I’ll add some short stories that I write under this section in the menu. Can’t promise anything good, but it’s nice to share.
He stood for years in the castle. Outside the castle to be precise, but within the grounds. He had been standing in the castle since it had been used as an actual castle and those people had lived there. He had seen them all die, one by one. There had been a chef in the garden once. The chef had looked nervous, striding up and down a tiny patch of grass and flinching at every noise. He had been quite amused by this. He had almost shouted out himself. Maybe he could have thrown a little stone that would have hit him on the head. But this was not the job of the statue. The job of the statue was to stand. Anyway, the chef looked like he was about to leave at one point when he obviously saw someone around the corner. The man in green had arrived and it was obvious that they had conspired to meet at this particular point at this specific time. It was also obvious that the chef was not at all happy with the tardiness of the man in green, yet he could not properly communicate his unhappiness due to the fact that the man in green was in a position of greater authority than the chef. This had also amused the statue. The chef and the man in green had a brief conversation which involved the passing of a small clinking bag to the chef, followed by a small tube of liquid. The two men had then looked around nervously before quickly leaving the garden. The statue had been somewhat perplexed by this meeting but decided that it was not the job of the statue to care about such things.
One day the statue had woken up to the shocking realisation that he was no longer alone. A stone carving of a woman had been placed beside him. The statue was at first very unhappy with the positioning of this second statue. He felt that this garden (at least this particular part of it, for he could not see the entire lawn) was his spot. That he had been chosen to stand there, and him alone. Needless to say he treated this other statue harshly to begin with. He did not look at her and refused to acknowledge her importance, or even presence. This continued for a very long time. But slowly he began to look at her in the mornings, even going as far as greeting her (to the extent that statues can). It was almost without noticing it that he became comfortable with her presence, and in many ways even enjoyed the company during the long cold days of watching the garden in the winter. One day a lot of people burst into the garden with weapons and armour. There was a lot of noise which the statue did not like so he closed his eyes and pretended nothing was happening. Eventually the noise died down and he opened his eyes and looked around the garden. He knew that something was different straight away, and it was with some degree of horror that he realised that the other statue next to him had disappeared. Nothing of her remained. The statue felt a sadness that he had never known before, partly because he missed her so, but partly because he wished that he had opened his eyes to see her one last time. To see what had happened to her. Many years later, when the castle was very different and people from all over the country would come to look at it and ooh and ah at different things, the statue saw a boy and a girl arguing in the garden. The girl was crying and sad, and the boy was sad but trying not to cry. The girl walked off with tears in her eyes and left the boy on his own in the garden. When the statue watched this he had the very peculiar feeling that he knew the boy and wanted to go over there to touch him on the shoulder or hug him or tell him that maybe everything would be fine.
‘Thank you son. Ah that’s better. Nothing better than a cup of tea is there? Warms my bones it does. So does this water bottle now I mention it. Sometimes everything is just right. You know what I mean don’t you son? There must be times when you feel just right? Not ecstatic, not even perfect, but just right, content. There is something though. Something that could make it… even more right I suppose. My book. Lying in bed I do like to read a good book. Brings me back to my years in academia. I’ve read more books than you’ve seen son… Saddens me a little in some ways. But I do like to read a book in bed. I do. But… I’ve left it, my book, in the tower. Across the lawn. At the top. I was watching the world a little before. The birds, the sun, the clouds. It was setting earlier and it was like I’m feeling now. Just right. Well I’ve left my book up there. Would you mind, I know it’s a little late, but would you mind fetching it for me? From the tower?’
Leaving the room the boy walked straight outside. The lawn stretched out as far as he could see. In the day it would be bright green, blue sky and burning sun. He headed across the grass and savoured the sense of freedom, of openness that he always felt out there. Everything there was… just right. No walls. No people. Not that there was anything wrong with people. But sometimes it was just too much, too much talking, too much chatter. Like a wall of noise closing in around you, getting louder and louder. Crowds coalesce and expand. They push, groan, and finally break out across shimmering fields in violent riots. But there, outside on the lawn it was different. It was quiet and empty and beauty. Beauty? What an odd thing for him to think, but there it was. Green grass, nothing for miles. Nobody for miles. Beauty. He reached the tower too soon. Its door loomed tall and dark, its authority unmistakable. Pushing slowly, the hinges creaked as a warning.
The walls were tight against him. Against his very chest. He could barely move his arms. There was a dead weight, a chain. Slippery hands and a damp forehead. It was just so close. He breathed deeply and tried to calm himself. He pushed out on the walls and took a step. Slowly, slowly he made his way to the stairs. The walls seemed to follow him, to encroach on his body and his mind. Up. He needed to go up, but the first step was growing before him, doubled in height, then as tall as him. Breathe. Clambering up the first step he felt hot. Hotter and hotter, sweat and more sweat. Dripping from his face and drenching his clothes so they stuck to his skin. Finally pulling himself up onto the step (ledge) he sank to his knees. Looking up he felt nauseated, the tower twisted up and up, staircase after staircase, each step bigger than the last and at the top he could see it, the book, perched on a ledge. Miles separated them. He was trapped. In a cell, a prison. A crowd. It was so loud. How long had he been there? On that step. Frozen. Breathe. (MOVE). The next step was a mountain. Breathe. (MOVE). He looked up, he had to do it. To move. Climb. The walls scraped against his skin, weighed him down, tightened against his chest. He climbed. And he climbed. The second step, the third, and on. Icy cold now, he was a thousand miles high. He could see the earth, way below, spinning. As far from the top as he was from the bottom and everything was a blur, a blending of colour and hue. He held on for his life. The mountain pressed against him now, freezing his hands. Tears fell from his face and hit the ground as tiny icicles. Up and up. The mountain crumbled beneath his feet, avalanches cascaded below him. And still he climbed. The summit drew closer and the ice burned his fingers. A thin bridge of stone connected him to the peak, with the mountain still falling, breaking behind him. One last push, one last push. He threw himself up to the ledge, to the peak. Eyes closed and skin burning he jumped. Wall and mountain pushing him down he jumped. Wind and ice in his face, he jumped.
The top of the tower and everything seemed different. It was desolate, cool. But not cool like the lawn. This didn’t refresh, there was no beauty. This was a chill, it was icy dust. He was reaching for the book when he saw it. The window. There on the wall, so very innocently. It was anything but. Calling and whispering it drew him. He tried to ignore it, tried to leave it but its voice grew louder. It reached out a dark bony arm and grabbed him, dragged him. Pulled him to the wall. To the window. To the edge. Eyes tight shut he whimpered. Why was he here? What was he doing? And then the tower spoke. ‘OPEN’ it said with its cold voice. He kept his eyes closed and did not move. ‘OPEN’ it said again. Louder, harsher, cruelly mocking. With his eyes closed he could still feel the crowd behind him watching, murmuring, laughing. They were closing in on him. A wall of people surrounding, enclosing, encroaching. Louder and louder. One of them touched his shoulder. ‘OPEN’ it said again. It wasn’t just the falling. That he could manage. Gravity pulling you down was impossible to resist, the hard ground breaking your bones and crushing your skull was inevitable. It was something else. Something you could change. You could choose left or right, yes or no, life or death. To choose to jump, to choose to say you don’t care, to throw yourself off the top of the tower. That was the fear. The fear that you can choose.
And he did. The screaming crowd surrounded him. The wind spat into his face. And he looked. The lawn lay before him. He towered above it, his knees shook then bent. His face twitched. The fear overtook him. The fear of choice. He could. He could say it, say he didn’t care. He could fly or fall. See tomorrow or end everything now, end the world. It was almost godlike the power he had. It was… He blinked. A light shone through the window of the house down below and he could see a silhouette moving within it. Something drew his gaze downwards, a voice perhaps? He saw someone on the lawn below. Tears of joy were running down this figure’s face, and he was pointing up at the tower. Laughter. But this laughter was different, it wasn’t mocking. It wasn’t the crowd. It was almost kind. He was laughing at the foolishness. At the pointlessness of it all. Well not of it all, but of this fear. At the very least. And this man down below, giggling like a child. This man who hopped up and down with such energy, such joy. This man who paused, raised a hand up towards him in some secret signal, before bursting through the door of the tower and running up the stairs and joining him at the window. He turned to look at this manic figure, and as he looked at the face, he too began to laugh. And as he laughed he felt the wind drop, the sharp bite of the cold lost its edge. The crowd was silenced and they faded away. He smiled. Turning away from the window he took the book.
‘Ah you’re back. Good good. Mmm. I went and finished my tea when you were gone. You make a good cup of tea. Just right. Ah. My book. Thank you, thank you son. It was in the tower wasn’t it? Good? I thought so. I can remember the view today. Earlier, the grass, it was sparkling I tell you. I’m telling you it was like emerald. I don’t know how, the sun, it was glistening off the lawns. A sea of green. Beautiful.’
The door swung open and the woman entered the house. Her shirt was back-sodden and dripping under the armpits. Dark shorts revealed muscular calves and her feet were a flash of yellow laces. Untying the knots she kicked off her trainers and walked to the living room. Collapsing onto the sofa she wiped a pillow across her brow. Slug-slime, a trail of her own sweat. Odour permeated couch and cushion. She did not care.
Red faced she rose.
Red faced she walked to the kitchen.
Taking a glass she started towards the sink, paused, remembered, smiled. Opening the fridge door she found the jug of water. Pouring she savoured the glug glug glug into the glass. Savoured the glug glug glug down her throat.
Glug glug glug.
Glug glug glug.
Deep refreshment. A coursing coolness floods the body.
She was in the bathroom now. Cold spray washed off the sweat. Fragrance clung to her hair as she worked the creamy mousse. Lathered she brought the shower head to her scalp; a slight pressure pulsed across the skull, wavelike. Vision blurred by the bubbled waterfall. Her eyes stung.
In the kitchen once more, her hair matted and slowly drying. Loose jogging bottoms and a baggy shirt kept her comfortable. She placed slabs of bread, slices of ham and a chunk of cheese on a plate before taking it through into the living room. Just before sitting down she wrinkled her nose. In the corner of the room she had a small cabinet. She rummaged for a few moments before finding the air freshener. Two sharp blasts were sufficient. Flicking the TV on, she sat down and ate her lunch.
She sat satiated. She put her plate aside. Legs stretched out and eyes closed. She thought of the promise of tomorrow. There was always an excitement. It would come with a deep limbed pain. A physical certainty. The burning proof of exertion. A future ache. The inevitable evidence. The satisfaction.
There was a certain bubbling, a fizzing, beneath his feet. Below, he supposed, all their feet. A voltage, as yet unrealised. The sign of the difference that could emerge between the present and the future. Unfulfilled possibilities crackled and strained against some invisible barrier. Waiting to break open. To explode. And it was perhaps this that made the room appear brighter. Not too bright mind, no. Not too bright. At this point it was a pale, blurred yellow. Not yet vibrant. But maybe, oh maybe.
(When he was a child he would stay at his grandparent’s house. They lived in a grand old house with a beautiful staircase. Now, this staircase, almost serpentine in fashion, twisted and turned, was decorated with intricate carvings of beasts, lions and men, small letterings and symbols. And when he closed his eyes and (maybe when in bed, just before sleep) looked back and back, he could just see some etchings, some Latin, or language equally unintelligible, but then when they were forced open once again what was left in their place? Sometimes, late at night he would creep down this staircase. Creak by creak he descended, to the basement, to the study. His grandfather’s study. And as he did the staircase spiralled. A faint glow could be seen. From around the corner, the next corner, from the study; it grew brighter. Goosebumps would dance across his skin at the thrill. Hair on end; in his mind he was the explorer, the soldier. Then revealed – the study’s lights in full and in the centre a silhouette. His grandfather, grandmother, stranger, mother, father? At the last minute he would retreat, scurrying back up to his bed. He would barely sleep after these explorations, guilt and regret would churn in his stomach. And now in moments of solitude his thoughts would return to that staircase, unable to put his finger on what it was that had made him turn back.)
The excitement was palpable. To him at least. But let’s be honest work needed to be done. The room was dulled silver; it lay concealed below a faint but surely perceptible layer of dust. Damp was creeping outwards from the corner.
(He must have been nine or ten? When they set up a stage at his school. Walking into the assembly hall that morning, to see the long planks of wood, some nails, a stranger with a hammer. And being chased out by Mr Jones (or was it James?). This was no place for him. Except of course, it was. Now perhaps some schools had a stage everyday (his secondary school did, but that wasn’t anything special, meant nothing, just was). But this school was small, and to have a stage (why? Why was there a stage? Just to wonder, or to imagine was half of it; the shiver that sent a tremble through his legs) meant something. He returned at every opportunity to monitor the progression of this stage. At first to the door itself, now closed. Off limits. The explorer, the soldier once more, rekindled, reborn, the possibility re-examined he would creep onwards to his spyglass – the keyhole. The door was old and large. The keyhole provided the perfect opening for his little eyes to peer through, for him to gaze upon his stage. His stage which grew with every minute. Then darkness. He almost cried out in a sort of juvenile agony when it fell across his vision, but before he could the door swung open. Mr James (or was it Jones?) looking down at him, arm outstretched and finger pointing. Leave. Red faced our explorer submitted, left slowly, hands in pockets, grumbling to himself (possibly only within his own head), but he left nonetheless. And he sulked. Oh how he sulked. So alone, so misunderstood. How could they not understand? But then how could they? He was him and they… well they weren’t. The ringing bell woke him. Break was over? He realised that his wonderings had lasted for what must have been at least 4 or 5 minutes. Playtime wasted with his needless sulking. He blamed Mr Jones or Mr James. Lessons dragged. And then it was over and he was outside and the stage was there again. However, with the keyhole now watched another plan was needed. Looking around he saw a friend trailing behind a larger group of children as they walked around the building. He frowned for a few moments, then flushed. Of course. The window. On the other side of the building there were a couple of windows that looked directly into the hall. Onto the stage. He recalled how he had pressed his face against that old door, how he had almost let out a little cry just before it had opened. And he felt like a fool. The sudden rush of embarrassment that accompanied these sorts of situations always caught him by surprise. It was as if there was a moment of exhilaration, a slight soaring. Then with clipped wings a plummet, swallowed by your own gut, a glistening of sweat and hard unblinking eyes. It was all quite silly really. No-one had watched him, no-one had mocked him. Yet still his face reddened. As time passed his breathing eased. His sweat evaporated. His heart pumped slower, steady. Perhaps it was not as bad as all that.)
The group he was chatting with had grown. At first there had been himself (of course), the two friends he had come with and another who was already at the party when they arrived. The conversation had been pleasant. Now, with the pack circling, he had become quiet. Smiling he left to pour another drink. As he walked to the kitchen he hesitated, turned around and head upstairs instead. There was a queue for the toilet.
(He turned the corner, around the building. There was a crowd of children at both sets of windows. Clambering and climbing to watch the creation of his stage. His stage. His stage? And was it? He had felt, with a certainty beyond his nine years, that it was his stage. Specifically and uniquely. Now there was this doubt, perhaps it was not his, not anybody’s. Something to share, to stand on with others. And what did this mean, was it a terror or a comfort? Or both? Simultaneously. Contrasting. A duality of thought (not thought, something deeper. Feeling. Instinct?). He pushed his way through the little crowd, mumbling an apology here and there as he squeezed past his friends and classmates. And there he stood. Just looking. The others left, in twos or threes, until it was only him and the window and the stage.)
The guy in front of him was very drunk. All grins and slurred words. There was some nonsensical conversation between the two of them, and then it was over and the drunk guy was in the toilet. Waiting outside he smiled at the girl behind him. She smiled back. The bathroom door rattled. The drunk guy had locked himself in. Everybody laughed.
(The stage was complete in all its somewhat amateur glory. Despite its imperfections it was, to him, a masterpiece of engineering and construction. During assembly he would make sure to sit in the front row so that he was facing it with no one in-between. As the teacher or vicar stood on the stage making their little speeches he could stretch out his legs and run his foot along its splintered edge. There was to be a Christmas show. A big show. Or at least bigger than usual. Of course there was a show every year, but this year there was a stage. And that was something. Each class had a different performance. He had a part. Well, everyone had a part, and in some ways his part was no different to anyone else’s. Except of course it was. Some people in his class (not everyone, and this was important) had written stories. Little stories, or maybe poems, about Christmas or winter. And then some people in his class (not everyone, and this was important) had been chosen to read their stories or poems on the stage. In front of everyone. And he was one of these people. And that meant something.)
He didn’t really need the toilet. He just sat down for a few minutes. Whilst sitting he took out his phone and skimmed an article. There were some scales in the corner so he weighed himself. He washed his hands, tussled his hair, looked in the mirror, and opened the door. It was noisy out there. He smiled at the girl again as they walked past each other. She smiled back. People are generally friendly. Sometimes he worried that he wasn’t friendly. That didn’t seem right. He was. But he was also tired. And these things, these parties. Well they can just push a tired person past that point. Past that point where, yeah, we’re tired but we’re also riding the crest of a wave; we’re just at that age where we can squeeze through those cracks like we couldn’t before, but not so old that the space between those edges seem so vast and empty that there’s nothing left to do or think except contemplate something that isn’t quite brushing up against you yet, but one day, oh yes one day (of course he knew that it wasn’t like this, and when we get small and grey we’re not really small and grey; it’s something you pretend to think when you’re on the top of that wave. But you don’t actually believe it). He was past that point. He was tired.
(The show was progressing nicely. His class were waiting in a side room, the door just ajar so one could peek through to watch the performance and (perhaps more importantly) the audience. His eyes flicked continually between the two. Save for the moments he glanced down at his story. The paper looked so scrappy now. The ink slightly smudged. Sweaty hands (a slight soaring. Plummet. Gut). Crumpled and crumpling. Tentative whispers from his classmates silenced by hissing teachers. This was an important event and rules were to be obeyed after all. The songs and poems and dancing and tripping feet were to be respected. Silence. Not silence. His tinny voice couldn’t carry. Surely not. Absolute silence and his voice. Oh god, his words. Sweaty hands smudging ink. Crumpled paper. This was important. Yes. Not now. Calm down. Itch on his back that he couldn’t reach. This shirt. It restricted, confined. There was some faint dampness on his forehead. Wipe away, but can’t stop it. Sweaty hands. Snakes hissed. Quiet now Mr Jones can’t you see now isn’t the time. Well he’s on last, front row on account of (now, this is important) his reading. Front row. Of all the stage. His entire body damp and attention fixed upon it. Onwards! Giddy parade towards the stage. And him waiting, last. Crumpled voice smudge faced and itched hands scratch at his throat, a gasp caught within. He cannot. His fists were tight around the tattered paper. No. He would not go. Snakes surrounded him. Okay, well. Maybe if he could just push forward, just a little and maybe just look and oh there’s the stage, just a little closer and turn and – oh god the audience full gaze monstrous beast. Plummet. Clipped wings, burnt. He froze at the door, choking on a strangled cry that came out a whimper. His hands were wet jelly. Heart, lips, eyes. Even his hair now tingled. Every aspect revealed. More than naked, his bowels churned for all to observe. Organs bulged out from his transparent skin. He had no secrets. The world watched, grasped his windpipe and squeezed. Up against this breathless terror you cannot succeed.)
The room exerted a pressure. It sweltered. The windows and doors all closed. The walls closing in even as he drank. Just another, he poured another. A wine, red. Not strictly his, but unattended as far as he could see for the best part of two hours. Even as he brought the glass to his lips he knew he did not want it. He finished it in one large gulp. He would regret that tomorrow no doubt. Yawning he turned, searching for his friends. Finding them he wandered over, and with a brief conversation let them know he was leaving. Too tired. Too late. Submerged in some wave. He was shaking his head. No no no. He really must go. He didn’t live too far away, and the air was light and cool. So he walked. The street before him tracked its way down a hill. An easy stroll past the park and lake. To the old cobbled steps and beyond. Home.
(Lying down across a sofa in some office. Was he carried or had he walked? Had he fallen? He felt sick. He felt small. A teacher stood next to him. Smiling. Someone else read his story apparently, gave him the credit of course. It was, you know, a good story. But it wasn’t the point. He felt sick. His parents were there soon. What happened? Hadn’t they seen? Everyone else had. The teacher gave him his paper. Crumpled, tattered, sweaty, smudged. He threw it in the bin. Tired, quite tired. Why? He hadn’t done anything. That was the problem. And would it always be? It was only a stage for goodness’ sake. False altar. Lifeless. But, not lifeless. Not false. Not today. Just think of the clumsy dancers, the singing. The little ones, the big ones. Even his story, but not him. He had left, unable to stand proud with his friends, and be a part of something shared, something private. For everyone and for him. His parents were chatting, rambling even. Perhaps he should talk more and think less. Gruff look from his father there. But a kind smile too. Let’s go home. Let’s forget, or try to, or learn, or probably not. And would that be it? And could he forget? And would he want to? And that evening. And the drive home. And the silent car. Tomorrow’s regret.)
Home. The cobbled ascent, each step. Yes each step. Each. Loud and light across the street. Another party continued. But each step was another and a reminder of. Something he supposed. Holding, pausing, looking back. A party continued across the street. A deep ache throbbed in his chest then spread outwards to his stomach. Early. It was, after all, early. And perhaps, again, too early. It was cool outside. Another weekend, and too early. Rise. Climb the steps. Climb, as before and as again. And each step, yes each step, it reminded him of something before, and each step was a reminder of this one, that is, well, many things. Each reminded him of another step. And each cobbled stone was an etching in Latin. And he realised and remembered. The explorer once more. The soldier. With a smile, he paused, breathing deeply. A lion roared somewhere in the past and he had shirked. Ache and breathe. He ached. The party continued. And he ached. Tomorrow’s regret. Or was it? Look backwards and forwards. Before the door, key in hand. He thought. He remembered that old staircase, and the fear and the descent, and the excitement and the nauseated gut, and how he had been seen and how of course he had been seen, and that old stage, and his story, and that door, and the door ajar, and frozen plummet, and burning shame, and tattered paper, and tonight, and the drink, and that girl smiled at him, and that wave, and leaving, and cool air, and tomorrow. And tomorrow was not regret, and it was not a strangled choke, not yet. It was a fizzing and a crackling, and it may not burst, and it may not burn. But it might. It might, and maybe.
The weather changes, the rain has stopped. Blinking you wake. Wait. No. You don’t wake. You weren’t sleeping. You were walking. Left, then left, then left, but you couldn’t make it home. How on earth did you get lost, you’d been walking for what? Twenty minutes? Half an hour? It’s funny that your hair isn’t wet. Close your eyes. Think back. The house had been so hot, so humid. There was sweat dripping down from the ceiling, pooling into puddles which soaked into the carpet. The walls were aching, creaking, screaming. Static crackled through the rooms, louder and louder. You felt like your teeth were breaking. The outside called, its cooling rain would soothe you. You remember that you didn’t lock the door.
There had been a plan. Left, then left, then left and home. But that’s not what had happened. Clearly. This street. What is this street? There is a peculiar silence and a gloomy fog which seems to be descending. Falling. Slowly, slowly. It is maddening. Close your eyes. You feel as if the walls are screaming again. Blinking you wake. No, that’s not right. But you can’t adjust, can’t correct yourself. You are drowning in a lake; you can’t swim. Why is your chest broken? An arm grabs you and drags you out against your will. You realise this is no lake, but merely the fog, it is eternal. No one else is here. Your chest has healed. The vast grey mass hangs in the air innocently. You are not fooled; there is menace in its eyes. You are about to open your mouth, turn, run, cry out, when it is as if a knife slices through the centre of the fog, through the centre of the street. The two halves are swept away to either side, billowing over the houses. The air is still. No wind or sound. A silent sneer from an invisible antagonist. Somehow the moon is high. Where has it come from? It gives a cold light which hardens everything it touches. A gentle face now bears a scowl; a soft curve becomes a jagged edge. Of course you are still alone. Of course.
With the fog lifted, the street is revealed. The houses are all identical. Normal enough at first glance, to a casual viewer. But you see more. See clearer. (You haven’t always though, have you?) They don’t seem to fit, out of place, out of context. It’s an American suburb, white fences and trimmed lawns. Polished mailboxes. But more than that it’s symmetrical. Yes, that’s it. Each row is a mirror of the other. And even more each house is the same as the adjacent. It’s almost wholesome, but not quite. Not quite. Those windows, too small, too far apart. That fence, just too high. And again, all the same. All wrong in just the same way. A flash on the left side of the street. Turning quickly you can see a light in one of the windows. Instinctively you turn to the right, to its mirrored window. It’s not lit. You feel sick. But why? Of course it isn’t lit. Why would it be? Why indeed.
In the middle of the road you can see a single balloon. Had that always been there? It must have. But then that light, the fog. You remember when you closed your eyes and your chest tightens again. Let go. The balloon floats just over a metre from the ground and its string is attached to a twist of metal. You are fixed upon it, your spine is a pillar of ice, ready to shatter.
A foot is dragged forward (those aren’t your shoes are they?). One step, unbidden, to the centre of the street. And again, the other. Forward, purposeful. But not yours, not your purpose, out of your control. Again. Again. To the balloon you march.
‘Where is the sun?’ you wonder.
Your legs are lead pipes. Thud. Thud. Thud. Closer and closer. Somebody’s hand grips your gut as you see. The twisted metal is a brand new silver bicycle. But you already knew that didn’t you? Still, the reveal is enough to make you gasp, swallowing a mouth of water in the process. Wait no. There was no lake, just a fog I think. Breathe. A tight chest and heavy legs won’t be any help here will they? And where is the sun?
How did this happen? You stand before the balloon. It’s smaller now, seems deflated. Pitiful. But it just makes everything worse. This damned darkness doesn’t help at all. It’s all shadow and cloud and gaping jaw. Careful now, don’t fall. Those teeth are blunt cudgels, they’ll crush you, grind you. Slowly. Or something. Something like that. But it’s not quite right is it. Because you won’t be crushed. No, not you. Close your eyes. Swallow. Or breathe. Where is the sun?
Oh. There it is.
Rising up, bright, frightening beams cutting and piercing. And isn’t it incredible how the sun always rises in the west (what?) and sets in the east. Or is it that? No. It’s cold. When you were little you had a way of learning the compass. Why is it so cold? The sun should burn. It’s so close it should be burning your eyes or melting your skin. Well that swirling clump of gas and fire, it’s so close it could hit you. It could hit you. It’s no sun, you realise. Another hand grips your stomach. It’s a car. A wild car. Driven by a wild woman, and who could blame her? Well with what she’s gone through certainly not you. Especially not you. You can see her wide eyes staring straight. Forward through the middle of the street, through you.
In the light you can see the balloon clearly now. No tricks of the shadows. A huge bloated creature looks back. The string is a snake, it coils around your arm. It digs and digs, biting into your shoulder. It moves. It inflates further. Impossibly. You know what it wants. It pulls you up, away from the street, away from the car.
‘No!’ you cry, you struggle, you tear at the snake. Nothing. There is nothing you can do as the car drives below you. You look up. The balloon is a grotesque smile. The grin a mockery of mercy. Close your eyes. In another life you’re already dead.
He found the boy in the garage holding one of those big two litre bottles of coke. The child’s face was all ruddy red cheeks, furrowed brow and pink little tongue poking out at forty five degrees. The screw-top was lying by his feet and he clutched the bottle against his chest. Slowly, wobbling, slightly swaying he raised it to his mouth. The tongue protruded further. Tilting, still tilting, almost horizontal now. And so close. Oh boy, he could just about taste that sugary pop. Just about feel it pouring down his throat, making his tongue fizz and his lips smack. So close now and, yes, just a little further. He carefully brought his lips to the bottle and… His dad grabbed it away from him.
Well, you shouldn’t put bleach in a fizzy drinks bottle really.
Years later they laugh over Christmas dinner. The boy tells the story to his classmates at school. Brings the house down.