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Monday, 6 October 2008
Cerne Zoo
The chalk beast lifted itself from the hillside, curious as to how ordinary people could have managed to create mighty Stonehenge. And why.

Posted by wordonymous at 8:00 AM EDT
Updated: Monday, 6 October 2008 8:03 AM EDT
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Tuesday, 2 September 2008
The Extra

                   THE EXTRA      

Published 'Black Mole' 1991


He went to the town because he’d heard they were shooting a horror film there and they would no doubt require several extras for the crowd scenes.  He thought his bent nose would stand him in good stead.


  The town lacked description. Although he knew that from all the guides, he was not ready for the churchless affair that presented itself. As he drove out of the November fogs into a crystal clear afternoon, what he noticed were the lines of  identical red brick maisonettes forming a geometrical grid that even a mathematician would find boring.  A social anthropologist might make an interesting study of what made the people tick who chose to live there but beyond that he with the bent nose could not hope to fathom.                         


      The film crews were nowhere to be seen. No arc lights had been erected, no touchy lead actress putting on airs and graces, no fat man with cigar sitting in a deckchair and, above all, no crowds milling about ready to fire the castle where the horrors were lurking.


Bent Nose parked his car in what looked like the nearest to a town centre.  There was a free car park (how could it be other than free?) but he decided to raw up close to a parade of shops under some penthouse flats.  Dusk was drawing in as he sprung the seat-belt.  He was about to open the car door where when he noticed, joy oh joy, there was indeed a pub and yes, despite the early hour appeared to be open, for tops of heads appeared to be milling about where the saloon bar windows lost their cross-hatching.


But this was peculiar. Pubs are not allowed to open for at least another hour, he said to himself.


A man evidently worse for wear at that point staggered from the western-style doors and slash-walked down the street with an incontinent pint of beer in his hand.  Seeing Bent Nose’s car, the face drew closer to the window and squashed its features into a joke mask.


Damn, the car wouldn’t start! And the piss-artist was fumbling at the door-handle!


Good grief, the man was violently thumping his head along the length of the car, giving Bent Nose a feeling that if this was a horror film, he wanted to get out of it and fast!


He looked across to the pub and all the local tipplers must have been standing on tiptoes to see from the tops of the saloon-bar windows, their faces pressed hard against the glass. And they all had bent noses








Posted by wordonymous at 8:44 AM EDT
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Wednesday, 20 August 2008
Fit Of Punishment

Published 'Parasol Post' 1999




It was at the tail-end of Winter.  The year's head snapped off in its prime.  George knew they were filming today, despite the weather.  He had long since watched them erect their pieces of equipment (fiendishly expensive by the look of all the electronic paraphernalia)—for weeks now.  But most of the takes had proved pretty mundane. 


            The local town square, indeed, had been requisitioned by the film company and, at first, the grizzled folk hereabouts felt excited by the prospect—eventually, though, drifting away in twos and threes of disinterest ... and the snooty film wallahs were now left pretty much to their own devices (albeit expensive ones).



            Yet George had inside information.  Today the film's sex scene was to be enacted in full-frontal al fresco.  How he knew this for a fact was a bit of a mystery; George was not privy to the arcane machinations of show business glitter but, somehow, whenever, wherever, he must have smelt the smoke-signals of potential smut from a spare gaffer or rogue lens-shifter (some of which crew haunted the town's bars at godawful hours of the day or night).  George had subtly set himself up as a semi-insider because of his near constant attendance at film get-togethers, with his pretending, no doubt, that everybody else knew his wherewithals except the very gaffer or lens-shifter or best boy with whom he happened to be chin-wagging at the time—and a recent half-drunken natter with the clapperboard man had inadvertently served to let slip the imminence of the film's sole sex scene.



            Whatever the case, George, looking, as ever, old for his age, was snooping low on the periphery of the Square one rain-threatened day towards the end of the shoot.  Already the more undesirable members of the crew had soaked the paving-slabs with water which—should there be a sudden storm—would solve any subsequent continuity glitches.  How a sex scene was to be enacted in the open air of a town square and how it fitted in with the rest of the film's no doubt dubious plot was neither here nor there.  George shrugged.  Sex was sex whatever the context.  He'd get a vicarious thrill however far-fetched.  In this religious neck of the woods, you see, salaciousness was not a thing to be snifffed at.  A growing lad like George could do with an eye-opener or two to fit him out for the protracted philandering he'd long planned to spend doing the wide world over.  He'd had enough of his mother's apron strings and the town's rather prissy females who cocked a snook rather than lift a skirt for such red-blooded studs as George saw himself fast growing up into.



            He stood on tippy toes to see if anything was afoot.  He could hardly see over the Director's head which was bobbing about atop a rather bulbous wobbly thing—more like a barrage balloon than a body, but never mind.  The leading lady in sheer tights and shortie nightie (and next to nothing else, George hoped) was stood shivering by one of the tents.  The so-called dishy hero (George couldn't help snarling as his muscly torso hove to) was later seen hovering by the chuck wagon, feasting off a local pork delicacy—wearing a silk dressing-gown more suitable for a sleek harem than a cold and wet town square in Albania.  So, yes, based on this slenderest veneer of assumptive truth, George guessed that his carefully filtered inside information had not been far from the truth.  Erstwhile scenes he'd spied—from this very vantage point that he'd ear-marked for his surreptitious snooping—had shown this preening leading pair done up all over with several layers of peasant wear, huge fur capes and muffly scarves and more.  Something to do with the mechanics of the rather plodding plot of politics and putsch.  Now, today, all was hair-trigger ready for the off, bareness being merely a few flicks of the wrist away ... and George relished catching his first tasty glimpses of uncluttered female flesh and running cream.



            "Balkan's Broken-Headed Child, Day Seventeen, gratuitous Sex Scene, Take One..." shouted the clapperboard man from so close to George's head, nobody saw the punishment fit the crime.  Collateral damage wasn't half of it.  Sleight of left hand, not even in the running.



            A scared running, followed by the ruin of rain.





Posted by wordonymous at 8:50 AM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 20 August 2008 8:55 AM EDT
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Thursday, 7 August 2008
What Was It All About?

Published 'Roadworks' 2003

What Was It All About?

That’s what they used to ask, in the good old days.  And re-reading some of my stories I can understand why they thought about asking the question.  This is the answer.


The “Small Press” is a name that should sit proudly in any consciousness.  And we all share the same one, said Jung.  Maybe.  We do not need any posh terms concocted to aggrandise the Small Press, I feel.  Not because Small is Beautiful (though it is), but Small connotes unpretentiousness and art-for-art’s-sake, like writing something simply because you mean it.


A pretentious quest for unpretentiousness, then -- or vice versa?

Whatever the case, since 1986 (when I discovered the Small Press at the then age of 38 and managed to get my first story published), I have really enjoyed the ride, as I believe many others have done the same – reading, writing, being part of the publication world.  And publication exists as a communal as well as corporate dissemination; we Small Pressers just concentrated on the former.  After all (and this is perhaps the core point), only a microscopic percentage of the world’s population can become professional writers.  A hard fact to bear?


Because of the Small Press, some of my stories managed to get into Professional outlets, which wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Indeed, because of technology, there is now less demarcation between the Small and the Big.  As a result, I now try to edit and publish a print outlet myself.  Still unpretentious, though!


The Rite of Passage of which this is intended to be a brief taste began with a story entitled ‘Padgett Weggs’ (named after a piece of music I once improvised with my kids a few years earlier); this was published in ‘Tales After Dark #2’ in 1986.  And that magazine’s title gives you a definite taste of the many wild and fearless banners under which I enjoyed being published through the late eighties and all the nineties.  Thousands upon thousands of them, it seems, in hindsight.  A whole obsession..  (Please excuse the staccato memories – because truth comes in small doses).  I am an obsessive person but I don’t try to analyse things that simply are (or were).


 Invasion of the Sad Man-Eating Mushrooms was another magazine.  Well, I could go on forever. ‘Roadworks’ brought my feet back to the ground, by asking me, here, today, to review these distant experiences – and this makes me realise that my head has always been in the clouds and it’s good sometimes to shrivel back the wild imaginings.  Good to reconsolidate.  And that’s what I’ve been trying to do in the last two years, I suppose.  Retrench.  Get back to Ground Zero.  To Nemo.


But that doesn’t help me give you a taster.  It doesn’t help me give *myself* a taster … because I’ve forgotten what it was like.  All those submissions – by Royal Mail! – with countless International Reply Coupons.  Combing Scavenger’s Newsletter, Light’s List, Zene etc for clues as to my stories’ destiny.  A whole panoply of crazy paper chases.  Contributor’s copies and Rejection Letters literally littering my doormat on a daily basis.  What *was* all that about?  Some manic craving for fame?  Or simply a need to get my bursting creativity out there somewhere?  After all, some of the magazines were probably read by only two or three people, at the most! 


I meticulously recorded by hand all those submissions, then highlighted subsequent acceptances in pink, and crossed out the titles that were rejected. Some that were ‘accepted’ sadly never saw the publication (as far as I know!).  But, imagine my joy when a story that I had given up hope on unexpectedly saw the light of day on my doormat in a magazine or, even better, discovered in a shop -- for sale!  But, even sadder, perhaps, those stories that I celebrated being accepted never subsequently seeing publication – unless, of course, they are still in the never-ending pipeline?  Have you got a story of mine that you promised to publish ten years ago?  No wonder simultaneity was a forgiveable sin.


I still have sheaves and sheaves of these dog-eared lists of submission history. I also carefully typed out and maintained a DFL Bibliography of actual publications, as far as I could discover. Too long or too short, it was something I prided myself about, of course. And files upon files of weird and wonderful rejection letters from all over the world, some humorous, some, I recall, being heartbreaking.  Yes, it *does* hurt sometimes.  Don’t let anyone tell you different.  But when I started getting various DF Lewis Specials being published (the ‘Roadworks’ one being the last of these) and ‘Best Of …’ appearances etc, it all seemed to make it worthwhile, giving the whole Rite of Passage a spurious purpose.  But, really, what was it all about?


Well, it was about what it is still about.  Enjoying company, going to conventions, sharing stories, supporting great magazines like ‘Roadworks’.  But I did go to the edge, it has to be said.  The edge of madness.

Posted by wordonymous at 5:27 AM EDT
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Saturday, 12 July 2008
Headless Hall
 (published 'Barddoni' 1991)
Headless Hall was the large house on the hill,during your childhood.You would look up at it from the school playground, never questioning its presence and as time went on, none of you hardly noticed it at all. It’s like all places where you’re brought up: you take many of the landmarks for granted, however peculiar they might appear to a stranger; all the quirks and nooks, winding alleys, architectural peculiarities, long walls without entrances, squares with fountains amid the statuary, and the line of terraced houses where you yourself had been chosen to live.with stylish, out-jutting windows and carved ornamentation mare akin to gargoyles than one would think typical of the Utility Years…

But you never really noticed anything.You played being a steam-train along the lines in the pavements, as you wended the familiar course to school; or decided that the blue-mottled paving-slabs meant death if you trod upon them, so you had to hop over those for fear of your very existence ... Until you reached Temperance Street where, if you but realised it, the school itseld was a peculiarity, with its squat bell-tower, endless redbrick walls, and tvo playgrounds, one for the boys and the other for those who were at that time a mystery to you (they called them “girls”, but that’s all you knew, other than they seemed to dress slightly different), and teachers with pea-brain whistles and an unaccountable desire for filing in two by two, looking older than they really were (whether that was the strain of the job or comparison with your insultingly young age, you still wonder), and playtime where you had to pinch your nose for fear of the ripe stench in the Boys, followed by games such as Denno and Slavechase amid chants of “fight fight fight!”, whereupon a teacher would arrive breathless from the frays you later learnt took place even within the sanctuary of the staff-room, to tear apart, limb from limb, those ruffians partaking in a catspit scrap, and other games, yes, like flicking cigarette cards so they flew off as bodiless helicopters into corners of the playground where, on different occasions.you would sometimes sit with a crony or two debating the nature of existence and whether “girls” have willies.

Those were the best days of your life,you think, but the horror is you cannot really remember them with any degree of clarity.

Let me remind you ...

One day, on emerging from the Boys, deeply inhaling the compatively fresh air of the playground, you looked up for once at the large house,with a tower,that stood on the hill. Headless Hall, they called it. A teacher, during PE that day, whilst the brawnier lads dragged the thick bristly exercise mats from the bicycle sheds and the weaker morsels toted the bean bags from the Boys, told you (as he said, you were the only one he could trust), that the house was haunted. You stared back quizzically, not speaking, for you hardly ever opened your mouth and, thinking about it, that’s probably why he trusted you so much.You can still see him now, standing there, staring at your three-quarter length trousers, which demurely hid your knobbly knees. His eyes were blue - funny what sticks in your mind - and he looked younger than the other masters. His horn-rimmed spectacles reflected your own face twice over ...

For several months after that, you were intrigued with Headless Hall. You began to notice it more and more. You went to the library to read up about it, searching archives of local history, questioning the spinster who sat at the front of the reading-room.staring into space most of the time.

She told you more than any of the books, which seemed more concerned with personalities that had passed through the annals of the Town Hall (which, you supposed, if you had the time, would prove to be quite an interesting building in itself to study, with its gothic clock-tower and yet unrepaired war damage). It was perhaps because you remembered more about facts given to you by word of mouth, as if you literally ate up the sounds, recompensing in due course, you hoped, for your own silence. She knew what you needed to know, without really being asked. She must have read it in your face like an open book.

• Apparently, she said, parts of the school were older than Headless Hall. The bell-tower was in itself the oldest pert of the whole town.

From the boy’s playground had emerged some of the world’s leaders, such as Disraeli, Cromwell, Churchill, Thatcher and so on.You ate it all up.

But.when you heard about Headless Hall, your mouth gaped open and stayed like that throughout. It had ghosts, true, many had seen them. Some even said, she told you, that it had been built actually to house the ghosts that already populated the bare hill.

“What sort of ghosts, I hear you ask me,”she continued (and you can now actually recall what she said precisely with that strange Welsh underlilt), “They came from all walks of reality. Wilde’s Canterville, Lewis’ Bleeding Nun, Hodgson’s Hog, Harvey’s Hand ... Benson stays locked up in the room in the tower, scribbling social comedy novels. James even today sits in its bookroom, illuminating clues upon all the fly-leaves, sometimes confiding with Carnacki who has taken to roosting up the library chimney. Lovecraft has left to go to a better place, but he has abandoned many of his more striking creations in the shuttered attic, where lesser monsters do not dare to go. Sitting in the kitchen, is one with a remarkable resemblance to Poe, polishing the silverware as he dreams…”

• None of the names then, as now, meant anything to you, but it was all so perfectly mysterious, each word fell into place like a massive jigsaw that would keep you busy for at least a decade of Christmases.

You cannot remember ever noticing Headless Hall again. The teacher who had drawn your attention to it was never seen again. There was a rumour doing the rounds in the Boys that he had been sacked for venturing into the “girls” playground.

You never even again noticed perhaps the hill upon which it once sat. Life took on a new urgency; things were happening to your body that you feared you would never understand; events leapfrogged; exams seemed all-important, for you wanted to follow in the footsteps of the famous Old Boys of the school ...

Now you’re older and, you hope, wiser. You thought you’d left that town far behind you, both in mind and body. The image of Headless Hall has not crossed your thoughts for all these years of helping your own children sort out the giant jigsaws…

Until now ... I’ve come to haunt you with memories, memories which you perhaps hoped had slipped away beyond recall. I’m a ghost from the irretrievable past, bringing it all back with me like the black lace train of a funeral dress: I’ve come to teach you that the past is all-important, should not be filed away in a forgotten drawer, you should rifle through the old yellowing photographs that your eyes once snapped; like the reflections in a pair of glasses; I shall renew the mysteries of the Opposite sex, which, at the best of times, you never really plumbed; I shall show how you can now tread fearlessly on the blue-mottled slabs; and, whatever you do, I shall continue to live (sometimes shy, sometimes voluble) in the shuttered attic of your brain, never fear.

Posted by wordonymous at 10:37 AM EDT
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Sunday, 22 June 2008
ODALISQUE by PF Jeffery (Chapter 2)

I forgot last time to mention that all the chapters now have titles. Chapter 1 was 'Awakening'. Please ask for word attachments of any chapters so that you can enjoy them.

Chapter 2 - Love

I'm not directly comparing each chapter with the old 'Of Bondlings & Blesh' chapters, but I am convinced that the new Odalisque ones are more fulsome, simply more meaty and even silkier clear.

This description I can't remember before:

At Wilfred Addal’s left hand was Captain Major Jonathan Flight, a popinjay with waxed mustachios and whose armour was embellished with ribbon and lace. He considered himself to be a ladies’ man and had often annoyed me with inappropriate attentions.

And now the famous Lord Bustain stands out from the crowd! Two separate passages:

Lord Bustain merely smiled pleasantly – a fatuous expression balanced atop his multiplicity of chins.

There were strawberries for dessert – an especial favourite of mine. On previous birthdays, I had reflected on my good fortune in being born during the strawberry season, but this year that didn’t occur to me. After dessert, Lord Bustain was inclined to linger at the table – he refilled his glass with parsnip wine and belched loudly. Without further remark to the churl, Jenna and I took the stairs leading to the family apartments.

Some important footnotes in this chapter, one about the Blood Victoria and these two:

Surrenity: a term for women pleasuring one another, sometimes – although not always – used abusively. The word stems from Surrey – the practice then being more widespread and respectable in Surrey than elsewhere. Although not considered a felony – as it had been for several decades during the Fourth Condominium of Lundin – it was generally regarded with strong disapproval in the Sixth Condominium of Lundin.

Boobly: a transgression, especially of a sexual nature.


Neither did they seem to take an interest in the blood-spattered corpses of four guardsmen lying at their feet. There could be little doubt that the living guards were drunk.

There was an inevitability about this, as though the whipping had taken place centuries ago and we were ghosts doomed to re-enact it until the end of the world.


Not important, but I'd prefer a semi-colon in these rather than a comma:

perhaps twenty of them, they were difficult to count.

but it was useless, the slave was a good deal stronger than me

Lord Higate defended, Sir Garrafad attacked.

I think that

and to the right of the sewer, stinking in the summer sunshine, which flowed down the middle of the street.

might be better as:

and to the right of the sewer which, stinking in the summer sunshine, flowed down the middle of the street.

then seemed change his mind


CHAPTER COMMENT LINKS: http://weirdmonger.blogspot.com/2008/06/odalisque.html 


Posted by wordonymous at 8:14 AM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 22 June 2008 9:39 AM EDT
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Sunday, 25 May 2008

Published by Colchester Library in 'Dead-Ends' by DFL



The girl was seventeen, but she looked younger.

She was working in a bread and cake shop until her first University term began in October. I had been staring meaningfully at her for days, ever since first spotting her behind the crusty loaves and jam doughnuts. However, she had failed to meet my eyes fully: that is, until the day I attempted small talk with her.

The amount of traffic in the High Street was my chosen topic, since I always avoided broaching the subject of weather. In fact, anybody who hangs an encounter between two separate human beings upon whether the sun shines is cheating both parties. That’s because the sun is always either shining or not shining. Come to think of it, the sun does always shine, whther it’s behind clouds or not (or even when it’s night time) .

She merely smiled half-heartedly as she plopped the toasted macaroons one by one into the crinkly bag, finally crunching up the saw-edged opening into a fuse of paper. I must have purchased more bread and its accessories during that holiday than I would eat for the rest of the year. Eventually, she responded to my prattle with a willingness

I had never previously dared to expect. The voice was as pretty as the face. In many ways, the bakery overall made her body strangely sexless, yet this was an intrinsic part of her charm, having no pretensions to flaunt, keeping her goodies, as it were, done up like a surprise parcel for Christmas.

She had no choice, really, since all the girls in the shop had to wear such overalls. But the others seemed somehow more careless with their top button or had bigger busts or both. I could not see any legs behind the high counter, so comparison was impossible that far down.

The fundamental mystery centred around the fact that, whatever time of day I arrived to buy bread, however long the queue and however quick its demands could be fulfilled, I was always served by my favourite. She always seemed to be the one who had just finished serving another customer when it was my turn. Not intentional on her part, nor mine for that matter (how could it have been?), but this always happened - without exception.

And I visited the bread shop twice a day for a whole fortnight.

When my stay in the area was fast approaching its end (a particularly sunny one as it turned out, spending most of my time feeding the pigeons in the park), 11 decided to pluck up sufficient courage to ask her out.

I had debated whether to wait until the bread shop closed in the evening, and follow her home. Then, at least, I would be afforded a glimpse of her without an overall, thus, perhaps, releasing me from any desire to ask her out in the first place. However, I did not want to tarnish her innocence with any such surrepitious behaviour. That was the last thing I wanted. Still is.

So I asked her out, whilst she was still in her overall, at the optimum moment when all the other girls’ attention was elsewhere, either wielding cake-tongs or haggling with an ugly customer over cheap offers of stale bloomers.

She said yes, without vacillation, filling me with wordless excitement and, yes, surprise. During out little chats over the bread, we had never reached anything more personal than that she was due to go to University in October (so she must have been at least seventeen) and that I was on holiday, whiling away a fortnight until work started again. She probably failed to guess how old I was.

Of course, she never turned up for our date. And on the Saturday, the last shopping day for me in the area, she was nowhere to be seen behind the counter. I asked after her, but one of the brazen hussies simply shrugged her padded shoulders and said my favourite was “off sick”.

I was off sick, too, for the first few days after my holiday. The doctor said it was constipation resulting from too much starch and carbohydrates, next to no green things and lack of exercise.

As far as my emotions were concerned, they were left relatively unscarred, since, if I am honest with myself, I had been relieved she did not turn up for the assignation. Her innocence remained unsullied.

I know she exists somewhere on the face of the Earth, somewhere under sun and sky, even if I never see her again. And, because of our relative ages, this will surely be true for at least as long as I shall live. That thought unaccountably gives me enormous pleasure.


Posted by wordonymous at 4:17 PM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 25 May 2008 4:19 PM EDT
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Monday, 12 May 2008
Egg Stew
Published 'Inkshed' 1992

When I started living at Atlas House, I knew it would not be the easiest of transitions. It was a tower block of flats, in essence, I suppose ... except it was on its side. There was a single long ground-level corridor into which each flat's only exit opened. From an outsider's point of view, the building looked like a prefabricated Nissen hut. It was difficult to gauge its exterior geometry, since the opportunities of perspective in a built-up area were of course rare.

Inside, because I was not able to view the whole corridor from any point along its extensive length, I guessed the building was at least semi-circular. But why I moved there is another story altogether. Suffice to say, I was strapped for cash, and the economies of scale represented by the specific location of Atlas House were not easy to ignore. Whilst its other tenants were disincentives, the initial rent-free period together with the council-taxmen being frightened even to consider entering the seemingly endless corridor were quite hefty compensatory factors.

Let me get this off my chest at the outset (if it's not already too late): the other tenants were godawful. I was a saint by comparison which said a lot, because the few who knew me were fully aware that I dared no longer go for Confession in fear of the nasty things that lay in wait for me in that telephone box of the spirit. Local calls were cheap, but long distance ones were pretty costly both on the pocket and the soul.

Well, those so-called tenants were always (always?) standing outside their doors gossiping. Not ALL the tenants ALL of the time. They took it in turns. When duty called, some thick-skulled son-of-a-bitch would struggle from his pit, only to stand at the doorway exchanging scandals (and insults) with neighbours. When he felt tired, he would fetch his missus from the back parlour where she was cough-dusting, to stand in his stead, to face the onslaught of the verbal googlies and defend their flat's door as if it were a vital wicket in the Ogre Ashes.

There was an ever-changing pattern of participants. Permutations beyond count. Ragbags of fish-wives plus the flotsam and jetsam of each flat's low-life made man. Red bawling faces, shaking fists, outlandish curses, ludicrous suppositions, crude sign language, blatant innuendoes, plug ugly facial expressions. Gobs of spittle levelled and fired, often to meet mid-way between mouths, only for in-house rainstorms to evolve.

If you can believe that, you can believe anything. Well, let me try you on this. One amongst that rota of doorstep squabblers was a dish of a blonde. Softly spoken. Doe eyes. Curves fit for fine art to emulate. Clothes a peck or two up the order of fashion from all the other dowdy, tawdry, bawdy ensembles which could have stood up by themselves without the internal scaffolding of half-washed bodies wearing them.

At first, I ignored her. I did not want to tarnish her even with the possibility of lewdness from my own lips. I could not entrust even myself to bandy words with the likes of such a maidenly icon. Then, eventually, one of the battleaxes called her Trudy within my hearing. I decided that knowing her name was tantamount to an invitation, if by coincidence alone. My own name, of course, was Trudy. Therefore, at the optimum moment, when the mix of mummers upon the corridor's stage was as near as it could be to cohesion - with quarrels burbling along quieter undercurrents rather than on the storm-tossed waves at the surface - I approached Trudy with a smile upon my lips, a smile that was as sweet as I could muster in the backward-looking circumstances of my upbringing.

This meant that I had to leave my flat door unguarded. I lived on my own, so even the bare necessities of sleep and food had been foregone to strut my stuff at the sharp-end of my corridor door. My last meal, I vaguely recalled, was a hastily prepared egg stew, eaten on the hoof. But, today, Trudy was worth forsaking the threshhold for. She would be someone I could respect ... perhaps be friends with. It was almost too much to hope for. But God gave us hope to use.

"Hello, Trudy..."

My voice was hardly discernible above the increasing hubbub of the hoi polloi around us. She vigorously pointed at the door I had abandoned for her. I kissed her lightly on a petal soft cheek and marched back to prevent a gang of old age pensioners daubing obscene graffiti beneath my number. Not that I blamed them. Even I felt senile on off days.

After dealing with the resultant fracas on my doorstep, I turned back towards Trudy. But she had gone in, never to come out again.

"I wish to confess my sins, Father."

"what have you to confess, my child?"

"In addition to not attending Confession since my first communion, Father, I have recently been lewd with a woman."

"What was the result of your lewdness?"

"She became pregnant with my child."

"How did you do that?"

"I kissed her."

"How many times?"



"'Cos I loved her."

"I meant, why only once?"

"As I say, 'cos I loved her."

"Well, my child, let me put your mind at rest ... a woman cannot be made pregnant with only one kiss."

I sighed with relief. It was that Atlas House gossip again. I should never have believed it.

"You should get happily married, my child ... find yourself a husband."

There was a long pause.

"You are right, Father. Will YOU marry me?"

It started raining through the bore-holes of the grille.

Without even one single redemption, I ran straight back to Atlas House. The doors were empty, except there were voices beyond each renewed curve of the corridor: a scimitar of Hail Trudies echoing in unison. The heady aroma of egg stew filled the air like incense.

I found the door with my number on it. Not bothering to read what was scrawled underneath it, I fumbled with my bundle of keys and this time opened the lock with the first one I tried. Never before had I managed this, but there's no accounting for the above average strength of the law of averages.

I went in, only to come out again when Trudy did. A kiss is often a bite. And vampires eventually need their beauty sleep. With dreams of my my boney blood-egg child.

Posted by wordonymous at 5:50 AM EDT
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The Windcheater
First published "Flickers 'n' Frames" 1990

In his dream, the female had sharpened nails, one of which she viciously dug into his cheek. The blood gouted as if a bomb had dropped on a high pressure mains...

Dell woke. That particular dream was becoming more vivid each time it recurred. Including the waking up process itself. Without fail, the drone of aeroplane engines above the house sent his eardrums into deep murmur and mumble. Forty odd years since the War, and here he was imagining it still going on. The contemporary newspapers were full of the Berlin Wall being dismantled (whether it be in reality or symbolically), and of the face of old Europe taking on a new disguise. *And* there was still this one mischronological pilot maintaining a blitz of London single-handed! For him (or her?) the War perhaps never began and he (or she) was trying to stir the embers of man’s natural antagonism to man by dropping a dream bomb or two on an innocent at home, such as Dell.

He had given the game away. He woke himself up with a start, knowing that dreams within dreams could not be allowed to continue or one of them might take on a semblance of unshakeable reality. The Berlin Wall was a fixture - its crumbling less likely than the London skyline being without the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral for one of its credentials.

Dell took a black ready-stick stamp from the album beside his bed and applied it to the wall mirror. He never questioned this routine. Much like an assassin would notch his gun handle (one for an enemy soldier, two for a nun, three for a new born baby of either sex). These stamps ware the mementoes, insignia, regalia, accoutrements of dreams had. Sometimes the stamp was white. An inch by inch square. Often black *and* white. With straight or blurred divisions. Sometimes slightly smaller, sometimes bigger, or that might have been a figment of his imagination. But always square enough. They began to fit like limbless jigsaw bits, as time built up. They were his proof of waking up. The room with the mirror was where he was at. He needed confidence in the reality of reality and in the discontinuity of dreaming. As long as he could return to this room in time, find the stamp album, *know* intuitively the exact place on the mirror’s surface to position the next randomly chosen sticker and, finally, with a flourish and a fanfare of tuneless humming, press it neatly next to its neighbour. Soon, Dell would not be able to see his own face at all.

One dream he feared more than any other. It was the female with nails. They looked sharp enough to worry and tease the edges of the stamps and eventually peel them from the mirror. If *that* actually happened in the dream, perhaps he would discover that it was not *him* dreaming it in the first place, as the silver back-up reflector shone into the room like an air-raid warden’s hooded torch ... lighting up his face as a wild ghost in the mirror.

Waking up from the dreams with *her* in them, he would be shaking and shivering, not even able for a few minutes actually to establish the whereabouts of the album, let alone have fingers nimble enough to pick out a single stamp.

In the early days, Dell thought the design of evolving stamps was a Jackson Pollock mishmash of monochrome. No rhyme nor reason to the shapes and smudges of black into white, white into black. They were predominantly spreading from the left hand side of the mirror in a snowstorm. After a spate of dreamless nights, he gave up the idea of ever finishing it.

Then eventually, a pure white gap began to appear about three-quarters of the way up, imperceptibly widening out as it angled downwards at forty-five degrees (or thereabouts). For several weeks of sporadic dreaming, each stamp was pure white. There were, of course, different shades of black that intervened, ever positioned to leave the white bar uncorrupted. There was, after all, a partially recognisable form emerging. It was as if real life was in slow motion, compared to the speed of his dreams. No other way to explain the phenomenon, however unsatisfactory. Holding his breath, to die...

One night when he dreamed of the old drone over the house, it was so close, he could hear the bombdoors unlatch and the half-stifled, shrieking whistle of a shortcut doodlebug. None of it made sense. It *must* be a dream. He woke, thankfully, before, whatever was dropped fell on his house.

But the stamp that particular night convinced him. He wondered how he had been so blind. The design on the mirror was nat a wartime St Paul’s Cathedral amid revolving floodlights: it was one half of an old-fashioned aeroplane. He recognised it from some of the black and white films they still showed on the box. Not knowing what it meant, he felt crazy to finish it, even If it meant ripping out stamps without the concomitant dreams first. It built up under his flickering hands, square by square. A star on its wing. Friend or foe, he could not recall from the history lessons at school. Heading into a snowstorm, or was it flak, over the dark seas of the past time … cheating the wind. The last stamp went in perfectly - there seemed to be a dome, too far back for a cockpit, he thought. Was this some consolation prize for it not being his favourite cathedral? He knew next to nothing about Fokkers, to know it wasn’t one. Or that the dome was a gun turret. He knew too little to know that he would be wrong, *whatever* he decided. That’s the way dreams are built up. With bricks that seem to fit, until they topple down.

The relentless droning above his head, he did not notice, despite being fully awake by now. The noise was too obvious. He had met it too often in his dreams, teasing the eardrums with barely heard undergrunts of vibration. In real life, it was there and not there at one and the same time.

Crossing the wall of the mind he heard the bomblatch slip...

Dell woke, not with a start, but an ending. The bedroom’s walls ware shimmeringly lit with a city ablaze. The mirror threw back the red shadows like shunting ghosts. Dell stared wild-eyed at the image of self staring wild-eyed at its replica. Raising the sharpened claw to the cheek, Dell scored, as the bomb missed.

Posted by wordonymous at 5:27 AM EDT
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Sunday, 11 May 2008

A collaboration with Gordon Lewis.

Tommy wandered the land he owned, wondering who owned the river. The river flowed through his land, but was that enough? He stopped and sat beneath a big tree he considered his big tree. He took off his shoes and socks and dabbled his feet in the river. They were his toes he wiggled, that’s for sure. As he laughed, a thousand birds took off from the tree. Of course, they were not his birds to count. A mix of twigs fell on his head, dislodged by the sudden departure. In pain from the heaviest, he watched the birds swarm smaller than bees with stings. He dropped some of the smaller twigs into the river to watch them race each other until out of sight and out of mind. No human being, he thought, could truly own any Air, Earth or Water. Nobody would have the right. He even doubted God would.

The slow moving river, undisturbed by wind, mirrored the trees and shrubs along its banks, and, as Tommy withdrew his feet, he too was mirrored on the glassy surface of the water. But was it his own face he saw there reflected? He thought it was his father’s face he saw! The father who, it was said, took his own life, drowned in the very river that meandered through his estate. Tommy never accepted that his father committed suicide, but there was nothing to prove that he met his death at the hands of a murderer or that it was an accident.

He dismissed what he thought he saw in the water; of course he was not the same age as his father when he died, but he supposed, as he was his father’s son, it was natural that the reflection reminded him of his father and the painful occasion of his death.

When his mother died, Tommy inherited the estate lock, stock and barrel just a year before he lay there on the bank of the river with the sun drying his feet. His thoughts dwelt on the tragic death of his father. Was it too late to look again into the circumstances of his death? Nearly two years had passed since that fateful day, and now that he had all the time imaginable, he resolved to try and get the case re-opened so to end the speculation in his mind.

Hearing his name being called he turned to see it was his wife Sarah that called him and that she was waving frantically, beckoning him to come to where she stood on the raised patio at the side of the great house. Waving in reply he hurriedly picked up his shoes and socks and ran towards his wife.

“Hurry up Tommy,” she called as her husband neared the patio. “There is someone called Simon Ratner on the phone. You really ought to carry your mobile when you go wandering off.”

“Simon Ratner?” queried Tommy, “don’t know anyone by that name.” He hurried into the house to pick up the phone.

“Hello, this is Thomas Bowen speaking. How may I help you?”

“It is I that can help you Mr Bowen,” came the reply. “I have something that concerns the death of your father, something I can’t divulge over the phone, perhaps we could meet somewhere, The White Hart hotel near Jaywick is conveniently placed for me, perhaps you could meet me there this evening at say six o’clock?”

Tommy’s interest was aroused but he paused before he answered.

“Look... I don’t know you from Adam and I am not likely to meet a perfect stranger on my own. Naturally I am more than interested in what you may have to say, nevertheless I shall want to bring a friend with me.”

“I hadn’t thought of divulging what I have to anyone else, but I understand your caution, I guess it would be okay for you to bring a friend. So it is at six o’clock this evening I will expect to see you.”

“Okay,” said Thomas “we’ll meet in the bar of The White Hart hotel, if it is the one I know just beyond Jaywick.”

It all seemed too neat — that phone call arriving immediately after Tommy’s renewed speculations concerning his father’s death. Who owned the river? Who owned a death? A natural death was one that nobody owned. Or God did, perhaps. Yet, otherwise, it was the perpetrator of the death who owned it. Such a crazy panoply of thoughts beset Tommy’s brain as he drove his Fiesta at break-neck speed along the A120 towards Clacton. He had only vaguely heard of a White Hart hotel in that area — but he had been given directions away from the pier which should allow him to find it. Alongside Tommy was the so-called friend of whom he had spoken to Ratner — an upright silhouette etched against the passing moon as it rose. Indeed the moon rose, bigger than Tom had ever witnessed it before, above the flat landscape near Weeley. The friend was an old one, it seemed, but not close enough to be called anything but Mr Jones. A strange friendship, that.

Friends come in various shapes, sizes and relative intimacies. Tommy shrugged.

In the back seat was Sarah. She had insisted on coming on this jaunt, having maintained that a wife was a worthier companion on such escapades, rather than the likes of the inscrutable Mr Jones. She promised — as a bottom line — to stay in the car whilst the meeting was being held.

“I’ll bring you out a bag of crisps and an orangeade,” Tommy joked as he drove beside the black shimmers of a moonlit monster called the sea. He recalled a brand of potato crisps which he was regularly given as a child (to keep him quiet) — the one with a tiny blue bag of salt hidden at the bottom.

Sarah grunted: “I’d rather have a gin and tonic and a ham sandwich, Tommy.”

Mr Jones was heard to snigger; then they all remained silent as Tommy followed conscientiously with practised twirls of the steering-wheel — as the car almost autonomously journeyed beyond Jaywick towards the White Hart hotel and a stranger called Simon Ratner.

Thomas pulled on to the forecourt of the pub, his mind in a whirl, wondering what this Simon Ratner was going to disclose. Was the true facts surrounding the death of his father to come out of the meeting? Sarah was expectant too, knowing how much it meant to her husband. But surely, if there had been doubts about the verdict, the jury would not have returned a verdict of suicide.

Entering the lounge bar of the White Hart at that early hour of the evening the two men found the place empty and a push bell had to be depressed to call for service. In response to the bell’s summons, a man, who looked the part of a publican, materialised behind the bar.

Ordering drinks for himself and Mr Jones, Thomas questioned the barman.

“Do you know a man called Simon Ratner? We are supposed to meet him here around six o’clock.”

“He’ll be along soon,” said mine host, “of course he finds it difficult to get around in that wheel chair of his…”

“Wheel Chair?” questioned Thomas. “No wonder he couldn’t travel to meet me in Colchester.”

With that there was a kerfuffle at the lounge bar door and a man seated in an invalid carriage wheeled himself into the room.

Introducing himself, Simon Ratner was the first to speak, and, after handshakes all round, he addressed himself to Tommy, saying:

“Thank you for coming to meet me here. I hope to convince you there was more to your father’s death than meets the eye.”

“I knew my father well,” said Tommy, “I have firmly believed he would never take his own life.”

“Before my unfortunate accident,” began Simon, “I was employed as a messenger for a large firm of Solicitors. One day I was in a store-room when I overheard two men talking outside the door which stood ajar. Your father’s name was mentioned. I pricked up my ears for I knew your father was a client of the firm I worked for. It was just one of the voices I recognised as he lowered his voice to say... ‘Well that ends the matter, Sir George Bowen is no longer a threat, a good job done gets both of us of the hook.’”

“Did you say you recognised one of the voices?” cried Tommy.

“Yes,” came Simon’s reply, “but before I give his name, I want to know what’s in it for me?”

There was a silence, unremarked and unmeasured. Each participant in the meeting kept their thoughts to themselves. MORE TO YOUR FATHER’S DEATH THAN MEETS THE EYE. Who said that? Tommy was so used to calling his father ‘Dad’ that the name Sir George Bowen meant little… especially in the environs of coastal North Essex, where all was more down to earth than anything connected with breeding or nobility.

Mr Jones, the so-called friend sat stonily still, as if it were him controlling such silence. The puppet-master. He was, however, not allied with the Ratner creature who was, by the sound of it (before this very silence ensued) angling for a blackmail sting concerned with Tommy’s sadly departed Dad. Sarah was, no doubt, still in the car outside crunching studiously through the crisps. Ham sandwiches were, apparently, off.

“In it for you?” repeated Tommy, breaking the silence, as if it had never existed.

The non-descript pub in the dull lamp-lit atmosphere and its flat-capped locals turned their heads away, as if they’d been spotted ear-wigging.

“Yes,” snapped Ratner, “where money is in the offing, there are many fingers grabbing for the pie... and, not to put a finer point to it, I’m not too proud to sell the information I’ve got. I know your pockets are well-lined.”

Tommy thought back. He remembered the poverty with which his family had been beset, long before George Bowen was knighted. Knighted for what? Tommy had never been sure.

Gradually, he recalled his Mum and Dad — in the old days, fetching out their red tin, with compartments for paying the bills — loose change, painstakingly, lovingly, shared out for those who wanted their dues.

His memories were rudely interrupted by some knowing looks from Mr Jones. Tommy wondered how long he had known Mr Jones and how Mr Jones had been one of those acquaintances who turned into a friend for no obvious reason. Perhaps, Mr Jones was more (or less) than he seemed.

When his parents’ red tin disappeared, Tommy couldn’t recall. He’d never questioned it. A child had too many difficult preoccupations for there to be any spare time to dwell on the antics of one’s otherwise trusted parents. But there was a time, when Tommy had suddenly rea1ised that his Dad had abandoned the red tin and taken to poring over fussier containers, ones with embossed decorations depicting the signs of the Zodiac.

Mr Jones suddenly said: “Mr Ratner, let’s get to the bottom of it … you want my friend here” — he nodded towards Tommy — “to give you some, what shall we call it... reward, for information relating to his father’s death.”

Simon Ratner simply nodded, But then Sarah burst into the bar, face red, clutching her side in evident pain!

“Whatever’s the matter Sarah,” Tommy cried as he hurried to his wife’s side. All that had gone before forgotten in his concern. “Come, sit down whilst I get you a drink. A whisky and soda will be good for whatever ails you.”

“I’ve had this pain in my side all day,” she said. “I’ve not bothered you with it, because it hadn’t been too bad... till now.., it’s sharp and stabbing.”

She looked distressed. Tommy felt sorry he’d left her out in the car like abandoned luggage. He didn’t know what had come over her. Meanwhile Mr Jones was hovering around Sarah like a detached shadow… ministering to her needs. She quickly recovered.

‘Probably the beginnings of appendicitis or something...’ thought Tommy. Meanwhile, Simon Ratner in a seemingly flustered state, had abrubtly left for the bar. It was almost as if he had recognised Sarah. Or Sarah him. If so, neither gave an overt sign of this mutual recognition.

Mr Jones said something in even tones, with a sense that the most unlikely scenario was also the most logical:-“Sarah has been attacked by an invisible enemy. We shall have to be on our guard.”

The words made no real sense to Tommy. The Ratner individual at the bar had a few of his cronies gathered round him in a secret huddle. Tommy went over to button-hole him. He was not going to let the matter rest there. If he could prove his father had not committed suicide, then that would mean risking anything.

“You’ve not forgotten it was you that contacted me, Mr Ratner — if you have any information regarding my father I would be willing to pay you. If you can leave your friends for a while we could find a quiet spot to discuss what it is and the amount of cash you are asking for it.”

“You are not going to like what I have to tell you,” replied Simon Ratner, as they found a quiet corner in the saloon bar.

“I’ll be the best judge of that,” said Tommy. “Let’s get down to the facts.”

“I don’t know how deep your father was involved with the two men I overheard speaking about Sir George Bowen. All I do know is that they were involved in something illegal… to do with drugs or something. The voice I recognised was that of a partner in the Solicitor’s business I worked in. Still before I reveal his name I want to know how much you are prepared to pay me?”

“Would a thousand pounds loosen your tongue?” asked Tommy.

“That is a nice round figure. I think the information is worth more, but I will accept your offer … I would like to see the colour of your money before I tell you what I know.”

“We will have to meet again… tomorrow perhaps. You will appreciate I don’t carry that amount of ready money... I could pay you by cheque... but I suppose you will accept only cash?”

“You supposed right,” replied Simon. “We”ll meet here, same time, same place”

How the three of them (Tommy, Mr Jones and Sarah) got home amid a freak lightning storm — peculiarly without thunder but with plentifuls of lashing hailstone — it was hard to remember. Mr Jones, apparently, had much to say for himself, some of which Tommy did remember as half whispers into his ear from the general direction of the front passenger berth. Sarah was uncharacteristically non-forthcoming from her backseat position; Mr Jones kept saying something like “Your father was only knighted, you know, Tommy - because of the money he had got from the dark world of drug-runners and midnighters.”

Tommy took ‘midnighters’ to mean a breed of latter-day smugglers (liberally tattooed and pierced) that abounded on this North East Essex coast… with some of whom his father must have become entrammelled. But the journey home was now a bit of a dream, as he drove, during the following daylight, towards his bank in Clacton to fetch the money. More money than anything the red tin had seen in all its long life. Tommy laughed. But the dream was soon to become a nightmare,

* * *

Tommy went alone that night to the White Hart pub. Mr Jones and Sarah had been more trouble than they were worth. A pain in the neck, both of them, not to put too fine a point on it.

The place seemed further than he remembered — and at a different angle of attack, taking him on non-descript roads, this time beyond Jaywick that were further than it was healthy to go in these forbidding shanty lands.

The pub, though, was familiar, if not exactly a replica of the one in his memory. It was still full of the bar-leaners, as if they had never left in the meantime. As he patted the wad in his back pocket, Tommy’s eyes began their search for the Ratner man amid the suddenly uplifted faces that looked startled, or, in some lights, angry, by his entry.

Simon Ratner was conspicuous by his absence. It had to be supposed he liked to make an entrance, arriving just that bit later than the time arranged for their meeting.

The door to the bar opened and Tommy was surprised to see Ratner, not in a wheel chair, but on a pair of crutches. Their eyes met and Ratner skilfully crossed the room as a path opened up through the rest of the occupants of the bar-room.

After acknowledging each other they retired to a quiet corner in the adjoining saloon bar which was practically empty. Tommy, without preamble, went straight into the business of the information he had come to pay for.

“I have the thousand pounds you asked for he said, as he reached to his back pocket to flash the wad of notes in Ratner’s face. Showing him the first note’s number he flicked through the fifty £20 notes that were all in the mint condition of unused crisp notes, until he revealed the number of the last note.

Placing the wad of notes on the table Tommy kept his hand on them as he said: “That’s the thousand pounds, now is the time for you to name the man who seemed pleased at the news of my father’s reported suicide, but who may have had something to do with the death.”

Ratner touched the wad of notes before answering.

“The man was Robert Benson, and it is not what he said, it was the way that he said it, particularly when I heard him say ‘it was a good job done’. He is a partner of the firm of solictors I worked for before I had my accident that forces me to use a wheel chair or crutches. I always thought that Benson was a bit bent, I wouldn’t be surprised if you discover that he was connected in some way with your father’s death.”

Robert Benson? The name meant nothing to Tommy. He looked around at the others in the bar; then heard, from behind him, the crutches clip-clop like a lame horse towards the Gents. There were figures — amongst the motley throng of topers — reminiscent of Mr Jones and, incredibly, Sarah his wife. Their faces turned away as soon as he looked at them. If it were them, how had they got here… and why? Perhaps the name Robert Benson would strike a chord with them. The thought did not seem absurd.

He went over to ask them — his legs moving without volition — but the dissembling crowd shuffled to cover the retreat of those with whom Tommy so desperately needed to confer. It was like a nightmare teetering on the brink of waking, but never quite doing so.

Tommy still found himself still clasping the wad of notes. Like the red tin, they were more a symbol of temptation, a token, in the end, of honesty and truth. He could have left them at the car and nobody would take them. He simply knew this.

Suicide was like falsely claiming the ownership of death itself. Tommy’s father was indeed an honorary knight, if nothing else. All good men were thus.

Tommy clasped his side. The pain, if it were not for the numbing of the nightmare, would have been intolerable. But, at least, he could die in peace — knowing that everything was in the right compartment of life’s red tin. He had only read his Zodiac today that life was on the brink of something big.

Like waking from superstition into the full-blown fruition of faith. Robert Benson — whoever he was — could go hang. And probably would — hung by his own noose for the ill he’d done Tommy’s father. Life was too cheap, these days. Not like in the past, when every moment was cherished and honoured with significance.

Eventually, Sarah emerged from the crowd and kissed his cheek. She helped him to the car, He was either dead or in Heaven, it didn’t matter which

* * *

Mr Jones (if that was his name) wandered through the hurly burly holiday crowd of Clacton town centre. He wondered why so many people were so scantily clad. He himself was shivering. He was due to meet a Mr Benson(another cipher of the drug trade). Smuggling still went on in the best of communities. Even the smuggling of souls.

And strangers who pass in the night.


Posted by wordonymous at 5:47 AM EDT
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