find your purpose

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all knew our purpose in life?

What about if your life’s purpose was to find your purpose?

And what if you couldn’t die until you had?

Following a prompt courtesy of Reddit, I’ve just finished the first draft of a story on precisely that theme.  Coming in at just over 6000 words, it’s about the right length for a short story.  Some of it will be uploaded here in the coming weeks – maybe all of it if people want.

But you can’t just release a story out into the world when it’s only in its first draft – that would be tantamount to murder!  You kick your children out of the house once they are mature enough to handle it, not before.  On the other hand . . .

. . . it would be a dreadful post without just a taste of what is to come.  Here’s one of my favourite bits so far:

I have to say, this last century was probably the least fun.

I’m sat right now at a café. Not in Paris, good grief no; this isn’t a film. I’m actually in Warsaw, wrapped in a blanket and sipping a hot chocolate which I am pleased to discover is just as disgusting as the last time I was here. I’m scanning the bodies as they go past, hoping for some spark – anything – but no. My people are all gone now. And this century is just the worst, and it’s only just started, and I’ve done my best but in the end it wasn’t enough.

My name at the moment is Davis, by the way, not that it matters.

I didn’t cross the continents. I regret that. I mean, I’ve been everywhere now, but I really wish I’d been alive back when you could walk from Sydney all the way to Reykjavik. I once met a guy who claimed he had, but he claimed all kinds of stuff. And he’s gone now.

There was a girl, too – there’s always a girl – but that’s not really surprising, given my age. There have been girls, guys, and everything in between.

But the girl is what’s important right now, and not for the reasons you might think.

Find out all about Davis and his long, curious life in the coming weeks!

Emblem Black (2)

channelling poe

NeedleInTheHay.net called it “lyrical beauty”.  I like that.  The challenge this time came, fittingly enough, from a dead man: Martin Heidegger.

Man acts as though he were the shaper and master of language, while in fact language remains the master of man.

I say ‘fittingly’ because the brief called for 600 words of horror, into which contestants also had to somehow work the theme of the “power of language”.

Those of you who know me know that I am not the kind of man to write about ghosts and ghoulies and that, when I dip into the horror genre, I like to do so in a more creeping, subtle way.  When the themes of language and horror came together in the same brief, I thought about Poe.  What would he do?

If you go and check out the WINNER ANNOUNCEMENT, you’ll see that Sophie Macdonald took the trophy with her excellent story My Best Friend, a story with remarkable – but not obvious – links to my own.  In both our stories, we explored the question: ‘Can you be cursed by language?’  And although Ms Macdonald and I both said ‘yes’, the way we went about it is different.  In her story, it is a quite literal curse, and in my own – in a humble homage to Poe – the curse comes entirely from the mind of the protagonist.

Following judges’ feedback, I have made some minor improvements which have pushed it over the 600-word mark, but – as always – I am glad to receive any and all feedback from my readers.  Enjoy!

Read up on Sophie Macdonald HERE

Swallowed Whole

It’s time to go out.

The poem will never be finished. I understand that now. For when it’s finished, it will swallow me whole. How arrogant to even imagine I could capture you, trap you down on paper.

The diamond of her face as she slept

Her scent, drawing me as a beacon draws ships to the safety of harbour

The silver sheen of her hair at night. . .

Pure arrogance.

Outside, the night is black and full of everything. Everything. A year I’ve been trapped, exiled in that room, eating because food was brought, sleeping only from exhaustion, my head upon the desk.

And still it isn’t finished.

But outside: Everything. My bare arms prickle with sweat in the warmth of the night, my feet moving as if they’re only now learning what it is to truly walk. Not to pace. Not to pace one room, endlessly, from wall to window, but to stretch and move.

So many smells. So many good smells: seafood; the sharp tang of spices; rich, greasy meat; baked bread; cocktails of sauces and dressings; piss from the alleyway, strong with ammonia – but that’s good, too. Everything is good.

Lanterns festoon the street, end to end, and the colours . . . had I forgotten about them? I must have written the colour of your hair. I must have, but now . . .

All the things I’ve missed, my year alone. You weren’t there.

You aren’t here either, in this street lined with bright pools of light, with tacky jewellery stands, with mountains of deep-fried doughnuts lost in clouds of sugar, all of it undeniably alive. Of course you aren’t here. You don’t belong here any more.

I drink the Everything in, I touch every surface. My senses draw me on, ever further from my door. I want to remember, not to disappear again. At home, there is only silence, and a poem that can’t be finished.

I open my mouth, taste the air. Midnight approaches and still people boil along the market street. Elbows scrape against my ribs, hair brushes my arm, something wet and cold – I don’t care what – splashes my leg.

The voices . . . a mad grindwheel, scratching at my ears like passionate fingernails. After the silence of my room, it’s agony, but if I had the power to stop it, I wouldn’t. I’m alive. You died, I remain. Perhaps I forgot to die with you, perhaps I wanted to finish your poem first. Perhaps, even, I hoped it would bring you back.

Foolish.

Arrogant.

It lies unfinished, and I’m alive And I know now: I want to stay. I cannot embrace your cold, lingering traces any longer. It’s time to colour our memories with new experiences, fresh ones to flavour the old. It’s time to–

. . . drawing me to her . . .

Your scent.

No.

I take the alley, forging into darkness. Here it’s cooler, with vague silhouettes lurking from the shadows. I must escape. I burst out into a street lit not by lanterns, but by streetlights. More puddles lie on the road here, shining–

. . . silver sheen. . .

No!

I run. Why has it come? Why now?

Ahead, the harbour. The last place you ever were. We met here, once. But now I see: my poem isn’t at home.

It’s here, waiting for me at the jetty.

And here’s how to finish it:

A kiss.

It washes my feelings away, washes everything away. The silence feels like bliss. The waters close over my head, harbour lights shimmering above me. Below me, the diamond of your face.

Finally finished.

Emblem Black (2)

still falling

Following on from last week, I present to you – without any sort of nonsense or idle chatter – the second part of my investigation into faith.

If you missed part one, read it first HERE

Emblem Black (2)

To Lilith, the rain that poured from the sky was a mere annoyance. It drenched her to the very bones, sapped her strength away as it flowed out of her trouser cuffs. Before the sun was even in the sky, it had rained. And now, several hours later, it showed no inclination to stop. Lilith had never lost a battle of wills, but it seemed that this particular rainstorm was a seasoned opponent. It wasn’t the worst thing, though.

“What the heck are you doing out in this weather?”

No, not the worst thing by a long shot. This one looked nice enough, at least. But he wanted the same thing as the others. She didn’t break her stride. “I’m fine, thank you. I can manage.”

“But you’re soaked! Why don’t you at least come in and dry off? I’ve got a spare room with a nice, soft bed. You’ll be off again in no time.”

He was short. Shorter than her, in any case, but then most normal people were. She was just a little shy of six feet, like all the other actors, which was a pity. The problem was not her height, but the fact that most male leads these days were chosen for their looks rather than their ability. These days. She would have to stop thinking like that: the theatres were all closed now.

“Thanks, but I really have somewhere to be.”

Hm. Little guy, seems nice, sheltering under a newspaper. Hold on, under a newspaper? How long had he been out in this rain sheltering under a bloody newspaper? Where the hell would you even get a newspaper?

“That’s far enough, miss.”

Ah, yes. Here it comes. Since making the decision to travel to Brinchester alone, and on foot, she had encountered several such people. Lilith was about ninety per cent certain that, if she did as he suggested, she would be imprisoned, drugged, possibly raped, and forced into prostitution. Even in the old days, it wasn’t unheard-of, but since the world had started collapsing, it was more or less commonplace. However, Lilith was not yet ready for such a radical career change.

Acting, she had always thought, was desperate work. Becoming another person for a short while, living as them, rehearsing all hours of the day and night, only to cast off that skin, like every other, and do it all again in a few weeks…and that was if you were lucky. If you were unlucky, the jobs stopped coming, you couldn’t pay the rent, you ended up sleeping with the director or trying for an office job. With zero experience. And a 2:1 in Drama. Good luck.

As desperate as it was, it had been enough. But then, England had begun to fall into the sea and, somewhat understandably, people had stopped going to the theatre. Westminster had tumbled into the Thames, along with most of the leadership of the country, but unfortunately, from there it had gone rather downhill.

Brinchester. That was the whisper on the air. In Brinchester, everything was fine. Running water; electricity; no gangs; a nice, high wall to keep the undesirables out. In a town like that, Lilith could make a living on her feet, just like she had always done.

She didn’t have the influence to board one of the few trains that were still running, so she was walking; had been for a few days. And in every town, there were men like this. The ‘nice, soft bed’ men. And that is why there was a knife in her pocket, another one at her ankle, and pepper spray in her bag.

Making a quick calculation of risk and reward, she decided on the pepper spray this time. She made a show of helpless resignation, locking his eyes with a bit of deer-in-the-headlights mummery as she groped in her bag. A little razzle-dazzle for the poor bastard, just to make sure he didn’t notice–

The bag was wrenched from her fingers. “This one’s got pepper spray, Danny. Pepper spray!”

“Perhaps you should hang on to that, Chapper. That stuff’s dangerous.”

Well, they had her. Lilith could sense an enormous presence behind her, presumably this ‘Chapper’ creature. Meanwhile, Danny – with a face as dark as the skies above – advanced towards her. She still had two knives, but she would have to move before the big guy grabbed her. Risk and reward. She thought quickly, then bolted through the rain, leaving her bag and most of her sleeve in Chapper’s fingers.

Six feet means long legs, good acceleration. She was fit, and she had the element of surprise. Lilith was under no illusions, however. These men were after her. She had hit them where it hurt: right in the ego. Twenty-five seconds to get lost, she estimated. More if she jinked a little through the side-streets, less if Danny was as fast as he looked. A lot less if any of the side-streets were blocked.

How many seconds was it now? She sprinted past disinterested groups of people, lining the streets with nowhere to go and no reason to go there. It was the same in every town. Would it really be different in Brinchester? She didn’t have time to think about that now. She cut down an alley, lungs burning, the rain masking any sound of pursuit. Any second now, the game would be up. A nice part of town, at least. If it had to be, this was as good a place as any.

Feet splashing through puddles. Fingers curling around a knife-handle. A desperate sidestep through a colonnade. Clutching hands.

A heavy, wooden door.

A bewildered-looking man with a backpack.

Collision, stars, darkness.

we all fall down

This week, I’d like to talk about faith.  No, not about Faith, but about the everyday ideas, objects, even people, in which we place our trust.  We trust that, if we have a job today, we’ll have a job tomorrow.  We trust that, if we are love today, we’ll be in love tomorrow.  We aren’t always right – but then again, that’s the nature of faith.  Most of us trust, at least, that the world itself will be there when we wake up.

And if we can’t rely on that, we can’t rely on anything.

Part two is online HERE

Faith

Act I

Jerry was drunk. It wasn’t the standard, weekend drunk – which for Jerry, had long since ceased to be standard – and it was also different from the glow to be had from drinking nice, expensive whisky. No, this was something else entirely. This was game-changing drunk, this was the deep from which some never surfaced, the fathomless murk which made best friends with sleeping pills, or with that old pistol that came from your grandfather that you never got round to throwing away. Squeezing the trigger, half of you might wonder if it still worked, while the other half would hope like hell that it did.

But Jerry was too comfortable for that. A less dynamic man you would be hard-pushed to find. It was not that Jerry couldn’t kill himself, more that he would do it on his own terms. And those terms happened to be sitting on rich leather and drinking everything in his collection, hoping against hope to go in his sleep by some sort of happy accident. Jerry couldn’t hurt a fly; his mother had always said so.

Murderer.

Somewhere in the crystal glassware on the table, his shattered reflection looked back at him, with an accusation he could not deny. It didn’t matter at all that someone else would be doing the deed, the blood that was spilled would be splattered across Jerry’s hands as surely as if he held the knife himself. And there was no way to call it off. There was an email address that bounced back everything he wrote, a phone number that gave two beeps and rang off, and a large sum of money no longer in his safe.

Murderer.

It was drink that had started it, and in drink it would no doubt end. It wasn’t his fault. His friends were gone. Archie had disappeared; no word where. Ron was probably still hanging in his office. His family were no longer at the house. Jerry had checked. Toby, at least, was in the ground; knifed for a couple of hundred and some Wrigley’s spearmint. So much death in the air. It was all around. Those at the top had the furthest to fall.

So paying a man to off the head of a rival company, that bastard who had scuppered the deal with AEG, had seemed the proper thing to do. At least, after three bottles of Merlot with whisky chasers. The phone number had lain in a drawer since the day before Archie disappeared, pushed into Jerry’s hand with a meaningful glare and the words “For when negotiations break down.” Nudge, nudge; wink, wink; goodbye, Archie.

Murderer.

This new world was horrible. Jerry wanted no part of it, certainly didn’t want to end up like the people he saw from his window. The things they did to each other…he had heard things in the night, seen the bloodstains on the street the next day. They couldn’t hurt him, though. Not up in his plush lounge. But as his supplies dwindled, he knew he would eventually have no choice but to die out there, or starve up here; Jerry couldn’t hurt a fly.

I want my mother.

Well that, at least, was a different thought. And yet, why not? When Westminster happened, he had phoned her. Last he heard, she was OK. “We live in Hope.” Always the same joke. But of course, there was no reception on the coast, and the landlines had gone down three weeks ago. She was an old lady. She needed him.

You need her.

Yes, perhaps that was more accurate. He had always needed her. Her love had raised him; her money had put him through university; her contacts had got him a job. Now all he had was a safe full of useless money. And five or six bottles of whisky.

Jerry filled up his glass, and wept.

a tiny little voice

Good morning everyone, and welcome to Tuesday.  I have delved into the records today to bring you a section from a piece I actually finished before Christmas last year.  I’m still not one hundred per cent happy with it, and of course – as you know – I welcome comments and suggestions.  Today, let me ask you a question: where does authority come from?  Specifically, why do we follow the rules, and who is it who makes them?  This piece is called Passengers.

 

Chapter One

The room was dark; the rods of light that pierced the shutters barely reached the figure on the bed. Michael opened his eyes. It was 6:02, and the voice had already started.

He always woke up around six o’clock, six o’clock being the optimal time for doing everything required of a man before he goes to work, and although today he happened to have stolen an extra two minutes of sleep, he hadn’t required the help of an alarm clock since he was a teenager. He lay in bed for a few moments more, staring into the murk.

The voice chattered away in his head, far more awake than he felt. Prosperity is Good. If work promotes prosperity, then work is Good. Today is Friday, Friday is a work day. Friday is a Good day. Today is a Good day. He did his best to silence it and rolled out of bed.

It appeared that today was yet another Good day.

Michael poured a cup of coffee and eased himself onto his creaky chair. For a few moments, he simply sat there; he had prepared a fruit salad, and he didn’t want it. Fruit salad is Good! insisted the voice. Michael picked up the bowl, tipped the whole thing into the bin, and made toast instead. He didn’t want the toast either, but at least this way the voice was as dissatisfied as he was. A splinter pushed into his back. He smoothed it flat and then leaned over, the chair creaking again as he reached for the radio. The radio was Good, because it prevented loneliness.

“–quavet Hysteria, which still has no cure, has today been proven to be a delayed effect of the heat of the equator and its suppressive effect on the Passengers,” said the voice of Kit Fisher. “The violence that goes with it, however, remains unexplained. For the war itself, there is still no end in sight. Last night, the Equatorial Forces detonated several explosive devices in key areas, cutting off Allied supplies as well as their own. Clearly, they have resigned themselves to defeat, but the Allied victory is coming at a huge cost. To date, the death toll–”

Kit’s news was equally as depressing as if Michael had never turned the radio on.

He killed it.

* * *

Michael’s workplace was walking distance from his house; the Gilbert Ryle building; a giant concrete monolith, perfectly suited to the task of housing data entry clerks in relative comfort, while being at the same time extremely cost-effective in its use of paint and other decorative materials: it didn’t use any. Of course, everyone in the building knew that such resources were much better used elsewhere, and did not complain. As Michael rounded the corner of the building, he brushed his hand on its rough, grey surface. He was careful to do it in exactly the same place every day, and to watch for signs that he was making an impact. To date, there were none.

Michael knew for a fact that he had a Good job, because he knew that prosperity thrived on order, and that he was instrumental in maintaining that order. Every day, new people were born, and old people died. People moved house, people got married, and sometimes – even now – people got divorced. Michael catalogued everything. There could be no doubt; his was a Good job.

At some point in the past, the carpet under Michael’s workstation had gotten damp. He was sure he could smell rot, but his colleagues insisted he was imagining it, leaving him to wrinkle his nose and ignore it. The computer clicked like a beetle as it awoke; soon it was ready to be used. Michael got to work. Adding, editing, and moving, it was an endless sea of information, organised by Michael Cantwell into stackable, bite-sized yoghurt pots of data. He altered and amended, compiled and consolidated, attached commentaries and removed redundancies until his eyes swam with fatigue. He glanced at the giant clock. Yes, 11am; time to go.

The other guys from pillar 14 were waiting for him in the cafeteria, dutifully shuffling along the sofa to make space for him as he approached the machine.

“You got any taste buds left, Michael?” asked Harry.

“There’s a couple still working,” he replied, punching the ‘Espresso’ button again.

“You ever think about taking it easy on the caffeine?”

Business as usual. First Harry, then Jake. Next, would come–

“Yeah, you’re not getting any younger. How about just the two shots today?”

Ah, yes. Rob’s contribution.

“You want me to sit somewhere else? I can go somewhere else, you know.”

“Look, we care about you, Mike. Everyone knows about your heart, we just want you to make a Good choice for your health – nobody knows the systems like you do, what if you…you know…”

“Thank you, Jake. I’m well aware of my importance to society.” It had come off a little stronger than Michael intended. He tried to take some of the sting out of it. “Look, don’t I have a right to damage my own body if I want?”

“Not really, Mike. If one of us has a problem, we all have a problem. It’s not Good to put yourself in danger.”

“Yeah, yeah. Let me just enjoy this one last real cup.”

“Decaf tomorrow?”

“Come on, Harry…”

“Alright, one shot. But no more! OK?”

Michael grumbled incoherently and drank the rest of his cup in sullen silence.

* * *

Three times a week, after work, Michael called his mum and chatted to her.

“Michael! So good to hear from you. Perhaps you could tell your father how the phone works.”

“Well, the war isn’t going well, mum.”

“The last phone call wasn’t anything to shout about. Five minutes, and – poof!”

“The Equatorials aren’t playing by the rules any more. Scorched earth. Suicide runs. I’m surprised he can find the time to call at all.”

“Don’t you take his side!”

“Alright, alright! I’m not. It’s just…I feel like this should all have been over years ago. If the Equatorials are as much of a rabble as everyone seems to think they are, then we should have long since finished them off. What’s the hold-up?”

“Why don’t you ask your father? He seems to–”

Michael snapped. “Why is everything about him!” He took a few deep breaths. She just needs to let off steam, he reminded himself. Letting off steam is Good. “If you two are having so many problems, why don’t you get counselling, or…a divorce? Or something?” Michael’s voice rang of futility, even to his own ears. It was at about this point in the conversation that he always began to grow hoarse. His mother’s problems were like water torture; they were grinding him to dust.

“Why should I? I don’t want the world to know my problems. Normal people don’t have problems. Equatorials have problems. No order, no prosperity.”

“I have to go, mum,” Michael croaked. “Talk to you on Monday.”

This piece will be continued in subsequent weeks

in my nightmares

How do you cure a non-biological disease?  This week you will be able to read the conclusion of the story which started HERE and was rewritten HERE
Please enjoy, and don’t forget to provide feedback, should you have any.

I don’t hold out much hope of recovery. I think there is a good chance it’s already too late for this quarter; that it is no boil at all but a cancer, and one that has eaten too deep. Certainly, it can not be cut out. Or, indeed, perhaps I am no more effective than the spiritual healers of my homeland, whose trade survives on fabricated tales, on coincidence and serendipitous recoveries. My studies were never so nebulous. I pledged to first do no harm, and then to balance risk and benefit.

If I do nothing, or if I talk but take no action, the plague will one day come to me. That violates the first principle. If I unleash my rage against the perpetrators – once I have located them, of course – I risk damaging the host while strengthening the disease, in the same way that a drinker simply absorbs his first bottle with no noticeable effect. And this without even mentioning the inevitable retribution against myself, which would make a second dose impossible.

With both inaction and direct action out of the picture, what remained to me for my decision? For fifteen years now, I have patched, repaired, cleaned, and replaced. I come here as often as I can – mostly once a week, though sometimes my work keeps me away longer. So, why do I do it?

I do it because I haven’t given up; I do it because I can. I do it because this is the only thing I can think of to do. But there is also one unspoken reason, a reason that keeps me awake in the few hours I have to sleep – I do it because, deep within, I know that this is my life now. Even in my dreams, paint drips from the walls, and glass plinks down from cracked panes. As long as I live, there’s work to be done. No one helps.

And in my nightmares, I live forever.

Emblem Black (2)

still living forever

Hello, Monday!  Breaking with tradition, I’ve decided to upload something on time.  Please enjoy an update to the story from before entitled: I Live Forever.
I give you the next part, plus the first part again, rewritten for style, sense, and a tie-in to the world of Eormen.
If, for some reason, you want to see the original, it is still available HERE
See you in a week!
Update: the final part is available to read HERE

 

I Live Forever

Why do I do it? I suppose that is the question that most comes to mind when people see me at work. In one or two months, three at the most, everything is going to look exactly as it does now, so why do I do it? Why bother, when nobody else makes the effort? Why waste my time and silver when others clearly have no intention of doing the same?

Why do I do it?

Tonight, I’m working on the window. It is the fourth broken window this year, and it is only April. After the pieces have been taken out and the hole boarded up, after the empty space has been prepared to receive the new window (already ordered, of course), I’ll move on to cleansing the obscene daubings from the windowsill.

I recognise the signature, though naturally I wouldn’t recognise the author if I met them on the streets. There are probably a thousand possible candidates. It is now impossible to count the number of gangs roaming the streets in this quarter of the city; poor gangs, apprentice gangs, some slightly-more-progressive mixed gangs – the rich gangs, more properly called ‘bands’ do not come to this part – and then our new addition: the refugee gangs.

You surely do not need me to tell you that peace, whether through victory or defeat, is the most distant of dreams. My generation was the last to know what it meant.

Happily, I am no refugee, in as much as I never fled from war, though I will never belong here, either. When I was young, coming to the city to study the medicine at the Great College of Thenos, my colour clearly set me apart. When I returned to my own land, I was still the outsider; I had learned too much. I was able to watch as freedoms were removed, as whole families were removed – first from sight, and then from the face of the earth.

And because I had learned too much, I knew that they would come for me too, one day. My knowledge of freedom was a threat, my ability to speak my mind, to speak through the filter of experience, and not of prescribed doctrine, was a threat. I returned to the city that had educated me from my land, and I returned to making sick people well. But I was not a refugee. There was no war.

Not yet.

Why do I do it?

During my college years, I had some neighbours unlucky enough to have their window put through by some drunkard on their way home. This window was replaced not with glass, but with a rough cut of wood that I suspect they had liberated from an unattended warehouse. I’m sure it kept the wind out, but it also very perceptibly changed the character of their dwelling.

Was it perhaps due to this that empty bottles began to accumulate before their door, and that it became necessary to step over the unconscious owner of said bottles some mornings? A definitive answer it difficult, but the fact is that, not long after, their house – that precise board, in fact – was chosen as target practice for some rather foul eggs, while my own was spared.

It was when a group of quite ordinary-looking men who should know better started pitching stones at the upstairs window, hitting the houses either side – including my own – that I decided that not only people but places, too, could get diseases. This, I realised, was how a quarter became a slum. It took only one broken window, one daubed wall; without immediate treatment, that wound became infected, and the boil began to rise.

And then I went home, to the land of my birth, and saw how the mind could be as diseased as the body, and twice as contagious. The Black Prophets came, spouting their ‘wisdom’, and my people succumbed to it in their droves. The older I get, the more I realise that there are very few things that can not become diseased. But the question is why do I do it?, and I’m not doing a very good job of answering it.

Emblem Black (2)