Tuesday, 11 January 2011


Yesterday my cat brought me a gift:

A broken eggshell. Powder blue with earthy freckles

With crisply fractured edges of porcelain.

A broken vessel. It grew warm in my hand,

A tear of yolk smeared on the ivory inside

Glistening like the skin of a raindrop.

A delicate reminder of what could have been.

Monday, 25 October 2010

A Cautionary Tale - Halloween Special...

Looking back, I think it all started when our dog died. The memory is clear in my mind; the sound of his quivering lungs, gasping for another breath, the uselessly lolling tongue. The eyes, bulging with confusion and terror, and, it seemed to me, a mute pleading for release; though whether it was release from the tapestry of life or the release of my hands from around his throat I couldn’t be sure. So, to be on the safe side, I adjusted my grip, and broke his neck.

My parents never knew it was me. I walked home carrying the corpse in my arms, feeling the flesh cooling and beginning to stiffen. I had planned on confessing, spilling my guts (so to speak) to my parents about the gnawing compulsion, the explosion of adrenaline and the mad pulsing of Eddie’s jugular under my fingers. I wanted to be told it was just another part of growing up, like acne and greasy hair. But the expression on my mothers face when she saw my burden was enough. I had done something bad: something appallingly wrong and shameful that I could never share. I can still feel her salty tears as she hugged me, crushing me against her breast, and hear my father raging, shouting to the heavens, demanding to know what kind of lunatic would murder a family pet.

That was thirty years ago.

Now, here I am, driving along the M1 in a shiny new Lexus – an IS 250 Convertible, if you’re interested – fully suited and booted and with a smart Armani tie. A successful (yeah, right) businessman on his way home from work after a long day of software programming. The same, you might think, as any of my colleagues winding their way home on this rapidly darkening evening. I suppose the main difference is that the rest of them don’t have a body crammed in the boot of their car.

Sliding off the main road, I take a little detour. The roads begin to narrow, and as the light fails, they empty. I stop to let a mother and child pass in front of me. The child waves at me, and I give her an encouraging smile. Once again, I’m reminded of that crisp autumnal day with Eddie. Of course, in my teens I realised that I may be a killer in the making: after all, what better way to demonstrate psychopathic tendencies than murdering your own dog? It’s classic. I almost wish that I had started my career in killing in a different way, simply because I didn’t want to become just another cliché.

Back to the present. Tina, from the accounts department: cheerful, red-headed and with a penchant for tight skirts, one of the darlings of the office who, day by day, walks past me with barely a glance. I know my hair is graying and sometimes I need glasses, but her condescending manner is beyond irritating; as if I needed the metaphorical equivalent of a large neon sign saying ‘You Are Too Old For Me’ in pink flashing letters. All I asked was if she fancied a drink sometime. What a bitch.

I stop on the outskirts of Nottingham. No one around; the night is cold, and a bitter wind makes the trees rattle and sway in a crude parody of life. Getting out of the drivers seat, I begin to feel the echo of a thrill in my chest as my heart speeds up, and it takes somewhere between ten seconds and an eternity for me to reach the boot and open it. Seeing her in the glow of the taillights, I imagine her as a porcelain doll: pallid flesh and glassy eyes. No mess – no blood, apart from a tiny amount that has trickled from the corner of her lips and down onto her chin.

Carefully, I begin to pull her out of the car. Not an easy task; rigor mortis is already setting in. Finally she lies on the ground, sightless eyes watching the oscillating treetops: silent spectators at a diabolical ritual. The place I have chosen to hide her corpse is almost too good to be true: an apparently deserted side street, flanked by faceless brick, spiked intermittently with handy communal refuse bins, with not a soul in sight.

Before I begin with my garbage disposal, a moment of contemplation feels appropriate. Tina lies dead on the grubby paving stones, her neck blackened with bruises. Vividly I recall the thrum of her pulse beneath my grasping fingers as her frenzied hands clawed at my chest and face. I remember the moment, the surge of euphoria that came when her eyes rolled back and her limbs fell flaccid: the rush. Before tonight, my only victims were domestic animals; I feel a surge of pride at having had the courage to take the next step.

But now: there is business to be taken care of. Tina’s body needs to be disposed of, as quickly as possible, and the large communal bins look perfect. Only problem is, she wont fit in a bin-liner whole: she needs to be cut up. I have never been too squeamish about blood before, so as long as I’m quick and calm, all should be fine. On the way here I stopped at a hardware store and purchased a pair of rubber gloves, a hacksaw, a roll of black bags and a tarpaulin (try buying that little lot without getting funny looks from the checkout girl) for this very eventuality.

Here goes. The tarp is laid out on the ground, flat. Tina is placed in the centre. Then out comes the saw. When I was younger, I worked part-time in a slaughterhouse to get money for my gap year travels to the Middle East (I wanted to observe the rite of Eid ul-Adha) and I vividly recall the butchers at their work, huge cleavers gleaming as they calmly jointed and boned dripping slabs of meat, dismembering an entire pig or cow into small, acceptable parcels wrapped in cellophane. Having seen first hand the inside of a slaughterhouse, the closest I’ll ever get to eating meat is smoky bacon flavour crisps.

The saw is making good progress. The parts have to be small enough to fit in the black bags, so I’m jointing the body. First the legs, at the ankle, knee and hip. I can feel the creak and snap of tendons through the vibrations of the saw. Her blood is beginning to coagulate, so it seeps slowly from the severed limbs and forms thick reeking pools. I try to close my nostrils to the smell, as a lurching sensation in my gut tells me I am close to vomiting.

Now the arms, at the wrist, elbow and shoulder: the saw gets jammed, and as I tug at the damn thing the blade twists, sending a spurt of crimson at me. Bloody, bloody hell. The stench of it assaults me. My stomach gives an almighty lurch as I wipe gouts of the stuff from my throat. Quickly, finish the job, and try and breathe through the mouth. Next, a few good goes with the saw, and it’s off with your head, milady.

Lastly, the torso, just under the ribs – save the worst till last. My arms are beginning to tire, and though the saw makes short work of her spine, the organs slop out, spilling their stinking contents all over the tarp, and that is the final straw: I heave, noisily, and the semi-digested Big Mac I ate earlier is splattered everywhere. Great.

Finally, she is fully bagged up. All that remains for me now is to heave her into these oh-so-handy bins, along with the rubber gloves and the tarp, and clean myself up. I have to remove the gloves to tie up the black bags. The knot has to be tight, and the gloves are so slippery with blood that earlier I dropped one of her kidneys and had to go haring after it.

Knots tied. Can’t stick them all in one bin, it might arouse suspicions. One in each, that sounds right. So, heave-ho, bag number one, and it’s au revoir to Tina’s legs.

Wait – was that the sound of a car? Footsteps?

No, must have been my imagination. I’m jittery from all that blood.

The second bag, all is still well. My heart is thudding like a piston, battering at my ribcage, and a flood of adrenaline is making my hands shake and my knees feel weak as I walk back and pick up the third bag.

Then the unthinkable happens.

Sirens. Noise, people running, and bright flashlights. A man shouts through a megaphone, but I can’t hear him over the sudden frenzied buzzing in my ears. Caught in the act. There are people approaching, and I’m blinded by the glare of headlights as a wailing police car pulls up. In a daze, I drop the bag, and raise my soiled hands in the air. A young cop approaches me. As he fastens the cuffs on my wrists I have to ask: How did you find me? His lips stay firmly compressed and he won’t look me in the eye, but his features flicker, which makes me glance up. On the corner of the building opposite, half-hidden behind some shrubbery, I see the single sightless eye of a CCTV camera winking down at me, and I suddenly realize how utterly ridiculous the situation is. Here I am, covered in blood and vomit, caught red-handed - never was a phrase so apt. The sheer hilarity of it hits me like a roundhouse kick, and I cant help but laugh out loud. It bubbles up from within me, and soon I am giggling hysterically like an excitable teenage girl. I thought I had planned everything so perfectly, only to be laid low by a simple idiotic blunder. It’s as if I’d been caught smoking behind the bike sheds at school. No one else here seems to see the joke, but as I am led away I turn my head, and smile: I’m on CCTV.

Thursday, 13 May 2010


Driving down the high street, I felt the warmth of the sun on my neck as it glanced fitfully out from behind shaving-foam clouds. The sky was peppered with pigeons, wings all a-clatter. I found myself lost in a daydream about the new Dickens I had sitting on the passenger seat, when a red Nissan Micra came bolting at me out of a side street. I was helpless to prevent myself being propelled through the windscreen as the cars collided with a dreadful impact. I flew through the air, an eternity compressed into a split second, and the atmosphere around me took on a strange texture; as if time itself had been simultaneously sped up and rewound. Landing hard on the hot asphalt, the impact sent a shudder through my whole body, leaving me gasping. I remember thinking: that’s odd; I could swear I was wearing my seat belt.

Opening my eyes, I was immediately confronted with the sight of a tiny, squashed second-hand bookshop I had never noticed before. All my limbs trembling, I managed the convoluted series of movements involved in standing up. Until that moment, I had never quite comprehended the complications that are involved in the simple process of levering oneself upright; the contorting of various muscles to drag my weight of bone perpendicular, the firing of synapses and the creaking of my joints.

I could hear the hustle and bustle of people gathering round my stricken motor; but it seemed oddly distant, as if the very air were quilted with cotton wool. Dazed as I was, I couldn’t take my eyes off the bookshop. Feeling a desperate longing, a compulsion to enter, I approached it with faltering steps. My hands were tingling in a fashion not unlike pins and needles; in fact, much of my body was alive with a tingling sensation, as if I had been infested with insects; centipedes sauntering up and down my spinal column in large numbers, waving to their friends, with ants playing Tag in the damp maze of my brain. Feeling rather over-populated, I peered into the window. I couldn’t see through the dusty glass to the dank interior, but a card proclaimed the shop to be Open, and the door creaked inward with a push. Dust spiraled slowly in shafts of sunshine, and spiders had trapped the chandelier in soft grey nets. The atmosphere was so thick that I felt as if it was crystallizing around me, and a strange presentiment took hold of me, that if I stayed here much longer I was in danger of becoming embalmed in it.

I was unsure of what to do, when I was confronted with a man I presumed to be the owner. A neat little man; his corduroy suit was grey, although whether that was the intended colour or simply the accumulation of dust I was unable to tell.

Despite my surprise at his sudden appearance, I mastered myself into civility. “Good morning!” I said, taking a pace forward. “Are you the proprietor of this establishment?”

“Why indeed I am,” he answered with a slight chuckle. His tone was not unfriendly, and his voice was soft as moss. “Would you care for a tour, a circuit, indeed a peregrination of my small domain?”

Naturally interested, I nodded eagerly, and the little man pivoted as smoothly as if he were on a turntable. Eyeing a gap in the shelves, he took a grip on my sleeve, and took a step between; not simply into the gap, but into what felt like a congruent set of dimensions, pulling me behind him. I gasped and shuddered as if I had just been subject to an electric shock as the air thickened like treacle and became very still, so still that I could almost hear the slow drifting of dust.

I looked around me. The bookshelves appeared not to have changed; but on closer inspection I had difficulty reading the titles on their spines, as the lettering was back to front. I turned to my strange companion and opened my mouth to ask for an explanation, and was forestalled.

“Has it never occurred to you,” he said quietly, “that since there are shelves with the books on the outside, there should be other aisles in the space between the books themselves, created out of the sheer weight of words?”

I was perplexed to the point of bafflement. Now I could detect strange sounds underlying the uncanny stillness, emanating from some hidden place.

“What’s that I can hear?” I asked.

“I shall show you.” He replied, and pattered off into the gloom with me tailing behind. Gesturing for me to peer round the corner of a bookcase, and I saw two ladies sitting. They had a translucency of appearance that made my eyes water to look at them, and their voices echoed as if they had to travel a great distance to my ears. Straining to hear, I caught part of their conversation:

“There certainly was some great mismanagement in the education of those two young men. One has got all the goodness, and the other all the appearance of it.”

“I never thought Mr Darcy so deficient in the appearance of it as you do.”

“And yet I meant to be uncommonly clever in taking so decided a dislike to him, without any reason.”

Agog to know if the suspicions accumulating in my reeling brain were true, I looked eagerly at my companion. He smiled; a small, neat little smile that went well with the rest of him. I could not formulate the words to vocalize my internal befuddlement, but he seemed to understand my unspoken query.

“That was Miss Elizabeth Bennet and her sister, Jane. Pride and Prejudice is a celebrated novel, it is no wonder that they should be here.”

“So it really…? But how?”

“These characters have become alive in the world of imagination so many times, that the minds of the readers have brought them to life. Not life as we know it, but a half-life; replaying out their eternal dramas, they exist here, in the world between the shelves.”

When I thought about it, it made surprising sense. In this bizarre place, these people had climbed out from the lace filigree of words that bound them to the page.

“Can you show me more?” I asked eagerly.

“Indeed. But be careful; creatures evolve to fill every niche in the environment, and this place is no exception.”

So, we paced through what seemed a never-ending maze of bookcases and shelves. I saw wondrously odd things; a herd of small crab-like creatures that were in the process of macerating their way through a large leather-bound tome, which skittered away at our approach. My companion nodded in the direction they had taken. “Critics,” he said. “Little pests. They graze through the choicer books, you know, and leave behind slim volumes of literary criticism.” Turning a corner he gestured me to look down a long corridor of shelves, in which a phantasmagoria of pale figures flickered in and out of view. “The crime section,” was his explanation for the scenes that confronted us. The figures nearest to my eyes were two men; one exceptionally tall and thin, the other short and stocky, with a moustache. The tall one was shaking his head, and seemed to be admonishing the other: “You will not apply my precept. How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”

There were other figures beyond this pair, flickering in and out of view; a very small, plump gentleman with a waxed moustache who spoke in a strong French accent, and a little old lady, sitting alone at a table, her head continually oscillating as if observing invisible passers-by. I turned to make an excited remark to my companion, but he put his finger to his lips and moved on. I followed in bewildered excitement.

“Where to now?” I asked, but instead of a reply, he suddenly dragged me into an alcove and motioned anxiously for me to be silent as a monstrous shape thundered by. After the sound of its progress had died away, he turned to me. “I repeat, you have to be careful! There are many things that live here, some more dangerous than others. The Critics are harmless enough, but one of those Thesauruses would trample you into the dust. And you need to avoid clichés at all costs.”

Alarmed at this grim knowledge, I decided I had seen enough, and asked to be shown the way out. There was sadness in his eyes as he turned and led me away. As we wove our way round the shelves, I caught glimpses of more literary figures; a young, handsome man who was contemplating a large portrait, upon which seemed to be painted a likeness to himself, but deformed and hideous; a ragged-looking man leaning on a crutch for support to aid his timber toe, with a parrot perched upon his shoulder; a large brown bug-like creature emitting a peeping mockery of speech, and a tall, thin gentleman with a white moustache and every outward appearance of nobility; but I caught a glimpse of a pointed ear and viciously sharpened teeth as I passed. Eventually we reached a gap where dust motes danced in a beam of sunlight streaming in. Eagerly I pushed past the bookseller to get back to the reality I knew, longing for the comforting familiarity of the outdoors; but something stopped me. When I neared the gap my limbs became sluggish, and my head swam dizzyingly so that I had to sit down.

The bookseller was looking at me with something like pity. “My apologies. It seems you can’t get out as easily as you got in.”

“But why ever not?” I asked with mounting fear and anxiety.

He replied with a gesture towards the gap. I turned and peered through. From this side, it was perfectly easy to see through the shop and out into the street. I could see the wreck of my car, with people still crowded around it. They extracted something from the crushed metal shell and laid it on the floor. With a start I saw that it was a body: my body. I watched as a figure placed a cloth over its – my – face. I felt oddly impartial, as if my emotions had been drained from me; only a vague impression that, if I couldn’t go anywhere else, spending my eternity in a bookshop might not be so bad after all.

Friday, 7 May 2010

The Heart Collector

They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul. Yours are soft, brown, reassuring and gentle. Meltingly innocent, surrounded by a fringe of dark lashes and framed by arched brows, you have eyes that people drown in.

You collect the hearts of women. No, don’t shake your head; I know it’s true. It’s one of your favourite hobbies. I can sense them, in this room, the ghosts of past lovers, still crooning empty words of passion. Here I am, in this palace of phantoms: Miss Lamb, spotless, sacrificial; I feel no fear. I have found you out, and I will never let you lock my heart away. I have seen the cage you are preparing for me, and I wont deny it is beautiful; but I do not want to be a caged lark. I want to be able to fly.

Thump-thump. Thump-thump. I can hear them beating, in and out of time. Have you grown deaf to their whispered thunder, is that why you want mine, because you can no longer hear the others? Mine beats so loudly only because it is safely contained within my chest. It was never yours to take; it is mine to give. You drown me in words, muffling my ears to the wailing of your ghosts, blinding me, trying to strike me into dumb acceptance. But I will not be your beautiful plaything, to be captured and locked away, brought out only on a rainy day. I will never let you put my heart in a glass case.

Thursday, 15 April 2010


I am in the habit of observation; people-watching, if you will. This old woman intrigues me more than usual, however. She sits, harmlessly enough, in the corner of a Waterstones coffee shop. It might be the poise of her head, a certain gleam in the eye; but there is a definite look there that tells the observer that here is a lady who has not yet succumbed to doddering senility and carpet slippers just yet. Her hair is short, thin and a pale gray, like the downy breast of a collared dove; but it has been carefully coiffed and curried, combed and coiled into perfectly shaped curls, that were so in fashion in the 1940s; the sort of hair you see on pictures of screen sirens from the period. Her ears are adorned with delicate pearl drop earrings, and her glasses hang on a thin chain of sliver round her neck. Despite obvious signs of age, she still has an elegant bearing. Her head rests proudly on a slender neck, which, although now heavy with wattles like that of a turkey, must in her youth have been slim and swan-like. Time has dimmed her eye, but there still seems to be a twinkle; a sparkle of life or a flash of spirit, something that announces to the world that she isn’t done for yet. Her lips have obviously thinned with age, and now they are painted a soft pinkish shade, enhancing a perfect cupids bow; in her youth, she must have been a beauty, the sort that makes men’s heads turn in the street. It makes me wonder; what must her life have been like? There must be so many untold lives, untold stories, that we shall never know.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Carpe Diem

The hot midday sun cast dappled patterns of light and shadow on the forest floor as a small brook babbled away, sunlight glinting off its rippling surface. A moorhen strutted along the bank, stabbing occasionally at the ground in search of food, uttering its soft plaintive cries to the surrounding woodland. The leaves of an overhanging willow tree trailed in the water, and a fat brown trout swam lazily through the weeds, coming to the surface to snap idly at passing mayflies.

The tranquility was broken by the sound of running feet. The moorhen took off in a clatter of wings as a ragged man came crashing through the trees and splashed through the stream, trying to rid himself of the ropes that bound his wrists cruelly together. Casting a terrified glance over his shoulder, he ran onwards, staggering slightly with fatigue. Crimson as he was with the effort of running, the sound of his pursuers behind him drained the colour from his face. Sobbing with fear and gasping for breath, dodging round trees and bushes, he blundered desperately on.

Finally reaching the edge of the forest, he paused for a moment, listening intently. A slow smile of relief suffused his face as he could hear no sound of the hunters. He had escaped! Glancing swiftly around to take his bearings, he took off across the grassland.

All of a sudden his stride was broken. He gazed in horror at the point of the arrow which appeared to have grown out of his chest and a trickle of blood escaped from the corner of his mouth. His knees buckled, and without a sound he fell. He didn't hear the heavy footsteps approach him, or the mirthless laugh as the arrow was forcibly wrenched from his body and thrust back into its quiver, still dripping. His body, unceremoniously dragged, was abandoned at the fringes of the wood, leaving his sightless eyes to stare up through the lacework of branches, hands still bound as if in prayer. As the sounds of the assassins receded into the distance, the outskirts of the forest became peaceful again, with only a spatter of cooling blood on the lush grass to show that death had visited the woodlands.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010


When I stand beneath the storm-bruised clouds

I feel like they will fall on me.

Pent-up energy spikes the air, dizzying, electrifying.

Seagulls take flight; they can feel the tension.

The clouds burst with a noise like tearing silk,

Droplets of liquid light.

Polished gems fracture all over me,

My gleaming skin worth more than deep-sea pearls.

The sound of a thousand hooves.

An army of clouds, a sky torn by war.

Aeolus lets loose his winds, Poseidon raises his trident,

And waves breathe spray upon the stones.

Lightning. Milk in black coffee, sped up, on fast-forward.

Pounding, frothing waters. Foam on a cappuccino.

Pebbles. Sugar grains, stirred up, dissolving.

Wheeling seagulls. Coffee-grounds, escaping the strainer.

Inside the teacup, a storm is beautiful.