The Wild Man In The Water

Once upon a time, Paul, brother of King Samuel and chancellor, sat on the throne, listening to the complaints and petitions of the people. He listened with care, asked questions to show his investment in the pain and passion of his people. Paul and Sam viewed nobility as a privilege, not a right.

In his youth, Paul had led the charge for his brother with the zeal of a born warrior. A wildness of spirit had burned within him until a battle on the Eastern Shore sent an arrow smeared with shit into his right thigh. The infection robbed him of substance, but not character. He had not healed but his mind and senses had gained a terrible acuity as his heart gained a newfound empathy for the people.

There was more white than black in his beard but Paul woke each day feeling reborn. The faith of his senses had saved him, and he put it to his brother’s use.

She walked forward, coarse brown hair hung in her face as she gave an awkward curtsey. Paul waved her off and invited her to speak.

‘My Lucas is missing in the woods, my lord.’ she said.

A pang of horror jolted him upright. There had been hunters lost in the woods. Paul had taken an interest in the incidents.

He let her speak her pain and her fear. He reassured her. He instructed a scribe write a script for three sovereigns to see her through the next few months. She flushed and curtseyed again before she left.

Paul turned to Arthur, his steward and told him to send for his man.

Ernest. The hunter who walked the kingdom at Paul’s behest, and not all his prey was animal. Before noon, he was out with Gunther, his mastiff, studying the map Paul had worked on and a note in his small, neat handwriting.

Such an area without a sighting bodes a look. Bring back something interesting.

Gunther went ahead, muzzle low to the earth as he snuffled and padded ahead. Ernest caught it a moment later.

The moisture hung in the air. A body of water unmarked on the map. He strode forwards, heard a yelp just ahead and the splash of water. Ernest moved through the trees.

He watched the surface of the pond ripple then grow still.

‘Well, this must be the place.’ he said.

Ernest could not swim and he bolted from the forest until he found men in the fields. He came back with four men and five buckets, told them to empty the pond.

They stared at one another, faces shining and red from the heat of the day. A stout man with a neat line of beard and a soft belly which fell to his sides like sackcloth pointed his finger at the water.

‘Are you mad?’ he said

Ernest knelt before the pond and pushed his bucket into the water. He looked up and scowled.

‘My dog’s down there.’ he said.

One man joined him. The stout man held onto his bucket, shifted with unease.

‘He’s drowned. Dogs can’t breathe underwater.’ he said.

Ernest huffed, shook his head and tossed the water over his shoulder.

‘He’s a smart dog.’ he said.

Bucketing was hard work. Their leaden limbs and aching backs cried for release but as a shape became visible, they worked harder, motivated by a curiosity Paul would have encouraged.

A giant laid in the mud, thick muscles slathered with mud. Gunther got up and panted, shook his head and sprayed the gathered men with mud. Ernest laughed and told the men to get him rope.

‘How much?’ a man said.

Ernest ruffled Gunther behind the ears.

‘All of it.’ he said.

The giant slept. As they dragged him back to the castle, the mud came off him in thick wet scabs revealing hair the colour of dark copper which covered him from head to toe. Nothing roused him from sleep even as they heaved him into the iron cage set in the courtyard.

His eyes opened when the key turned in the lock.

Paul handed the key to Samuel who turned it over in his hands.

‘It is my queen’s birthday. I think I shall give her this as a birthday present.’ he said.

Paul sighed and gestured towards the giant in the cage.

‘We found this somewhere low and dark, it should be inside.’ he said.

Samuel shook his head and slipped the key into his pocket.

The giant sat up on his haunches and the gathered onlookers held their breath.

‘There is nourishment in the low and dark places.’ the giant said.

His voice resonated. Women felt it in their bellies. Men felt it in their hearts and loins.

Paul grinned and leaned forward.

‘What are you?’ he said.

The giant smiled with his big white teeth, looked over them with his deep, brown eyes and curled his fingers through the bars of his cage.

‘I am the wild man.’ he said.

He sat back on his haunches and scratched his chest.

‘He did not speak again. Paul watched him until Arthur came and told him supper was ready. The wild man watched him leave. The wild man closed his eyes.

He waited.

 

 

 

A Game of Green and Yellow

The birds sing me awake, their cries loud enough to drown out my dreams. I wind the surrounding sheets, still bearing the musk of my skin, stale and dry these days. It is a talisman against the wet, greasy decay of what hunts me. 

I hear it breathing – the pop and crackle of rice cereal, slow and hollow in a lake of lumpen, sour milk. I reach for my paints, unscrewing the lids on the Manganese Blue and Cadmium Yellow. 

I smear lines down my arms and chest, my thighs and around my crotch in patterns derived from Hermetic sigils but already matted and altered by my nervous hand. 

I dress in a yellow t-shirt, a long-sleeved green t-shirt and then a Norwich City FC top. I draw more lines on my face, warpaint against the thing that hunts me today. 

Ridicule is a small price to pay against your eternal soul. 

I grab the battered, incomplete copy of Call of Cthulu, with the irrelevant sections long since torn away and the spine is now so much tattered remnants of the glue and thread that bound it together. The both of us, falling apart whilst holding onto the illusion that we are whole. 

It stole most of my dice, but so long as I have one twenty-sided die, I can arrest its advances. I have enough pennies in the jar to afford something to drink or eat but not both. 

Location is everything so I consult my map and the closest congruence of ley lines is the KFC just before Regent Road. It will be busy, but my survival outweighs my concerns over the opinions of others. 

I run from Gordon Road, muttering a protective mantra to disguise my position. Its roar sounds, shaking the windows of the surrounding houses, already angered by my countermeasures and I sprint through the park. 

A warm, thick breeze brings the smell of sulphur to my nose and I almost lose the rhythm of my mantras. A car stops, a horn sounds as I dash across the road. I see the KFC and enjoy the gentle, lilting spark of hope that arises in my chest. 

I order a cola which is all I can afford and look around, seeing an empty table at the front which is where the best energy tends to pool. The young girl who serves me has a pained smirk on her face and manages to ignore my appearance long enough for me to pay and take myself over to the table. 

The screen. 

The book.

The die.

The game demands enthusiasm and focus to be effective. I miss the guys I used to play with, picked off one by one by marriage, work and social lives. They have stopped playing the game, but it has not stopped playing them. It never will. 

There is a father and his son to my right, who both shoot disbelieving stares as I set up and start playing. 

I describe the KFC, the surrounding people to add weight and reality to the ritual. I keep the descriptions brief to avoid insulting anyone but it is my desperation that offends people. 

How many pleasant afternoons have I ruined in defence of my soul? 

As many as I need to. 

The rules call for a perception check. I roll a one which is when a member of staff comes over to me, embarrassed but determined to do his job. I turn and knock over my cola with my right hip, which makes the father on my right stand up and swear as some of it splashes on his jeans. His hands are forming fists but the staff member calms him down in halting, thickly accented English before he asks me to stop playing. 

To everyone around me, this is an affectation, a game but to me, it is life and death. I turn and continue to play, hearing a chorus of disapproval rise behind me. Tears fill my eyes, a sparkling bitter anxiety flowing through me. 

Children stand at the window, watching me as they laugh amongst themselves. A smartly dressed man comes up and speaks to them which encourages them to leave, still laughing but nervous with it. The man looks at me with empathy and his eyes drift to the Call of Cthulu rule book. 

He nods and moves on. 

I make another sanity check and pass. The green paint tingles on my arms and cheeks, warning me of an incursion. I glance around and see that the team leader is putting his phone back into his pocket with a guilty smile on his face. 

I hear the wail of sirens, and I know that they are coming for me. 

I am close to establishing the ward and so I mumble my way through the rest, rolling the die and sending it spinning off the table. I knock into the couple on the other side and receive a loose, weak punch on the side of my head but it does not hurt me. 

The siren reaches a pitch and then stops. I see the flashes of green and yellow and feel a deep, powerful relief as they come to me, saying my name with a gentle familiarity. They take me with them, and one of them even picks up my book, my screen and my die to bring with her. 

I am safe with them. In the ambulance, the ritual begins again and I welcome the pinch of the needle then the deep, plasticizing relief of the drugs as they kick in. 

It roars at my escape, forever hungry and determined to catch me. They strap me in with care and we drive away. I manage to smile to myself before I allow myself the pleasure of surrendering to the drug, knowing that for now, I am safe. 

A Guest At Thanksgiving

It had been fifteen, no seventeen years. 

She saw him on the stream, just as she was about to uproot herself from the couch, eyes burning with fatigue and head swimming like she’d been drinking, but late night news was soporific enough to form part of her night time routine. All of it was a ritual to mitigate the physical traces of twenty years policing, back when it meant something. They were discussing the riots somewhere, but these days the location didn’t matter, to the point where it felt like every state needed a good solid knot of antagonism to remain relevant. 

Time had been kind to him, Jessica thought, but then the last time hadn’t been a highlight of his young life to date. 

2.

Paul sat on the kerb, staring out at nothing, shuddering despite the blanket wrapped around him.The African medallion hung from his neck, swaying on the leather thong. There was a single drop of blood splattered across its front, blending in with the other painted colours. Detective Jessica Harris stood across from him as she kept an eye on the CSUs processing the scene. Paul glanced up, his brown eyes watering and before he ran his tongue over his lips and took a deep, fortifying breath. When he spoke, his voice was a fragile whisper, odd for a man of his build. 

‘You got a cigarette?’he said. 

She handed him a soft pack of Marlboro Lights. He took one but his hands shook too much to light it. Harris lit it for him and he inhaled with a junkie enthusiasm. When he thanked her, his voice was soft and mannered. 

He put the advertisement as a joke tweet. A list of priced services to provoke reactions. Running up on your creepy uncle cost twenty dollars. Mentioning Black Lives Matter and giving hard stares at anyone who challenged him was ten dollars. He said he would bring a plate and microwave it. He referenced Ving Rhames in ‘Baby Boy’ over Sidney Poitier in ‘Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner’. 

Erin Mayhew sent him a direct message and a few messages later, dropped a chunk of change in his bank account. A photo of her made the prospect appealing. Paul thought she was pretty with curled blonde hair, clear blue eyes and a full, soft build running to fat Her social media feeds were a little confrontational, even for him, but she sent him candid photographs, the leg cocked at the knee, turned to one side to soften how big she was in real life. There were a few, Paul said, he enjoyed before realising he was talking to a police detective.  

Harris noted how he paused afterwards before she asked him to continue. 

He picked her up from her dorm, driving an SUV and she kept touching his knee on the drive down. Paul looked away and Harris asked him what happened. 

They had fucked in the back seat, and Paul felt a little objectified even as she came three times. It was, he admitted, the only time she stopped talking about how awful her family were. 

He had a plate of ribs, chitlins, collared greens and cornbread wrapped in cellophane like a corpse in a body bag and adopted a rolling, belligerent swagger as Erin giggled and whispered how he should go all in on Trump. The money was good and it would be a good story to share online later, he told himself. 

3.

The table was heaving with food and a centrepiece which was a clamshell draped with twigs and dried flowers sprayed silver and gold. Erin’s parents, David and Maria were soft, polite people who struggled to make eye contact and when Paul passed his plate, his stomach soured with distaste as he stared out David without speaking. 

Erin grinned with an awful mania as they sat down. Paul told the detective how her uncle wore a MAGA hat at the table, and spoke to Paul about the last Kendrick Lamar album. They were polite to him and every cent he earned came up to haunt him. It was awkward and his nerves made his performance halting but he believed things would pan out for the best. Another hour, he told himself, then he could go back, smoke a bowl and play Fortnite until he fell asleep. There were rumours of an assignment to be handed in after the holidays, but his professor was sympathetic to the cause. 

Whatever that was, of course. 

Paul stared at Laura as she pulled a jar of vicodin out of her purse. She had a back injury and good insurance, dished out the pills from her purse and Paul shook his head when she offered. Erin took two and frowned at Paul before she said something to her uncle Eddie about Roy Moore. 

Paul cringed at Erin’s zeal before he noted how much it was reflected in her uncle and father’s arguments. They repeated talking points gleaned from the internet, their voices rising and falling as they scored points off one another. Paul saw sympathetic glances thrown his way from Laura and mother but he kept moving his stale cornbread around the plate and kept silent. 

The hairs went up on the nape of his neck when he heard three words which haunted him.

Black lives matter.

All lives matter.

He studied his plate like a midterm and wished he had been anywhere else than at the Mayhew Thanksgiving dinner. 

He asked Harris for another cigarette before he carried on. His hands shook harder and tears ran down his cheeks as he continued. 

What broke the moment was Erin mentioning the Trump admission recorded by Billy Bush, which was cue for Laura to defend Kevin Spacey and her sister turned, indignant and spraying flecks of turkey and sweet potato as she stated how her sister always resented her theatrical talent. 

Paul said he was relieved when the argument became personal rather than political but the observation lasted as long as it took for Laura to reach into her purse and take out something other than pain medicine. 

Just pain, he said. 

The Walther had a lady grip and it looked small in her hands as she lowered the barrel at her sister’s chest and pulled the trigger. 

Mrs Mayhew’s mouth formed into a perfect oh as she fell backwards, clutching her chest. Paul dived underneath the table as Laura turned and fired at her husband, his red MAGA hat flew off his head with the force of the bullet. Paul remembered how a section of his scalp flew upwards, like a toupee attempting to take flight but changing its mind at the last second. 

Erin smiled as her aunt shot her in the forehead. The small caliber round didn’t knock her backwards, and it left a small hole between her eyes as she fell forwards, hair wreathed around her face, which was buried in a hillock of mashed potato and gravy. 

‘Imagine that, your last breath then you’re breathing gravy for eternity,’ he said. 

Jessica nodded, tasted bile when she swallowed, and kept a soft expression of concern up. 

Mr Mayhew, in a last desperate act of self-sacrifice, leapt forwards and wrestled with her, his thick hands circling her fragile, braceleted wrists before she fired into the rounded bulk of his midsection and he slumped forwards, making choking sounds as he bled over the table.

‘Did you like the centrepiece?’ Laura said.

Her voice was a rasping screech as she pointed the gun at him. He nodded with as much enthusiasm as his terror allowed him. She smiled with a dreadful relief before she turned the gun on herself. 

He butted the cigarette out and looked up at the detective. The best ideas started as jokes, but so did some of the worst. 

Harris sat down on the kerb and asked about his family. He said they argued and loved with the same volume and his father had voted for Trump but he had his reasons. 

‘Families are fucking weird.’ he said. 

Harris smiled and nodded. She’d left her house after her husband had let their daughter pull down a tray of brownies from the kitchen table whilst he was playing with his phone and she had read him the riot act. She gave him the rest of the pack of cigarettes and gestured for the paramedics to come back to him. 

‘Happy Thanksgiving.’ she said.

Harris wanted to mean it, and judging by the soft, wet sobs Paul was fighting to suppress, he had a hard time of it. Most people went their whole lives without seeing anyone shot, and this man had seen a family murdered. 

The investigation cleared Paul of any wrongdoing, and when he was on MSNBC, eyes narrowed with theatrical pain and anger at the spasmodic violence of white people, which he described as ‘colonial’, she saw the expensive silk t shirt and how he had removed the Africa medallion, plus the good haircut and media training which charmed the show’s host. 

Jessica sat up, chuckled and rubbed her irritated eyes. It was rare for her to remember some of the people she ran into, but Paul was a surprise to see again. 

Before she ended the stream, she saw footage, like bad dinner theatre choreography, people jabbing at one another amidst plumes of smart smoke which marked them for surveillance, said a silent prayer she had retired before things fell apart. 

She awoke in the night, confused and upset, and as she made herself cocoa at four in the morning, Jessica remembered the matter of factness in Paul’s admission to playing the brute for profit and wondered why he had never stepped away from the table she had watched him sat at, earlier. 

Jessica went back to bed, grateful to be old but not alone. 

Until She Sings a review by Tara Caribou.

https://wp.me/p8EAMa-vG

Minor key

Listening

Your fingers dance across the keys

How you dip slightly as you play

The lines of your forearms

Making tea so you don’t see

My tears. Happy ones these days.

Moved like volcanoes move

I’ve been lower case

Minor key, hid the weaknesses

But the pain in dealing with them was

A pinch compared to the depth

This glorious height

To which I’ve become accustomed to

If I told you that

You’d laugh it off

As it should be

But I’ll dry my eyes

Cross the room to breathe you in

To breathe you in.

My New Addiction

This has been a recent and welcome discovery. There’s a lot of content but the warmth and enthusiasm is infectious and soon you’ll be hoping to find someone else who’s into it so you can talk to them about it.

Until She Sings

My book Until She Sings is out now.

Ebook:

Until She Sings https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07XJRDND8/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_e9pLDbMJNZQ4E

Paperback: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1692105566/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_4akEDb3FTWNKR

My Mailing List for announcements and news with a free short story as a thank you.

https://tinyletter.com/mbblissett

All the ways

To sit with uncertainty

Here amidst the ruins of

The person I was

Someone better

Lives here now

Yet the hungry ghosts of old weaknesses

Change forms as they stalk the future

They’ve no place haunting

But those, red in tooth and claw,

They fail to learn from history

My victories, come at a cost,

I get on with the work

Arms not too tired

To hold the sword

Above my head

I live, able to do anything

Quiet

Gentle

Strong

Except where I’ve shown

The last few hungry ghosts

And in the revelation

Came the ways in which

They are defeated

A slow learner, yes

But a sure one

In

All

The ways

Which matter

13 Postcards From Hell

My short story ‘Junkyard Redemption’ is featured in the anthology ’13 Postcards From Hell’. The link is below, and it was an honour to be featured alongside some great writers.

 

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