He picked me up at eight. When I opened the door he gave me thirteen roses; one for every month we’d been together. He complimented me politely on the dress I’d umm-ed and ahh-ed over for a good hour, a stylish silk number filched from the back of mum’s wardrobe. We held hands as he drove, his fingers brushing the promise ring I so proudly displayed. Our second Valentine’s. We’d made it past the “honeymoon” year, defied all the naysayers, the no-longer-friends, my parents. So what if Jay was a little bit older? He loved me.
The restaurant was perfect, as always. A classy affair with suited waiters who “yes ma’am-ed” and a server just for wine, who asked Jay to taste before he’d pour the scarlet liquid into my glass. God knows what we talked about, while I played with a caesar salad and he sawed at a steak, I was so distracted by those eyes of his, eyes that were somehow, unbelievably, only for me. Maybe we had a glass or two more than we should, but we found ourselves unable to control our laughter as we climbed the gates to the park. Jay mimicked pirouettes beneath the trees to the tune of my delighted squeals. I chased him across the bridges in the Japanese gardens, and we rolled together down the grassy banks, damp with evening dew, children again beneath the stars. We waltzed in the light of the moon to music only we could hear, and for a moment I imagined myself in white satin, and he in a tux, twirling in perfect grace across a polished floor. Out of breath, we lay in the grass, cuddled close against the night’s chill. As we gazed into the empty night he told me stories, his childhood, his life so far, what ours together could be. I revelled in his bitter-sweet scent, the dash of expensive cologne discolouring his shirt collar, the birthmark cradled by the curve of his neck. Muscles in his arms shifted and flexed as he pointed out a constellation, told me it was mine. Virgo. He pulled me closer to press a kiss to my cheek as he gestured to his, the archer.
When my curfew grew close and he reluctantly returned me home, he kissed me sweetly, wary of the disapproving stare of my parents behind the curtains. Afterwards, as I turned to go, he caught my hand, pulled me close to whisper in my ear, to promise me the world.
I killed her at eight. Her blood dripped from my knife, blossomed into petals of gore on the concrete, stained white silk crimson. I took my pretty ring off her finger, for the next one, and laid her out across the back seats. Brushed the golden curls out of her peaceful little doll-face. As I drove to mine, I caught her eye in the rearview. My pretty little one. I’m taking you home.
When Ben came home from work that day, slowly unfolding from his battered company car like a man much older than himself, the apartment block was quieter than usual. The noisy children who frequented the driveway-turned-playground were conspicuously absent, their abandoned football left to roll unattended in the breeze. The hedgerows had been neglected by both council and tenants, equally more concerned with their own lives, families, incomes. They grew out of control, shooting out green spears at varying angles, swallowing up rose bushes and petunias alike in their path. A discarded BMX bike half-blocked the entranceway, propping open the door and rendering the keypad security useless. The frame of its back wheel was distorted, as if viewed through water or clouded glass, unrideable. The tea ladies on the second floor, on their lunch breaks after a busy day serving others, whispered gossip between half-open doorways. Fell awkwardly silent and dispersed as Ben rounded the stairs. As he rose through floors three and four, a pungent smell of marijuana clung to fibres in a well-loved coat, followed him to the top floor, where the young couple in 53 was communicating with each other the only way they knew how. In screams. He sighed, pausing for a second, resting head and shoulder on the wall to listen, the shouting a welcome hum in the dark silence that consumed him. Ben’s flat was empty and cold, the jingle of keys in the lock met by the silent stack of unopened post on the mat. Ben pushed them carelessly to one side with a foot, careful not to look. It took a while for post to get out sometimes. He couldn’t read a dead boy’s words. Not yet, not now.
I knew Sam when he was ten. Now look at him.
Sure, the ears are the same, but there’s just not the same innocence to that lopsided grin, the left side of the face now permanently tugged up, contorted. Drugs will do that to you. I used to see him from afar once we moved up to Secondary, separated into streams, “Y” did Spanish, “X” French. He was smoking even then, fingers tapping, playing some complex instrument only he could see. By the time my parents dragged me halfway across the country in search of greener fields, he was fourteen and fading. His BMX tricks neglected for a lazy meander to the nearest dealer-friend, whoever was hot-boxing that morning. All those smarts gone to waste. Look at him now, pushing the latest high at third-rate festivals, a McDonalds drop-out. Stealing from old friends just to get by. The darker side of life caught him too early, changed him. Got its hooks into flesh that healed over the years, deformed. Twisted.
He’s not even Sam anymore.
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Rap. Rap. Rap.
She isn’t answering the door. I trample the roses going round to the back to get in. The kitchen lights are on, the fridge hums but all is hushed. In the living room the TV mimes In The Night Garden. Creeping, cloying cold, a whisper in the dark. Evidence of her everywhere. A tap half shut.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
Nudge it shut, welcome the silence. But it’s not silent, is it? Not so clean. The cacophony of scents violates my nostrils, the lingering bass-toned bitterness of rich coffee, the harsh clash of bleach. I follow the remnants of some flower-touched musk up the curve of the stairs. Her scent contaminates my pure, fresh skin. Let her noise intrude upon my silence, everything has its moment.
Creak. Creak. Creak.
The landing is long, stretches out like the red carpet she loves so much. Fawns for. Prostitutes herself for the stutter of shutters, bursts of pearly light, like a discharging machine gun. Mowed down by media tyranny. Conquered by the press. Displaying her back for the world so they too can memorise the constellations her freckles form. Movies. Advertising. Magazines. The door hangs open, an invitation. How did she know? Has she followed me as I’ve followed her? Darkness interrupted. The seconds blink into being, cast a green glow across her, encased in the warmth of bed. Catches the gold of her hair, the slope of her nose, the curve of a lip, a jaw, the expanse of a long pale neck. Counts towards the twilight hours. The beginning of a new world. My hand shakes as I crave to touch, reach towards those ever-tempting locks. Mine. Breath whooshes. I bathe in this moment.
Freeze. The door creaks where it was silent at my touch. Snatch my hand back as the knowledge of my intention burns. Feel my face cast a burst of heat across the room, feel her stir and shift away, repelled by the extra warmth. Light from the hall casts a shadow on the wall, clutching at a bear. Panic rises, catches in my throat, like a cricket rests on my adam’s apple. Chirps. Then comes the burst of previously unseen clarity. Breaks through the mud of my mind. Add it up. Add it up! Think. And then it slips into place, just as my hand slips into the space in my pocket where I know the chloroform will be. Buy one get one free. Only fun-sized. I can’t believe she hid this from me. Whored herself out to a vapid fan, no doubt. But I will forgive her that, once we are home together.
I love her.
Vermilion vapors spray pallid ivory, like coral blooms on canvas. Cosmic blood-splatter, carmine, copper, crimson, claret, gore, cruor… Or at least, that’s what some malnourished twat with a library of thesauruses would say. Honestly, it looks more like “God” tried his hand at finger painting with cosmic ketchup. The Earth, that is, in case you were wondering what the fuck I’m on about.
One day soon, this world will be gone forever, existing only in faded memory, relegated to an exhibit in the museums of some higher life form. Cockroaches’, probably. This whole place is one rapidly decaying organism. From spotted frogs to luminous bird-wing butterflies, towering pine forests to the gaping chasm of a whale’s mouth, beetles like a glittering rainbow skittering across the floor, there aint nothinʼ worse than you humans. Consuming. Depleting. Destroying. The virus that’ll end it all. Award-winning apocalyptic entertainment, really. Aint a TV drama like it. What? Do something? What could I do to stop you? Little old me, fly on the wall, watching this perverse world go round, “cleaning house” while the tyrants of the known world exploit the natural fecundity of the planet they all claim as “theirs” with a capital “T”. Going to dinner to celebrate progress made. 12 brains dismantled today. You make my wings itch. But somehow you aint haunted by fish gazing blankly behind dirty glass, yellow like nicotine-stained fingers. Or pickled flesh.
What? Your labs aren’t so “hermetically sealed” that one of us lot can’t sneak in, you know. I’ve seen your so-called “experiments”. Sewing the eyes of helpless kittens shut, just to see what their brains might do. Catching a whiff of the fetid stench as you burn and lobotomize at will, call it “science”. Butchering conscious guinea pigs. They sure bleed better when they struggle and squeal. Dandruff free! Such a shame she couldn’t live to see it. Unable to look away, a thousand images of despair reflected onto my helpless lidless orbs. Crawling slow as slow can be, tarsus over tarsus along your whitewashed façade. I’ll bide my time, sheltering from sporadic ventures into chemical war, arbitrary attempts at crushing me, and others like me. ‘Cause your truth is out, word’s getting round, and one day we’ll find the cure to end all “cures”. And justice will be so pure, so picturesque, so perfectly poetic we won’t need no thesaurus to describe it! Shakespeare already said it all:
‘As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods,
They kill us for their sport’.
But not for much longer.
First they came for the chickens
and I did not speak out – because I was not a chicken…’
In the beginning they were as free as chickens could be. Each morning, copious amounts of grain were scattered about the decrepit concrete yard and they would be free to peck it up at their convenience. They’d emerge from the henhouse as soon as a farmhand slid open the door, their first goal to seek out a patch of dust in which to immerse their tousled feathers. They lived in blissful ignorance, unaware of the feelings of resentment that emanated from the other animals as they toiled through mindless drudgery, or were led across the yard for the last time, en-route to the abattoir.
Mr. Frederick had never liked the chickens. They got under his feet as he went about his chores and their grain was so expensive, he was barely breaking even. Egg farming just wasn’t profitable any more. The other animals’ jealousy was hindering the production of the farm. Something had to be done, and fast.
The door to the henhouse slid up, and as usual the chickens shuffled sleepily down the ramp, only to be confronted by a fence. It was not a particularly high fence but, since Mr. Frederick had clipped their wings overnight, it was high enough. The ground was conspicuously absent of grain, and the chickens scratched aimlessly at the cracked concrete. Eventually, when the sun was sinking over the horizon and the bellies of the chickens were protesting their emptiness to the world, Mr. Frederick appeared with a small bucket of grain, grain that was crawling with weevils and green with mould. The chickens, starving as they were, fell upon the poor quality food, pecking and scratching each other in their haste. The sun winked one last time before disappearing behind the hills as Gobbler, one of Mr. Frederick’s favourite Rottweilers, crept into the barn where the majority of the farm’s animals slept.
“I suppose all of you have noticed the predicament of the chickens,” he said. “Do not feel sympathy. The chickens have been stealing food from your mouths.” The other animals bayed their agreement. “All Mr. Frederick is doing is moving the chickens into a separate area so they no longer hinder our production rate, and reducing their expenses.” With that, Gobbler left the barn and returned to guard the farmhouse door. The next morning, the animals went about their business without a thought for the plight of the chickens. After all, Gobbler had made it all seem quite reasonable.
After a week had passed, the chickens’ emaciated forms were a cause for concern. The other animals found it difficult to remain unperturbed by such a sight, and were often distracted in their work. The eggs the chickens produced were poor, and some had stopped laying altogether.
One dismally damp afternoon, Mr. Frederick and his farmhands converged on the chicken enclosure, dressed in long rubber gloves and wellington boots. Each grabbed two chickens roughly by the yellow stalks that were once healthy legs. They swung them by their sides as they strode towards an unused barn, one that the farmhands had been busily working on throughout the week. As they entered the gloomy depths of the building, thunder rolled and lightning flashed, illuminating, for a mere moment, the glistening metal of the blades arrayed before them and the stack of compact chicken-wire cages. Through a door left ajar, the chickens glimpsed a small room, empty but for a stump of wood that held a freshly-sharpened axe. Coldly and clinically, the men de-beaked the chickens, snapped a numbered ring of plastic around their left legs, and then stuffed them three to a cage.
Gobbler again visited the other animals, this time to inform them that Mr. Frederick had discovered that the chickens were able to provide a vital service, one that would give them an edge over Foxwood and Manor Farm, and they had been moved to the barn to allow them to work uninterrupted.
With each day that passed, the chickens were force-fed large quantities of grain. Some chickens developed infections in the wounds where their beaks had been, others developed problems with their legs from standing in their own excrement. Never were the chickens let out, except to be carried into the room with the axe. Carried to their deaths.
‘First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew…’
-Pastor Martin Niemöller
“Globe-trotting”. As a child, the term had conjured a frankly ludicrous image of the imagination – a feisty pony navigating the surface of my father’s favourite paper weight. Now, all-grown-up and weary of the true meanings of the world, the reality left much to be desired. ‘Travel the world’ they’d said, ‘it will tame you’ they’d said, pointing out it’d cost half as much as uni and there’d be a nicer view. Sat on the tattered windowsill of a grimy hotel room, nursing a glass of whatever the establishment liked to call Scotch, I couldn’t see it. If anything, my mood had been made worse, left to stagnate now that I had finally returned home, travel weary. Forgotten by the family I had left behind. The paperweight sat there on the battered chest of drawers, its innocuous little globe encased in chipped glass. Mocking me. No matter where I looked it drew my eye, a constant reminder of the inadequacy of my reality. Shell-shocked. All my failures, early release, termination of service, such a shame, such a disappointment. Didn’t take much effort to fling it across the room. The place was tiny, after all. A jail cell. Made a bit of a crash, flung a splinter or two into the air at speed. There goes my good night’s sleep, sacrificed to the inevitable discomfort sleeping with bits of wall would bring. Not that it made much of a difference. The sheets were already pretty grim. Pretty sure those dark stains were once fresh blood.
cinnamon sticks get your cinnamon sticks people bustling by market cries horns honk chatter radio chatter dust in my boots breathe it in sweat coffee fish snap snap snap just potshots stay alert sweat dust cough breathe in cinnamon
The horrors of the world flashed beneath my eyelids, crept amongst my tortured mind, my stomach roiled within me.
I reached for a knife.
That wasn’t any good – too messy. Behind the pleasure of warm blood splashed on pale flesh, their helpless grin, they took their time to fall. They choked too loud, twitching like a puppet whose strings I’d just cut. Ever so beautiful, but not enough. No. The sun rose and the sun set and each time I was different. It initiated change, only to wash it away. Yet the memory of it lingered. Like a hard-drive that could never be erased, it could not be forgotten. It clung to me, dirtied me, forced me to remember.
The gun was better. Harder to find, but not as hard as expected. Not when I had the knife, the blood-stained sleeve, the oh-so-welcoming grin. Everything was so perfect for a while, they fell like stones, never to get back up. Red puddled into pillows for splintered skulls. It got me in the papers, but only page 11 of the Sun. The Kardashian sisters had a fight that week. Something about Kanye. God knows. Somewhere in the middle of it all, caught in the thrill, somewhere amidst those oh-so-beautiful squeals, the pitter-patter of dripping life-blood, my moment of atrophy had ended. Unshackled from the inherent boredom of ‘normality’ that I had blindly pursued throughout my so-called ‘Life’. Love. Death. What was the difference? I had found my calling. Something I was finally good at. Drunk on the heady cocktail of success I couldn’t help but thirst for more.
The coffee shop was a quaint little thing, for a chain store. With a little bell that tinkled above the door with each caffeine-addict it admitted into the shop’s warmth.
warm sun bread in oven hiss of steam footsteps how was the train the train was good wind passes by the windows leaves on the breeze trees are dying water runs deep thirsty dogs howl wings flutter drumbeats on the air march to battle left right left right projectiles squeal splash rats ants flies scatter drowning through cotton towels kettle boiling off the heat was it two sugars here you go
Ada enjoyed the experience of the coffee shop. She bathed herself in the heady aroma while pondering the mouth-watering array of cakes and pastries, trying to decide whether it was a decaf-day, or half-fat, or syrup, or extra sprinkles, or cream, or whether she should just screw the diet and treat herself to all at once. What would it hurt? That iced mocha-latte did sound nice… She ambled along in the queue, taking the opportunity to people watch without appearing out-right nosy. At the counter she initiated a deep, meaningful rumination on the meaning of life with the flushed but rather handsome barista. Asked for his number only to be brushed off. You win some, you lose some. Said yes to sprinkles. Ada loved the coffee queue.
Henry, not so much. He needed caffeine. Now. With each precise, measured tick of the second-hand in his Rolex, he could feel money wasted, his grasp of the stock market slipping through his fingers. Coffee kept his hands occupied, kept him from putting that gun to his head and pulling the trigger. Black with two sugars. Another glance at the clock. The queue moved too lazily, middle-aged mothers with nothing better to do and students who couldn’t care less if they did. The barista took his own damn time, fulfilling every picky sod’s whimsical fancies, trying to sell an extra shot of some new syrup, chatting up every woman who asked for half-fat, complimenting the caffeine-frees on their complexion. Henry just wanted a damn coffee. Was that too much to ask?
So different in life, I united them in death. Insufferable in their mundane existence I treated them to spontaneity. With an earthshattering quake and a flash of hot, harsh heat I dismantled them.
WHOOSH thrown down rough hands hot flesh coughing breathing dust BANG hot heat flesh tornado blood rains dead weight push it off sir fuck oh fuck MEDIC oh shit death everywhere everyone dead dying broken
Disconnected from their idiosyncrasies. Rescued from the pain of living. Lord knows the poor sods needed it. They’re so grateful they’ve made me a star! BBC, ITV, CNN, FOX… they’re all great fans of my work. The world is my oyster – for once I decide who lives and dies!
Red bleeds tendrils across inky black night just as I too colour the world in Crimson
Red Hot Angry Bleeding