immediately with a return to Western arrogance; less compassion, more distrust, fewer smiles.
Papa Joe panned for gold in Victoria, took his time, was patient, lived in an old shed in a dusty field, and over a few years he amassed enough to continue his journey. He watched the cost of living rise in Australia and laughed at the irony of it all: life was a gift but to keep living came at a cost.
“So, was it a boyfriend that has darkened your eyes?”
“No, it’s something more than that,” his own eyes took on an almost fatherly concern, “something far deeper.”
“Papa Joe, please,” I swallowed back a wave of emotion and thought about cutting short the interview, “this isn’t something that I want to talk about.”
He touched my arm with a hand calloused and strong, but the touch was gentle, meant to soothe my discomfort. I could see it in his penetrating eyes and feel it in my heart that he did not want to see me upset; I don’t know why I felt that way.
When the Wall that split the world in two came down he had decided to go north and see a nation where everyone in theory was equal, and said it horrified him to see that when a State sets the value of life that value is not high. There were so many good people he said, proud of their land because it was their land, it belonged to the people. Most simply chose not to see that the people in turn belonged to the State, and sometimes the State could be brutal, but in that time of upheaval it became more ambivalent, neglectful even. So the people did what they always did, they went about their work and did their best to look after their own.
It was on an old steam train crossing from Asia to Europe that a young soldier gave up his overcoat for an old man shivering on the carriage. An old man with no money, and the soldier probably not paid in months was unlikely to be able to replace the coat, and such a warm coat it looked to be on that cold and rickety train. The old man immediately got up and draped it over a young woman already wrapped in a shawl and heavily pregnant, he said something with a smile and placed a kindly hand on her face.
“I asked the soldier what he had said to her,” Papa Joe had tears welling in his eyes now, “the young man said ‘In my twilight I have God for warmth, in you there is the future’, I never forgot that.”
The tears, the river of emotion swelled up in me, I could no longer hold it back, the valley ran low and my defences were gone. Papa Joe put his arms around me and made soothing sounds; he squeezed me tight and told me to let the river flow.
“I was pregnant,” I sobbed, the words no longer would be held back, “but not to my boyfriend. I broke his heart, I broke our love. I lost him, I loved him so much. I still love him.”
“It’s ok,” he said, gently patting my back, “it’s ok.”
“No it’s not,” I pulled back, I knew my makeup was running down my face with my tears, I hugged my tummy, “not long after we separated I lost the baby. I lost everything, my child, the man I loved.”
Papa Joe hugged me.
He didn’t do anything else; he just held me as the tears ran down my cheeks and stained my blouse. He let me pour my heart out. He let me expel the dark cloud that had been in my head and heart and had driven me from Dublin. I had run away from the city lights to Galway to try and find peace or a new start but it had followed me here.
“I ruined everything, and my child was taken from me for it.”
“God would never punish your child because of a mistake,” Papa Joe stroked my hair, “you know your mistake and the hurt in your heart, but in time that hurt will fade if you let it. God does not want you to live filled with pain and anger; such a life would make you miss all that is good and beautiful in this world. Your child was blessed with a spark of life, but some sparks simply fade quicker than others and are all the more beautiful for it. These things are not for us to know why.”
“The Divine Plan,” a childhood of sitting in the back of Church terrified of these all-powerful men in white who held the destiny of my soul in their hands came flooding back, “God’s ineffable will?”
“There can’t be a plan and also free will, people see things and record things and do things and the interpretation of these can vary from person to person,” he was still holding me, but softer now, “I once saw a Rabbi intercede in an armed robbery right outside a mosque in Vienna, the Samaritan ended up taking a bullet for his trouble. The young Muslim man who was the intended victim held his hand whilst I fetched the ambulance; he stayed with the Rabbi all the way to the hospital.
“Some might interpret that as ‘no good deed goes unpunished’, others might see two enemies finding common cause,” Papa Joe sat back, he was looking tired now and I came to realise that we had been talking for hours and the evening had long since drawn in, “others will see simple charity between one human being and another.”
“And what do you believe you saw,” I wiped my tears and held my pen ready again, “how did you interpret it?”
“I saw compassion,” he said, his voice breaking slightly, “and all hurts no matter how old or deep can be forgiven. Sometimes it takes pain, and sometimes it just takes the courage to ask.”
I couldn’t help feel deep inside that somehow he had been speaking to me this entire time, that there was some destiny or providence at play that had brought us together in this old wooden car on broken tracks laid over an abandoned bridge.
“For someone who set out to understand the human condition it sounds to me like you have found the answers you were seeking.”
“If only, my dear, I can bring comfort with my words,” the first stars were appearing in the sky, “but there is so much I don’t understand. So many terrible acts committed in this world and all for the wrong reasons. Land, dogma, money, to feel stronger than others, to have control over others. And yet all to come to the very same ending after so much life and time invested.”
“We are flawed, but I think if we were able to work it all out then a lifetime would be too long.”
Papa Joe looked at me then with eyes suddenly understanding something that was beyond me, and then he smiled, just a soft smile.
“I hope that I have been able to help you.”
“Oh yes,” I had filled pages of the notebook, the day had hardly seemed to have passed, and my heart felt lighter now than it had in a long, long time, “the story will be fantastic, you have led an amazing life.”
Saying nothing he gave me another smile and leaned back against the doorframe, staring across the darkened countryside, not a cloud in the sky and the Heavens opening in all their majestic splendour above us.
“Your next step after Galway,” I said, “your next journey would be a nice way to finish the story.”
“My journey is finished,” Papa Joe smiled, “so tonight, at last, I am going home.”
“Tonight? Can I take you somewhere?”
“You already have, my dear,” he placed his hand on mine, the rough skin warm, “you’ve taken me over a lifetime.”
A shooting star streaked across the sky momentarily above us, burning out in the cosmos under a twinkling sheet of stars all watching us. And I came to realise with horror that he was becoming physically drained and my heart told me what he had meant about going home.
“Papa Joe,” I tapped at his hands trying to keep his eyes open, didn’t know what else to do, my own heart was racing, “stay with me, I’ll phone for help, just stay with me.”
“I always will be,” he smiled, and then the Last King of the Boxcars closed his eyes, “finish your story with what the old man said on the train, in my twilight I have God for warmth, in you there is the future.”
I kinda set a bar on Monday writing poetry about the antics of an amorous drunk so this post is going to have to take one for the team by existing more or less as a placeholder.
Was out questing today to level up my stamina...that's the nerdy way to say that I went for a walk. The really nerdy way would be to say that I was out grinding, but I think you need an app for that.
Was getting my Photo Gimp on because it had been a while since I've posted anything to Instagram and it's nice to remind people that you exist, and to make me feel like having Insta isn't a complete waste of memory that could be replaced with cat memes.
After getting my retinas seared with the sun reflecting off the stupidly calm lake I found a nice spot where I could catch a nice, fun shot. Inverting it I figured that it kind of looked like something out of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, or maybe a Dark Souls that didn't hate you. If I hadn't been listening to a podcast about Jack the Ripper at the time I might have had a few adventurer fantasies... and looked like a bit of a tit.
So, sometimes I've other things to write or people don't bother my friends in ways that inspire me so I figured I'll share this image with you. No filter, and turn your monitor upside down if you want to see the original.
(Oh, and don't bother my friends, that's just odd).
Views expressed may not be representative of reality.