Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. ~Anton Chekhov

I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right. ~Markus Zusak

Friday, 23 December 2011

The Parade: Part One

Benjamin Black was bundled out of his sleep one cold and frosty February morning by a noise that sounded, at least to his freshly awoken ears, like a parade of partying elephants beneath him. All he could hear was a mismatched collaboration of noises, sounded, songs and dins that were forcefully squeezed into the same airspace, creating a sound somewhat akin to that of a marching band during an earthquake. The floorboards under his bed trembled, vibrating the water in the glass he’d laid down next to his bed before falling asleep the previous night. Even forcing his pillows to become emergency earmuffs didn’t seem to make the slightest difference. The tune being sounded out below was still so clear that, if the mood took him, he could have tapped his foot along to the beat and maybe even sung a harmony or two to himself.

This isn’t right, he thought to himself, it’s... oh God! It’s half six in the morning. What’s going on? He wrapped his blanket around his shoulders like the bun of a hot dog, and tiptoed out of his room to investigate.

It wasn’t unusual for his family to wake Ben up. In fact, the more he thought about it, it would be unusual for them to not to. No matter how many times he asked, shouted, moaned, complained, or groaned, they never seemed to get the message. The message being: STOP WAKING ME UP!

Sarah. It would be Sarah, he was sure of it. She was the one, the ‘teenager’, with her friends that pretended to smoke weed and steal drinks from the local off-licence. She was the one who’d flutter her eyelashes at boys, and colour her face in to try and make herself look pretty. If anyone was stupid enough to be making this kind of noise, even in this family, it would be her.

Or perhaps it was Tina, Ben’s mum. She had a reputation – one she vigorously denied both having and deserving – as an odd-ball, or, as one of the neighbours put it, ‘a goose one gullet short of a gander’. Some of her friends, back from when she was younger and had a life, loved to party well into the early morning. Maybe they just got carried away? It had happened before. Twice.

There was something different about it this time, though, something a finger just couldn’t be put on. They banged with extra thwack and crashed with added wallop, like playing the drums with sledgehammers.

There was no need for Ben to be quiet as he made his way downstairs. He could barely hear the patter of his feet on the carpet over the raucous rumpus, there was no doubt in his mind that he was silent to his cacophonous subjects. He stood poised in front of the living room door, shadowed by the light that stole out through the grooves.

Whoosh! He threw the door open.

Ben had been itching to tell somebody at school about what he’d seen earlier that morning, but he wasn’t bumping into the right people. He’d gotten there half an hour earlier than normal – normal being about half a minute before the bell rang and everyone was ushered inside – and had fully expected to see someone worthy of a good natter if he lurked around long enough.

He did not. The playground remained a ghost town, a bitter wind taking the place of the tumbleweed of the Wild West. Frozen puddles covered the ground, a patchwork ice rink surrounded by leafless trees, and the children stayed away like ostriches to the sky. After another two laps of the playground, (laps which reaped no rewards and in which he nearly slipped over four times, despite dragging his feet along the ground) Ben had had enough of waiting around. His fingers were turning blue and his breath was much too visible for his general liking. If he couldn’t find anyone worth talking to, he would wait, and bring them to him.

Inside was much warmer. The school caretaker – Barry? Harry? Larry! – sprinkled granules of salt along the corridor, soaking up the frost that had melted off coats and boots and was now forming splashes on the floor. The coat pegs were mostly empty. There was a pink raincoat four pegs down that belonged to one of the girls, Ben didn’t know exactly which, that gathered in a small group and giggled about boys at lunchtime, and there were a few pairs of Wellington boots lying at various angles on the floor. Other than that, the school might have seemed closed to the unobservant passer-by.

Ben took his seat in class – fifth row back, third from the left (which also happened to be third from the right) – and waited for a spillage of other children. And he waited. And he waited. Fifteen long minutes, until now he was no longer expecting other children but was also a tad quizzical about the whereabouts of his teacher, or, for that matter, that one teacher that always snuck into the classroom like a shy cat and told him when his actual teacher was ill or ill-disposed. Still, no one came.

And that’s when he heard it; the rumbling grumble of this morning had followed him to school and, apparently, stolen his teacher and his class-mates. It got louder and louder, and Ben could feel the desk in front of his tremble and began to feel his knees chatter as well. The door flew open.

‘You have got to come see this!’ At first, Ben couldn’t believe what was happening. Everything seems so implausible that even dreaming couldn’t explain things, but there, stood in the doorway like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, was Ben’s sister, Sarah.

‘Wha... t?’ Ben was confused. So many questions were bouncing around like power balls inside his head. What was his sister doing here? What was the noise? Where was everybody? Just, plain and simple, what?


He jumped out of his chair, pushing his desk forward and sliding his chair back like a tiny explosion surrounded him, and was out of the door before he had time to really think about what he was doing.

At the end of the corridor, where normally there would be a set of double doors to let the children come and go and play, was an elephant, curled up asleep on the floor. It’s gigantic torso throbbed as it slowly breathed, in and out, and it’s ears softly flapped.

‘She’s tired,’ his sister said, placing a hand on her brother’s shoulder. ‘And so she should be, she’d had a long day, and she’s still got to make Dad’s tea tonight.’

‘What are you on about?’

‘Oh, yeah. Our Mum’s an elephant.’

Friday, 11 November 2011

Super Glue, Teddy Bears, and the Human Heart: Part One

‘And then she just stood there and laughed. Laughed at me. Then everyone else joined in. Johnny and Paul and Andy and Ben and Harry and Jamie and Ollie and everyone. They just stared laughing. I even laughed for a bit, even though everyone was laughing at me. Then she put her arms up in the air, like a big letter ‘Y’ or maybe like one of those sticks you use to find water, and she started cheering…’

‘Daniel,’ his mother said, debating the use of the dreaded middle name, ‘she did not start cheering.’

‘She did’ he retorted. ‘She did, and then everyone joined in, just like the laughing. I don’t really know why they were cheering. They hadn’t won anything, nothing like that.’

‘And how do you feel now?’ Her voice was softer now, cradling him with her syllables.

‘I don’t know. Mrs Johnson says that my heart is broken, but it doesn’t feel broken.’

‘It takes a lot to break a person’s heart, Daniel. They’re made to take knocks, like a door to your soul. Eventually it’ll open up, but only to the right person.’

‘The person that rings the doorbell?’

‘That’s right. I had lots of people knock on my door when I was younger.’ said his mother, smiling to herself. ‘Tall men, and short men. Men with big wallets, and men with big dreams. Men with moustaches that tickled, and men with skin so smooth than it felt like you were having a wash when they held your hand. Lots of men, all knock, knock, knocking on my door. And every time they’d knock, it would feel like my heart was breaking, but it never did. Not once, even though it felt like it. And then… then your Dad came along. He didn’t knock like all the other men. That’s when I knew he was special.’

It wasn’t until then that Daniel realised just how warm the room was. The ants in his pants were running around, searching for cool. He fidgeted like a boy whose backside was attempting to Tango.

‘Are you tired?’ Daniel nodded his consent. His mother made to pick him up, but he shook his head, and instead rolled himself off the sofa and onto his feet, swaying like a flagpole in the breeze as he touched ground. When he got to the doorway he tentatively turned heel.

‘Mam?’ he whispered, like the word escaped from his mouth without permission. ‘Why did everyone laugh and cheer when I felt sad?’

His mother paused. She didn’t want to lie to her son, but he wasn’t ready for the world yet. He needed to be dipped in it, like marshmallows in chocolate.

‘I don’t know,’ she said, honestly, ‘I really don’t. Sometimes people do strange things when they don’t know what to do. I once knew a man who, when he found out his sister had died, fell asleep.’

With that, Daniel made his way upstairs, dragging himself up each step. Each was his own personal Everest, and he, without pickaxe, Sherpa, or thermals, scaled them with ever increasing momentum. At the summit, standing proud and sleepy, he planted his foot into the carpet and silently claimed this triumphant feat in the name of Rachael Madison from Miss Archer’s class, even though she didn’t love him and had laughed at him and had cheered when everyone else had laughed at him too.

When his head touched pillow, he faded away into the Land of Nod instantly, not even bothering to take off his pyjama top, as he often did in the warm, lingering summer. For the first time in his little life that he could remember, Daniel didn’t dream.

Daniel didn’t wake up until late the next day. The sunlight had crept up his blanket like high tide, warming the limbs that lay sprawled across the covers. The first thing he felt was the hairs on his arms, the scouting party for puberty, stand up to salute the Sun. The next thing he felt, which would not leave him for the rest of the day, was a careful and calm cracking of his heart.

The next few hours were spent trying to ignore this sensation. It felt as though he’d had his pocket money stopped for cleaning his room, as if his insides had cuddled a porcupine. Life so far had not prepared him for this, and as far as he could remember, he’d never had any lessons about it. Counting and sounds and weddings and Jesus and the Egyptians and rivers and heads, shoulders, knees and toes, but never breaking hearts. Breakfast didn’t help, neither did the bath he was forced to take, though he was wary not to roll around in the tub too much in case he made it worse.

By the time when his tummy had started rumbling but it was still too soon to ask for more food because he hadn’t eaten all of his dinner, Daniel had come up with a plan. Exercising the nonchalance of a cat, he spilled away from his home in front of the TV, past his mother and her kitchen table of gossip and cigarette smoke, up the stairs and into the most forbidden place to every little boy, his big sister’s bedroom.

It smelled like her hair, and it didn’t look like a bedroom. It looked like the Teddy Bear’s Christmas Party. Everywhere he looked, Daniel’s eyes were assaulted with cross-stiches and buttons and hazelnut faux fur, but beneath all of the stuffed toys, he could just make out the treasure trove that he was about to search. He knew two things about his sister; firstly, she smelled, and secondly, she loved to buy books. She bought books like she was hoping to find a boyfriend just waiting for her inside one. He could see books stacked neatly on shelves, topped off with dust like a cake would be topped with sprinkles, but none of those would be the book he was looking for. The book he was after was new. Faded blue cover beneath the plastic protector that came fitted with each and every book borrowed, begged, or stolen from the school library.

It wasn’t under her bed, and it wasn’t in any of the drawers of her dressing table, and it wasn’t in the wardrobe amongst the clothes, and it wasn’t on any of the bookshelves lining the walls, and it wasn’t anywhere to be seen on the floor, and it wasn’t in the pages of her diary, although Daniel checked carefully just in case, and it wasn’t in the secret locked box at the end of the bed that Daniel knew how to get into without the key. Just as he was about the leave, he noticed something. The dressing table, a relic from his Great Aunt’s house that was now covered in Christmas lights despite it being early September, was slightly lopsided. When he stood on the loose floorboard next it to, it titled like a ship’s deck on unsteady seas.

Immediately, he fell to his belly. He resembled a beached dolphin. Under the left leg, right at the back buried in the cobwebs that spring up like sycophants around a lottery winner, was the book. Faded blue cover. Plastic protecting sleeve. Without thinking, he dragged it out. The dresser rocked, the waters getting stormier. Above him, he could hear a rolling, and then felt the thump of a toppled mug against his leg.

Quickly and without care, he scampered back to his room and jumped onto his bed. He placed the book out in front of him, his buried treasure. The Human Body by Steel, Hays and McGeorge. With the tenderness of an enraged rhino, he flicked page after page away, until he stopped dead on a double page spread. The title read The Heart.

‘If my heart is breaking,’ he said to no one in particular, ‘then I’ll just have to build myself a new one.’

Saturday, 15 October 2011

The Night Sky

Adelaide tore through the door, wrenching at the handle like the world was wrenching at her heart. She dived into the blanket and pillows, and immediately recoiled. They still smelled of him, of insolence and selfishness and of her love. Through the tears flooded the memories; scattered nostalgia of stolen kisses and interlocked fingers and stares, wholeheartedly naive stares into ocean eyes and endless pupils.

Downstairs she could hear the front door closed gently, and then the silence. The scream of uncertainty that comes after something like this echoed through the walls, permeating an air of tentative distance, a reluctant surrender to doubt. Like mice, the whispered their unimportant words in a world that was uncrushed. A world so far removed from when she was now.

“Adelaide...” came the muffled voice she’d been waiting for, hiding in the far corner of her room.

“Go away!” she screamed, slamming the pillow and playing it as a drum, a drum that had perhaps just called her fat or maybe have pinched her backside or might even have taken away her first love.

“Adelaide. I have something for you. Something... from him.”

She was up before the words had settled, darting cat-like across a floor lovingly littered with rainbow teddies. On top of the highest shelf, perched like a lighthouse, was a little UFO shaped box. She lifted it down gently. The top was curved, conical but flat, and stars were cut out of like the remnants of a pastry sheet. She lifted this lid up, hearing the old hinge creek in acknowledgement. Underneath, halfway through her plie, balanced a small plastic ballerina. She wore a distinguished blue dress, her head held high looking at where, just a few seconds ago, had been her night sky.

“Where is it?” Adelaide demanded of the figurine.

“Underneath. Locked.” Replied the ballerina.

“What?! Where’s the key?”

“I don’t know. He didn’t say. He might have taken it with him, before he...”

“Don’t say it,” Adelaide cried, her eyes glistening with rage and pain.

“You’ll have to go to his house to get it. I can’t go for you.”

“I don’t want to go.”

And with that, Adelaide collapsed into her bed, a hurricane in need of her drizzle.

Friday, 14 October 2011


There are certain things that people universally remember. First kisses and last days at school and the first time you did something stupid just because the butterflies in your stomach told you to. And there are certain things that are equally as memorable, but are less universal. A unique imprint on the isolated history of a single life. For me, that was when I discovered that custard made me immortal.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. If we keep skipping our merry way down those particular cobbles then you’ll be lost in the Everglades, surrounded by alligators. Figuratively speaking, of course. Reading on will in no way cause an onslaught by alligators, crocodiles, snakes, or hillbillies with rapey intentions.

I was twelve when I first experienced death. Not my own, that came later. No, it was my Aunty Maureen, whose soul – bless it – must certainly smell of cats, that snuffed it. Naturally gifted with a tremendous immune system, she stepped out onto the road outside her house and met oncoming traffic face on. She put a huge dent in the Nissan Micra -2004, cherry red, actually quite nice – which hit her. She would have been happy about that. At the funeral, closed casket, my Dad stood up in front of all the grim faces dressed in uniform black and told them that she had been sad her whole life, and that maybe death was a release. I didn’t believe him. She’d always seemed happy to me, always smiling and laughing and swigging from that glass bottle of hers with the Russian writing on the label. I cried all day. Not because I missed her, because she smelled of cats and wee and it’s hard to miss anyone who hurts your nose, but because it made my Dad cry.

When we got home, he ripped off his tie as if it was a noose. The ceremony and pomp was left outside, along with all the brightness of the unencumbered world. My home was the last walk of a doomed man, and we were his heavy heart.

That night we had custard.

Four years later, I died for the first time. Since then it’s become a bit of a hobby, but back then, dying was scary. It was as alien to a sixteen year old as clear skin. I got shot, if you’re wondering. I still have the bullet somewhere, a little keepsake. It’s not every day you die for the first time. It hurt. A lot.

I woke up five hours later, in a puddle of my own blood, alone in a pitch-black warehouse somewhere to the south of town. I’d been driven there earlier on the promise of free sweets and maybe a bit of dope. To be fair to the man with the handlebar moustache and the calloused fingers, he did give me the sweets. There was a hole in my chest, bullet-sized obviously, that went right through, creating in me a human peephole. It took me over an hour to walk home, but it was warm out and I got myself a bit of a tan and I enjoyed seeing this one dot in my shadow as a walked.

I didn’t tell anyone what had happened. I didn’t really know what had happened. It’s the kind of thing that’s quite hard to believe, even if you experience it.

That night I had custard.

From that day on, I was fearless. I could survive anything, I assumed, and was willing to put my assumption to any potential test. In the three years that followed getting shot, I died another twenty six times. Four stabbings, nine car accidents, six shootings, one fall from an aeroplane, two suffocations, two bar fights gone nasty, one snake bite and one lets-play-chicken-with-that-rhino. I moved about a bit. If all these things had happened in the same small town I’d grown up, I would have been worshipped as a God. I changed my appearance a lot too. Miraculously, I managed to stay anonymous. And alive.

So that was my life. Die, then live, then repeat. It took all of those three years for the novelty to wear thin, and for me to get curious. I should stress now that I was always one of those kids that never concerned himself with the hows and whys of the world. Things happened, that was all I’d ever needed to know.

Then, one morning, I had custard.

Not just any custard, though, and not just cooked any old way. Ambrosia custard, Devon’s finest quality, microwaved for 3:41, then left to cool, then microwaved again for 0:11.It was the way my Dad had always made it for me, and it was the way I liked it.

As I spooned my yellow breakfast, a spoon devoid of cake because of my careless sweep, a spider webbed its way down from the ceiling. It hung there like the dazzling beauty from China’s finest troupe, perched and pausing for applause. I squashed it between my thumb and forefinger. Its fall reminded me of when I fell out of the aeroplane. That time, I’d landed in a lake. The spider landed in the custard.

My custard ruined by the flavouring of a dead arachnid, I picked up my bowl and just when I was about to place it down next to the sink to waited to be washed in a fortnights time, the spider crawled out. Now, I’d definitely killed it. I had spider blood on my hands and felt the crunch, but now it was walking. I killed it again, and placed in back in the custard. It crawled out again.

The next few weeks were littered with various animal deaths and bowls of custard and animal resurrections. I had found a cure for death. I’ll never forget that feeling, when I really knew that it was true. I felt like I’d just taken my first steps.

From there, the way I saw it, there was only one possible course of action: find interesting people to bring back to life…

Friday, 9 September 2011

The Adventures of Barnabas T. Trenchdigger: The Hawthorn Bush

Hedgehogs normally make a noise something akin to a grumble, but being cute creatures (ignoring the pointy stabby exterior), it was a cute grumble. The grumble of someone you love.

The Hawthorn Bush

“Quack,” she masqueraded.

Last time Barnie had seen his hedgehog, she’d been purple, and blurry. But that was a week ago. Seven long days, long enough apparently for a hedgehog with purple spines to dye them fluorescent orange, get numerous facial piercings, and become unblurred. They were two distinct looks that should have belonged to two distinctly different, but with equally outlandish taste, hedgehogs.

“You’re orange?” he spluttered, and was shocked at how normal the question seemed to him. Why shouldn’t a hedgehog be orange?

“You’re sober.” It was good to establish obvious facts about the other verbally before anything could actually begin.

“I got your note.”

“What note?”

“The note on my door.”

“I didn’t put a note on your door.”

“It was nailed to the door by a purple spin.”

“I’m orange. You must be looking for a purple hedgehog.”

“You used to be purple.”

“I would have remembered if I used to be purple.”

“You used to be purple!” More assurity that time. Convince her first.

“Oh yeah, so I did.”

Barnie stared at her. He had no idea what was happening there and then. He was having a conversation with an awkward, sharp-edged traffic cone. And the cone was winning.

“Did you bring the drill?”

“The drill?”

“I asked you to bring a drill.”


“So the note didn’t mention a drill?”


“Must have been the other mole I dragged home after he collapsed. Did I mention any kind of pneumatic work equipment?”


“I always forget about the pneumatics. Which means...” She paused for a long time, like she was waiting for someone to hell her what it was that it meant. “...that we’ll have to find something else to do.”

The glint in her eye both scared and excited Barnabas. There was just something about her that tickled him behind the aorta. She tiptoed through his mind like an elephant wearing a tutu.

“How about a walk?” bet Barnie, choosing to stand on twelve.

“A walk? Quaint.”

They walked for nearly an hour, round and round like a merry-go-round at the beach. Barnie became a child again; giggling helplessly at her essence as flowing rhetorics of incomprehensible partnerships spewed from her lips like ants from a nest. She talked about tap-dancing skylarks, and tattooed toads, and heavy metal voles, and a secret army of brainwashed squirrels that believed in a God that shaved the grass with silver teeth, and never did anything seem the least bit peculiar. It would be safe to say that within seconds of bathing in her personality, Barnie was entrapped. His mystery date, on the other hand, was much more of a conundrum. While she listened carefully to Barnie’s monotonous monologues, and even seemed to enjoy hearing about his job at the soil shop, it was light trying to light a fire without the flint. A spark was missing.

At night, the whole above the ground was the diamond reflection of the world below. Fireflies busied themselves around bushes that were homes to caterpillars and ladybirds, swinging Chinese lanterns around the chlorophyll stems. Pigeons and blackbirds and sparrows and blue-tits swam through a sky of midnight, occasionally touching the purest moonbeams of summer. The world tasted of fresh rain and smelled of life and love.

“I don’t think I’m being very fair on you,” she said, after a long while of silence. “Here you are, eyes puppy-dogged up, and I’m just... Bleh!”

“I don’t mind.”

“But I do,” she cried. Her voice was growing louder, but failing in strength. Her arms pirouetted desperate gestures, leaving echoes of movement behind like sparkles in the firework fog.

“Don’t.” Barnie didn’t know what else to say. He wanted to lunge at her heart, wrap his fur around her and tell her that everything was going to be alright. Hell, he didn’t even know that anything was wrong.

“It’s just...”

“Look,” Barnie was growing in confidence now. He didn’t really have any choice. “I’ve had a wonderful time, and I want nothing more than to see you again. Honestly, this has been the highlight of my adult life. Just getting to talk to you. You’re amazing. So how about we have another go? I know a little place,” Don’t’ do it! Don’t do it! his conscious screamed, “it’s a bit of a secret really. But I think you’d love it.”

She threw her arms around him. Lost in the moment, she forgot about spines and spikes and their ability to stab other animals and dived into the embrace like a rabid animal. Barnie just stood there, trapped between agony and bewitchment.

“But it has to be done secretly, this meeting,” he said slowly. “Come here tomorrow, at noon. There’ll be a map, hidden in the soil, right where we stand. As soon as you get it, follow the map. And I’ll be there, waiting for you at the end.”

She feigned to speak, but Barnie just touched her lips, shushing them.

“We’ll pick this up tomorrow. Until then...” And he leaned in, slowly, silently, and gently kissed her cheek, accidentally on purpose grazing her lip with his.

As he walked away, he refused to turn around. He screamed at his neck not to bend and his spine not to swerve, to betray his desperate desire to look back, just once, and see the girl that he’d most certainly fallen in love with. But he kept his head down until he was back underground and out of sight.

All composure flooded from his body then. He fell to the floor, gasping. In the days and weeks to come, he would struggle to believe what had happened. He had been... normal? More than that, he’d been wonderful.

On shaky legs, he staggered home drunk with delight, rehearsing the map he would draw to the place he’d sworn he would never tell another soul about.

The Adventures of Barnabas T. Trenchdigger: Memory Loss

The hawthorn bush


A week today


Memory Loss

The note hung in Barnie’s mind like a fly on the water. It hung on the door like a piece of paper speared to a door. Everything about it was incomprehensible to him, although this could just have been the hangover, which made his senses reach out into the world and drag back all the painful sounds and irritating smells it could find.

“She can’t have liked me,” he said matter-of-factly to the walls.

Several more times Barnie told himself that one fact throughout his morning routine. In the shower. With the toast. In front of the mirror. With the last steps out of the door. The shower washed in the doubt and the toast tasted of insecurity and the mirror reflected disappointment and, by the time the door closed, it only clicked shut with regret.

He replayed the night before over and over again in his head. The drink. The boredom. The drink. The mystery guest. The drink. The fall. It flashed past his eyes like a cinema reel, and he could only catch fragments. But what he caught, he clung to.

A dog? The question squash-balled around between his ears. She can’t have been a dog...

Barnie worked in a little place down Hedge Way that dealt in mainly in analysing the density and consistency of soil. It occasionally branched out to looking at trees. In hard times, it would assess rocks. It was a business based on poor puns and even poorer demands.

“Morning, Gumball”, slithered out of his lips, directed at the dark scraps of cat that rocked in the corner. Marcus Milktray had once been a prominent member of the feline community. Then, he accidentally nuzzled up to a trapping of chewing gum. His fur had to be shaved from his skin. Now, he was Gumball, and lived underground.

“You’re late,” was hair-balled back.

“Let me see today’s soil.”

“It’s brown and mucky and looks just like yesterday’s soil and tomorrow’s soil.”

“Uhm... Where’s it from?”

“Dunno, somewhere near the hawthorn bush, I think.”

The hawthorn bush!

Six days to go.

Woke up. Got dressed. Went to work. Looked at soil. Thought about a girl he couldn’t remember. Went home. Slept. Dreamt about a girl he couldn’t remember.

Five days to go.

See previous day for details.

Four days to go.

See previous day for directions to the day before that.

Three days to go.

Something changed.

By this time in the week, Barnie’s memories of the night that would eventually changed his life were little more than languishing tendrils of thought and imagination. He’d dreamt about it and her and them and her and the noises so many times that reality was as much a part of his dreams as his dreams were a part of the world around him.

At work, he would see reflections of purple in the soil, or hear barking where once there was just the squeaking of a rocking chair, or even see hope in what, essentially, is a hopeless feline. Like a fever, his dreams were throbbing through his body. He was making them real.

But a part of him had to know what was real and what was fake. His brain.

Two days to go.

The next morning, Barnie woke extra early, dressed with surprising haste, ate with insatiable greed, and left the house with dancing heels and inquisitive thoughts.

The pub was closed when he got there, but he’d expected nothing else. Inside, he could hear movement. He rapped on the door. The activity within stopped.

“We’re closed,” a voice called out, pushing years of lingering smoke out of tar-filled lungs.

“I just want to come inside for a minute.”

The living tar depository paused. “We’re closed!”

“Just a minute, then I’ll be gone.”

The inside of the pub was different in bright light. The void of people drew eyes to the walls and the ceiling, both a dull, faded brown. Soil brown. West Country soil brown.

“Do you recognise this?” he said, and held out a purple spine.

“What is it?”

“It’s a spine, like from a hedgehog.”

“It’s purple.”

“Yes, thank you, but do you recognise it?”

“Hedgehog’s aren’t purple.”

“This one was, I think.”

“...but hedgehogs aren’t purple.”

Barnie made to leave. He had left the house knowing two things: hedgehogs were not purple, and that this had to belong to a hedgehog. He needed an explanation, not a repeated fact. Maybe she wasn’t a hedgehog, his mind whispered. Maybe it was just a dream.

“She’s a hedgehog.” The voice came from deep behind the bar, but Barnie didn’t care. He didn’t care who said it or how they knew. He cared about one thing: she was real. His dream was real. She was a hedgehog. He was out of the door faster than any mole had ever moved before.

The next few days flew by.

Two days left.

One day left.

Zero days left.

Best suit on. Fur washed and fluffed and combed back down. Contact lenses on (blue tinted, they matched the tie). Half an hour early. Sweaty hands. Pacing and pacing and pacing and pacing and pacing...


Wednesday, 31 August 2011


“I would ask the birds to sing about your beauty if I could, because only in their sweet serenades could you be true. You are the sunrise, so full of hope that your soul glows, sparkling like a disco ball, through your eyes and through your words. But you will never get to hear me say these words to you, though your ears deserve nothing less than the truth of my prettiest syllables. I am leaving. Even before we have begun to blossom, my autumn has come. Two years they say, maybe more, before I can see your sweet face again, or touch your velvet skin. I can hear your heart beating in bed next to me. I can feel the pulse of your body on the sheets. My every fibre tells me to wake you, to say these words to your loving smile, but, my love, you should see you sleeping. I haven’t the heart to break you from your euphoric dreams.

I used to be afraid of going to war, but not anymore. Not now.

Always and forever, in this life or the next.”

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The Sunset Strip

The Sunset Strip, just outside LA city limits, is home to some of the richest celebrities in the world, and as such, is also home to some of the most prestigious bars and nightclubs that money can walk into and get drunk within. Everyone knows this. What most people don’t know, or what the Strip tries its hardest to keep secret, is that just off the boardwalk, less than half a mile into its heart, lies the dirtiest, seediest, most Led Zeppelin-lovingest boozers on the entire West Coast. Teresa pulled up outside the dirtiest.

She had a plan. It was simple. Go inside. Hustle some pool. Make some money. Get drunk. Drive home. Five little steps, just like dealing with grief. But her steps were more fun. They involved JD.

Part of her plan was her uniform. This was, after all, her job, unofficially at least, and her uniform had been planned to meticulous detail. She couldn’t use her bike to sit outside on. No, hers was unique. Recognisable. Traceable. She needed something more run-of-the-mill, fade-into-the-crowd-never-to-be-thought-of-again. The 2006 Harley Fatboy with rusted wheel caps and a faded black paintjob that she’d ‘borrowed’ worked just fine. Same goes with the helmet. Her custom paintjob was no good her, and au naturale was no way to go. She had to buy a new one, plain, boring. You have to speculate to accumulate. Next was the clothing, and this was the easy part. Dress to attract and distract. Lips: red. Cleavage: to the max. Belly stud: on show. Jeans: cuddling ass. Thong: escaping jeans. Only her boots weren’t part of the get-up. Red cowboy boots: sexy as fuck.

She leaned against the Fatboy and eyed up the situation. ‘Antonio’s’ skulked away beneath an Italian restaurant, tunnelling it’s depravity into the foundations. Little more than darkened windows and the flashing neon sign, proudly displaying patronage, could be seen from ground level. The stairs downwards stank of last night’s piss, and the gutters overflowed with a brown liquid. It wasn’t alcohol.

A man leaned again the railings outside, his Stetson tilted down across his face. Promising start.

“Hey, sweet cheeks,” Teresa mused, for voice singing in well-rehearsed Texan. “Keep an eye on the prize there, hun, will ya?” She flicked him a dime and a wink, and sauntered right past him.

“It looks just like Cheers” the Stetson shouted enthusiastically.

Teresa had reached the bottom step and was opening the door handle before she replied, “What the fuck is Cheers?” She was inside without waiting for the answer.

Inside most certainly did not look like Cheers. There were no baseball mitts framed and walled, nor was Woody Harrelson working behind the bar. Instead, the bar looked like broken pool cues and fights in the alleyway, and smelled like Rock and Roll, and slightly of piss. It was quieter than Teresa had hoped. Less marks. First stop: jukebox.

It was a well known fact that certain music encouraged people to take risks. Something up-tempo, to get the blood flowing away from the brain and to anywhere else, would do. Guns and Roses? No. Iron Maiden? No. Judas Priest? No. She slipped her quarter into the machine, pressed G6, smiled to herself, and walked to the bar. Before she got there, the song kicked in. Never made it as a wise man, I couldn’t cut it as a poor man stealin’. All eyes were on her now.

Nickelback?” the barman asked, raising the obligatory eyebrow.

“Double JD. Neat.” Even for a woman used to the subtleties of the male stare, Teresa could feel the eyes on her. Their pupils scratched her calmness, saw straight through her cleavage, threatened to read that brain inside that pretty little head.

“That’s not what I asked.”

“You don’t say.”

A stand-off was forming. Barman on one side, Teresa on the other. Roughly twenty men, intoxicated to various degrees of ‘hammered’, watched like children in a playground, ready for a fight.

The door opened. The bell above jingled. Eyes turned.

Stetson stood in the doorway, his silhouette striding forward like a knight in shining armour. “Oh, I love this song,” he exclaimed, then started singing along.

“Tosser,” the barman whispered under his breath, then to Teresa, “What’ll it be?”

“Double JD. Neat. On the house.”

“I like you and your nerve, but you’re buying your own fucking drink. You’ve robbed my eardrums of peace with this shit, you’re not putting your hand in the till too.”

“I’ll get that,” said one of the mob, as he emerged from the crowd. His face was weasel-like; a long, thin nose enhanced by whiskers of a moustache, and rounded off by two protruding chompers at the forefront of his mouth.

“I can buy my own...”

“Nah, doll, I insist. Pretty little piece of ass like yourself, you shouldn’t be buying drinks. You should be drinking ‘em.”

“I’m buying my own...”

“Can’t you let a guy just buy a pretty girl a drink? Stop being a bitch and just...”

This time it was the weasel who was interrupted, but not by words. With what can best be describes as a well-practices swiftness, Teresa grabbed the back of his head and shoved downwards. Shards of glass flew everywhere as the nose, followed by the whiskers then the teeth then the rest of the face, smashed its way through a pint of Budweiser and dented the bar.

The mob formed again, furious. Only the pitchforks and the monster were missing.

They were on top of her within seconds. A few trying to calm things down, but most were too drunk to care. They smelled fresh meat, and, after all, a good bar brawl is a good bar brawl, regardless of even sides or genders. Teresa could feel hands on her. She kicked and screamed and clawed and flung her arms and her legs but it didn’t matter. A fist caught her in the stomach, winding her. She was on the ground now, helpless. An arm grabbed her leg tight, and pulled. She flailed like a caught fish, but still the net dragged her onwards. Another arm clenched on her, this time round her forearm, dragging her upwards, then way.

The door opened. The bell jingled. She was out.

Stetson winked at her, and threw back the dime. “Eyes on the prize, hun.”

They walked up the stairs and into the daylight. Places like ‘Antonio’s’ steal the light and hide it away. They exist only in night and darkness. L.A. was all about the sun.

“I... You... But what if...” The words failed her. She knew what she wanted to say, but her lips, her tongue, were out of practice. But maybe she didn’t need words.

She walked slowly up to him, then stopped. Her pause and breath were deliberate. She flicked the Stetson up. His face was pretty. Ocean eyes, desert skin, sunrise smile. She leaned in closer and breathed on his lips, drawing the blood to the surface. Those ruby lips, like long-forgotten jewels. Gently, she ran her lips along his, then went deeper. Her arms were round him now, and his quickly wrapped themselves around her waist. She ran her arms down his body, over his arms and down to his legs, then up to his crotch, where she, softly but with skill, drew her opened hand upwards.

“Whoa, whoa. Slowly, now,” he said, and drew himself away. For a second she looked hurt, but then she reached into her pocket and dragged out a small rectangular object. She twisted the base. Lipstick. Ruby red. She grabbed his hand. Teresa Lillian Jones she thought to herself.

He pulled his hand back and looked down. “Holly. Cute name.”

“Come find me,” she winked, tickling his pride and his heart. The helmet went back on, the Fatboy started up a treat, and then she was off. Stetson smiled to himself as he walked back downstairs. His pulse was racing. He needed a fight.

Teresa pulled over at the side of the road a few blocks down, when she was sure she’d put some distance between herself and today. She parked the bike up, and reluctantly, ditched it. As she set off on the walk back to her place, she pulled a man’s wallet out of her back pocket and counted the contents. At least a hundred, maybe even double. A quick once over was all that was needed now.

It’s a fact that physical contact makes the blood rush. It’s like a moth to a flame. A carefully caressed wrist, or a gently rubbed crotch can draw all the feeling to one part of the body, and steal it away from others. Just long enough to slip a wallet out of a back pocket, maybe.

Teresa swung the helmet in her hand up and down as she walked. It’d been a good day’s work, and as such, a reward was in store. She fingered her phone out of her pocket and went straight for her favourite number.

“My place. 20 minutes. I’m wearing the red cowboy boots.”


“Have faith,” you whisper, your eyes burning in my moonlight. “Soon...”

“Soon isn’t good enough,” I scream, but by then you are gone.

You have left me, again. Always it is the same. You are the Romeo to my Juliet, for star-cross'd lovers we most certainly are. I can only look down on our children and hope that one day we will be together.

I can see you in them, you know. In their shivers and in their sweat. They have your hope. Looking at them brightens my heart. I shine for them. I shine for you.

Have I ever told you about the first time I saw you? Everything was young back then. Before hope. Before love. There was just me. And then there was light, and then, before I could even dream about you, there you were. My shining star. All I could do was stare. At the brightness and at the heat and at the pure force of you.

“I am back, my love,” you sing, a melody of angels carrying your voice through the vacuum.

But I am gone, and our children are asleep. For another day we must wait, you and me. The stars shoot for my agony. The comets fall for your loss. We are but two star-cross'd lovers, my Sun, and your warmth beats my heart.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

The Adventures of Barnabas T. Trenchdigger: Speed Dating (draft 2)

Here are some interesting facts about moles:

  • There are no moles in Ireland
  • They have two thumbs

That’s about it. They’re not the most interesting creatures in the world, so you can imagine the trouble Barnabas T. Trenchdigger has in finding a girlfriend.

Speed Dating

Barnie sat at the bar and eyed up the talent. There wasn’t much on offer. A couple moths, handful of squirrels, dozen or so field mice, the odd rabbit. The usual slim pickings.

This wasn’t Barnie’s first time at an event like this. In fact, his attendances at these socially-questionable shindigs was scraping double figures. He knew the routine. Sit down, let her talk, sound interested, get rejected. Always it was the same. He didn’t mind much. Not really. It got him out the hole. Killed a few hours. Got him a bit tipsy.

A grey squirrel with over-eager eyebrows and an impatient tail jumped up onto the bar. She wore a scarlet top hat with hand-made ear holes, and a vermillion ribbon. A swanky stick swirled from one claw to the other.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” she announced, ring-master-like, “Everyone to their seats!”

The first three dates went exactly the same.

“So, erm... What’s your name?”

“Suzie (then Brenda, then Margaret). Yours?”


“Oh, OK.”

Then came the same awkward pause while each participant thought of a subject to talk about. Rejected topics of conversation: the increased price of worms, hole tax, above-ground retirement homes, snakes, death, bigger snakes.

“What do you like to...” Bell! Next table.

The fourth date was slightly better. She was a skinny rabbit called Petra. She liked slow hops around the cabbage field and folk music, and disliked the taste of broccoli. They had what most people would call a conversation. Barnie thought of it as a connection.

“How about you and me go somewhere else?” he verbally prodded.

“Or, “ said the rabbit, whose ears were the colour of fallen leaves, “how about you stay here, and I go somewhere else with... erm... him!”

The fifth was much the same as the first three. Pleasant exchange of syllables. A jostling of inadequacies. Pendulums of awkwardness. A small break was called, before the final few meets. Barnie rushed towards the bar, gasping for inebriation.

He ordered a double vodka, straight. (Like human vodka, underground animal vodka is made by distilling and fermenting potatoes. Unlike human vodka, it’s mainly water). Downed it, and then downed another. His eyeballs contracted, and then erupted. His vision swam amongst the hoard of creatures, ethereal and with a life of its own. His bones shivered.

“You’ll want to slow down,” said a voice from his behind his ear. Barnie turned and stared. His advisor was either a small, green, flaming duck, a hedgehog with purple spines, or a blue ball of wool. Stab in the dark.

“Quack?” he replied. His voice rippled with pride and straightened with unsurety.

“Woof!” Dog wasn’t an option. Why wasn’t dog an option?

It couldn’t be a dog, his sober mind told him. Dogs were big and scary and chased moles and bit moles and ate moles and most certainly didn’t give moles advice at speed-dating conventions.

“You’re not a dog...”

“Hmmm. No, I suppose I’m not. But I could be a dog.”

“You could be a dog?”

“Oh, I could definitely be a dog. Listen. Woof!”

“No. No. That doesn’t mean you’re a dog.”

“Well I’m certainly not a cat. And I never said I was a dog. I said I could be a dog.”

“But you can’t be a dog.”

“Why not?”

“Because you’re not a dog.”

“That doesn’t mean I can’t be a dog. Who are you to tell me I can’t be a dog?” And with that, the flaming green duck, or the hedgehog with purple spines, or the blue ball of wool stormed off.

“Wait,” Barnie called, his arm reaching out further than his voice. This only led to him falling from his stool and landing, snout-first, on the ground. His chances faded slightly slower than his consciousness.

Apparently, the universe decided that for highly hammered and mischievously malaised moles there would be no sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth. Instead, there would be a throbbing at the temples, a sickly uprising in the gullet and a stink of embarrassment.

Barnie didn’t find out about these gifts of fate until the next morning. He woke in the same bed he’d woken up in for the last twenty years, to the same view and the same life that always greeted his first flickers of vision. With one exception. A note, purple-spined to the wall.

‘The hawthorn bush. Sundown. A week today. Quack’