Waiting for the end of the world

The world is alive, changing every second, breathing through me, breathing through you. Someone, somewhere is drumming, stamping out the beat of life. Someone, somewhere is singing – for pleasure, for sorrow. We are united in flesh, in sweat and fear, in love and laughter. We are strong, striding out along these unexplored paths. We are weak, coming to the ends of our lives, but with the paths still branching out ahead of us. Here is my wisdom, here is my reason for being. Carry on. Range far, see the mountains tipped with burnished gold, find the people scattered to the winds.

Find the people scattered to the winds. When you are strong, lend them your strength. When you are weak, let them lend you theirs. We are united in flesh, in sweat and fear, in love and laughter. We are a shared story that unravels over the generations. When you are broken, crushed with night terrors, when you know the face of the monster; find something to cling to. Hold on with everything you have. One day the sun rises again, one day the monsters turn to dust. We are born in fear, pain, blood, and love. We die in fear, pain, blood and love. But in between we range far, we are strong, we see the mountains tipped with burnished gold, we find the people scattered to the winds.

 

The lure of The End

Here’s the thing about the apocalypse: it makes you free.

Here’s the thing about zombies: all you have to worry about is the zombies.

In this shitty world, this world overflowing with food that people can’t afford to buy, this world overflowing with medicine and kids dying of dirty water, this world that houses dolls that cost as much as some people earn in a month – well, there’s a whole bunch to worry about.

Here’s the thing about the end of civilisation: who the fuck wants civilisation.

Give me the zombies and I’ll sharpen my axe. Give me the werewolves and I’ll polish my silver. Give me the monsters in the dark and I will light the campfire.

But I can’t kill the grinding necessity of earning enough to rent a patch of someone else’s land to rest. The office politics and the boring meetings. The car repairs and the traffic at 9.30am. Matching socks and fear of failure. The restless urge to chuck it in, to go where the water meets the land and the sky. The endless circle of conversation: how’re you? I’m good, how’re you? I’m good, how’re you? I’m good, how’re you? I’m good.

My eyes are buggered, and my shoulders are hunched, and the flickering world beyond the screen is always just beyond reach and the world on this side is so desperately mundane. Text alerts from your bank to let you know you’ve dropped below a certain limit. Spam in your inbox. Meme’s of cats and doge. Kicking up the dry dust of arguments long since parched of meaning.

The photographs of starving children come through your mailbox, and petitions clamour for attention and the Government sells out another group of people and the Daily Mail sings of blood and fury.

Here’s the thing about the end of the world: clean slate.

Djullanar: Red Scourge of the ocean

Another terribleminds flash fiction challenge. 1000 words. A choice of five settings. I picked: On the battlefield during a war between two races of mythological creature.

Lan thrust the trident into the serpents tail and sending up a froth of blood and bubbles. The serpent screamed, sending out a spray of venom that darkened the water to a poisonous purple. Lan, already darting upwards, felt the acid sting as droplets splashed across her tail. Continue reading Djullanar: Red Scourge of the ocean

We rise above

Written for the Shuffle Flash Fiction Challenge at Terrible Minds. When I hit shuffle, I got We Rise Above, by Arcana.

“You are in detention.” The exercise book slapped onto Martin’s desk. Looking at the page it was open to, he saw the big red F at the top of the page, and the littering of angry red comments all the way down. He looked up at his teacher, whose nostrils were flaring. He found himself fascinated by them; their cavernous, fleshy depths.

“An absolutely horrific story! I want to see you after school to discuss this.” His teacher swept away, and Martin heard the giggles of the other students. He shrugged to himself, and pulled the book towards him. He frowned at his story, and then packed the exercise book back into his bag.

The bell sounded, tinny and harsh. Voices rose, giggles turned to laughter, gossip ripped through the ranks of students, chairs screeched across the cheap floor and the students became an amorphous creature that swelled into the corridors of the school. Martin watched them dreamily, the black jumpers and trousers blending into a wave of darkness punctuated by hands and faces. Continue reading We rise above

Ninety-Nine Dreams

Written for the Corporate Abuse Flash Fiction Challenge at terribleminds.

We lost.

That’s the wisdom I have for you. We lost. No surprise, when you look at history. Technology, wealth, education, privilege—what chance did mere numbers have against that? We sent wave after wave of people against them, to die futile deaths on the spikes of their citadel. The world burned, furious, fast. The world burned and turned to ash.

The corporations flexed their muscles—military weapons, economic chaos, the morale-sapping reality of poverty—and we conceded. Governments collapsed. The corporations, bloated, putrid, triumphant, took over the running of the world.

Work shifted to where it was cheapest. Wages bottomed out; a desperate man would work for a handful of bread. The corporations offered a deal: work for us and in return we will shelter you and feed you. We moved from camp to camp, making gadgets, luxury yachts, beautiful things that sold to other corporate CEOs. We worked on vast farms, feeding cows too weak to stand, who remained upright only because they were supported by the four walls that surrounded them.

Occasionally, from a distance, we would see a sleek car pass by the walls of the camp, the windows tinted black, and we imagined a warm little bubble, stinking of champagne, in which a rich man and his wife giggled together.

I had managed to acquire a book, stolen from a publishing house at which I had worked for a short time. Real books had become rare, those that could afford to read chose e-books, churned out by a writer-farm, a group of desperate word-smiths that typed-typed-typed for endless hours.

The few paper books that remained were works of art, full of colourful pictures and clever typesetting. This book I had was no exception. The insides were filled with bright drawings, of a man clad in black skin-tight clothes leaping from buildings. At first, I admired the art, but later his masked visage started to haunt my dreams. For freedom. That is what he said, whenever he rescued a child, or defeated a comically flamboyant villain. For freedom! I read it many times, looking at the pictures of the mansion in which the black-clad hero lived and wondering what it would be like to have a bathtub and a bed.

I tried to teach my daughter to read it, but she was more animal than little girl. She picked fruit with ferocious intensity, and nearly always claimed the ‘pickers prize’, a hunk of bread filled with dripping steak. She treated me with contempt, which was fair enough—we were all worthy of contempt, living in that pit.

But I read that book again and again.

One day, I upended the family and went hunting for work in the textiles industry. It was not a favoured industry—working there invariably led to asbestosis and other lung diseases. My daughter wept as she worked the giant looms, her tears streaking a white trail down dusty cheeks. She hated the fetid air and gloom of the factory, and longed for the open orchards where she had been prized.

My wife accepted the move with dumb resignation. She worked less and less these days, and ate less as a result. I tried to give her my portion, but she just stared at it. Her ribs stood out on her white skin, and her eyes were sunken and bloodshot. I tried to ignore her, and focus on my plan.

Difficult to steal from the company, as armed guards—they ate for every stolen item they found and confiscated, so were diligent to the point of fraud—searched us hourly. I gave them obvious wins and took what I really wanted over the course of many weeks.

My wife stopped going to work. She lay on the iron bunk that passed as a bed, and stared at the pockmarked steel of the bed above. Her fingers twitched against her stomach like skitterish spiders. My daughter, still two years from independence, ran away. I wished her well, but I had little hope she would survive long. The best fruit-pickers were children, adults got slower and slower. Her skills would not last.

I worked on my secret project after dark, when everyone else slept the exhausted sleep of workers that had worked eighteen hour shifts. I could barely see, working by moonlight and touch, and the costume was a ragged mockery of the one from the bright pages of the book. I loved it all the same, though the fabric sagged about my spindly limbs and stretched across the swollen paunch of my belly. Even so, the cloak furled and swished most satisfyingly.

On the night my wife finally died, her face a skull, her body shrunk to little more than bones and skin, I cut a drawing from the comic, a close-up rendering of a red rose, and folded it into her long fingers.

We lost. That’s the wisdom I have for you. Yet here I am, ignoring my own wisdom, running into the black night to start again. Taking up the fight, armed with nothing but a dream plucked from the pages of a brightly coloured book. Oh, but what a dream!

Journey

if, in the end, it doesn’t matter
we can dance in the road
make love in the afternoons
touch fingertips and then pass
unbroken on, dreams uncurling
smoke ripples, water ripples
light ripples, we ripple on
the moment fading vibrato

into the next
salt and sea, the grit
smoothing the way for next year
though we choke, and eyes sting
on all that flowed through us
and the debris that collects
in salt stained heaps

until a match is struck
green flame takes twisted limbs
and turns them to ash

it comes and goes

it lingers in the twilight
between all that could be,
all that was, all that would be
where dreams take down our names
and no more, the rest is shadow
like the curves of the body
splayed in elegant disposition
and so dispossessed

spasms are the art of poetry and pain
although this retching is ungraceful
and the stomach flexes vibrato
from one regurgitation to the next
the jumbled remains of a wild night
spent dallying with wit and wisdom

Swan Song

“Hey!” Reno snapped his fingers at the girl behind the bar. She glanced over to him, harassed.

“There is a queue,” she said pointedly.

“I can see that honey,” the red-head jerked his thumb to point behind him. “What I want to know is where I can get a piece of the action?”

She glanced to where he pointed to the cage in the centre of the bar. The rusting fencing stretched from floor to ceiling, marking off a rough square.

“The fight’s off. Cancelled. Someone from Shinra caught wind of it.” she pulled two pints dripping foam from under the taps and slammed them onto the bar.

“Oh yeah? Where’d it move to?” Continue reading Swan Song

A Shire

I will tell you a story about a shire. The terraced houses clustered tutting over the fag ends in the street below. The pubs spewing out crowds who shout at each other in slurred accents that carry the illusion of a memory of wealth. The shrugged shoulders of green hills holding silent traces of a first night, skirts hitched up, eyes filled with stars, a discarded condom anonymous graffiti to a moment in time. The honourable great house, sold now to a Russian to pay for a string of fast cars and a decade or two of dilapidation. The kids sloping through the quiet streets in aimless pale imitation of their urban counterparts.

Pretty little houses standing empty five days in seven, the teenagers not staying in to admire the Aga, but drawn to the council estate where a father cooks up a massive round of bacon sarnies dripping with butter and ketchup and serves it to the group giggling over the hyper-violence of the latest triple-A. Libraries are shed like leaves, curling into ash and swept away by a cold wind from the South. Old men, faces lined with years of regret, stare silently into the frothy pint from a dingy little bar in a side road that few remember. History curdles in the middle of the day, polite words drift against the buildings in sloughed off heaps of pleases and just fine thanks and you?

Fragments of pottery dug up every planting season, a school stuffed to the seams and decked out with sharp-toothed railings. Worried eyes flicking to the BBC news, and pausing every now and then to follow the birds as they swoop ecstatically against the sky and shriek warnings to any who will listen.