Thursday, 6 July 2017

Jimmy's Room - part 2


Now I’m not saying every night is as great as all that. Sometimes it can even get a bit boring, especially when it’s just me and Jimmy. And then there’s what happened a few nights ago, which was downright strange.

Started off all right. There they were, Jimmy and Sean, sitting on the bed playing Mario Cart as though they hadn’t moved since the last time I’d been in there – imagine it seemed to them as if I’d only gone downstairs a few moments before, at least, that was the way it felt. No need to even say hello. It was simply, “Got some gingerbread,” and “Cooool,” and, “Have a try on this, Bradley.”

At first, as I say, it was just like normal: but over the next few long minutes of nothing I began to realise that something was kinda wrong. It’d been a tiring day with three lectures and an extra maths class, maybe that’s why, but pretty soon my head was in a right mess.

Paranoia set in and suddenly Jimmy and Sean were plotting something against me; literally plotting – they’d been waiting all day and now I was here they were gonna do something terrible, like, I don’t know what. Kill me?

I mean it all went from me happily eating Mum’s carefully sliced gingerbread pieces, pleased to’ve decided to go up to Jimmy’s room, them playing Mario Cart and us all getting on really well; me thinking that maybe I had two great friends here and how much better it was in Jimmy’s room than downstairs by myself … but like I say, before long the whole feeling on this night was kinda different from most and I needed to get out.

Thoughts of escape swirled confusedly round my head before finally I mentioned the firework display on campus; asked if they were up for it. Then without even speaking to each other they were silently refusing, showing a complete lack of interest.

Sean changed the CD and in my paranoid state I couldn’t understand why he’d chosen this moment to do so. Then it occurred that it was a two player game and when was the last time they’d given me a turn? Could’ve only been a minute before; the state my head was in, I had no idea and was becoming convinced they never let me have a go so what the hell was I doing sitting with them? Why the hell should I put up with that?

In a blur I stood up, saying I had to go see the fireworks, trying my best to be polite and not cause a scene – which of course I wasn’t doing, but with the condition of my emotions at the time, simply leaving the room was a mammoth task.

Next thing I remember was walking over grassy fields in the pitch black, finally finding my way to the top of the hill and being rewarded with the best firework display I’ve ever seen in my whole life. Fireworks after being in Jimmy’s room is awesome, I’ve gotta say. Stood there at the edge of the small crowd that there was, gaping up at the sky, completely taken aback by the whole experience.

Funnily enough (and quite randomly) Jung was there too. All at once I’d found myself stood next to him in the dark. Can’t remember exactly what I said but his reply was something along the lines of, “Man, you so wasted,” which I thought was quite funny. Although when I was laughing and saying, “Yeah man,” he didn’t seem to be finding it as hilarious as I was.

Same with the fireworks. I think he considered the whole thing pretty lame.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Jimmy's Room - part 1


Nicholas knocked just now to ask if I’ll be joining our floor’s Xmas dinner. First I’ve heard of it. Apparently he told everyone a few days ago but I was a, “Hard man to track down.” Dunno why, spend enough time around here. Guess I’ve either been up at Jimmy’s or asleep – make a point too of not coming back to halls between lectures if I can help it.

Man, we’ve only just had Guy Fawkes and now it’s an early Xmas. First term’s almost over and it’s gone like a train.

The rule of only going up to Jimmy’s twice a week has gone a bit Pete Tong, as everyone seems to be saying these days. Gotta admit though, it’s well nice to have somewhere to crash out – once the evening sets in, sitting in your own room with no one to talk to can get a bit depressing.

Last night we had a European Championship soccer tournament on the X-box. Sean wasn’t there, apparently he’s got a new bird, but Graz joined us and we finished off the rest of Mum’s gingerbread. Bit of a shame it’s gone now but they were so grateful and appreciative; totally worth it.

Jimmy put on the Radiohead album and we sat there in the semi-darkness, music bouncing around the walls. Jimmy, with his long hair and hippie-speak – all slow, thoughtful and intelligent – so easygoing I reckon he’d welcome anyone who happened to stumble by.

As always a few from their floor were in fact paying a quick visit before going to bed. One was this really fit girl (called Cherry of all things), wearing this tiny dress and after she went, we were talking about how nice her legs were and laughing about this a lot for some reason.

Giggling fits, cool tunes and the best part is I know I can go up whenever I want. Jimmy seems to love my enthusiasm for his music too. Reckon he finds it entertaining how I’m coming across all these bands for the first time. Used to feel a bit naive but when I admitted as such, he was like, “Nah man, uni’s the place to discover this,” and said he was kind of jealous.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Waking Up in the Middle of the Night Story 4


Thinking back now, it was a ridiculous thing to do. But I ran.

In a blur there were trees, parked cars and scooters, the air rushing about me. Why was I running? What was I afraid of? Had I seen a ghost or had the guy simply not been dead? But a dreadful fear overwhelmed me. I ran from the people who had killed him. Ran from the murderers who lay in the shadows. I was being watched, I could feel it. Either I’d been witness to a crime or I’d entered the ghostly other world where the dead could walk amongst us. Faces in the darkness observed my every move. I ran like an idiot. Ran until I could run no more.

Finally I stopped. A parked car next to me. My hand touched the smooth surface of its rear door as I attempted to support myself. I breathed heavily, rapidly. How far had I run and for how long? I turned to see the 7-11 in the far distance. I’d left all my stuff inside – there I was, empty-handed, no cigarettes, no dried mango. Even my half finished beer had been left behind.

It was a black SUV and as I stood there, I noticed the quiet shadow of someone in the driver’s seat. For some reason (or for obvious reasons) this scared the shit out of me and I jumped back, away from the car.

Still feeling that I was being followed, I began walking, slowly, naturally … feigning nonchalance, I zig-zagged along the road; lit another cigarette – only two left now; but I’d find another 7-11, start again. There were plenty of them around and there was no way I was going back to the first one.

The tarmac under me sparkled in the street-light. I looked up at the pitch-black sky. No stars, there’s pollution in this area. My area. The place I call home. But where the hell was I? Nothing looked familiar.

Behind me a car alarm sounded. Head down, I continued walking. The air was thick with heat. My t-shirt damp.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Waking Up in the Middle of the Night Story 3



Inside the 7-11 I was still shaken up. Everything seemed bright and, for want of a better word, normal. Unnaturally so. The modernity of the place, the strangely upbeat music coming from the hidden speakers, the cool, fresh temperature; rows of ready made meals and snacks. Beef and chicken stews, curries, cardboard burgers and pasta; sushi wraps, salads and yoghurt. I stood in front of the vast range of chocolate bars looking for something with a strawberry centre, trying to get rid of an image of a man with a severed arm lying beside a river. Focussed on what to buy my girlfriend.

Absent-mindedly I went over to the fridges, took out a Heineken beer can, opened it up and took a sip. My gaze flew over the shelves of noodles, stationery, pet food and bathroom essentials to the middle-aged female cashier. Busy with a clipboard, she didn’t seem bothered that I was drinking before paying. I took in her freshly pressed uniform and wondered if it was her first day on the night shift. The ice cold beer trickling down my throat felt wonderful as I took in another sip.

Looking around for other customers, I realised I was the only one in there. It was almost three o’clock in the morning; who would be around at this time of night? It wasn’t as if we were anywhere near the city.

Okay,” I said to myself. “Calm down.”

It was none of my business and nobody had seen me. I came here to buy some drinks and snacks and that’s exactly what I was going to do. My eyes moved to the cashier, her clipboard, a stack of magazines and the wall of cigarettes behind her.

Get some water, another beer, chocolate bar for the girlfriend, a sandwich or two …” I went over to the snacks section and decided on some peanuts for myself.

Now, what else do I need?” I said loudly with a fair amount of false nonchalance. “Cigarettes of course, got to replenish my stash. And dried mango, that was it.”

I doubled back to the snacks section and picked up a packet of fruity goodness.

With my arms full of delights, I went over to the counter to pay.

Couldn’t sleep,” I said.

The middle-aged cashier replied with a disinterested, “Mmm.”

Must be the heat,” I continued. “Summer, eh? It’s a killer.”

Shit, bad choice of words. I didn’t want to say anything suspicious. Didn’t want her to remember me. Why the hell was I speaking to her at all?

Three hundred and twenty-six,” she replied, making eye-contact for a fraction of a second.

Shit again. Wasn’t expecting it to be as much as that. But no matter. Not as if I couldn’t afford it.

I pulled out a 500 dollar note; handed it to her as the till burst open and she scraped out my change.

Receiving the money into the palm of my hand we briefly made eye contact again: I felt like I should say something more to this lady; no doubt she’d know what to do. Call the police over; she probably even had a button behind the counter for emergencies.

I found a body,” is what I almost told her. “By the stream. Over there, in that direction,” I would have said, gesturing and pointing wildly at the glass windowed entrance.

DING DONG!”

The sound made when the sliding doors are disturbed. Scared me so much, I almost dropped the change all over the counter. But it was nothing but an old man, stinking of rice wine and stumbling in for more. His feet were bare and purple. Sandals, loose shorts and a greyish t-shirt that had seen better days. Let’s face it, everything about the guy told me he had seen better days. His tufts of oily hair, his patchy forehead, his blistered skin and bony joints. His severed right arm dripping with blood. The guy went straight to the booze section, just like I’d predicted, and took up a bottle of the cheapest rice wine there. The really bad stuff that’s only really any use if you use it for cooking. The one that comes in a tall, thin bottle and if you drink the whole thing it’ll get you pissed soon enough.

Circles of blood patted onto the tiled floor, like dripping ice-cream. Pat, pat, pat.

About to approach us, the guy seemed to be struck by a sudden thought. Something he’d either forgotten or just remembered, and he stopped right there, about ten feet from my shadow.

Noodles!” he shouted, then began to laugh. “Forgot the damn noodles, didn’t I.”

His voice was loud and rasping and I stood there, rooted to the spot. Open mouthed and staring, there was nothing I could do to pull my eyes away.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

guest story - On the Button by Rachel Carter


“Zophar, listen.” Luna crouched before him on the pavement. “You can get out whenever you want, okay?” Zophar nodded, looking past his mother to the others. His body was poised in politeness towards his mother but in anticipation of the other children, his eyes looked ahead to his new schoolmates and he willed her to say goodbye.
“Did you Anti-Germ your hands?” Another nod.
“Where are your disposable toilet seat covers?” Zophar patted his backpack.
“And mask? Remember which pocket?” More nodding.
His father opened the driver door of the car and the airlock was released with a Clop. Shhhhhhhh. He stepped out carefully, holding a green canister, spraying into the air as he approached.
“Another squirt of Pollute Repel for luck.” He misted the air around Zophar’s head and tiptoed back to the car, as if trying to avoid making contact with the ground.
“One last button test, perhaps Luna?” he called, slipping back into the car and sealing himself in.
“Yes. Quick button run-through,” said Luna. “Tell me again.”
“Emergency Back-Off spray, emergency water purifying tablet.” Zophar’s fingers ran downwards over the buttons on his blazer at speed as he rushed through the list.
“Emergency anti-viral pill, emergency contact button, emergency detox spray button.” He touched his cuffs next. “Panic buttons. Now can I go?” The five-year old jiggled impatiently.
“Anytime at all, if you are worried,” continued Luna, “if someone touches you, if someone coughs near you, if the toilets are dirty. Any reason. You hear me? We’ll get you out straight away. Just press those cuff buttons. And when the car brings you back remember: shoes in the porch, through the first entrance door, blazer off, then through the airlock and straight to the arrivals shower. Don’t come in with your shoes and blazer and don’t touch the cruise control in the car on the way home. You hear me?”
“I know, I know, you said. Now can I go?” 
“Okay.” Luna kissed the air, not touching Zophar. “Go baby. Take care. Remember: buttons!” She mimed pushing buttons as he ran off. “And don’t run or you’ll fall and touch the ground and I’ll have to take you home!”
Luna clasped her hands in front of her chin. “Good luck. Come home safely,” she whispered.
Zophar scampered up the steps as fast as he thought he would get away with. He was more happy and excited than he could ever remember being. This was better than birthdays. There were other children here. The entrance was massive. It took up one whole side of the building.
“Prevention Pharmaceutical’s Academy of Learning and Science welcomes you all and asks that when you enter the building, you do not share a door pod with anyone else,” came a voice from within the walls.
Robotic eyes shifted around and each pod spoke instructions through hidden speakers as one hundred children at a time were allowed to enter the first segment where they were instantly separated by screens that held the children in stalls as they were scanned for identification and viruses.
Immediately three boys were locked in and a voice told them to wait until cars arrived to remove them.
Some newcomers were familiar with screening and airlocks. They stood patiently while the eyes and scanners moved around them. But the others, from older housing out of the city had not experienced Entrance Pollution Prevention.
Zophar could hear cries of “I want to go home,” “I don’t like this,” while others sobbed and tried to back out.
Luna had told him about the entrance and how other boys weren’t used to it. “They’ll soon get domesticated,” she had said. “Everyone learns eventually.”
Next they were filtered into a huge glass cube. It was one of six on three levels. A voice told them to wait for the professors to collect them.
In this mix of trained and untrained five-year-olds, the difference was obvious to Zophar: the untrained boys had less shiny clothes and they didn’t have emergency blazer buttons. Zophar worried for them. But they didn’t look bothered. A few of them started talking to each other and they even tried to talk to the trained boys. Luna had said to keep away from untrained boys because they weren’t treated. He wondered if it would be safer to hold his nose then he wouldn’t be sharing their air. He held his breath for twenty seconds and gave up.
An untrained boy had been watching him. “I can hold my breath loads longer than that.”
“Ludo’s the best at holding his breath. He swims underwater,” said another boy.
“He goes swimming?! Wow…” Zophar stared.
“Ye-ah, loads of us go. It’s really good for you.” The boy threw off his blazer and mimicked breaststroke. “Gives you strong muscles. My dad said so.”
Zophar, Ludo and some others took off their blazers too, giggling as they ran in circles pretending to swim.
“Why are your buttons so big?”
Zophar turned to see Ludo wearing his blazer and fiddling with the cuff buttons.
“No! Don’t!”
The airlock opened and a robotic sensor promptly identified Zophar’s blazer. Ludo was shunted gently towards the door pods.
“Please wait until your car arrives,” said a voice.
From the door pods Ludo was directed into Zophar’s family car and within minutes he was lowered out at Zophar’s house.
A woman’s voice from a wall speaker said he could try school again tomorrow and she was glad he was home. “And remember:” she said, “shoes in the porch, through the first entrance door, blazer off then through the airlock and straight to the arrivals shower. Don’t come in with your shoes and blazer on.”
Luna waited outside the bathroom with clean towels. She stared; horrified at the sight of the strange, untreated boy and then she hyperventilated.
Zophar’s father left Ludo in the entrance while he arranged his collection. Then the house and car were treated before the car was sent to collect the right boy this time. It had all been too risky and too stressful – Luna would home-school Zophar from now on.


Thursday, 2 February 2017

Unfinished Story #3 part 1


Tuesday

London to Beijing. January. 2004.

I look down through the window, beneath the clouds at the rough, mountainous terrain of Mongolia, wondering what it would be like to crash land in the middle of nowhere; if I’d end up having to eat any of my fellow passengers; whether we’d get rescued by a bunch of tribesmen on horseback; or pretty tribeswomen who’d take us back to their tents, forcing us to be their slaves.

The girl beside me is Asian, fairly attractive, and I guess she’s just entered my daydreams.

She’s from Beijing, her name’s Anna, she’s the same age as me and has been studying in England for over a year. We talked about how I’m now doing what she did. Except it’s kind of the opposite. Ha ha. I’m on my way there, she’s on her way back. Ha ha. Except she’s been learning English and … well, I’m a teacher and she’s a student so that’s kinda flipped around too.

“A teacher?” she asked, impressed.

“A TEFL teacher,” I replied. A twenty-two-year-old English teacher, trained for one month on a Mickey Mouse course with a Mickey Mouse certificate in his backpack, about to start his first real job in Asia’s famous capital. And ever so slightly shitting himself.

“So, can you speak Chinese?”

“Yeah,” I say. “A little.”

“Ni hao ma?”

“Ni hao.”

“Ni chu Beijing jiao yinwen duo jiu?”

I’m having to use my phrase book to write this down. My Chinese isn’t as good as all that and rather embarrassingly I had no idea what she was on about. She laughed though, a little patronisingly, and explained that she’d asked how long I’d be teaching in Beijing.

“Six months,” I replied, to which she feigned mock surprise.

“So short.”

Anyway, I’m not going to write the whole conversation down. We swapped emails and chatted for a while about the places I should visit, things I should eat and how as an Englishman I’d be happy to know that the beer is cheap. How I’m starting a Masters next autumn but six months feels a long time for me because this is my first time to be going abroad for more than a couple of weeks.

Eventually we ran out of things to say, which was a bit awkward, so instead of trying to keep our conversation going for the rest of our fourteen-hour flight, I pretended to fall asleep until she actually did fall asleep and now I’m writing this - staring out the window, feeling kinda lonely, deciding, albeit weirdly, that I’d much rather eat her than some dead old person.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Waking Up in the Middle of the Night Story 2


Still feeling the pangs of thirst I was thankful for the slight gust of wind blowing once I was outside. There was a cool, welcoming hush from the trees that seemed to offer excitement too; and I remember it was necessary to catch the iron gate at the last minute to stop it banging shut with a clang. It was as if I was being reminded to appreciate the wildness of outside.

I looked up and down the lane to see there wasn’t a soul in sight; although a second glance caught the familiar stray cat watching me from under one of the few parked cars along the way; two oval eyes reflecting the moon, stars; and a soft glow of street lighting.
 
I often enjoyed this time of night, the comfort of being alone; unnoticed by the neighbours. It had become my street; my world: quiet enough to detect the trickling of water from the stream; I could see bats swooping overhead; insects were crackling, buzzing and tap-tapping away in their nocturnal chorus.
 
I got down onto the floor and began meowing at the cat, trying to get it to come out; then giving up, let out a sharp hissing sound and watched, satisfied, as it scampered away, fast as a lighting bolt.
 
In the distance a dog was barking; then further still the noise of a car engine; ever so faint; but audible all the same.
 
I made my way to the end of the lane, walking freely and zigzagging around, picked up a stick, and then was searching absent-mindedly for snakes; maybe a rat: something interesting amongst the tall grass separating the road from the stream. The moon was clouding over but it was easy to see nevertheless: Despite there being no lights coming from any of the houses around, the line of lamp posts stood tall and proud. Like a troop of night-watchmen protecting the sleeping residents of our neighbourhood; guiding my path to the more inhabited, more civilized part of town. They nodded down to me with a wise understanding, an appreciation of my need to be on a mission for some thirst quenching rations.

In spite of myself and this thirst I lit another cigarette, the smoke hitting the dryness of the back of my throat with a bitter, though not altogether unpleasant sensation. I added a deep breath of humid air, opening my mouth wide, savouring the taste of microscopic water droplets on the back of my dry tongue. I allowed my mind to carry me briefly to the fresh air-conditioned oasis of Seven-Eleven, where along the wall fridges held all assortments of beers, juice, flavoured milk, a range of cool teas and iced coffees.

My thoughts concentrated towards the familiar ding-dong sound on entering, the trendy late night radio that would be playing. Not long now, I told myself. Gonna get myself a beer I reckon. Some fruit juice for after. A couple of bottles of water for the fridge and maybe a treat for the girlfriend: one of those chocolate bars with a soft pink strawberry centre. As for me I had a strange craving for some dried mango; something to suck on and chew whilst sipping the cool beer.

Imagining the condensation from the can (drips of water forming on the surface as soon as it was in my warm, sweaty palm) I hit at the grass once more, lost in deliberation, not noticing the man until I was almost upon him; almost tripping over his crumpled, awkward figure.

There was a pool of dark black liquid beside him which I immediately took to be blood. Allowing my eyes to further scan the scene I saw redder colours on the tips of the grass surrounding his body. His head was twisted sideways in an unnatural position and his left arm had been half severed from the torso; a wound I guessed to be the source of all the blood.

Somehow knowing that he was almost certainly dead I lightly kicked at his legs nonetheless: and then unashamedly was poking his face with the stick; just to be sure.

All this didn’t make me feel as disturbed as you might think. Most likely the reason for this is because he was old. Sixty or seventy at a guess. Also he was wearing a dark suit like bodies are often dressed in when you go to an open casket funeral and I was bizarrely drawing similarities to a great uncle who I’d only ever seen in such a state of death.

But unsurprisingly, after a few seconds had passed the reality of the scene finally hit me. In sudden shock I stepped back and dropped my half finished cigarette in the grass. Then swing around, searching for a sign of anyone nearby; curiously hearing a sudden splash of water from the other side of the river; and the noise of running footsteps which I couldn’t be sure was my imagination or not…

There was no one in sight though. Only the sounds of the insects, distant vehicles, dogs barking, my own breathing and the scratching of flint from my lighter as I sparked up a fresh cigarette, wondering what to do.