Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Tick-Tock

Jimmy looked in the mirror and adjusted his tie; he didn’t recognise the wrinkled man who looked back at him from the silvered surface. How had he gotten so old?

How often had he heard people say, you never know when your time is up? Jimmy thought that was a huge pile of bullshit. You can tell when your time is up; he could tell, and it was coming fast. Jimmy thought God was some idiot child in the sky, playing with people’s lives. We were his tiny wind-up toys, running around the world, until our parts exploded, or our clockworks slowed to a shuddering halt. Jimmy could feel his spring starting to give up the battle; the tick-tock of his mechanism got a little bit weaker every day. Jimmy slipped on his coat and placed his hat on top of his balding head, checking his reflection one last time. Tick-tock, tick-tock. “Bloody typical,” he said aloud, and left the house.

Jimmy shuffled along the streets, his head hung low, his eyes not registering the people passing him blindly. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Jimmy hated London; he always had. He was a northern boy at heart, and before his spring wound down completely, he was going to visit the one place he had been truly happy in the whole course of his life, Indian Hill. 

He sat on the bus. Nobody looked at him. He bought his ticket for the train, return, not even a thank you. He sat alone for the journey, and was glad of the fact. He had too much on his mind at this moment to listen to some hopeless case wittering on in his ear for hours, not that he would witter back in any case. Silence suited him.

When the train finally pulled into the station on the outskirts of Manchester, it looked just as it had done all those fifty-five years ago. That day, he had ridden the train with his parents, a wicker picnic basket in the seat between them, while they tried to coax a word or two from a sullen seventeen-year-old Jimmy. They began the climb together, his parents stopping half way up, Jimmy continuing alone to the top. He was only a few hundred yards from the summit when she jumped out of a bush, thinking he was someone else, and scared the shite out of him. Tess, was her name, and she was effervescent.   They sat on the wall and waited for her friends to find her; she giggled at his jokes, and shared the cigarettes Jimmy had been hiding from his dad. She let him kiss her, and a little bit more, before her friends appeared on the path searching for the lost girl. She waved, and gave him a naughty wink, before vanishing from his life forever.

Jimmy never forgot Tess, or that half hour stolen on top of Indian Hill. He classed it as the highlight of his life. Today was cold and damp, and nothing like the day he had last made the climb, but beggars couldn’t be choosers. He stopped at a pub for a quick half, before starting the climb. In his chest, Jimmy felt the spring of his life slip one more notch, and he sighed deeply. The climb was not half as bad as the barman had said it would be, but Jimmy had more on his mind than a bit of mist. When he eventually reached the glade, he recognised the wall, even if the bushes had long ago been cut away. Jimmy settled himself down and looked out over the country below, and tried to bring back that day he fell in love, so many years ago. He felt a tap on his shoulder and turned around.

“Boo!” she said, and smiled.

It was impossible, it could not be? It looked just like her. Jimmy felt his heart lurch and he struggled to get off the wall. She laughed, and her voice filled the air with rainbows.

“Tess, is it you?” he asked, his turkey gizzard neck quivering.

“Don’t be silly, of course it’s not,” said the girl, who looked just like Tess, as she sat beside him on the wall. “But as you came all this way to revisit that memory, I thought I'd help out a little.”

“So, who are you?”

“I think you know the answer to that particular question. I’ve loads of names, none of which I’m particularly fond of, so perhaps we can stick with Tess for now,” said the young girl, laying a comforting hand on the old man’s trembling leg.

“You look exactly like her, exactly, even down to the clothes you're wearing.”

“I know,” said the girl with a smile that said she was humouring a simpleton. “I know everyone’s stories, everyone’s secrets and darkest deeds. I know what lies in every man’s heart, and when the time is right, every man is due a visit from me. Jimmy, today's your day.”

Jimmy looked terrified and tried to back away from the smiling girl at his side.

“Ah, Jimmy. Don’t be frightened. I just wanted to talk for a while, nothing's going to happen, yet.”

“Why?” asked the old man, the word quivering on his tongue.

“Look around, Jimmy. It’s beautiful up here. Do you know, I spend most of my times hanging around in hospitals, nursing homes, war zones and traffic accidents. I nearly never get to come to places as lovely as this. I just wanted to chat, and sit for a bit. Is that okay?” she said, looking deep into his eyes.

“Do I have a choice?” he said, the fear still in his voice, but starting to come under control.

“I guess not,” she said, turning away from him to look over the vista. 

Jimmy let his gaze follow hers and a wave of peace flowed over him. “It was sunny, not like this,” he said, his voice dreamy.

“What was?”

“The day I met her, you.” The girl at his side frowned, and looked away from the view, giving the old man her full attention.

“You’re a fool, Jimmy, do you know that?”

“I am not,” the old man said, his dignity hurt, anger quickly replacing fear at his core.

“You are, but you don’t know it,” she said, her tone growing hard. “Look at me.”

The old man did as he was told, it was not a chore to gaze upon her face. “This is what you compared every woman in your life to, an ideal, a memory, shined by years of lust and flaming little fact. You sacrificed everyone that could love you, for nothing, for a figment of your imagination, for one perfect moment remembered with rose-tinted glasses.”

“That is complete rubbish,” blustered the old man.

“Is it? Where's your wife, Ann, and your boys, Josh and Kevin?”

“I don’t know and I don’t want to know,” said the old man, turning away angrily.

“I know you don’t, and the fact of the matter is, they don’t give a damn where you are either. You are a greedy man, Jimmy Gaskill, always looking for more than the world is willing to give, always griping about the bounty that is laid at your door, while envying the man beside you. You despised Ann, and still she loved you. She forgave your surliness, she forgave your cold looks and unfeeling ways, she endured your selfish lovemaking, if you could call it that. She hoped that one day you would become the man she believed you were, and when it became clear, that would never happen, she did the only sane thing to do, she left you to rot in your misery.”

“Bitch,” snarled the old man.

“What about the others?”

“What others?”

“All of them, remember, I know all your secrets. The ones you pursued, lied to and tricked into bed. You plundered their bodies, hating them for letting you, always comparing them to this,” she said, indicating her own perfect body with outstretched hands. The girl moved away from the wall and stood in front of the old man.

“Do you want to see what your dream was really made out of?” 

Jimmy didn’t have a chance to answer, as the girl in front of him melted like wax, moving, shifting, and reforming before his eyes. When the transformation was complete, the old man looked on the vision with disgust.

“This was how she looked the day I came for her. Heroin is not an easy master to please,” said the hollow cheeked crone who now stood before him, rotten stumps of teeth sticking out of bleeding gums, scab-covered hands, and filthy hair matted into her skull. “The real tragedy of the story is, how you wasted the gift that was given to you.”

“What gift?” the old man asked, trying not to look at what now stood before him.

“Time, time to live your life. Seventy-two years, wasted on you. Do you know that some of the greatest people who ever lived, never got to speak one word? Remember, I know all their stories, what they were, and what they could have been. They were passed over by time, while you got so much, and wasted it all.”

“I could do better, if I had one more chance,” said the old man, his eyes moist with knowledge that his spring had just slipped its last notch.

“Sorry my friend, no do-overs. You must be tired after that long walk you had.” 

The old man staggered and put a hand on the wall to steady himself. 

“Why not lie down for a bit, you'll feel better.”

“Alright, if you think so,” said the man, his voice heavy. He lay out on the grass, his head pointing up the hill, so he could look at the valley below. The crone shimmered once more, and young Tess reappeared. She sat on the grass beside him and rested a cool hand on his forehead.

“Will it hurt?” he crooked.


“Not even a little,” she said. 

Tick-tock, tick-,  and with that, he was gone. 

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Love Letters

I was home with my parents about ten days ago. Unfortunately due to work, I hadn't been able to spend Christmas with them, so I was eager to get back as soon after as I could. They were very happy to see me but I missed out on all the festive cheer, as the decorations had been boxed up, ready to be put away for another year. I was giving my Dad a hand to get them up into the attic, when I saw it, peeking out from behind a pile of old school books, a tattered wee shoe box.

To any other set of eyes, it was nothing more than an aging pile of folded cardboard, long abandoned to the darkness, to me, it was priceless.

When Dad wasn't looking, I snuck back up into the attic, and freed my old friend from its confinement. I counted up the years we had been apart and was shocked to find they numbered twenty and more. I lifted the lid and peered inside. Yellowed pages of writing paper, sheets of ruled copy book, ripped from long forgotten school jotters, fancy sheets of coloured velum with roses on the edge, piled one on top of the other. Each of them unique, each irreplaceable, each a memory so sweet, they were like sugar plums melting on my tongue.

I picked one out at random and eased it open. The paper was dry and crisp, not having been touched by human hands for over two decades, but the lettering was as familiar as my own. I knew each line by heart, because I had read every letter a thousand times. The words flooded over me like a wave of memory, stirring long forgotten emotions for a girl that hasn't been a girl for many years.  I remember them all, the letters, and the sweethearts.

They may have been more innocent times, or they may not have been, but they were definitely times where passion burned long and fierce, because nothing in those days happened instantly. As I flipped through my accumulated letters of love, I imagined each being penned on beds never visited, with words plucked from a mind driven mad with longing, re-read with care, folded with fingers I ached to hold, and sealed with a kiss. I held the paper close to my nose and imagined I could still detect the faintest trace of her scent.

Letter after letter opened a treasure chest of memories in my mind. They were not all so tender, now and again came the cutting one, slicing open my young heart with callous efficiency, and the pain ran fresh in my soul. There were a few, hurt and dismayed, at the damage my own heartlessness had caused, and I was ashamed.

When I finished, I tucked my treasures away in the safety of my shoe box. I felt happy and sad at the same time, a feeling only a love letter can cause, and realised this is something the teenagers of today will never have. I'm sure their hearts run as hot as any in my time, but they miss out on so much. They miss rushing home from school, just to see if the postman has been. They miss that juddering excitement of holding a letter in their hands and not knowing what wonders lie inside. They haven't the luxury of reading a heated reply endlessly in the dark small hours of the night, only to rip it up, before any true damage can be done.

Love E-mails, love texts, love skypes, love snapchats, will never fill the boots of the love letter. Some how "I miss U so much. I luv U 4 ever. x x x", just does not seem to cut the mustered. I flicked off the light in the attic and left my memories behind, promising myself that I would not wait so long, before visiting again.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Landing Lights




To walk a lover’s beach, but leave single footprints in the sand.

I gaze upon the starry sky, and reach up a searching hand.
and try to catch that blinking light, ten thousand feet above.

I whisper my eternal prayer, be the one to bring back my love.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Going Under

“As I count backwards from ten, you'll become completely relaxed. Ten, nine, eight, your body feels incredibly heavy. Seven, six, five, four, your mind is drifting into sleep, always listening to my words, my voice. Three, two, relax and concentrate on my voice, as you pass into a state of complete hypnosis. One.”

His voice is rich, warm, and compelling. Going under hypnosis is like anything else, you get better at it the more you practice. By now, I'm a world champ at this.

“Can you hear me Sam?”   His voice is all around me in the darkness, it’s assured, and comforting.

“Yes, Doc,” I say, my words heavy with sleep. I can hear them, but it’s as if they are coming from someone else's lips.

“Are you ready to go into the room?”

“I guess,” comes my sleepy reply. As if by magic, my world is no longer a vast expanse of black velvet. I find myself standing in a dirty grey corridor which stretches out into infinity. I know this place well, I have been here a thousand times, this is the inside of my mind.

“Are you there yet?” the Doctor asks.

“Yes, it’s cold,” I say, feeling my body shiver. I look around at the derelict hospital I have conjured up. The colours are always the same, grey, green, off white.  I take a step forward and feel dead leaves crunch under my bare feet. I think they represent every broken dream and heartache I have endured. I look down and there are thousands of them.  In front of me is the door that I fear the most, the door which guards my deepest secret.

“It’s time to go in, Sam. Nothing can hurt you in there, remember that.”

The door sequels dryly as I enter the inner sanctum of my soul. Ripped privacy screens beckon me in with fingers made of tattered materiel, rusting medical instruments lay scattered carelessly on discarded gurneys, more dead leaves fill the room. Then the smell assaults me, the stench of stagnant water.

“Is the bath there, Sam?”

“It is.”

“Is the water in it?”

“I don’t want to look,” I hear myself say, and feel warm tears on my cheeks.

“You can do it, Sam. Just pull the plug and let the water out. I know you can make it this time.”

I move toward the ancient bathtub, which is filled to the brim with black, stinking, liquid. I can see nothing beneath the surface but a ripple runs across it as something shifts in the depths. I can see the rusted chain entering the water and my shaking fingers close around it. With a yank, the stopper flies out of the bath and dangles over the side, dripping black mucus on the leaf littered floor of my mind.

The water rushes out so much faster than it should, impossibly fast, and my deepest secret is revealed. I look down at myself, lying in the bottom of the tub, a manic snarl on my lips, maggots crawling around my eyes and nose, my teeth filed to razor sharp points. It’s me, the other me, the one inside.

When it's hand grabs the edge of the bath, I hear my scream, inside and out. I grab a rusty scalpel from the nearby gurney and stab myself over and over again. Black blood gushes from every wound, pouring out unstoppably until the tub is full once more and my secret is back in its tomb.

I hear him calling my name, and snapping his fingers, over and over again.

“Wake up, Sam. Wake up.” Click, click.

My eyes open, and he is leaning over me as he has done every Tuesday for four years. “Did you manage to let out the water?”

“No, sorry Doc. I tried, I really tried.” I feel guilty lying to him. The truth is that I let the water out every time, and every time, it’s just like today. How could I tell him that my biggest secret is me, and the evil I keep locked inside? He’d think that I'm mad, like all the rest of them.


“Don’t worry, you'll get there the next time.”

Sunday, 3 January 2016

The Man Who Would Be King


Some men are born with a destiny, and I was born to be king.  It’s a position dreamed of my some and envied by most. If only they knew how lonely it is to sit on that gilded chair, dispensing justice with a twitch of a finger.

It’s the only life I have ever known, revered by a nation, constantly under threat, by friend and foe alike. Not a moment of my day is free. Every second is pre-allocated by fawning navies, hearing petitions, signing decrees, meeting important people. There are men locked in the tower, which are freer than me. For years, I dreamed of leaving this life behind, to live quietly, in a manner directed by myself alone.

All night, I have lain in my chamber, my mind busily toying with the day that lies ahead of me, the day a weight of a kingdom will be lifted from my shoulders. When the darkness of night turns pink with the coming of dawn, I rise and dress in my finest robe, feeling the silk slide over my body like a lovers touch, keeping the chill morning air from making me shiver. A serf delivers my morning fare, and backs out of the room, bowing deeply. Despite my internal agitation, I eat heartily. This is a day I wish to savour in full, for no other will ever be the same as this.

At the allotted hour, there is a knock at my chamber door. 

“Come,” I call, and my chief adviser enters.

"Sire," he says, and bows deeply. In the antechamber, I can see rank upon rank of courtiers, ambassadors, and noblemen drawn from across the kingdom. I nod my understanding and rise to my feet. As I pass my advisor, his bow becomes even deeper. I enter the outer chamber and all those gathered bow low and avert their eyes. They are forbidden to look upon the face of the king, for that is who I am.

My robe swishes over stone, polished to a high gloss by centuries of bended knees, and fawning underlings. I can hear the throng following in my wake, but they are silent. The air smells of candle wax and smoke, light filtered through coloured glass, lies across my path in solid beams, dust motes fall and rise on invisible currents of air. In the distance, I can hear a rumble.



With each step, the noise grows until it is like a long continuous roll of thunder. It shakes the ground beneath my feet. I pause at the door for one last moment before stepping out on the balcony to be greeted with an enormous roar from my subjects gathered in their thousands. As the noise ebbs, a voice rises above all and the words “Off with his head!” rings out clear and true. The roar rises to a bloodthirsty crescendo. The hooded executioner shoulders his axe and beckons me forward.

Friday, 1 January 2016

No Small Talk, Just Big Talk.

I don't know if any of you follow the Postsecret blog, I have to say, I love it. Random people, sharing their secrets with the world, anonymously of course. In my mind, this is a really healthy thing to do.

I began reading a new book tonight, called The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins. In the first forty pages she introduces two characters, both women, and both seemingly trapped in a ring of silence, with nobody they can really talk to.

As I read, I thought back on all the conversations I've had in the past few days. In nearly all of them, I didn't mention what was really on my mind. Instead, we batted over and back small talk about, well, about nothing really.

To me, the idea of being able to blurt out my deepest feelings, without worrying what the person listening would think, is delicious.

Yes, there are lots of organisations out there to help, but in my mind they are for people with real problems, not just the odd deep thought you would like to get off your chest. This got me thinking about the women in the story again, and how many real people go through life, day in and day out, just wishing they could talk to anyone.

Imagine if there were a cafe somewhere, with a table signposted, 'The person sitting here will talk to anyone,' would you sit there? Or better still, would you walk up and sit opposite the one who did? I have a feeling it might be a very rewarding social experiment, or perhaps someone has already done it?

Well, that is what has been keeping me awake tonight. I'd love to hear what you think, or even your deepest thoughts. if you were of a mind to share them. Perhaps you will take a look at postsecret and see what is lurking deep in the hearts of your fellow man. What ever you do, have fun doing it.

Happy 2016 everyone,

Squid.