experience, love, men, short fiction

A shave, a cigarette and a sigh.

He had loved the straight razor but the price of mastering it was embarrassment, random assignations of cuts  like a child’s map drawn in red felt across his cheeks and chin. When he was depressed, he imagined one slip and the blood gushing out , a final grand guignol ending to the most mundane action a man could perform. He shaved because the beard is so commonplace now and being clean shaven set him apart. It’s meditative and afterwards it felt like a simple invisible victory.

Despite its dilapidation, the flat was a cocoon whilst grief did the work of transformation. He walks through in just a towel around his waist, skin tingling from the cold shower he took.

The carpet was the colour of dried oatmeal, thin and abrasive to bare feet. His bed was set into the left of the room, hiding in the corner like a child being punished. He wiped the gel from his cheeks with a towel and looks at his reflection, pleased with the face which looks back at him.

The shelves were the first sign of recovery. Before his books were lined against the skirting board like homeless people in a soup kitchen queue, now they were elevated like the gods, looking down on him. He had painted the walls and plastered over the pockmarks, made the room lighter and more hopeful. Whether he had ambitions of inviting women back, he could not say but the despair it engendered was an affectation and the bright green lampshade was the final touch, a shingle being hung out to say ‘I’m alive.’  There was space and light here, a woman’s touch without a woman being involved.There’s the sound of trainer-clad feet slapping against the pavement, the high, chest calls of young boys calling to one another, so fast the words collide into one another and become indistinct. They live at a faster pace in youth and you can hear it in the rapid patter of their lives.

He sits on a soft throw, an indirect comforting hug, draped over the bed to add colour to the room and it brushes against his bare thighs. He is in underwear and a t shirt, the lazy primacy of a single man at home, unwilling or unable to dress for himself in his leisure time. He smokes, enjoying the chemical tang of the smoke and the hum of nicotine infused synapses as he writes.

The things he feels but does not say.

His dreams, dormant and listless, but awake now, tender to a new world because they’ve never been exposed to the sunlight of reality.

The things he would say to her, if she were there to hear them.

Loneliness comes and goes, like a familiar melody floating through the air, but he keeps going. The page is blank but not for long.

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fiction, short fiction, writing

Wet Dog

Smurf and Iain sat in the flat, candles burning because they couldn’t shift anything until the morning and they used the emergency credit on the meter a few days ago.

Iain sat slumped against the wall, his grimy index finger dancing over the screen of the ipad, his heavy lidded eyes focused on the activity in front of him. He had taken some of the medication they grabbed, and it made his pupils dilate until his eyes were thirsting black suns. He scratched his head, and his pulse fluttered against the ornate, black tattoo on his neck, made it breathe.

Smurf glared at him, chain smoking until his fingers were glowing and his lungs burned, tight and angry as the rest of him.

Iain glanced up, sucking his chapped lips over his protruding, yellowed overbite.

‘Fucking what?’

Smurf was never one to hold someone’s eye for long. He was quick, smart but soft in the wrong places, Iain thought, but he never appeared so angry as he did now.

‘You know what, you stupid fucking cunt.’

Iain set down the ipad and rolled a cigarette. He put his full attention into it, although that did not stop him from sacrificing most of what he picked out to the thin, rough carpet that had turned the colour of fungus. He made an arthritic cigarette, stuck it between his lips and patted himself down for a lighter. He stared at Smurf, who shook his head.

‘Give us a fucking light, Smurf.’

Smurf sat back, folded his arms and set his jaw in a hard line. Most of the time, his big eyes and shaved head made him look like a war orphan but the anger that coursed through him lent him a gravity that unnerved Iain.

Smurf drilled his eyes into Iain hard enough to cause internal bleeding. Iain glanced around him, knowing there was a lighter somewhere.

Iain patted the ground, then his pockets again before he got up and made his hands into fists.

He was about to launch at Smurf although the pills had given him the reflexes of a slug on valium when they heard the thump from upstairs. Smurf got to his feet, his chest rising in panicked breaths.

‘Won’t be pigs.’ Iain said.

Smurf looked at him with disgust and fear.

‘You sure about that? Because you mate, have done something that will get us fucking cut.’

Iain rolled his eyes and tried to slip his hand into the pocket of Smurf’s jacket. Smurf darted backwards, losing his balance and falling over the chair to land on the base of his spine. He swore and rolled onto his side, rubbing his back before he sprung to his feet and closed the distance between the pair of them.

There was another thump from upstairs, then a splattering sound, like a million wet paintbrushes flicked into the air.

The pair of them looked up, then at each other.

‘It’s the boiler.’ Iain said.

Smurf squeezed his eyes shut.

‘We used the emergency on the gas before the fucking electric. Boiler’s empty.’  he said.

Another thump. Iain glanced around him and picked up the iron in the corner, from where Smurf ironed a shirt for an interview at a care home. He was waiting for a result but inside the little imp of failure that used his life as a toilet knew the outcome. Smurf watched him pick it up and stepped back.

‘Might as well get use out of it, eh?’ Iain said.

Smurf hid the impact of the comment by lowering his eyes and putting his hands into his pockets. Iain was already turning, with the cold grace of a shark sensing blood in the water.

‘There’s nothing up there.’ Smurf said.

Iain gave a single dry peal of laughter. It had no humour in it at all. He lifted the iron up and gestured towards Smurf.

‘No, but if anyone is, they’re getting this in the fucking mush.’

He turned and walked away. Smurf stared at the back of his neck, aghast at his lack of courage, his complicity and his inability to voice how fucked up tonight had been. How he wanted to sell some of the stuff to get so fucking high he could pretend it never happened.

Smurf heard another thump then Iain making a retching sound.

‘Oh that fucking stinks up here, Smurf.’ Iain said.

Smurf figured that Iain was not referring to his own room. Smurf looked in there once, to look for a tenner he was sure Iain stashed in there. After seeing the yellow duvet and the mattress that looked like a child’s painting in the medium of bodily fluids decided that he could walk to the interview.

Smurf  kept things clean. He would rather buy washing powder than eat sometimes, drinking endless glasses of water to keep the hunger pangs from hurting too much.

Smurf walked through to the stairs when the growling insinuated through the floorboards. Iain fell silent.

The growl gained in volume and power. Smurf asked once if God had pets and got laughed at but he stood and wondered if this was what one of them would sound like.

If it was angry.

Smurf’s stomach churned with acid. Iain was spurting a litany of curses and swear words before the growl shook the universe and a series of short thumps showed that whatever it was up there was advancing with power and momentum.

Smurf ran through the hallway just as Iain screamed in terror, his voice reaching a pitch that would shatter glass. The sounds of wet paper being ripped, a breathy series of exhalations, something breathing through its nose, teeth sunk in and digging, tearing and sucking down. Smurf pulled the door open and ran. He turned back and saw the mist of blood that hung in the air and Iain’s head sail through the air down the stairs, his face forever cast in a final expression of disbelief and terror.

Smurf ran, skipping down the metal spiral staircase and taking off at a sprint. A shard of glass stabbed through the heel of his left foot but he kept going as the wet thump of whatever had been in the house ran out after him.

Each step made Smurf cry out in agony.

Something hit him between the shoulder blades and pushed him down to the ground with a brute ease. It kept him down and twin hot blasts of fetid air blasted against his neck. Smurf sobbed for his life.

Whatever held him did not react. The pressure lessened and Smurf continued to cry, trying to say he was sorry but the words kept falling apart, bashed in by the force of his grief and his guilt.

‘I’m so fucking sorry. I didn’t know.’

Smurf pressed his face to the path and continued to weep.

The wet flat slap against his neck, muscles powerful as pistons left a thick slob of something hot and wet against his head but he let it happen. The stink made his eyes water, wet fur and dark earth, shit from a diet of hate and red meat but with each breath it faded.

He was alone. He glanced back at the open door. Danny from next door looked inside, swathed in the Star Wars dressing gown and onesie as Anna pushed him forward as a cigarette dangled from the corner of her mouth.

He sat up, looked up at the sky and pressed his hand against his mouth as the sound of sirens grew in the distance.

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beauty, blogging, books, fiction, women

Writing Update

So I am 83 pages into The Exit Counsellor, which is my second venture into thriller territory after Lawful Evil. I write first drafts in longhand, as much to resist sharing them as to make something mobile and easy to pick up so I grind through good pencils and paper over breakfast then go to my day job.

My first book, The Love We Make did the rounds with publishers and was rejected, which was a good thing as it took away the sting of rejection early on. The second one, Until She Sings is out there somewhere, so send your happy thoughts and prayers for that one. I work to a disciplined practice, which long-term readers of the blog (hey you *waves*) are familiar with.

I still have Stranger Lights, my Mexican witchcraft novel in longhand, which I will start editing into a second draft this summer once I have finished Lawful Evil and also Ogden. Editing isn’t as much fun as first drafts but it is where you learn from your mistakes. Acutely so, if I am honest.

Writing is my purpose. I work towards that. I know the odds and so do you, but fuck it, I play to win and I work at it like a motherfucker.

If you’ve enjoyed any of the poetry or short fiction, please share it. I am humbled by anyone who takes the time to read my work, and I want to reach as many people as possible. You can help me with a click and a kind word. It isn’t natural for me to ask for help, but sometimes you have to. I’m building my own world here and I want you all to come and play with me.

Thank you for reading my work and supporting it, openly or otherwise.

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beauty, comics, fiction, short fiction, women

Antagonist

solitude.png

(http://noir-limite.deviantart.com/art/Solitude-s-song-673874559)

If you’re reading this, then I’ve won.

Or lost.

It is a matter of perspective.

If the aim is survival, then I have won.

If the aim is the natural order of balance and justice, then I have lost.

This happened.

I wrote and drew a comic book based on a public domain character called Blackout. It started like most things as a joke when I was playing Serious Artist who sought to revolutionise the medium of comic books. I worked in an office during the day, answering the phone to damaged and upset people who were reporting the damaged things in their public housing that upset them then scripted and drew either in the mornings or late into the night. It was exhausting but each time I drew a page or finished a script; it was a little victory and enough fuel to sustain me through another appraisal where I had to lie and say how awesome my job was.

Success came when one of the collected editions ended up on the desk of someone who worked at Imagine Entertainment and then they met with me in London. I had to walk around the block twice to make sure it was real and to burn off some of the adrenaline that made me want to shit myself and throw up at the same time. The meeting went well; I contributed a script and two years later; I had the surreal experience of watching my characters speaking my words on a big screen.

It felt like a mild, pleasurable delusion. The money enabled me to commit to the work full time. I got a card and a set of brushes from my colleagues. It was difficult to hide my fear and my excitement at being able to live out a long-denied dream of mine.

That is all the background so you can dislike or envy me. It depends on how you view what happened next.

I had been busy with revisions for the movie sequel, comprising notes from the star and executive producer who had read Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey and understood none of it alongside scripting and drawing the latest graphic novel. I did too much too soon and although my enthusiasm had not waned; it loosened the clutch on my judgement a little.

Which is why I took the bike out late when it was dark and the roads were wet.

I was not doing over fifty when the flare of headlights sliced across my eyes and the bike bucked out from under me, skidding and slipping before I experienced nothing at all.
2.

I awoke in an alleyway, the high, ammoniac smell of urine in my nostrils and still in my leathers but without my helmet. A rat the size of a puppy stared at me as it dragged a bloodied child’s sneaker by a fraying pink lace. No injuries but no bike and no sign of where I was.

I looked up at a night sky stained with sodium lights. A canopy on the city that never slept.

I knew this place.

I created it.

My last mental breakdown had been horrible, a complete and unsparing awareness of the world and my place in it. A perpetual battle to do simple things like shave or go to the shops without floods of tears or a panic so complete that it made me speechless. If this was one, then it was more interesting and complete than anything before it.

Hanson City was to Blackout what Gotham was to the Batman and New York was to most of the Marvel Universe. It was a monumental pile of shit to have as a residence, but it provided me with enough story ideas to power me through a good decade of work.

Political and religious corruption.

An ancient order of architects and potentates who controlled the fate of Hanson City with a tight grip and resented the efforts of Blackout to bring about justice and order to the city.

Villains who were analogues of better villains, and I even had a team of garish cyborgs who remained in suspended animation until the artificial intelligence that controlled them would awaken them to go on rampages that occurred when I had nothing to say of true artistic value but needed a section to pad out the second act.

So I had created a place perfect to play God over, but never in a million years worth being subjected to.

I left the alleyway and ran straight into a sloppy, ugly fight between a young man and an elderly woman clutching at her purse.

‘Oi, stop.’ I said.

He turned and sneered at me, reaching in his pocket for a knife to brandish at me. If he had used it on the old lady, he would have been home by now.

The thump of something heavy landing from a long way up shook the surrounding buildings. In my head, Hans Zimmer’s score started up and I knew this scene before it happened. I had written it a million times.

Continuity had other plans.

I had worked myself into exhaustion writing a story that talked about the possible realities of having a post human with abilities beyond those of men. The heroes of the comic book universe would terrify in real life. I knew not to give the finger to my audience. I compensated for the internal whispers that despite my success, I was not a Serious Artist.

When Blackout punched his hand through the mugger’s skull, I screamed louder than the old lady did.

She ran away and I stood there. The blood steamed off his fist and he glared at me, his eyes shining with brutal need. He looked different from how I had drawn him, part of the anguish of the artistic process where in your head it is a perfect symbolic ideal and on the page, it looks like you gave yourself a paint enema and opened your cheeks onto the page.

He had sallow, pockmarked cheeks from adolescent acne and his hair was thinning. His muscles strained against his black unitard, which highlighted his abdominal definition but not the outline of his cock. I put my hands up, but he kept coming, slow for dramatic effect and I imagined the amount of panels.

I pleaded with him. In the script, I had a second act twist planned but here it was all reality. I stared into the eyes of my creation.
There was a voice in my head that was the antidote to the whispering doubts, it strutted around, kept me writing when I could have lapsed into marathon sessions of Borderlands 2 and Netflix. I had taken this character and renewed him, made him complex and beautiful. In his original appearance, he had gained his power from the vapours produced by a synthesis of formic acid and chemical names I had to search for without understanding.

You should have seen some of the letters I got. A woman who lectured chemistry at a university in Massachusetts wrote me an eighteen page letter explaining how and why I had gotten it so wrong. I sent her a signed copy of the last graphic novel, but it was her attention to detail that came as I stood there.

Nothing is original except for your voice. His revised origin was sleek and modern. Operant conditioning, genetic enhancement and control words gave Blackout his powers.

Control words.

There were several, used at points where I needed to create the false climax. No, not the kind you use where you groan like you have a cramp and tell her how lovely she is, but the narrative kind.

I had made them up using Enochian, a language developed by John Dee, the historical alchemist which was the language of angels. I was unsure whether it would stop him.

‘MA CHEE ELL’

He stopped, clutched at his head in a performance that would have earned awards if it were happening anywhere outside of my head. His belch made the air fill with the stink of sour milk and battery acid before he keeled over and fell onto his face.

I kneeled in front of him, checked his pulse and found nothing.

I liked to use minimal backgrounds but the fan fiction had capitalized on my laziness and I read enough of it to figure out my bearings.

If I was mad, then I had done a great job of building this delusion until it became real.

My body might be on a bed somewhere, tubes packed into every orifice, bandaged and comatose as my relatives discussed whether to switch off the machines keeping me alive. There, I was a deep-fried vegetable who might warrant a hashtag on Twitter.

Here I was someone who knew a few things.

The location of the secret lair. All the costumes I had designed and the rows of chemicals that controlled his power levels.

My secret lair.

Costumes.

Powers.

The rain had stopped. I stood over his body and heard the wail of sirens coming towards me. In the books, it was always a cue for him to run across the rooftops, take to the sky or have a terse conversation with the police detective who was his friend on the force. Here, it was a cue for me to be arrested and not be able to explain a single word of what had happened.

I ran. It took over an hour to find the lair, but I stood in front of the rusted sewer grate and fought the urge to weep with gratitude.

I am writing this. I performed two sets of intra-muscular injections an hour ago. In another thirty minutes I will take a dose of neurotropics that will enhance my intellect and sensory acuity. An hour after that, I will see if my delusions have any real import to them.

If you’re reading this, then I’ve won.

Or lost.

It is a matter of perspective.

If the aim is survival, then I have won.

If the aim is the natural order of balance and justice, then I have lost.

Either way, it will make for a hell of a story.

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beauty, fiction, love, Uncategorized, women

Velour Recluse

I gasped with surprise when the letter arrived. It was handwritten on pink personalised stationery and when I opened the envelope, there was a delightful puff of lavender in my nostrils which made me sneeze. An invitation from a part of Hollywood’s regal, decadent past.

Lorna Hammond. She only made one movie, a clumsy but beautiful affair called The Incorrigible Ms Evans. It captured the imagination for a time, enough that Ms Hammond managed the trick of fame without the unnecessary effort of producing art.

She made the most of it, attaching herself to a succession of handsome artists then distinguished captains of industry before age and culture consigned her to a dusty exile. I wrote my thesis on her and kindled the flame of it into a solid career as a pop culture and feminism commentator.

She let her legend wax in the silence. The lack of biography added to her allure. There were no children or close family to offer anything to her profile, just a series of sightings and rumours, strung together like cheap paste jewels on a string of pearls. It held my attention for a long time.

I wrote to her agent who had died five years ago. His assistant sent a cheque once a month and never heard from her. She was exhausted enough to give me the address without any argument.

I wrote to her several times. She did not reply, but that did not stop me from writing a book about her, and went onto talk shows to talk about it. I spent the whole time worrying about the alleged ten pounds that the camera adds and wishing I had worn pants rather than a skirt.

When an independent film studio approached me for the rights to the book, I received a letter from her inviting me to sit with her; I replied coolly, but inside I was trembling with a giddy joy at the thought of seeing her.

The etymology of giddy, refers to a state of being insane, mad or stupid. That should have occurred to me at the time, but we always lack clarity when it comes to our enthusiasms.

She apologised for not replying to me sooner. The note enthralled me and I spent many hours finding hidden meanings in its terse structure. I was invited on a Sunday afternoon; she sent directions which tickled me as I had watched the building from Google Earth, disappointed that it was a squat, smoke-stained carbuncle rather than a candied mansion house.

The penmanship was shaky in places, but I put that down to age and excitement.

I imagined her crepe paper skin, the febrile persistent tremor of her hands as she wrote and the excited thirst in her eyes as she anticipated another fix of attention, the only true sustenance she had ever known. It still took me two attempts to find the place in person, which made me late for the appointment. I hoped that her need for recognition was greater than her adherence to civility.

It was a scarred doorbell next to a curled, yellowing sign pinned under scuffed plastic.

L HAMMOND

I pressed it and heard the harsh bray of the bell, even through two floors up and insulated by the walls.

The intercom coughed into life.

‘Ms Hammond? I’m Gloria Davis.’

A faint rustling sound.

‘Miss Davis.’

The voice was thin, almost a whisper but the poor quality of the intercom lent it a dark, hollow volume.

‘It is such an honour to meet you.’ I said

The intercom belched like a dyspeptic robot and the door clicked open. The sour, greasy odour of fermented garbage stuck fingers in my nostrils hard enough to make my eyes water. I hurried up the stairs and held my breath.

Her door was peeling and had faded from a fire engine red to an infected pink in places. I knocked hard and the door clicked open. I pushed it open and walked into the thick, velvet darkness of the hallway.

Adjoining rooms had been recruited to the service of her ego. Piles of correspondence, yellowing newspapers cut into rectangles and pictures adorned every possible surface. A pang of envy dug out from inside my breastbone at the towers of papers before she called to me in that thin, whispering voice again.

Her room was set at the back of the apartment. The door was slightly ajar and as I stepped forward, the hairs on my arms went up with an excited unease.

Squalor and glamour are two sides of the same sour coin No manic pixie starlet imagines a point where they become desiccated husks sustained on fleeting glories. The same would apply to the likes of Hammond who would look back and never be able to work out exactly why their beauty closed as many doors as they opened.

It was the fuller figured envious obsessives like myself or the irony-saturated hipsters who fed and sustained the two-faced dreams of these women. In ancient times, they built temples and now we had blogs and books instead. I should have been overjoyed, but I fought the sudden, vicious urge to turn tail and run.

They say you should never meet your heroes.

The lights were out and the curtains drawn.

A faint scratching started up, gaining volume with each second, a million yellowing fingernails, stroking at a million chalkboards. I saw the impossibly thin brown legs of spiders advancing, dense and packed like a broom.

The glimmer of their eyes, implacable and vicious.

I screamed and ran, swatting them away as they poured through the door. A fast-spreading brown mould that wanted to infect me.

My screaming alerted someone and I was outside, weeping and gibbering until the paramedics arrived.

It was not until I was released from observation, that the details I had fled from, emerged into matters of public record.

The spiders were Loxosceles, the recluse spider. They had travelled in the knotted twists of the wig that Ms Hammond had ordered no more than three weeks ago. The wig had come from New Mexico. The eggs had grown warm and full nestled against her scalp and they were born hungry.

They had to fumigate the building after that.

Details returned to me by degrees.

The piles of correspondence and newspaper clippings.

The ashtrays that were perfect cones of cigarette butts and ash.

The wigs mounted on wooden mannequin heads.

It was a beautiful wig once. No wonder she had worn it so often, clinging to the last threads of a faded glory whilst bearing the pain of spider venom coursing through her flesh.

Perhaps it was the closest she had felt to beautiful in a long time.

Hollywood recluse eaten by same was a headline I would have killed to have written.

No one could explain the voice, the invitation I had received. The times were as fucked up as the situation and in the end, they released me rather than try to explain them.

Yesterday, I was sat in the kitchen, looking out at the street when I heard her voice rustle into my ears and a perfect row of spiders on the window sill.

Thirsting for my attention.

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beauty, music, sex, short fiction, women

1NFL8M35

inflames.png

I had played with jazz quartets, recorded to drum loops for rappers to spit rhymes over and shredded with fusion musicians but the sad fact of my career was that turning up in a short skirt and being able to make a suitable bass face still earned me gigs.

I had spent three years touring with Prince, but people still looked at my legs and my chest and made their minds up before I had even played a note. I point this out before I talk about what happened.

Hyper Fist had been fortunate enough to come in at the peak of the hair metal craze, surfing on Nick Kenny’s ego and Oliver ‘Oddball’ Dennis’ intricate, dense guitar playing until they beached on the shore of grunge. Nick’s ego had destroyed and resurrected the band a few times, to the extent that him and Oliver were the only original members left.

Petra had got me the audition off the back of a run playing in a musical about Parliament – Funkadelic. I had just finished changing a set of strings on my Fender Jazz, which was my go to instrument for any number of gigs.

She asked me if I remembered Hyper Fist. The irony had been that they had been playing their first hit, ‘Love Me Like A Fist.’ on the radio as I drove back from the last performance of the musical.

My intuition sparked like a firework. The bass parts were root note work, deceptively simple to pull off, which meant you had to strut a little more if you wanted to get noticed.

I wanted to get paid, so a few weeks of minor pentatonic parts and not letting anyone in the front row see up my skirt was a relief. I didn’t want to go back to waitressing again, and that fear had kept me taking gigs for the better part of eight years. Fear was a good motive, I often told myself, on nights where I had to hump my own gear to a soundtrack of cat calls and patronising comments.

So, yes, I took the gig. Their last bassist had quit in the middle of recording and Oliver had to step in and record all the bass parts, which was something I would have liked to have known before accepting as it meant I had to dig out a six string contrabass.Decades of solid narcotic experimentation had put Oliver on an entirely new level sonically, so I had to spend three weeks going over the parts until I had them down as pure muscle memory.

It had been time invested wisely because I needed a lot of energy just to deal with the band.

Oliver was lovely, a little strange and perpetually distracted whilst Iain on drums had a brusque, affable manner about him and a liver that had tried to leave him more times than his wife. Greg was the keyboardist, and we bonded over the scale of the task we had inherited in being able to perform the new material.

Which no one wanted to listen to.

No, we could have played ‘Love Me Like A Fist’ for two hours and no one would have cared. The crowds were high on memories of adolescence and determined to go back to the eighties with every fibre of their being.

I thought of the money and the hope that this might lead to something better. You can build a career that way if you were smart.

The biggest problem I had, though, was Nick Kenny.

Thirty years ago, he was sinuous, dangerous and agile.

Now, he was just dangerous, cased in a watery carcass that bore every mark of the years. What surgery he had made him look manufactured and plastic, too white teeth beneath lips that were bloated like he had a perpetual summer cold and hair plugs that sat in his sweaty, pink scalp like a clumsily planted garden and a belly that swung like a pendulum when he stalked the stage. At the start, his third wife, Jacinta came with us, which meant he was kept on a short leash outside of the stage.

It was when he started to dry hump me during solos and flick his yellowing tongue at me that I started to fear when Jacinta left the tour. It was not like the quality and quantity of groupies would ever keep his ego fed, a poignant reminder that the world had moved on from Hyper Fist, and by proxy, Nick.

Jacinta was already on a plane when Nick started to find excuses to come to my door and want to talk about recording with me on bass. I pretended to be asleep, fielding his petty accusation the following day with expressions of blithe ignorance and counting down the days until this leg would end, and then I could leave without violating the contract.

It was supposed to be my last gig, not anyone else’s.

2.

The club had, much like Nick and Oliver, seen better days but clung to them with an admirable measure of determination. The walls were perpetually slick with a thin film of stale sweat, cigarette smoke, alcohol and hormones and the posters were faded, curled at the edges whilst young, ambitious faces stared out, daring you to challenge their ability to rock you. We had loaded in through the back, Nick holding court with an awestruck bar owner whilst the rest of us humped our gear through.

Oliver had gone outside to count the sparrows that had gathered in the evening sky.

Nick sauntered in, forty minutes late to soundcheck with the support band, Razor, weighing up the odds of expressing their frustration or simply sucking up the ambient humiliation, stood there and glared at him as he barked swear words in his cod-English accent into the microphone with a tumbler of scotch in his hand then belched and walked off stage. He winked at me as he left, and I almost pitied him.

Until I saw him deliberately paw at his crotch as he walked away. He was forever doomed to past glories, unable to move beyond a time when the world revolved around him and he winced at the look of pity in my eyes as I called to the sound engineer to give me some more treble in my monitor.

Nick had gone off stage to accept the delivery of something different for the last show. Greg rolled his eyes whilst Iain swore under his breath.

Pyrotechnics.

I glanced around at the dimensions of the club, the ominous low ceilings and how cramped everything was in here, imagining a sweaty sea of fans and all those bright, harsh flares going off. I calmed myself down by telling myself that Nick wouldn’t be that stupid, despite all evidence to the contrary.

I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, I really did.

Which proved difficult when he kept pushing himself against me whilst we ate from the botulism buffet that had provided for us. After the last cursory brush of his leather sheathed micro penis against the crack of my ass, I took great pleasure in telling him that I was leaving the tour after the show, as per my contract.

He spluttered and grimaced before his ego demanded that he pretended that he did not care. I knew there were other gigs there, and in an instant, I saw past all his childish shit to the scared little man underneath. He was lashed to Hyper Fist forever, whilst I would go on and grow as a musician. I was younger, more talented and smarter than he had been at that age and in his pleading eyes, I saw his desire to fuck me as a way to undermine that immutable fact.

The show that night started off with a ferocity that surprised us new guys, the crowd ready for us from the first note. The irony of the energy blinded us to the pyrotechnics, and I wondered if saner heads had prevailed as we rattled through the first few songs until Iain gestured for me to come over whilst Oliver ran his perfect fingers down the fretboard with such speed that it became a single shower of compressed notes.

‘Stay away from the front, love. The twat’s going to set them off at the end of Fist.’

I grinned and he shook his head.

‘Wish I was going with you, but I need the dosh, love.’ he said.

I gave him the thumbs up and he played a rapid run along his kit without a change in expression as we started to play the one song that the crowd was waiting for.

The audio did not do it justice, but that last performance of the song changed things between us. Its rudimentary parts, recorded before I was born, sucked in the energy of the crowd, burned our resentments and ambitions for fuel and set them ablaze.

When the fire pots went off and shot a solid wall of flame into the air, I screamed with fright. Nigel caught it and gave a mocking grin as he waved his arms in the fire, urging the crowd to scream the chorus. I did not miss a note, but stood back and looked up.

I watched the flames lick at the ceiling and stopped playing. Greg followed my gaze, then Iain whilst Nick and Oliver did their faux-homoerotic back-to-back dance at the front, hungry for adoration.

Iain set his sticks down and called to one of the crew from the side. I unslung my bass and Greg extricated himself from behind his banks of keyboards. The crew started to get out, trying to get Nick and Oliver’s attention as well as alert someone to call the fucking fire brigade. It was futile, Nick and Oliver were lost to the crowd as much as the crowd were lost to the moment.

I want to say I was brave and noble, but that would be a lie. I ran, with my bass in my hand and kicked out the fire door, frightened that I had not heard the alarms ringing out. Iain and Greg followed along with a few of the road crew.

The fire needed no permission, it was as relentless in its ambitions as Nick and Oliver. It was a more subtle performer, biding its time and feeding on the old wood and tarmac in the roof, gently ushering smoke down until by the time that anyone in the crowd realised that it was not part of the show, it was too late.

We stood there, trying to get the doors open at the front, only to find that the mass of the crowd’s panicked exit had blocked them and so we stood there, cold and despairing as the club burned around. I lost two fingernails and sprained my index finger on my right hand trying to get a window open but Iain dragged me back and wrapped my arms around me, whispering to me that it was all done now.

Nick and Oliver never made it out. No one really cared about the eighty people who died along with them, but I imagined that Nick would have felt that entirely appropriate. I stayed for three days in Long Island, talking to insurance agents and police before they released me and I was on a plane back to Los Angeles.

What stayed with me, stubborn and appalling, was that it had been Nick’s idea from the start. I imagined him sat there, looking at the gradual decline of his flesh and faculties, already a standing joke and deciding to go out on his own terms.

Oliver, well I imagined he saw it as a transition from one state to another.

I had just come from a good audition to be part of Justin Timberlake’s band and was waiting for a cab when I heard the riff of ‘Love Me Like A Fist’ belch out from the speakers of a cell phone. Two girls staring into the screen of a phone and giggling with a cold glee as they sucked on blended juices.

I shuddered and turned away, raising my face to the sun and wondered when it would stop hurting.

If it ever would.

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books, fiction, short fiction, women

Weekend Omnibus – Short Fiction

Here is a list of the short stories posted on the blog this week. Please share and comment.

Short Fiction:

https://mbblissett.com/2017/03/04/only-pictures-left/

https://mbblissett.com/2017/03/03/pilgrim/

https://mbblissett.com/2017/03/02/audio-cassette-found-at-kenners-wood/

https://mbblissett.com/2017/03/01/a-brisk-walk-to-clear-the-head/

https://mbblissett.com/2017/02/28/near-miss/

https://mbblissett.com/2017/02/27/captain-garretts-second-to-last-adventure/

https://mbblissett.com/2017/02/26/diamond-bear/

https://mbblissett.com/2017/02/25/queue/

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