I went to see the Abstract Expressionism exhibition that is currently showing at the Royal Academy of Arts. I find art exhibitions great for putting musings into perspective, and I have a particular love for abstract works because they offer something that bit more open to interpretation. Out of habit perhaps, I take a sketchbook with me. It’s what I was taught to do in art class, but I never really understood what I was supposed to be drawing. You see, my art is depictions of things that are inside, never objects from the exterior world, and I struggle to feel creative when sketching from life. But I do want to get that response down, that raw inspiration and mental illumination that happens when I react to a piece of artwork. So this time I spontaneously decided to make a written response to what I was seeing, and I did this without reading the accompanying information bites until afterwards to prevent my thoughts being influenced by ‘what you are supposed to think’. Here are some of the things I wrote.
My office is lit by a small lantern and smells faintly of tobacco even though I haven’t smoked for years. Strange, I think, how it’s still a source of temptation. I look up from piles of paperwork to see my animus slouched in the chair opposite. Just as I expect: legs apart, elbow resting on the desk, cigarette burning continuously. He wears the white linen suit I gave him with effortless style considering his lack of respect for convention. I imagine him firing me a disapproving look for working so late, but I can’t quite bring his face into focus.
“I sent you a load of new material,” he says.
“Yes, thank you; it’s great.”
“You haven’t written it down yet.”
“I’ve been working! You know, on the day job that keeps us sheltered and fed?”
My animus does not understand the concept of ‘day job’. Nor does he understand timing, completion, suppression, or putting things in boxes. Continue reading “Smoke Rings”
Johnny found Psychopomp while browsing drug categories on the dark web. It had 6,000 logged purchases worldwide but no user ratings, which the seller said was a true mark of its success: this was a trip from which there was no coming back.
It was three months since Romeo had passed. Accidental overdose. Johnny knew what they were all thinking, but they were wrong. Romeo wouldn’t do that, not even after the money and creativity had dried up. “You should be back out on the scene by now,” his friends said. They meant well, he knew, and cooping himself up in the flat staring at a dead man’s poetry on the walls was surely not a healthy way to spend his days.
He tore himself away from the bedsheets and reached for the fridge, taking out a three-day-old milk carton. A tentative sniff, a moment’s hesitation, then he drank from it anyway, not caring how much spilled. He wiped his mouth on a bare arm and turned back to look in the mirror beside the bed. Could use a shave. A wash, a hair comb; a pair of eyes that weren’t so grey with goddam heartache. His thoughts were interrupted by a clatter at the letterbox: fast, anonymous courier delivery. Psychopomp had arrived.
I leapt up, startled, in the dead of night. I’d been dreaming of the past again, and couldn’t be sure whether the sounds I heard were mental and menacing or real and benign.
“The bastard’s in here – get him!”
The words drifted up to the first floor room where I stood, and tapped on the window. I recognised them instantly as the words of my tormenter from high school. What were they doing ringing so lucid, invading the truth and the now that I wanted?
I took on a fighting stance, just as my teacher had instructed. Feet apart and equally weighted, knees bent. My twin was wrapped in sheets, cowering in the corner behind me. I will protect you, I thought. There was a reason the sword was left for us in this way. I gripped it tightly and focused upon the muscles and strength needed to maintain the posture it demanded. My breath became deep and purposeful.
The words continued to scratch at the window, desperate to get in and meet my ears full-on. They were squeezing through the frame… I turned to face them and swiped the sword through the air in one clean movement, cutting the threats in two. They fell away slowly like feathers until they were nowhere to be heard.
I couldn’t allow my to guard drop straight away, for next there was a creaking on the landing outside my room. Footfall on floorboards, or the house choking? I wasn’t taking any chances and brought the sword down once again, this time in the direction of the door. But then I had the sensation that someone was in the room, standing over me. Someone unearthly and monstrous. My eyes wide in the dark, I couldn’t quite make a figure out, and dry tears stung from the strain of trying. With nothing to lose, I took another slash with the blade out in front of me and felt something drop into a heap on the floor. My twin rejoined me then, and in exhaustion we fell backwards onto the bed as one. Back to the land of dreams.
When the morning light came, my thoughts had returned to normal. There was a gash in the reality between my bed and the wardrobe where I had struck something. It was like a tear in a canvas, but not so neat as to hide the in between. The in between was black and full of eyes that glared, pulling me in. Azrael, they whispered to my bones. I remembered what my teacher had said though: leave the wound well alone until it is healed.
There were more cuts all over the house: far more than I could remember making. As I left for work, I stepped over the biggest of them all on the doorstep: the place where a bad memory had once been. It was gaping wide and as I peered in I saw thousands of twinkling stars. I resisted the temptation to touch them and walked away.
All of the cuts healed over the coming few days and a tension I had carried for many years dropped from my shoulders. I could feel tall at last. Never again would I think of the bully’s words; from then on they existed only as pixelated impressions in the peripheries of my mind. That was when I knew I was truly ready for the next lesson my teacher had to give me.
For more unusual, contemplative flash fiction, check out my book Fragments of Perception. Available now in e-book and paperback worldwide.
I sit downstairs in a lonely, low-lit bar, nursing a double whisky on the rocks. A damp smell oozes from ageing posters of Frank Zappa and The Rolling Stones, and my feet are sticking to the floor. I’ve put Real Love by Swans on the jukebox. I don’t hear the lyrics, but its sombre tone is the moon to my waves. They rise up in my throat – salty lithium water – and the bartender looks concerned. Inside, there’s a trickster laughing at me, smothering me. See, I can’t even enjoy my last drink without being a bother to someone. I down the whisky, though it is but a homeopathic remedy in the sea that drowns me. I feel for the knife in my coat pocket and head for the bathroom. I’m ready.
It’s 3 am. The stereo is loud and my eyes are shining wildly in the moonlight. Real Love comes on at random and I pause at the top of my ladder. I have a paintbrush in one hand, a pot in the other, and a cigarette hanging out of my mouth. There’s a distant pang of recognition at the song, like the flinching of a deadwood puppet in my mind. I let it play through, not because it fits my mood but because it’s a fleeting pleasure to mimic my other self. I glance at the scar we share on our left wrist, and I think of him sitting in the dark, sinking into the ground. The poor shit couldn’t see colour for all the pity and spite. I should look after him better next time. Then again, it’s entertaining as a replay. I toss my head back in laughter, and a faint voice tells me I should be careful, I’m toppling. But then the track flips over to Super Charger Heaven and I go back to making the grey walls blue.
For more of my flash fiction, check out my book Fragments of Perception: out now in paperback and e-book.
On 20th February I will be attending the Virtual Future ‘Near-Future Fictions’ event in London, where my brand new story Toxic Duck Inc will be read to a live audience. Tickets are available here.
“Help! I’m stuck in the Internet!”
“Nan, you can’t be stuck in the Internet. You mean you’re stuck on the Internet. What are you trying to do?”
“I’m trying to get out!”
“OK. Well do you see a little cross in the top right-hand corner?”
“No I don’t Eamon, sorry. There’s just lots and lots of little boxes with faces in them.” She turned her voice to a whisper. “Some of them are other body parts!”
“It sounds like you’ve got a virus, Nan. I’ll come over and sort it out again OK?”
“Oh you are a good boy. Maybe I just need a kickstarter, eh?”
“See you soon Nan.”
There was no answer when Eamon knocked on the door, so he let himself in. Nan’s laptop was out on the kitchen table with the Windows default screensaver scrolling. Sticky notes bearing passwords in her distinctive scrawl were everywhere, but the woman herself couldn’t be seen.
“Nan? Where are you?”
“Oh hello, lovey! I told you, I’m in the Internet.”
The voice did indeed seem to be coming from the computer.
“Nan, what are you up to? Come out please.”
“Oh don’t be silly. I’m stuck here, else I would!”
“I haven’t got time for games, I’m supposed to be at a lecture in half an hour. Where are you?”
“I think you just have to give the mouse a waggle, that usually sorts it.”
Eamon gave the mouse a nudge; he had little choice but to play along with whatever prank the old lady had come up with this time. Sure enough, Nan’s image came up on the screen. Her hair had been freshly curled, and she’d put on some blusher and her favourite violet cardigan. Eamon looked for clues in the background as to where she might be hiding. Continue reading “Connections”
I’ve always had a habit of hiding. Hiding from their stares, from their words; from their judgement. It’s like being suspended in a space outside time, as though he who is not observed does not exist. I’ve always been good at it, too. As I child, I would sometimes stay hidden for hours at a time – in the cupboard under the stairs, in a hole in the ground, or high up in a tree – long after the seekers had given up.
It was after my first Valentine’s Day blunder that I learned how to step up my game. Shame expanded inside of me, making my skin puffy and red, yet strangely pliable. I wrung my hands together and squeezed water from my eyes, and in doing so I became smaller. I hid in my locker at school all day. Its darkness and cold metal edges held me tighter than anything I’d hid in before. I never wanted to leave.
I soon developed the ability to make neat little folds in my skin during such times. I’d practice pouring out the tears every evening until I was completely dry, which is necessary for the folding. It’s a bit like forcing the air out of an air bed to put it back in its box. I began hiding in smaller and smaller places, pushing myself further outside of time with each attempt. There was the cutlery drawer, I remember. Then the pencil case, and the teapot. Snuggly snuggly.
Now, several years later, I am in the midst of my most successful hide yet. I’m scrunched up in a Japanese puzzle box: one inch by two, 36 moves to solve. I’ve never felt so secure, which is probably why I’m able to write all of this down. But, although I feel secure, there is a tiny part of me – just one little fold somewhere near my heart – that hopes someone will come and find me. A puzzle-master in shining armor, perhaps. But no one ever does.
For more of my flash fiction, check out my book Fragments of Perception – out now as an e-book and paperback.
On 20th February I will be attending the fourth Virtual Futures ‘Near-Future Fictions’ Event in London, where my new story ‘Toxic Duck Inc’ will be read to a live audience. Tickets are available here.