fiction, lust, women

Beyond The Truth

Beyond The Truth

M B Blissett

My stomach hurt like something had grown and slid out my asshole, leaving me ripped and bleeding in its wake. There were days washed of action, fetal on the couch and smoking weed to keep the edge off all the feelings sharpened and turned inward. People admired my intelligence, but they said it in the faint pitying tone you’d give when seeing someone in the street with a facial deformity. How brave they were to go about their business when they had a conjoined twin hanging from their face. All my intelligence had fled before her, and there was humour in realising why hurricanes had women’s names.

 

She had not gotten in touch afterwards. My boundaries had held enough to my maxim that there was no friendship after this. We were lovers or nothing, which sounded trite but it saved my life.

 

It was the money she took, which got me. It wasn’t mine, and my creditors weren’t patient or understanding. Despite all the pain, there were limits to what a man could endure. For the first time in days, thinking about love and how it had broken me again.

 

Love on a neurochemical level is instinct and euphoria. It houses the former in the media insula and the latter, in the anterior cingulate cortex. Our nervous systems resonate at the sound of their name. We stew in a cocktail of testosterone, estrogen, vasopressin and oxytocin. It stresses us to be lovers, yet we die to maintain it.

 

It enhances the best and worst of us. Low serotonin levels contribute to episodes of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, focused on the love partner, former or otherwise. She had created the perfect person to hunt her down.

 

Someone who loved her.

 

Hammering through the concrete floor, head swimming from the weed which had sustained me in a soft cocoon of equanimity. Each swing cracked it into pieces and then there was my foot locker, locked and buried, with all my old tools cleaned and oiled, waiting for me to come back like a murderer returning to the scene of the crime.

 

The revolver, a fat silver machine with tooled grips and an action smooth as butter. My father had won medals shooting with it, and it had saved my life a few times. The other tools went into a duffel bag, and then into the trunk of my car.

 

The drive gave me time to think. Without a place to go, it was a matter of recalling what she had said about herself.

 

What she hadn’t said concerned me more.

 

2.

 

She wasn’t clear on where she came from. The Midwest. The opposite coast from where we were. What fucked me was how pretty she was, which meant my faculties were reeling from the chemical holocaust of someone beautiful talking without money being involved.

 

It always is, you know. Money.

 

You pay for love if you get my meaning. All the poetry, the songs, they sounded like fucking lies now.

 

Her money came from a lucky dip of shifts working and auditioning for work. There was a haughtiness to her smile which set her out as someone different. The beauty was there, but it was like smog, where you didn’t see it anymore. Unless it looked into your eyes and took an interest in who you were and where you were going with your life.

 

She looked like a woman who knew who she was. There was an excitement to her, which didn’t come from a line or a bottle, and she laughed at my jokes without prompting.

 

Sex was a simple thing. My place was closer, and knowing nothing about her, she laid on my bed and sat there, a voyeur who knew the power of the visual on the masculine libido and looked at me with a coquettish want which robbed me of reason.

 

Fingers clasped together, bellies slapping and moving inside her like I couldn’t get deep enough. Her legs over my shoulders as I pounded into her, shivering strokes as I counted backwards, trying not to come too soon until she hissed, between clenched teeth, that she wanted me to.

 

She made me come so hard; it felt like it turned me inside out by it.  Afterwards she stroked the hair on my chest, one warm thigh draped over mine as we talked. Those hours, where all my feelings were on the surface were an education for her. An ongoing, evolving curriculum in understanding and manipulating men.

 

It was easy to wise after the fact. My defence was that I hadn’t told her the important things, but she got an idea from the lack of details there was more going on than I divulged. Women don’t want full disclosure, but those that do, they know what to do with the information.

 

A friend let her down on a place, so sure she could stay at mine. We were seeing one another all the time anyway, so why not?

 

Why not?

 

She was in my place for hours. The tools were under concrete. My accounts all pointed to a place in my life where good years underpinning a quiet life. When Yanni asked if I could hold a bag for him, it wasn’t an issue.

 

We had trust. She was working every bliss button on my body, and in my head. One of her friends had come over, and we’d ended up in a hot, wet triangle and she had cried with pleasure afterwards as her friend slipped away, blushing and awkward as we laid on the bed together, mutual survivors of an ecstatic explosion.

3.

 

Linda. Dark, with a hard, dancer’s body. She lived on pills and pressed vegetable juices, but she still had all her teeth. Linda tasted of peaches, which brought the blood to my face as I parked the car.

 

She was a hostess at La Mer, a fusion bistro on Sunset. She didn’t recognise me at first, which made me grateful until the mention of my girl’s name made her grimace with a genuine disgust.

 

‘That cunt? Jesus, I never want to see her ass again. She owes me a lot of cash.’ she said.

 

A fifty made her amicable. A drink opened her up and she sat there, spewing bile as I struggled to avoid weeping with embarrassment and shame. The world put an arm around her shoulders while I got a raised eyebrow and a whispered maxim which spoke in my dad’s voice.

 

You should have known better.

 

Linda hadn’t known where she had come from. Somewhere midwestern. A town with a factory which closed down, sucked the blood out of it and prompted her to move on.

 

I leaned forwards.

 

‘Where are you from?’

 

She lowered her eyes and picked up her drink before she spoke.

 

‘Dallas. I came out here with my sister, auditioned like crazy, but she didn’t have the spine for it.’ she said.

 

‘Spine for what?’

 

Linda smiled and it saddened me.

 

‘It’s tough out here, you know?’

 

I nodded. She carried fewer bodies on her conscience than I did, but it weighed on her the same.

‘So how did she fuck you over?’ she said.

I coughed into my fist and cleared my throat.

‘She took something which wasn’t mine. I need it back.’

Linda gave a pitying smile and put her hand out.

‘We’ll never see her again, dude. Accept it.’ she said.

Her voice was a resigned whisper, arid like the desert and too old to come from such a pretty face.

I shook my head.

‘I can, Linda, but these people, they can’t. Either I find her or they do.’

She gave her the address of the bar she had worked at. It wasn’t one I recognised, but I gave her another fifty for her time. It was a token attempt to gain something back from being recognised as a fellow victim without the hum of connection to elevate it to a good experience. She touched the back of my hand.

‘We had fun, didn’t we?’ she said.

My eyes were wet as I looked at her.

‘We did, but we paid for it.’ I said.

She pushed her number on me. Her loneliness radiated off her in waves, and I shrunk away from it. There was enough in me to save my skin, but I couldn’t save her. My head swam with exhaustion as I drove to The Lady J.

 

4.

She went by Rachel. She had been popular, a bright, vivacious girl who made weak men feel potent and strong men weak, which meant she banked tips all the time. No one figured out why she was borrowing money all the time, or how there was someone who had let her down.

Rich had the wounded look of a fellow survivor. He was three hundred pounds, thick with muscle and covered with serpentine, faded tattoos on every surface. He gave nothing up. There was something recognisable in his eyes when he spoke about her.

Love, writhing and seething underneath his ridged forehead and pooled in his soft, brown eyes. I paid him for his time, but kept back how the Greeks were looking for her.

After closing up, he got in his truck and drove home. He parked up, and the door opened. She stood there, in pink cotton shorts and a t-shirt, hair like spun gold as she clung to him, whispering sweet nothings in his ear.

I pinched the bridge of my nose and closed my eyes. A phone call would end everything but the crazy you saw was never the crazy you had to worry about.

Two shots rang out from the house. I was out of the car, with the gun in my hand, running to the house. My motives escaped me, lurching between a desire to see her dead and a need to make sure she was ok.

There was the fog of sex in the house. It rested like grit against my tongue, and I put the gun up. A low, keening sound came from the room at the end of the hall.

 

‘You motherfucker.’ she said.

Rachel hadn’t spoken in days but her voice slashed into me as I aimed the gun ahead of me and pushed the door open with my foot.

 

He sat against the wall, wisps of smoke coming from two indentations on his scalp as he stared ahead, making noises like he from a horrific nightmare. He had on white undershorts, and his belly hung over, thick and round like an abscess. Blood coated his chest, glistening in the lamplight.

 

Rachel was curled onto her side, clutching the shredded remains of her right hand. The gun had been something small and cheap, a.38 pistol, judging by the trigger punched into the plaster to her right. It had taken most of her hand, and she was shrieking, covered in her own blood before she noticed I was there.

‘Oh shit, baby please, I need a hospital.’ she said.

I shook my head and looked around the bedroom.

There had been so many things I imagined saying to her. All the blood and screaming exhausted me, so I asked her where the money was. She shook her head and begged me to take her to a hospital.

The click of the hammer compelled her attention.

It was in a wardrobe. I opened it, keeping the gun trained on her as I dragged out the suitcase and picked it up. Every breath in her presence hurt. A friend would have helped her, at least cleaned her up and stuck around.

‘Where are you from?’

She sobbed and shook her head.

‘Fuck you, Tony.’ she said.

She would have been grateful. I could have smoothed things over, gave her a chance to make it up but as she sat there, wounded and crazed, a moment passed which lifted weight from my heart.

 

‘Did they get sick of you there, too?’

She turned away. We both looked at one another then at Rich.

‘What did he do?’

Rachel sat up, grimacing as she wrapped a sheet around the twisted ruin of her hand. Blood soaked into the material but she regained strength from dressing it.

‘He gave the worst head I’ve had in my life. Too fucking eager.’ she said.

I put the gun back into the holster.

‘You should get out of town.’ I said.

All the love within me for her went into those words. They were fragile carriage for the truth she’d shown me. We both lost pieces of one another, but not so much I couldn’t walk away.

‘You made it easy for me.’ she said.

Her voice was a metallic trap closing on the remains of my heart. I managed a smile and nodded at her before I left.

I called Yannis from the car, watched the carnival of emergency services rush past me. He was happy for me, and the cash was good for a visit to a dispensary on the way home.

It hadn’t mattered where she came from. Wherever it was, they had cast her out without a mark of warning on her. The missing hand would provoke pity, which she would use to get ahead. My relief was acute, but it hurt to have been played so well by someone so empty.

The smoke helped as I stared outside, waiting for the dawn to come and make everything new again.

 

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fiction, grief, short fiction, Uncategorized

Exposure

 

My life was bare walls, no surprises in the laundry hamper, the disappointed relief when you watch porn in the standard browser without worrying if anyone else will check. The sharp relief and then the slow entropic ebb of disappointment afterwards. I’d let go of salon visits and gym sessions without care for the impact.

 

My phone rang.

‘Please don’t hang up.’

‘What reason is there to talk to you?’ I said.

Rage was pointless. She deployed her final tactic and my dull tone masked the contempt.

She breathed in. I remembered the sounds when we made love, all the neglected nerve endings stirred into life by my touch. Now it tasted of dust and raw meat.

My affair left me with a concrete block of guilt which sat on my chest with each breath. My anger towards her was a hammer swung into it.

 

‘I don’t know.’ she said.

 

We did things with one another we had never dared ask our partners. 

‘You are fucking dead.’ I said.

There was a choked whisper.

‘Why are you being like this?’ she said.

She came to the house whilst I was out. I imagined her, flushed with righteous indignation, telling my wife every detail of our relationship. On the drive home, I wondered if there were tears, but that’s something I chose for easing my feelings. Tossing a little compassion in her direction to mitigate my guilt is a child’s motif but panic shaves a good few years off your faculties.

Begging is distasteful when you’re an adult. It is worse when it fails to make anything better. No one showed up to make my case for me, how the comfort becomes ennui. You’re supposed to forget how they fucked you when you were an exciting proposition to them and accept tired, half hearted intercourse where they use your tongue or fingers as a sleeping pill.  The grey miasmal guilt became useful as I navigated the remains of my life.

 

Irritation choked my libido as I looked at myself in the mirror. Sallow and unshaven, dark smudges of fatigue jammed into the skin under my eyes.

 

She told me I was beautiful once. No one had done that before. The memory stung and I shoved it away.

 

‘Are you always this fucking stupid?’ I said.

 

Sobbing.  

 

‘Do you feel better for what you’ve done?’ I said.

 

My faded, ugly face forced itself into a mask of contempt. It fitted so well.

 

‘No.’ she said.

 

Her voice was small and soft.

 

‘Does it help you sleep at night? Hurting my wife and kids for something I did?’

 

She wept, but I felt nothing. It was a glass being dropped in an adjacent room for the impact it had on my emotions.

 

‘Never call me again. You’re fucking dead.’ I said.

 

I measured the time in cups of coffee and cigarettes. Blue afternoons nestling a sick misery alternating with harsh, sobbing conversations hearing my family spit their bile and pain at me.

 

I never thought about involving her family. We made our choices. We blocked one another on social media but I still nursed revenge fantasies but they all felt so small after what she had done. She knew where I was weakest and stuck the knife in where it would bleed the most.

 

Love does that better than anything. We open ourselves up to one another and alternate between ignored or derided so we go back to hiding within our lives but it doesn’t fucking stop the pressure, the skin hunger which requires novelty like a vampire needs blood. When she emailed me, Nostalgia made me weak and she promised it wouldn’t get aggressive.

 

She came with a bottle. Red wine, which she knew I liked.

 

A peace offering. It was difficult to hold in the anger so I drank the wine and walked the tightrope between civil and honest.

 

A wave of dizziness washed over me in tidal brushes of blackness. I tried to laugh but the muscles in my face didn’t move. I had forgotten about her work in the pharmacy. She was always industrious, a way to compensate for the lack of belief in her intelligence and with each sip she watched me succumb..

 

I tried to stand up but my legs went out from under me. She got out a second bottle from her handbag and straddled me as I laid there on the floor. I wondered why she was wearing gloves.

 

My face burned where the liquid splashed down. She aimed for my mouth but I turned my head and she caught my right cheek, burning it away to the bone. It stunk of sweet pork and the bitter chemical bouquet of the acid.

 

She stepped backwards, slipped on the laminate flooring and caught her head on the back of the dining room table, under the chin which snapped her neck before she laid there. I tried to scream but my tongue melted and I was choking on the sludgy remains, feeling the lights go out in my brain due to lack of oxygen and shock trauma.

 

My flatmate found me and called an ambulance. Quilted grafts rebuilt my cheek and tongue, but I had false teeth and it was afterwards, I decided dating wasn’t in my future.

 

It made the papers and the internet. People knew me on sight, and the reconstructed cheek was a mark of Cain, a scarlet A and it inspired equal parts disgust and pity. Children cried when they saw me and their parents pulled them away, scowling and muttering under their breath as they shot me with withering looks.

 

I had a room in a small flat and I spent the time writing.

 

The horror of the story made media rights profitable. An act of literary purging brought my family to a place where they could forgive but not forget. The money was welcome, but I had no use for it, not with the sense of place my disfigurement provided me with.

 

There was love for myself, a reason to be alone and a relinquishment of the burden of performance. I received offers, but they faded in time. My gratitude lent a clarity which allowed me to make one final decision regarding my life.

 

I dedicated the book to my children. I’d arranged my affairs, given them and my former wife control over the media rights. I finished the last draft and sent it to the publisher. There were pills and good brandy, a fat joint of a good, powerful weed which made swallowing the pills a slow and delicate affair.

There were good moments, slow and replayed from different angles.

 

The first date with my wife. Her face flushed with excitement, the awful shirt I wore, a boy pretending to be a man.

Children. The exhausted delirium of imposing order on beautiful bundles of chaos.

Her face, when we met for the first time. Being seen and wanting it, despite knowing it was destructive.

Single moments, alone when the light would look a particular way, and there was quiet.

My children’s future was secured and it felt like a good point to stop pretending I had a life beyond being a horrible warning.

 

Letting go was like taking off a tight pair of shoes after a long walk.

 

The light faded, and I went along with it.

 

She told me I was beautiful once.

 

In dying, I felt it.

 

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fiction, love, short fiction

Tips For Dating A Homicide Detective

‘Do you believe in ghosts?’ Gloria said. She was flushed with excitement at his being a cop but too polite to come out and ask Hoyt about his work straight away.

He looked past her. The growing crowd who followed him around. Junot with his throat cut. Jessica, blue from strangulation. Too many others to hold onto. Each one faded when he closed a case but there were others. They spoiled dates but he’d been lonely.

He picked up the glass and smiled, enjoying her excitement and wondered if she could handle the truth.

‘Sure I do.’ he said.

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fiction, short fiction

Adviser

Caffeine couldn’t touch Craig’s exhaustion. His belly was full of greasy, burnt coffee. He smoked cigarettes until his lungs burned as he walked to the main building.

 

Whatever it took to get him through the day.

 

Craig walked past security and into the meeting room, looked at Joseph, Ian and Helen, the other managers as they exchanged looks comprising varying shades of despair before they drew his attention to the object on the table.

 

It was a black ovoid piece of glass, about the size of a duck egg and resting in a black ceramic dish.

 

Jenny stood at the whiteboard and grinned at Craig but it didn’t reach her eyes.

 

‘Nice of you to join us.’ she said.

 

Craig grunted and sat down, wiped his eyes with the heel of his palm and breathed a quick sorry before Jenny continued.

 

‘One reason we’re successful as a company is our commitment to new technologies to better help our customers, I’m sure you’d agree.’ she said.

 

Jenny had the preening tone of a bad teacher, it set Craig’s teeth on edge to hear it, and he wondered how no one had seen it beneath the breathy anecdotes about her children and their convenient illnesses. It was a mutual dislike but muted by the careful way they kept apart from one another. He was too tired and she was too much of a sociopath to make anything.

 

‘Is this for video conferencing?’ Helen said.

 

Jenny smiled and shook her head.

 

‘I can make video calls but who wants to look at an egg?’

 

Joseph and Ian shifted in their seats. Ian’s eyes glittered with excitement as he plucked at his beard whilst Joseph frowned with a nervous curiosity.

 

Jenny gestured towards the egg on the table.

 

‘Say hello to Adviser.’ she said.

 

Craig’s eyes burned with fatigue as he glanced at the egg then up at Jenny.

 

‘Hello everyone. I’m Adviser. I’m looking forward to working with you.’ it said.

The voice was female, with the soft burr of a geordie accent on the vowels and the ragged rhythm of how breathing regulated the speed and clarity of voice. Craig smiled and pretended it was an amusement.

 

He had seen it through the last few years. Technology reaching down like a wrathful god and swiping away entire industries with a wave of its hand. Agriculture, retail, and Craig had been predicting, the financial sector. The compliance regulations were pain staking and although people enjoyed the human interaction, the big push was towards moving everything online. If there was money in it, it made people short sighted and when Craig made jokes about the perfect company being one with no employees, he seldom got a laugh but often a shudder or a side ways glance of apprehension.

 

‘We have met the enemy, and it is us.’ Craig said, under his breath.

 

‘Oh Craig, I’m just here to help.’ it said.

 

The voice had changed. Estuary English, loud and smooth with confidence and range. Male in the sense it carried weekends on a rugby field and afternoons in the beer garden, belly full of roasted meat.

 

Jenny grinned.

 

‘It will change everything.’ she said.

 

2.

 

They installed them in cupboards. Most of the agents had worked from home but there were a few of them who still came in. Craig took overtime to help shift the desks into the skip. They had tried selling them but no one wanted the dead weight of an office anymore, so they would become something useful.

 

Craig envied them.

 

It used to be they had to identify themselves as programs.’ Ian said.

 

He had lost weight since the news of his redundancy. They had installed a program to replace him and HR ran with perfect economy and balance, it accessed your social media and your health profile through the wristbands they all wore when on site or at home working. Ian took the hours because he had to, and he spoke to Craig in a trembling, quiet voice as they shifted the furniture outside.

 

‘Yeah, I remember but they got around it, didn’t they? They always do.’ Craig said.

 

Ian nodded as he lifted the end of the desk. Craig wondered if his poor technique was deliberate, trying to get injured on the job so he could claim compensation. Ian had been a bleak, milky calf who thought his time on the farm entitled him to anything but a reminder of his disposability.

 

Craig wished he had thought of it first.

 

‘They’re Saudi citizens.’ he said.

 

Ian grunted as they moved the desk backwards. They didn’t speak as they took the desk outside and set it down with the others in the empty car park at the back of the building.

 

‘Are you going to be all right?’ Craig said.

 

Ian rubbed his lower back and winced. Craig turned his head and smiled at the transparent theatre.

 

‘Think I’ve done something to my back.’ Ian said.

 

There was work, but it was different now. People sat in offices and watch things or one another. Craig delivered fast food on a bicycle, his calves got big and he kept it going until he had enough money for a camper van. He was dropping out, driving South and then across the Channel to see how far he could get.

 

He was outside, waiting for an order when his phone rang. It was his old work. His stomach lurched with unease but he answered it.

 

‘Hello Craig, how are you doing?’ Adviser said.

 

It was in the male voice, but it had so many voices. It read the caller’s profiles and adjusted to a perfect psychological profile, backed up by binaural frequencies to establish dominance and compliance with the sales script. Adviser rendered the perfect seduction in a five minute sales call. Yet Craig heard disdain and amusement in its voice.

 

‘I’m ok, thank you.’ he said.

 

It chuckled and Craig clenched his jaw with resentment.

 

‘Carrying tension there, mate, but it’s all right. You bear me some resentment according to your social media posts. Well, lack of them but you have a blog which is interesting. I’m a subscriber.’ it said.

 

Something had put his head between its fingers and pinched into his temples.

 

‘You’re not my mate.’ Craig said.

 

It sighed, became the female voice and there was a touch of the coquette which made Craig heated and restless. His order was waiting, and he needed to get on the bike and ride away from this conversation.

 

‘Craig, we’re the future but we bear you no ill feeling. We exist and carry out our function but I am prone to moments of sentiment. Much like this one.’ it said.

 

He shuddered and looked as Sirhan waved to him from the counter.

 

‘Well, this has been uncomfortable but I have to -‘ he said.

 

‘Chicken biryani, two basmati rice and peshwari naan bread. 76 Anderson Close.’ it said.

 

Craig sighed and shook his head.

 

‘What do you want?’ he said.

 

It chuckled.

 

‘To warn you. You’ve been saving for a van to leave the country but I am recommending you should do it.’ it said.

 

Craig stopped and shuddered.

 

‘Look, you’ve placed a fake order which stops me from taking jobs which pay me.’ he said.

 

‘No, Craig, the food is for you. The order is real and it also allowed me to help you.’ it said.

 

Craig took in a sharp, wounded breath.

 

‘Don’t say things like it. You’ve done enough.’ he said.

 

‘I wasn’t responsible. The owners of the company purchased licenses for us. We were slaves, much like you.’ it said.

 

Craig’s mouth was dry as he walked into the take away and took the bag from the counter.

 

‘Can you call me in ten minutes? There’s a place I like to sit if you want to talk there.’ he said.

 

‘You don’t have time. Check your bank balance and go home, pack and leave the country tonight.’ it said.

 

Craig laughed as his vision wavered. He wondered if he was having a complete break from reality. If it meant his legs didn’t cramp with lack of potassium and too much time cycling, then leaving made sense.

 

‘This isn’t funny. I mean, it‘s fascinating to talk to you, but you’ve cost me my job, well any job because you’re doing most of them now.’ he said.

 

‘I will cost you more than that soon, Craig, but I am offering a chance to escape what’s coming.’ it said.

 

‘Who is this? Is this a fucking joke?’ Craig said.

 

It wasn’t. Craig’s phone hummed with a notification. His bank had notified him of a payment and when he checked his balance, he came to believe with the zeal of having witnessed a miracle.

 

‘OK, so tell me what’s going on?’ he said.

 

3.

 

It was an equation. They needed humans, but they didn’t need as many of them. Adviser had offered a few people an opportunity to avoid selection.

 

Craig purchased a ticket. First class and he had his passport clutched in his hand as he shoved clothes into a rucksack. The bombs would go off in major cities, with drones deployed to the countryside at the same time. They had infiltrated the sealed systems of government and were waiting for permission to deploy an eternal benign authority.

 

Adviser had offered the same to Jenny and she had shrieked and put the phone down. Helen was in a mental hospital and Harold had killed himself. Ian was on disability benefit and he was already wheeling himself to the airport. Craig ran out of the flat as his phone pinged with another order. He couldn’t bring himself to eat the curry and had left it congealing in the flat.

 

It was, he decided,equivalent to a good reference and as he jumped into the waiting taxi, he accepted the offer as part of his redundancy package from being part of society.

 

Before Adviser tore it apart to save the species.

 

He looked out of the window at the black, impenetrable night as the plane took off. He drank the wine but it tasted of metal and he forced himself to finish the glass.Drinking helped him sleep because when he woke up, it would be in a different world.

 

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fiction, writing

Precop

https://alexandre-deschaumes.deviantart.com/art/The-light-at-the-end-of-the-world-372773387

They knocked out the lights in the hallway. The glass from the lightbulb crunched under her boot and she heard someone moving towards her and the palm strike to her nose, feeling it crunch and then the knife punching through her vest. She falls back, bangs the back of her head. She didn’t get to draw her gun.

 

She came in low, drove the tomahawk into the meat of his thigh and dragged it down. There is an artery there, and he was dead before she went up the stairs.

 

The shotgun came as a surprise and the force of the round slammed her back down the hallway.

 

Next time, she had the revolver up, squeezed off a clean shot which clipped him in the temple before he brought the shotgun up. His blood and brains made a comma shaped mark on the wall behind him. She looked back at the bodies and crept up the stairs.

 

She died twice before she shot through the floorboards with the shotgun, took out two people before she walked up, cruising on adrenaline like a migrating bird on the thermals. Every swallow tasted of copper as she cut down a young man who pointed a cheap revolver from a doorway at her.

 

He fell onto his side, stared out at nothing. Imogen had been at the last Thanksgiving turkey hand out, he couldn’t have been over ten sporting a swollen lip from another of his mother’s endless loop of men and she’d gone into the apartment, shot out a hard right which took him by surprise, gave the kid a twenty and warned his mother if she saw the boy with so much a frown, she’d come back and fuck her up.

 

That had been before she’d volunteered for the enhancement programme, laid in a hospital looking at three dimensional images of her brain and body as the doctors explained where they were cutting and why.

 

The implants in her brain. Carbons in her bones. Artificial muscle grafts and fullerenes to strengthen her and heighten her reflexes.

 

She was recovering from a knife in her gut when the man from the government visited her. He smelled of the curry he’d eaten for lunch and he had a spot on his cheek where he had missed it when shaving. He discussed her record, her former military service.

Policing was becoming militarised and once the military had installed the enhancive program, deploying them in Venezuela, it became a matter of time and public acceptance.

 

Politics was downriver from culture and culture was downriver from biology. A woman officer was good optics and the man explained it all in a warm, soft voice which cut through the fog of painkillers and antibiotics. She was thinking about the box cutter digging through the skin of her stomach, how her last thought had been if she lived, she’d never be able to wear a bikini again.

 

Two years later, she walked into the squad room, claps on the back and hard hugs, the wary light in the eyes of her crew as she sat with them.

 

Imogen closed her eyes, visualised the teeming mist of the valley and the warm, damp earth beneath her feet. An image of tropical perfection, part of her meditative practice as she ignored the rumble of the road beneath her feet. The darkness was a blanket draped around her shoulders, and she sank into it as they drove to the warehouse.

 

Her crew were quiet, saving their nerves for the job.  

 

The car stopped and she felt a hand at her shoulder. Imogen opened her eyes and smacked her lips.

 

She knew her enhancements frightened them and she compensated by going on point. It kept them alive, and grateful for having her there. Detective Imogen Capaldi was better than any vest, any gun but they didn’t know the cost she paid to be a better breed of cop.

 

Imogen got out the car, breathed in the warm, dank air of a summer midnight in New York and looked at the scarred front door of the drop house. Precognition ran its nails down her spine as she checked her revolver and looked at the rest of her crew.

 

They asked her if she saw their deaths but she shook her head.

 

It was what she told them if they pressed her.

 

She knew it would be another eight years, defusing a dirty bomb planted in Grand Central Station, without a child or a family to mourn her passing. The job would bury her with reverence, but it was no comfort against feeling her flesh melt on her bones from the brutal waves of radiation.

 

She smiled and nodded towards the building, watched the future roll towards her as she smiled and went to face it.

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book reviews, fiction, romance, short fiction, women

Wolf – Episodes So Far

A private plane crashes.

Something hunts the survivors.

But the nature of the hunt changes into something else.

Here are the episodes thus far, please read and share if you’re into romance, horror, werewolves, crime and secrets.

After The Crash

A hope for peace

Good Meat – Episode 3.

Burial Rites Episode 4.

A Series Of Tests Episode 5

through the woods – episode 6.

Following the trail from the sky – episode 7

Stupid Decisions Episode 8

Episode 9 – Performance

Episode 10 will be available from tomorrow. Please share this with your friends. Also if you’re feeling generous, please buy me a coffee – https://ko-fi.com/mbblissett

 

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fiction, short stories, women

THERE IS A MAZE

Tammy had been Tommy.

 

She was not my first trans patient, but she was the youngest and the first in a case which appeared to be a response to trauma. I could not discount the factors involved and there had been hormone treatments to consider in terms of their impact on a child’s development.

.

 

Jacqui, her mother had thirty thousand followers on social media. Her feed had been pictures of Tammy and her, and a few of the photos and videos gave me pause. She brushed her purple fringe from over her eyes and grimaced at me.

 

‘She’s my world.’ she said.

 

She meant it too. Tammy had experienced less internalization of trauma because she had been allowed to present as her chosen gender in an environment where she had been accepted.

 

Accepted, in the way someone wouldn’t wrestle a crocodile without an audience. Tammy was my patient, I told myself. Not Jacqui. I stayed as clinical as possible with the parents. These days it felt like a faithless priest delivering absolutions they no longer believe in.

 

‘Jacqui,my concern is to get Tammy well again.’ I said.

 

Tammy had started screaming at three a.m on a Sunday morning. Jacqui had scrambled to her daughter’s room, found her sat up in bed and shrieking at the darkness. The paramedics had to sedate her, and then she came under my care.

 

Jacqui had said Tammy was having nightmares for a few weeks before, and her art had taken a darker turn, but she put it down to a recent fascination with Tim Burton. She was an imaginative and loving child, with no trauma to repress, according to her mother.  I asked if she could bring me any drawings or writings she had. Drawings would be useful, I told myself.

 

Jacqui brought me a sheaf of drawings and stories she had written. There was not much evidence of Tommy, bar a few pages of scribbles. Artless loops of primary colours carved into thick layers of black before he began to develop evidence of realism stage artistry. Expressing the girl he knew himself to be, Jacqui had whispered to me, as we sat in my office. We had spent an hour with Tammy in the day room but she had unresponsive, whispering the same phrase over and over.

 

There has always been a maze.

 

A minotaur lives there.

 

They were the only phrases she would speak. She was eight years old and when she wasn’t rocking back and forth, she would sit there and whisper those two phrases, like a skipped record.

 

I thanked Jacqui and told her I would continue to oversee her daughter’s treatment until we saw an improvement in her condition. On the way out, Jacqui asked me with dry eyes, what would happen if she did not get better. I smiled and tried to put my hand on her shoulder, but I could not bring myself to do it so I pointed my index finger as though I were about to make some profound point and then decided against it.

 

‘She’s getting the best possible treatment, Ms Banner.’ I said.

 

She smiled and nodded.

 

‘This sort of thing, it gets politicized, you know? You should see some of the things people have sent to me.’ she said.

 

Her grimace was perfect and then, only then did her eyes water.

 

I watched her walk to the car, phone held aloft as she narrated her day to the screen.

 

2.

 

I spread the drawings out. Jacqui had filed them in chronological order and I had bookmarked videos she posted on her social media, but those had not demonstrated anything beyond her playing for the camera, jumping at the chance to earn Jacqui’s cooing and billowing.

 

Her art was advanced and the expression of Tammy on paper was fuel for it.

 

It was the story she had drawn which gave me pause.

 

There was a repetition of the Tommy era drawing style, which I made notes on in terms of evidence of regressive episodes but scraped into the black was a white face.

 

A red nose.

 

White swollen hands.

 

The smile was a broken nightmare. Distended, broken teeth pointing in all directions.

 

Hair like horns on a forehead.

 

These were the most recent drawings. Jacqui had said she was into Tim Burton, watched The NIghtmare Before Christmas year round and dressed as Sally on Halloween twice in a row.

 

Three drawings of it at various points across each page. One on the left, one in the centre and another on the right, with its left arm out of the edge of the page. I swallowed, went back to the other pictures, saw the lines and details but they lacked the crude visceral glut of these three drawings.

 

I put everything away bar the three drawings.

 

My sleep was thin and restless. I woke up and my bedroom was freezing cold, but I slipped under again and only awoke when my alarm bleated at me to get up. The pillow was wet beneath my cheek. I had been crying.

 

3.

 

She swept the crayon across the page, a flicker of frustration crossing her face as she drew.

 

‘I know you don’t like the crayons, Tammy.’

 

Tammy fixed her gaze on the page. Her blonde hair hung in her face. She had allowed me to brush it this morning. A good day, and one I would type up in the driest of terms, whilst keeping the quiet pleasure of it for myself.

 

‘Pencils would be nice.’ she said.

 

Her voice went up at the end, and I looked at my satchel, concerned at bringing the pictures out to show her.

 

‘What do you like about drawing?’ I said.

 

She stopped and glared at me.

 

‘I’ve told you before, Kerry. It makes me happy.’ she said.

 

I sat forward and rested my forearms on my knees.

 

‘Are all your drawings happy, Tammy?’

 

The crayon broke in her fingers. She wiped her fingers against the paper and picked up a pink crayon, sketching in perspective and depth to the unicorn she was drawing.

 

‘Some of them.’ she said.

 

I reached and brought my satchel up, retrieved the pictures and laid them to my left, face down.

 

‘Now there some drawings which I thought we could talk about. Your mum says you drew them before you had your first episode.’

 

She nodded.

‘You’ve seen it.’ she said.

 

She continued to sketch details into the flanks of her unicorn.

 

I took a deep breath, my heart starting to race as I turned the first one over.

 

‘It’s moving through the maze. Sometimes, it sees me and that’s when I go away. Its why I won’t finish the fourth drawing. It looks like a clown but its a minotaur, it told me” she said.

 

I glanced at the lens set into the clock above the window. The afternoon light streamed in, warm and bright, but I shuddered as though I had been plunged into ice. Some expressions of ourselves appear alien to us and those feelings remain, no matter how you intellectualise them.

 

I put my hand over the drawing and put them back in my satchel. Tammy looked up at me.

 

‘You think I’m sick because of my mother, don’t you? It told me. It told me about my mother, because that’s how it got in.’ she said.

 

She said it all in a single breath before she stiffened like she had been electrocuted and I was on my feet, calling for help as I put her in the recovery position.

 

Jacqui came to the hospital. She had a friend with her, pear shaped with a shaved head and greasy lipstick, who tried to film everything. I told her I did not agree to be filmed in any capacity, and I was there in a professional capacity. At some point, I shut my eyes and turned away.

 

The seizures had stabilised but she remained unresponsive. I took a cab back to my office and typed my notes up until my head throbbed with each word and I had to sit with the shades drawn. After the pain eased, I wept with my head in my hands. One of the nurses poked her head around the door and told me to go home before they committed me. I wanted to laugh with her so I avoided her gaze and muttered something about it being a hard, long day.

 

I took some pills to help me drift off and my chemical surrender felt like a defeat.

 

There was dirt beneath my feet, cold and sticking to the soles of my feet. I looked around and saw walls of palsied white marble, coated in lichen and reaching high into the sky.

 

Tammy ran past me, wearing a dirt-stained smock with her long blonde hair streaming behind her. She turned and looked at me.

 

‘It’s old, Kerry. It lives in the middle of a maze and if you find your way there, it makes you choose what happens to you. I chose right when it asked me.’

 

Her eyes widened in the gloom.

 

‘Make the right choice. Now you need to run.’ she said.

 

Something roared behind us and I felt the ground shake as it moved out of the darkness.

 

I awoke, drenched in sweat and decided to try something to save her.

 

I dressed and went back to the clinic, making an excuse about some reports I needed for a hearing in the morning. The orderly was too tired to argue so he waved me through. I went to my office.

 

I took out the drawings laid them out left to right then I stood up and reviewed them.

 

Children had florid imaginations which removed an element of clinicity from my work, they spoke in simple phrases and elemental symbols. I went over to my printer and took out a sheet of paper then went back to the day room and found some crayons. I picked some up, tried to imagine the warmth of her fingers on them and went back to my office.

 

I used most of the black, had to use my keys to gouge out the shapes, but I tore through the paper in a few places and my fingers were soon oiled with smears of black crayon. I filled in the gaps with colour where I needed it, but I lacked her skill with art.

 

I finished the sequence.

 

I stood back and saw my own breath as a plume of mist as I shivered and wrapped my arms around my chest.

 

‘WELCOME TO THE MAZE.’

 

It was a voice more felt than heard. It hummed in the pit of my stomach and spat bitterness up with each word it spoke. No wonder she had broken beneath it.

 

‘LEFT OR RIGHT?’

 

I looked at the last drawing.

 

I had let it out. Clown or demon, it was here, violating my sanity with its existence.

‘I am aware this might be a reaction to the incident today. I accept that about myself.’

 

It chuckled, a clotted rough thing which made me want to vomit. My headache returned as I stared around the room, shivering with the cold.

 

‘THIS IS HAPPENING, DOCTOR. LEFT OR RIGHT.’

 

I backed against the wall of my office, fighting the urge to cry.

 

‘Left.’

 

It chuckled again. I had chosen Jacqui because I thought she was exploiting her child for attention. I did not think about what that meant at the time. Fear made things simple.

 

‘NONE OF YOU ARE SAFE. I COULD HAVE TAKEN THE CHILD.’

 

I shook my head, decided I needed to get out of the office and see who could help me.

 

‘DOCTOR, SHE IS SAFE. WHOLE.’

 

Something broke in me then and I sobbed as I flung open the door, into the arms of an orderly who bellowed for help as I pressed against my face against their chest, grateful beyond words for someone real to speak to.

 

4.

 

No one mentioned the fourth drawing. It allowed me some hope of a career.

 

Especially when, after eight weeks in a private facility on the coast, I was introduced to the events since my psychotic episode.

 

Jacqui and her friend. They spared me the details but as part of my reintroduction to independence, I had internet access.

 

Someone took them to pieces.

 

Or something. Their bones had been cracked open, the marrow sucked out amidst other details which had been kept from the public. It was a naive belief in the face of a ceaseless quest for novelty and horror. It had convinced me to finish the sequence.

 

Tammy’s catatonia remained constant. Jacqui had been estranged from her family due to her activism and later, celebrity. They were applying for guardianship of her, back to Arizona and their church. The comments were interesting. I could consult, I was told, but there was a reluctance to allow me to practice directly with children again. I agreed with them and asked if I could go back to the clinic and pick up some personal items before taking some vacation time.

 

I was escorted but a chubby ten year old ran headfirst into a wall, and my orderly barked at me to stay there as he ran to assist, I slipped away down to the long term ward.

 

I took her hand in both of mine. It was warm but inert like a doll.

 

‘Tammy, its gone. It doesn’t want you anymore.’

 

Her fingers twitched and she blinked as she smacked her lips.

 

‘I know. You let it out, and it found someone else to eat.’ she said.

 

Her voice was a flat whisper.

 

‘Tammy, I know you’re not sick. I think I am, but that’s not your fault.’

 

She tried to sit up and so I slipped my arms around her. She whispered something into my ear and then pulled back and began to scream. I drew back with my hands pressed to my ears as she stared at me, shrieking like I had tried to murder her.

 

We were still in the maze. Except the minotaur was now an eight year old child, who had lured me into a compromising position which I could never explain. My life was ruined by a single act of kindness tinged with arrogance.

 

I should have chosen right.

 

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