Love is the Sharpest Knife

Jack looked up at glorious expanse of stars spread out above him. It looked like diamonds cast carelessly over a black velvet sheet by some unknowable giant, or a god. Jack laughed and rubbed his face. He didn’t believe in giants, or gods for that matter. He was a man of science. A man who believed in measurable facts. He wondered idly if that was what had brought him here to the top of the tallest building in town on this particular freezing December night. A chance to reach out and try to find something out there, something bigger than himself.

“If you’re there God give me a sign,” called Jack. His voice echoed between the towers for a second before it was whipped away by the biting wind. The world remained silent. If there was a god he wasn’t talking. Jack didn’t feel the irresistible pull of faith, that warm sense that he was loved unconditionally. No, if anything he felt small… cold… He felt… alone. He sighed, a cloud of breath appearing then slowly dissipating, fading into the ether like so many of his dreams. He rubbed his gloved hands together and contemplated what to do next.

My body is a cage that keeps me from dancing with the one I love. My mind holds the key.

Jack started as Peter Gabriel’s soulful voice spilled out of his jeans into the night air. He fumbled in his pocket, gloves and thick coat making his movement slow and clumsy, before finally managing to extricate his mobile. He tapped at the screen but the music continued to play.

My body is a cage that keeps me from dancing with the one I love. My mind holds the key.

“Gloves Jack you muppet,” he muttered before jamming a glove into his mouth and pulling it off with is teeth. He tapped the screen and wedged the phone between his shoulder and his ear while he pulled his glove back on.

“Hello?”

“Jack?” came the voice on the other end of the line, a note of relief in their voice. “I thought I’d lost you for a minute there I’m sorry about that I don’t know what happened.”

“I don’t get great signal here so I’ve come outside, it should be fine now.”

“Great. Where were we I forget?”

“We were just talking about Sarah.” Just saying her name seemed to push back the dark and the cold. He felt a small ball of fire settle in his stomach warming him. That was love. The kind that you read about in books. Love that enabled a middle aged woman to lift a car off her child or husband dive in gunman and take a bullet for his wife, knowing full well that he would die. It could even made you warm when it was cold outside; the soul warming the body.

He let out a long breath sending out a cloud of while smoke like Smaug the dragon. “Do you The Hobbit is her favourite book? I think when she told me that was when I knew for the first time that I loved her. I mean I’d known for a while unconsciously but I’d never really thought about it specifically you know?”

“Well, it is a classic.”

“She’s never afraid to have an opinion that people disagree with. She’s strong like that. I always admired that about her. Never afraid to make the hard decisions…”

“You make her sound like some kind of angel but it can’t all be peaches and cream. I mean my husband is wonderful sure enough but he snores like someone is pushing a Mini full of raccoons through a wood chipper.”

“Nothing leaps to mind. I mean she’s not perfect but I also know she’s the one…”

“I don’t go in for all that ‘the one’ stuff myself. I mean I thought my first boyfriend was the one, then my second I was convinced he was and well after my third I realised there is no ‘the one’. There’s a great song by Tim Minchin…”

“I bought a ring you know,” Jack interrupted feeling the sturdy weight of the box in his pocket. “I’ve had the whole thing planned for weeks. Meal in town. Nothing too fancy I don’t want to give the game away. A few drinks in that swish new cocktail place in town and then I’ll bring her up to the roof to watch the fireworks. Did I tell you we had our first kiss right here on this spot five years ago on new years day?”

“Wait you’re on the roof?”

“This exact spot,” continued Jack not seeming to notice the interruption. “I remember it like it was yesterday. She was radiant, long red hair that ran down he back in waves. Bright blue eyes with just a twinkle of mischief and that dress… Wow. I thought I was happy before I met her you know. Hanging out with my friends, playing games and watching the football but after that night I really was happy. It’s like there was this whole new level of happiness that people had been keeping from me. Now that is love.”

“Do you want to talk about what happened?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well the fireworks start in a a couple of minutes and I doubt you’d have called me if you were up there snuggling with Sarah.”

Jack let out a long breath the fire in his stomach guttering. He felt the cold pressing in on him again . A leaching cold that sapped the vitality right out of him. His legs felt weak but he forced himself to stay upright. If he sat down he might never get up.

“It didn’t quite go to plan,” he laughed a bitter laugh. “I could tell something was bothering her at dinner, she hardly touched her food. So I asked her what the matter was. And she told me.”

“Told you what?”

“It wasn’t working. I didn’t make her happy anymore.” Anger and pain fought in Jack and his voice broke as he talked. “She was leaving. ‘It’s just something that I have to do’ she said. We can still be friends. Friends?”

Tears ran down Jacks cheeks. Icy lines that dripped onto his jacket with a steady drop, drop, drop.

“Look Jack,” came the voice after a few moments of silence. “I know it feels terrible now. The actual worst. But believe me I know from long experience it can and does get better.”

“It was supposed to be a new start you know,” replied Jack. “A new year a new us.”

“It still can be. A new year a new you. The world is full of new opportunities we just have to be willing to take them. And sure you might get burnt but you get up and do it all again because at the end of the day that is what life is about. Getting up and going again and eventually your patience will be rewarded.”

Down the street Jack heard the shouts of the crowd as the countdown to the new year began.

“Five. Four. Three.”

“Jack are you still there?”

“Two. One.”

“Jack?!”

Fireworks exploded across the sky and the crowd erupted with cheers, whistles and shouts. The new year was here.

“OK. Time to go.”

“Wait Jack I…” Jack clicked off the phone and stuffed it into the pocket of his jeans. All around him, fireworks flashed sending trails of blue, green and gold across the sky. Even up here he could hear the cheers and the drunken chorus of Auld Lang Syne. It was a new year. A chance for a new start. He felt the pressure in his chest lift and for the first time that night his breath came easily. He smiled and took a step forward into his new life.

My body is a cage, that keeps me from dancing with the one I love. But my mind holds the key
My body is a cage, that keeps me from dancing with the one I love. But my mind holds the key
I’m standing on a stage of fear and self-doubt. It’s a hollow play but they’ll clap anyway.
I’m living in an age, that calls darkness light. Though my language is dead still the shapes fill my head.
I’m living in an age, whose name I don’t know. Though the fear keeps me moving still my heart beats so slow.
My body is a cage. We take what we’re given, just because you’ve forgotten that don’t mean you’re forgiven.

I’m living in an age that screams my name at night but when I get to the doorway there’s no one in sight.
I’m living in an age where I realise I’m dancing with the one I love but my mind holds the key
You’re standing next to me.
My mind holds the key.
Set my spirit free.
Set my spirit free.
Set my body free.
Set my body free.
Set my body free.


Getting dumped sucks balls; massive, hairy balls, but unless you’re also being eaten by zombies things can and generally do get better. If you’re at the end of your rope it’s always better to talk to someone, a problem shared is a problem halved and all that. Here are some numbers you can call for free and talk to someone who will listen without judgement:

Samaritans
Call 116 123
Email jo@samaritans.org

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Imbalance

They bustled through the door; the daughter ushered into her seat, the mother fumbling with bags, neither looking especially comfortable at the prospect of being here which is generally how most people enter my office. I glance down at her record: fifteen, vaccinations up to date, no significant illnesses or concerns thus far, though prone to influenza. I look up at them mechanically with a smile that I hope doesn’t appear as rehearsed as it is.

“What seems to be the problem?”

A full silence sits between them. Mother elbows daughter, making wide-eyed encouragement and receiving very little back. I lean into my desk slightly, an attempt at closeness across the vast expanse between us.

“There’s no need to be embarrassed, I guarantee whatever you have to say I’ll have heard a thousand times before.”

Her insecure gaze catches mine a moment and darts away. I look across at the stern-faced mother and back again.

“Maybe you’d be happier if we talked privately?”

“I’m in love.” The statement hung heavy in the air and while a tension remained stretched across her shoulders I could see a fraction of relief seeping out of her; the first hurdle successfully jumped.

“OK, well, first of all, you did the right thing coming to see me,” I offer in as soothing a voice as I can muster, “It takes a great deal of courage to acknowledge it, let alone say it out loud. Now, if I may, I have a few questions, is that alright?”

She shifts in her chair, legs and arms unfurling ever so slightly, and nods for me to continue. I pick up my pen and let it hover over the paper, the questions appearing stacked in my mind.

“OK. When did you first start to feel like this?”

She thinks, her eyes darting, replaying memories, searching for the beginning, “a few months ago I guess.”

Her mother’s eyebrows are momentarily lost in her hairline. I shoot a glance at her, one that says ‘do not startle the deer’ and she looks away. I return my attention to the daughter, carefully probing further.

“Was there anything in particular that triggered it?”

She stumbles over words, trying to find the right ones, “I dunno I… I guess I first noticed this day in maths. These guys were being rude to me and he told them to shut up and I… I guess I didn’t think he even knew who I was before then.” A gentle smile crept in at the corner of her mouth, her eyes glazed with memory, while her mother feigned something in her eye to wipe away a tear.

“So this love, how would you categorise it?”

Her brow furrows, “What do you mean?”

“Love comes in many forms,” I explain patiently, “Familial love for a parent or sibling, love for a close friend or kindred spirit, romantic love, love of consumables such as foods, love of a place or object such as books…”

“Romantic,” she interjects, her cheeks turning a soft rose, “this one is romantic.”

“This one?!” The mother, who’s lips have remained pursed until now, flails dramatically as if she were aboard a sinking ship.

“I don’t mean it like that, it’s just him,” the daughter huffs, tired of a cyclical argument that I imagine has been going on a while to bring them to this point.

“What do you mean?” I pose calmly.

“This instance of love.”

The air thickens to the point of choking but I press on. “So you’ve had more than one instance?”

She looks between the two of us, furrow returned, “Well, obviously.”

“Which kind?” I press.

She falters, the momentary confidence waning, “All of them…”

I nod and scribble a note on my pad, doing my best to keep a supportive smile on my face, “And these other affectionate feelings, they started when?”

She looks between us as if waiting of a punchline. “Always.” She turns to her mother to be greeted only by a cold shoulder, “Are you…are you seriously saying you don’t love me?”

I hold the tissue box out and the mother tugs at them; one, two, three.  The daughter’s cheeks puff with stone, fighting back the salty sting at the corners of her eyes.  “Mum?”

Breathing deep she turns to her daughter, the first moment of genuine eye contact during this whole visit.  To the naive eye I can see where the girl will have gotten the idea from, many of the surface signs of love are there, but then that is what I’m trained to spot.

“Mina it’s different,” the words fighting through breath, through the harsh realization that her daughter has been battling this unnoticed for so long.

“It’s true,” I find myself chiming in, “Chemically you are flooded with an excess of oxytocin, probably increased adrenaline and norepinephrine too, we’ll do some test to determine what exactly your imbalance is so we can get you on the best treatment programme.  Your mother…”

“Treatment programme?” her words cutting, “I don’t need treatment, there’s nothing wrong with me!”

“But you just said…”

“She dragged me here this isn’t….You can’t be being serious!!”

“I’m afraid I am, Mina.  What you’re experiencing…it’s not normal.  But it’s ok, it’s just a chemical imbalance.  We’ll have you right as rain in no time.”

New year; Who dis?

Hello, lovely ones!

It’s new year, and the gang are throwing in their Second Chance pieces, now available to vote for at the Voting Page

This month, as the hand in will be the beginning of February, let’s revolt against Van Halen and actually talk about Love. Yes, this month’s theme is going to be Love, and what a lot of fun we’re going to have looking at the dark brood that I call my writers this year.

So, short and sweet as I’ve been trying to write everything this weekend, please find this month’s Example piece below:

 

Archer

 

Contemplation

Sitting like a grubby jewel on the expansive cliff face known as The Sword Coast, Waterdeep could be argued to Faerun’s New York City. Deep in the hustle and bustle of the manically packed streets of hawkers and hookers, shoppers and shops, stands the less than famous than some of its competitors tavern; The Sunken Shoe. As the metaphorical camera of narrative starts to get slightly travel sick, we take one last swoop into The Sunken Shoe to reveal a grubby interior, sides caked in dust, so are some of the patrons. Behind the bar, a Drow (an Elven race that prefer darkness to light; think Goth kids) cleans the solitary surviving glass owned by the bar as the customers now have to drink out of the cheaper and more durable wooden tankards. Anyway, ignore Thomas, we’re not interested in him. Moving along the bar towards the booths near the end of the room, we find the two patrons that aren’t sleeping sat in one of the booths and deep in their cups. A white scaled male Dragonborn (Humanoid-Dragon person. The result of if a dragon and a human got their Marvin Gaye on…) wearing thick armour, speckled with bullet wounds and holes, and a Dwarven man with short brown mohawk and beard running down into singed ends, wearing a flannel shirt and jeans sit swaying slowing in the seats. The shorter of the two lifts a finger and aims at one of the three dragons he can see sitting across from him:

“Balthazar, I have a question,” his thick Scottish accent straining against the alcohol and thought process that are waging war in his mind. “What is love?”

The Dragonborn sat stoically for a moment, either dazed from his drink or trying to look like he were in deep thought, before belching loudly; a cloud of frosty air wafting from his nostrils.

“Painful.”

The two sat in silence for a moment before the dwarf burst into raucous laughter. Balthazar’s smile slowly crawled across his lips like a night worker slowly slipping into a morning’s embrace.

“Snowball, your wit is as sharp as your sword,” the Dwarven drinker chuckled, calming himself back to the conversation. “But seriously, what is it like? How do you know?”

Balthazar cleared his throat and leaned forward, his face growing serious and the closest to sober it had looked in years.

“Grimnir, in your luxury you have not had to experience it, and I suggest you keep it that way. I only half joke when I say it is painful, for it really is.”

“I wouldn’t call it luxury,” Grimnir protested. Balthazar waved him off with a smirk.

“You know what I mean.” He pauses for thought before continuing. “I once loved a woman, she was big and boisterous, stronger than an ox. We flirted a little, before we were separated and I promised to bring her War Hammer back to her. Months I searched for a way to return, and finally found myself in the way as she tried to save the world. We spent several nights together, and she confided in me when I thought I were mere distraction. And then she left; suddenly and without warning. I was informed she had gone to another plane of existence, so I waited. I was killed in battle, and revived, and still I waited. When she finally returned after nine years, so did my happiness. But, as you are well aware, we are not designed for happiness. So when I finally tried to prove my worth to her, show her that I was strong enough to stay, she beat me to a pulp and left me for fear that she’d kill me if she didn’t.”

The two sat in silence again. Grimnir cleared his throat.

“I’m sorry to hear of your loss in my absence, old friend” Grimnir said with a sense of searching for the right words, “but that is just one story in a book full of many different endings.”

Balthazar barked a laugh. “That’s easy for you to say, as a man who has been around long enough to see a few chapters written. How have you, a man who has experienced centuries, never felt love?”

Grimnir shifted awkwardly in his seat. “You know that my line of work means that I have little in the way of feelings other than anger, resentment, and many other bad things. I think I’m starting to understand a new feeling.” He chuckles as he catches Balthazar raising an eyebrow sarcastically. “I have been exploring this generation’s heroes and have stumbled upon a fun group known as Marblesong. They are kooky and very headstrong, but they seem to be in a bad way as of late. They have a Halfling with them, a wonderfully energetic and cute thing, and I have been informed from my Betters has a lot of potential.”

“Has the old dog fallen for a young pup?” Balthazar clucked mockingly. Grimnir grinned and threw the dregs of his cup at the Dragon.

“No, you big softie, I just… I care for this one. I haven’t cared for much in a long time; present company excluded of course. I just want to make sure this one survives more than the other two, and that bothers me. I am not one for picking a fight that I can’t handle, but we went against a bloody Fire God the other day and I spent the entire time worrying about her safety above my own and the others. It is not right.”

Once again, the two returned to staring at the bottoms of their cups in silence; both wanting to say something but not too sure how to word it. Finally, Balthazar offered a refrain.

“Friend, you have been gone so long, it seems you have forgotten how to live. Love comes in many forms: Sexual, casual; platonic; careful. So many versions of love exist in this world that it kind of has its own magic. To show emotions that might elevate your vulnerability doesn’t mean to question the very foundation of your being. For once, allow this to be a moment of growth for you. Your care for this girl is obviously not lustful love, but that of a kindred spirit. Lovers are just friends who worked out the next step; it doesn’t mean you love them any less if you stay as just friends.”

As if narrative sensed a need for more, the door exploded open as a hyperactive Halfling girl with short brown hair, seaweed green eyes, and a permanent grin bounded into the bar; followed shortly by a dour looking Half-Elf with ginger hair and golden scales lining his features, and a tanned Elven woman with auburn hair, streaked with mistletoe, and somewhat dazed expression on her face.

“Right,” Grimnir said, slamming his hands on the table. “Gang seems to be back up to things. Better go play meatshield for glass cannons. You remember how to get hold of me, should your stubbornness slip?”

Balthazar nodded. The two stood and then embraced, before parting ways once again, to find out what fate had in store for them this time around…

 

A Quiet Drink

Jessa’s outraged shriek cut through the crowded common room, followed quickly by the raucous laughter of the merchant’s guard who had grabbed her. She spun quickly, her hand outstretched to slap the guard across the cheek, but he caught her wrist and pulled her onto his lap instead. His two drinking companions called at him to leave off, but he only laughed harder.
“Not a chance boys, I like them feisty!”

Spire swallowed her mouthful of wine and lowered her cup with a sigh.
“Braggarts,” she muttered, shaking her head slightly. Her eyes met those of Thandor, the short, stocky owner of The Stonefolk’s Rest, and he grimaced. He spoke in a low voice as he refilled her cup.
“Bain’t much I can do, Spire. Merchant’s Guild protects them, see?”
Spire shrugged, and glanced across the room at the guards. Jessa had managed to free herself and gather up the tankards she had dropped. She moved swiftly across to the bar, slamming the tankards down next to Spire.
“Calm, Jess,” Thandor murmured, and Jessa glared at him.
“You try being pawed by those stinking bastards, see how calm you feel!”
The sound of three chairs scraping back echoed into a suddenly silent room. Spire felt Jessa tensing beside her, and saw Thandor’s expression change to one of dismay as six booted feet stomped to the bar.

The guard who had pinched Jessa leaned against the bar, grinning maliciously. He was swaying slightly, and rested a large, greasy looking hand on the bar to steady himself. His two companions stood behind him.
“Did you have something to say to me, darlin’?”
“Now, gentlemen,” Thandor began. “P’raps we can just-”
The guard stabbed a finger towards the innkeeper, and shook his head. Thandor grimaced; Spire could see the muscles in his arms tensing as he began clenching and unclenching his fists.
“Well?”
“It was nothing,” Jessa said quietly, fear and anger warring in her eyes.
“You called us stinking bastards. Isn’t that what you heard, boys?”
The other two guards nodded, grinning.
“Now then,” said Greasy-Hands, “I think you owe us each something for that insult, don’t you?”

Spire paused in raising her cup to her lips. Her voice was quiet, but it cut through the room like a knife.
“She owes you nothing. Go back to your drinks.”
A moment of stunned silence, then the three guards laughed. Greasy-Hands staggered over to stand behind Spire, his companions flanking him. Spire felt the guard’s eyes looking her over, sizing up her dark clothes, the cloak that hid much.
“You got something to say to us, white mop?”
Thandor winced at the insult. Spire slowly put her cup on the bar, then slowly stood and turned to face the three guards. She did nothing but look at them, her hands by her sides, a lock of her white hair fallen across her strange Eye, but all three stepped back before her. She spoke again, as quietly as before.
“I said, go back to your drinks.”

The moment stretched out in the still room, not a sound but the quiet hiss of the rain outside. Suddenly Greasy-Hands snatched his flintlock out of its holster. The movement dislodged a folded letter from his belt. It fell to the floor, but Spire kept her eyes on the guard. He gripped the pistol but did not aim it. Spire raised an eyebrow, and the ghost of a smile crossed her lips. Then one of the others grabbed the guard’s wrist and spoke urgently.
“Don’t be a fool, Hadrigan! She’s not important. Let’s just go.”
Hadrigan jerked his wrist out of the other’s grasp, and holstered his flintlock. He bent to pick up the letter, tucking it into his belt once more and smoothing the front of his uniform. Still swaying slightly, he sneered.
“You’re right, Morden. She’s not important. Just another piece of scum, like the rest of the Artists Quarter.”

There was a great scraping noise as every chair in the room was pushed back. All eyes were on the three guards. No one moved, but the hatred aimed at the three was palpable.
“Get out,” Thandor growled.
The three guards began to back toward the door, even as Hadrigan tried to laugh it off.
“Ha! We’ve had enough of the piss water you serve anyway!”
The others tugged at him, but he lunged out of their grasp. He snatched the letter from his belt and brandished it at Spire.
“Just you wait, white mop! We’ll be cleaning up around here, you’ll see!”
The other two men grabbed him and dragged him back, but he kept shouting, spittle flying from his mouth.
“We’ll smash that stupid newspaper and then we’ll come for the rest of you!”
Morden clamped a hand over Hadrigan’s mouth and he and the other guard finally dragged him out the door. As it slammed shut, the tension faded and people returned to their seats, murmuring curses at the Merchant’s Guild and its guards.

Spire turned back to the bar, picked up her cup and took a draught of wine.
“We’ll start with that stupid newspaper…”
There was only one newspaper that was printed in the Artist’s Quarter. Spire sighed and put down the cup, placing a silver coin next to it. She nodded to Thandor and rose. As she turned, Jessa’s arms folded about her. Spire tensed, but did nothing.
“Thanks,” Jessa whispered, and stepped back. Awkwardly Spire nodded, and moved past her toward the door.

Spire moved quickly through the rain filled streets, her white hair hidden by the dark hood. Through the rain she heard the three guards arguing in slurred voices; she was close. Trust Tera to make her life complicated again. Her friend’s paper, A Defiant Voice, was the only paper that was printed in the Artist’s Quarter, and it seemed the Merchant’s Guild wanted to shut it down.
Ahead of her the guard’s footsteps halted, and Spire paused to listen. Suddenly there came the sound of a man being copiously sick.
“You’re a bloody drunken fool, Hadrigan!” That was Morden’s voice, full of disgust. “Spouting off about orders, waving them about!”
“Oh stow it, Morden.” Hadrigan now, his voice raw from vomiting.
The guard’s boots clattered on the stones of the street as they moved on, still arguing. Spire glanced about, flexing her arms; there was no one in sight. In moments she was on the rooftops, following the guards from above.

Hadrigan was clearly in a worse state than the others, despite losing much of the beer he’d drunk. He stumbled through the streets, weaving from side to side, and soon enough his companions drew ahead of him and became lost in the rain. He continued on alone, unaware of the ghostly figure watching him.

Suddenly Hadrigan veered into an alley, and Spire tensed. She moved cautiously to the edge of the roof and peered over, and sighed. The drunkard was relieving himself, one hand braced on the wall for support. Spire shook her head, and stood on the edge of the roof. She took a deep breath, and let herself fall forward off the roof. Her body rolled in the air, and with catlike grace she landed on her feet in the alley, directly behind Hadrigan who was struggling to button his trousers once again.

Before he could react to the noise of her landing, Spire bunched up the fist of her right arm and punched it into his back, aiming for the kidneys. His back arched and he started to cry out, but Spire spun herself, lifting her foot in a vicious kick that snapped his head to the side. Hadrigan dropped like a stone without another sound. Spire rolled the guard onto his back and touched her fingers to his neck; she hadn’t wanted to kill the man, despite her disgust. She was somewhat relieved to feel the pulse, and quickly retrieved the letter from his belt and the coinpurse from his coat pocket for good measure.

In minutes she was back on the rooftops, moving swiftly. Once she was a good distance from the site of her theft, she clambered down to street level again. The rain was easing off, so she tossed back her hood and paused in the light of a streetlamp. She casually took out the letter and opened it. As she scanned the contents, Spire felt every muscle in her body tensing. It hadn’t been just a drunken boast; the Merchant’s Guild wanted Tera’s paper shut down. And that was only the beginning.

Spire folder the letter and tucked it into a pocket as she began to walk. As soon as she was out of the lamplight she tugged her hood up and started to run.
“Tera,” she muttered, “What have you gotten into now?”
Ducking into an alley, Spire scaled the wall to the rooftops. In her element once again she raced across the city towards her friend’s home, praying she would not be too late…

© Matt Beames

Mark My Words

Jacob sat on the priceless antique bench outside of the Oval Office and tried to keep his mind off the hundreds of important arses that had polished the wood over the centuries but it was impossible to sit there and not feel the weight of history looming down on you. Captain’s of industry, Prime Ministers and Kings had all sat here awaiting the pleasure of the leader of the free world and now here he was, Private Jacob Wolff and he had no idea why. Jacob sat there eyes locked on his well-polished boots, running the last few days over and over in his mind trying to figure out why he was here but there was nothing remarkable it was just normal.

“Private Wolff?” Jacob looked up to see a wiry man clutching a clipboard to his chest, looking down on him through round steel framed spectacles. “The President will see you now.”

Jacob took a breath, brushed some imaginary lint from his trousers then stood and followed the man to meet the President.

———————

“Good morning Private.”

“Good morning Mr President,” replied Jacob snapping out a smart salute.

“At ease Private,” said the President returning his salute before taking his seat behind his ornate desk. Jacob recognised it from school, it was the one and only Resolute desk; made from the timbers of HMS Resolute a British arctic exploration ship. It had been a gift from Queen Victoria to the US as a sign of friendship in the late 1800’s and it was truly stunning. Jacob was secretly quite the anglophile, his father was from Germany but his mother had been born and raised in London before emigrating to the US and he’d always been a bit of a mothers boy.

“I’ve been hearing some concerning things about a certain candidate and I’m looking for a good man to get down there and tell me if these troubling rumours are true.”

“Rumours Mr President?”

“You must have heard Private,” replied the President with a dismissive wave. “I shan’t name names but a certain candidate has been rallying some troubling elements and some of my advisors are worried that he might actually get in power. This would be bad for all of us. We cannot legitimise his particular brand of.” The President grimaced like the words left a bad taste in his mouth. “alternative politics. I asked Henry out there to find me someone who could fit in down there find out what the common folks are thinking and well here you are.You came with some excellent recommendations I hope you don’t let us down.”

“I won’t Mr President Sir, if there’s any truth to these rumours I’ll find them.”

———————

Jacob, staggered into the bar on unsteady legs; he rubbed his mouth with the back of his hand then spotting a gap he tottered over and tossed an handful of coins on the rough wooden bar. “Barkeep, beer,” he growled. The rotund barman pulled a glass out from under the bar wiped it on his greasy apron and filled in with the flat straw coloured liquid that passed for beer in this neck of the woods before scooping up half of the coins.

Jacob tilted his head back and slammed the thin, warm liquid in one long drag. “Hit me.” The barman ground his teeth, turning back and snatching his glass off the bar. “Make this one last I’ve got other customers to look after,” he said slamming the now full glass on the bar sending a wave of the rancid beer spilling onto the bar.

“You can’t tell me what to do,” replied Jacob leaning in with a snarl. “You’re not one of us and come election day the likes of you will be first against the wall, am I right?”

“Aye,” said the drunk to Jacobs right. “Now fuck off before we start the party early.” The barman seemed to shrink in on himself and he skittered to the other end of the bar without taking any money for Jacob’s drink.

“We told him eh?” laughed the drunk clapping Jacob on the shoulder. “Mark my words,” slurred the man leaning in close to Jacob and dousing in him a miasma of stale ale and tobacco. “This guy is going to be the best thing that ever ‘appened to this country.”

James leaned back and surreptitiously covered his mouth with a hand to try and block the drunkards stench. “Aye, but the polls.”

“Fuck the polls boy, fuck them. I’m telling you I’ve asked around and I don’t know a single person round here who isn’t going to vote for ‘im.”

“None?”

“Not a one. He’s a tough one he is. Tough on them’s that deserve it, coming over here taking all our money. He’s putting us first as it should be, he’s looking out for the little guy. I’m tellin’ you just ask anyone ‘n they’ll tell you the same he’s the future; he’s going to make us great again.”

There was a madness in the mans eyes but the scary thing was Jacob thought that maybe he was right.

———————

“It’s just some drunk in a bar there’s no way he will ever get in,” said the General with a dismissive wave of his hand.

“It’s just every drunk in every bar I went to,” replied James.

“Yes well all the people I’ve talked to, none of whom have been inebriated I might add, have said quite the opposite.”

“You know what they say, a drunk mans words are a sober mans thoughts,” replied James.

“There’s not enough drunk people in the world that would vote for him,” said the General. “The polls have him well down and I think they are more accurate than the rambling of a few drunks in few dive bars.”

“I’m telling you I don’t care what the polls say this guys is going to win and we’re going to be up shit creek without a paddle. You need to tell the President, we need a plan to stop this , like right now.”

“I’m telling you he will never get in and I’m not going to waste the President’s precious time planning for something that will never happen in a million years. I’m telling you there is no chance in hell of him getting in, I’d stake my life on it.”

———————

30 January 1933 Adolf Hitler was elected as Chancellor of Germany with a wave of optimism on a platform of German reunification, opposing international capitalism and the unjust Treaty of Versailles. He exploited the Great Depression by targeting his political messages specifically at people who had been the most affected such as farmers, war veterans, and the middle class.

On 1 September 1939 Germany invaded Poland starting the bloodiest war in human history that took the lives of over 60 million people or 3% of the world population.

Doppelgänger Me.

Most people would be concerned to find their inebriated doppelgänger dancing erratically to Peter Andre’s Mysterious Girl in their Nan’s living room. And Bradley was.

That afternoon a sudden blast of Andre’s finest shook Bradley awake, followed by some even louder “shooosh”s coming from downstairs. It very obviously wasn’t Nan. She was more of Radio 4 or Megadeth kinda gal. Besides, she was out. Bradley lumbered pyjama laden down the stairs into the hallway. He grabbed her trusty cane from the umbrella bucket, fully prepared to beat the crap out of the intruder with the ferocity dear old nan would be proud of. Muffling a pained “argh ye fu-“, he learned quickly to tip toe around the smashed ornaments that sprawled across the floor as he crept toward the living room. The unwelcome visitor continued to bellow off-key through the door. Bradley lifted his grip, as Nan had taught him, on the walking stick. “Always leave room on the bottom end of the stick, Bradley,” Nan would stress, “you’ll get a better impact. Hob nob?” Memories of Nan’s unorthodox and not-particularly-legit training stirred bubbles of biscuit-hunger in Bradley’s belly. If the pyjama’d warrior took down this burglar, surely the deed would warrant a nosey from the sacred biscuit tin. He placed his other hand gently on the door. From within, a something smashed. Bradley pushed, leaping with furious enthusiasm into the room.

“FUCK me!” shouted the worse-for-wear edition of Bradley as he fell backward on the edge of the sofa and lazily ricocheted to the floor. Another Bradley. In the flesh? This required at least a minute of gormless staring and guppy-mouthing to compute Dirty giggles erupted from behind the newly stained coffee table.  As cheated as Pyjama Bradley felt by the heroic act ripped from him, this “two of me, no mirror” scenario was almost just as overwhelming. Dropping the cane, Pyjama Bradley resolved to creep towards the shoddy semblance of himself. Other Bradley was drenched in deeply choking cocktail of sweat, Sambuca and Lynx Africa™. The warmth of this aroma hung like his own personal o-zone layer, increasing in pressure the closer you got to the planet’s surface. Suffice to say, Pyjama Bradley didn’t fancy getting too close to it. Him. He hadn’t wanted the shower gel/ deodorant when it was gifted to him at Christmas for the 6th consecutive time, let alone in its newfound pissed-up concoction that floated around his “other”. Instead Bradley (the vertical of the two) silently advanced upon the now Flava-blaring CD player and turned the beast off.

“Oi! What’re you doin’?” The top of a scowling head emerged over the coffee table.
“Turning this rubbish off”
“S’not rubbish! That spent a wh-week at no.1 in 1996-”
“I know”
“-jus’ after the Spicesh Girls…” continued drunk Bradley with surprising clarity. His head flopped back to the floor.

Sober Bradley waited in the horribly thick silence.
“Bradley?”
The rosey head popped up again. “Wha- ah fuck, it’s you again…” he sulked. “…what happened to Peter Andre?”
“I turned it off-“
“I know you fuckin’ did, Geesuss…”
“Bra-bradley,” burbled the sober one in a desperate scrambling for the right question to ask first, “how did…what the…”
“Oh, fuck off.” The glowing red head slumped down once more.
By this point, OG (Original Generation) Bradley had had enough of his own steaming shit:
“Oi, you fat lard. Get over your yourself and your underwhelming dick and just fucking listen!”
The drunk Bradley’s head shot up immediately:
“Wha d’you say about-“
“We both know it’s true,” retorted OG Bradley, feeling like a smug Cumberbatch Sherlock in ASDA nightwear. “Now that I have your attention, can we talk about…this?”

2nd Gen Bradley scowled, a nerve not so much touched but tasered. Nevertheless, he purchased himself on the coffee table, grabbed some of the pot pourri from the bowl, and hurled himself (much more successfully this time) onto the sofa. Before the OG could stop him, 2nd G shovelled the handful into his mouth. Shortly, the contents were eruptively spewed back onto the table. “Fuck’s sake, Nan,” he spluttered into a cough, “why put it in a bowl on the table if you CAN’T BLOODY EAT IT!”
“Brad-“
“Actually that one’s not bad…”  He leaned forward, carefully selecting the stick-looking one, and sat back crunching on it happily.  “Right. What did you want?”
What Brad the First couldn’t comprehend was why this situation, the “this could be but probably isn’t your twin you’d never heard of” scenario that was playing out here didn’t seem to phase his miserable-looking counterpart. Well, disregarding the fact that the man was pissed as a Parisian post.

“This morning-“ Bradley looked at the clock, “-afternoon, I get awoken by what seems to be a really bloody drunk version of myself doing karaoke in the living room which is, BY THE WAY, an absolute freaking mess-“
“Freakin’?” mocked Lord Sozzled on the sofa.  After a while: “Why don’t you schwear?”
Bradley wasn’t expecting that oddly psychiatric probing. “Because…Nan doesn’t like it.”
“Nan’s not here?”
“No, she’s out.”
“Then WHY I’m not allowed to lisssten to Natural I DON’T know…” replied Steamy B in a very pointed tone, avoiding eye contact.

Again, Bradley did not enjoy being put into the position of speechless parent to a sassy man-child. His “other”, very much satisfied by this one-up-man-ship, rose from the chair. Suddenly, the smile melted away from his face. Bradley watched as the atmosphere in the room suddenly flipped from tense to panic stations in a very long second. The feeling was all too familiar. Slow motion. Echoes of 6th Form benders on the Heath flooded to Bradley in waves of White Lightning.  The doppelgänger was about to vom.

Thus began, in 7 swift movements, the less conscious of the two’s evacuation from the living room. Grab the man. Semi-hoist him up. Avoid pressure on the stomach. Guide him across the carpet littered with pizza boxes. Tread in an open pizza box. Squirm out into the hallway.  Steam through the shattered ornaments. Swing open the door. Drop the Brad. Lift the loo lid. Leave him to it and let the chunder commence.

Having given up entirely on the novelty of second Bradley’s existence, Bradley plodded vacantly into the kitchen. The muffled sound of pizza dough chunks mercilessly bombed the toilet in hefty spurts. Running the tap in the kitchen, Bradley realised that it had in fact taken 11 steps to evacuate the living room. Disappointing. Nan could do it in 5. He stared blankly out the window.

Half a Mighty Meaty™ lighter, the intoxicated mess leaned back on the door and waited to be “definitely done”. Heavy breathing. Slow. Steady. A little congested, but a few snot rockets sorted that out quickly. Through the door, the novelty doorbell sang Chim-Chimney. It went unanswered. Twenty seconds later the arrival patiently rang again: this time, with a tinny rendition of Fleur De Lis. A third tune, the mono Jurassic Park theme, politely indicated that the visitor was not going away. Bradley irritably pulled himself up from the floor. Nan had left her bloody keys again. Entering the hallway, the Slipknot keychain hanging on the hook by the door confirmed the theory. He grabbed it off the wall.  “Honestly, Nanna” Bradley carefully chose his words as he unlocked the door and swung it open, “we moved them by the door so you wouldn’t forget-“

“Bradley!” a soft and kind voice exclaimed in a hushed tone, “You look-“. The girl hesitated. “I just wanted to pop by and see…how you were doing…”

 

 

Private Investigation

New York, November 1952

Smoke poured from the sewer grates and a police siren wailed in the distance as Keith Reynolds, the city’s most renowned private investigator, walked towards the bar a block from his apartment. He stopped beside some ripped posters from the recent Presidential election declaring “I like Ike” and pulled a cigarette from his trench-coat. He held it between his lips and found a box of matches in the opposite pocket. He struck a match into flame on the wall beside him and raised it to meet the cigarette, his hands shaking. He lit the cigarette and dropped the match to the ground where it sizzled out on the wet sidewalk. His hand continued to shake, and he muttered a simple “shit” under his breath. Whether the shaking was a holdover from his time in the Marines or a result of the events of the past few days he wasn’t sure.

He continued to walk, with the sounds of sirens merging with a trumpet playing jazz music in the bar as he approached. As he entered the bar nobody looked up – there was barely anybody present, patrons outnumbered by the band and the bar staff. He sat at his usual spot – at the bar, furthest seat from the door. He left his fedora and jacket on, unusually for him, his eyes kept in shadow by the brim.

Without being asked, the bartender poured out some bourbon for him. The bartender had a face that had weathered storms and seen too many horrors to remember. His name was Sam, and his voice was as gravelly and worn as his face.

“Long day?” he began, out of habit more than from observation.

“Long week.” Keith replied, automatically.

“Wanna talk?”

Keith let the offer hang in the air as he took his first sip of the drink. Sam knew what Keith did and could read his look and mood without effort. Keith allowed him that. Here with Sam was the one place he could let off steam, his friend always steering clear of judgement.

“Yeah… Yeah I’ll tell ya about this week.” he conceded, sipping his drink again and feeling its warmth fill his mouth.

The story had begun a week after election day, innocuously enough with Keith sat in his office, wrapping up some recent work. A woman had appeared unannounced, she said her name was Holly Quinn. She was the most fashionable woman who had ever walked into Keith’s office, a fact which immediately put him on edge and made him dislike her. She wore a pencil skirt and a cocktail hat, and her makeup was impeccable. She had big doe-eyes, a button nose and thin lips. She was younger than Keith by about ten years – he supposed her to be in her late twenties, but the makeup was probably adding a few years on to what he could see.

She began by telling him that she needed protection from her boyfriend, who she wanted to stop seeing, but had threatened her if she decided to try to run away. So far so routine, but after some evasive answers, finally she had revealed that her boyfriend had been newly elected to the state senate. This alone presented Keith with plenty to consider, but Holly continued to reveal the reason he had become threatening – her discovery that he was being paid, bribed in fact, by one of the so-called “five families”, to keep the police off their backs as they brought in shipments of drugs.

“People have accidents all the time” she had recounted, “and the mistress of a state senator would barely get a mention in the papers. So you see, I can’t go to the police. I don’t know who I can trust. I have nowhere else to turn.”

Keith took another long sip of whiskey to finish off his glass, then set it down on the bar and muttered “Another” to Sam, who was already in the process of pouring it.

“I should have sent her out the door right then.”

“Why didn’t you?” Sam asked.

“I can’t help myself with a hopeless case. Sending her away I’d be sending her right back to him, and who knows what for her then?”

Keith had offered his apartment as a sanctuary for her once she’d regained her composure in his office. He resolved that if he was able to track down a shipment coming in, document it and present the evidence to the District Attorney, that would be enough to get Holly into a witness protection programme.

That evening he had taken her back to the apartment, where she made them dinner and drinks. She’d been a waitress, that’s how she’d met now-state-senator Richard Brooks. He had flattered her, taken her to parties, been a perfect gentleman – all an act, but she was young and easily impressed. Keith had listened dutifully, but it might have been any number of women he’d known. They had stayed up later than he had expected, drinking and talking. There was something in her manner and in her voice that intrigued him – it was almost husky, with a hint of an Irish accent. More than the make-up, her voice was what captivated him. He offered her his bed for the night but she wouldn’t accept, opting for the couch instead. Until half way through the night she had wandered into his room and demanded to be held.

Sam behind the bar raised an eyebrow, the meaning not lost on Keith.

“When a beautiful woman wakes you up in the night and asks you to hold her, I’ve yet to meet a man who would turn her away, especially after a few drinks” Keith smiled back.

“You say ‘hold’ but I think you mean the other thing.” Sam grinned. Keith didn’t deny it.

“It’s not like there’s a law against it.”

The following night Keith had set out with a steeled resolve and on the tip of a friend found his way to the docks. Sure enough, a shipment was being unloaded, and a man in a suit and tie was overseeing proceedings, smoking a cigarette and talking to a large Italian-American. Keith had seen his picture in the papers enough to recognise the well-dressed man as Richard Brooks.

Keith took some photographs, keeping all the while to the shadows, then headed back to his apartment. When he arrived, his heart sank almost immediately. Before he even reached the door of the building, he had sensed something unusual. The street was too quiet. His fears were confirmed as he reached his front door – kicked in and hanging on only one of the hinges. He drew his pistol and snuck inside the apartment, to find the place smashed to pieces. He rushed into his bedroom to find Molly lying on the bed, covered in blood that was already drying to maroon red. She’d been shot in the chest twice near the heart – with more precision than could be ascribed to a lucky shot. This was a murder, made to look plausibly like a robbery.

Back in the bar, Sam’s expression barely changed. The colour had drained from Keith’s face, and he had finished another glass of whiskey. He’d lost track of how many that was for the evening. Sam poured another without being asked.

“The police came, they questioned me for a little while, but they knew how they were going to write it up before they arrived. Robbery gone bad. One of those things. No need to follow up…”

“Did you tell them where you’d been?”
“Only that I’d seen a friend – they didn’t ask to confirm him as an alibi for me.”

“So you still have the photographs.”

“I haven’t processed them yet.”

“They’re radioactive Keith – you know that.”

“Say I process them, and I hand them over to the DA, or the press. What then? They’ll know where they came from. And I don’t know how entrenched the corruption is, how far it goes. How do you stand up to these people, with all the power and the institutions in their pockets? What can one guy do against a state senator? And yet, aren’t I obliged to do something? If the rich and powerful aren’t challenged, what’s to stop them doing anything they want, the law be damned…”

The band had stopped playing and Sam and Keith became aware of the quietness of the bar. Sam leaned in and looked Keith in the eye.

“You can’t talk like this Keith, not here. You’re forgetting what our fathers taught us; a drunken man’s words are a sober man’s thoughts.”

Keith downed his drink and stood. “If I do nothing, her death doesn’t mean a thing – I owe it to her to see it through.”

He adjusted his hat, pulled his trench-coat tight, and walked out of the bar – a man with a purpose once more.

Hey 2017, you sexy little egg

Hello ladies, gentleman, boys, girls, in-betweens, extras, whatever descriptions you take! (We’re starting knowing how offended people got last year!)

If you didn’t know by now, the December voting is up and ready to rock so head on over with a little click here! December was all about Christmas and family and all that stuff that everybody loves, which leads me into January’s theme and example piece!

I find that after a long few weeks of dealing with Christmas and people and all the pains that come with social situation, I just want to sit back with a few drinks and forget the world exists. Which is why I feel this month’s piece comes across so well! The theme for January is “A drunken man’s words are a sober man’s thoughts…”. As a bonus for this, I’m encouraging drinking! I attempted to write my example piece under the influence of alcohol but unfortunately couldn’t get myself drunk enough to go really crazy! This is also an option for our writers….

Now before I let you read the example piece I feel I need to clear up some things. I am not suggesting you get drunk all the time, please drink responsibly. I am not entirely sure why the example piece goes the way it does, but I feel it’s because I have been binge listening to Last Podcast on the Left. This also has nothing to do with my own father, we are very old British and, although think dark things, end up writing angry letters in our heads and never send them.

ANYWAY! To the example piece!

A Wake

A drunken man’s words are a sober man’s thoughts.

This was the mantra his father had drummed into him since the age of 10. It meant much more to his father than the loosening powers of a Green Fairy or a Scottish Cooper, this was the way of the world. You never know the true face of something until you have spent time with it. It felt somewhat comforting for Tom as he circled his father’s ivory white casket for the hundredth time that morning.

It was not made of ivory – his father was never one for grandeur – but was a simple coffin made from driftwood as requested in his will. They had sat dumbstruck when the family solicitor had announced that the old man had requested a Viking funeral and somewhat relieved when the solicitor informed them that British Waterways legislations meant this would not be possible. Tom, being of his father’s mind, had come up with the alternative of going to the local wharf to collect driftwood. Several hours and half a bottle of Glenmorangie later, Tom looked over the coffin he had made in his workshop with a muted sense of pride. His dad had loved the creations that Tom brought home to him after a weekend in the workshop, making the majority of the furniture that surrounded him in the old man’s house. As was the custom in Tom’s village, the body had been left for the first of three days in the living room of the deceased’s house; allowing the soul to settle into the new dimension accordingly before heading off to purgatory to be allowed into heaven or denounced into hell. It was not custom, however, for someone to stand vigil over the dead…

Tom had spent most of the day working through his dad’s old sporting memorabilia and trying to ignore that the man lay in the next room. He occasionally thought he heard stirring, though put it down to the old house creaking under the constant change of temperature. Box after box, piece by piece, the late senior’s life became as enclosed as his slowly decomposing corpse. The task was taking a lot longer than expected, as each item was picked up and held in a nostalgic daze before being placed reverently into the corresponding box.

“You know your mother was meant to give me that ornament a week before she died.” A voice called out from behind him, making Tom drop the Nigel Mansell ornament; it snapped in two as he dashed to try save it. He turned to see his dad leant against the door, wearing his funeral suit and smiling that half smirk half grimace he had always been admired for.

“You’re dead. You’re on your back in the other room and you’re somehow standing in front of me as if nothing had happened.”

Dad walked across the room and leant down to pick up the broken ornament, causing Tom to flinch. In his childhood, such a breakage would have cost him several lashings of the belt across his outstretched palm. This time, somewhat creepier, he gently placed his hand on his son’s shoulder for support and picked it up.

“I was more of a Coulthard fan than a Mansell fan, but she spent so much time tracking it down and trying to hide it before my birthday. She never got around to giving it to me, bless her heart. I found it the same way you are finding all these little things, before her funeral. What’s that stupid look on your face, boy?” His dad’s face became more stern with the last question.

“I can’t work out which is weirder, if I’m honest.” Tom blurted out, sheepishly.

“Out of what? You’re looking for logic once again in a place it doesn’t exist, lad.”

“You can’t be talking to me right now, you’re dead. It’s got to be a trick of the mind.”

“But I’m touching you…”

“You were always honest with mum. You would have told her if you had known.”

Tom stood and went over to the writing desk and poured a large dram, leaving his dad crouched holding the once great racer in several pieces.

“Tom, there’s something you’ll learn one day that I could never teach you. I’m not going to tell you I love you or that I am proud of your achievements; you know these things without me telling you that. When it comes to that one person who you choose to spend your life with, however, tacit and logic go out the window. Yes, I was always honest with your mother but you’re forgetting the motto…”

Tom turned on his dad, “A drunken man’s thoughts! I remember! What does that have to do with anything?” But as he turned he realised there was no one there to respond. The Mansell ornament lay in pieces on the floor and in the middle of it, a piece of paper. Slowly he stepped over to the piece of paper and picked it up, not knowing what to expect. He finished reading the note and looked up. He was still in his father’s house but it seemed a lot darker now, there was dirt and mould everywhere and a putrid smell hung in the air. He dropped the bottle in his other hand and stepped into the living room to find the rotting wooden frame still on the table.

“And just what is it that you’re meant to be teaching me, father? You tell me that and I’ll let you go!”

*

The door exploded as the police stormed the house, bodies lining the corridor and seated in various positions around the house; one of the officers doubled over vomiting at the sight and smell of the murder house. News reports suggest a middle aged male was apprehended and later convicted of multiple homicides. When asked for his motive, the guilty pleading suspect responded:

“I was just doing what my Dad would have wanted…”