The Blood that Jack Spilt —by Stephanie Ellis

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This is the blood that Jack spilt.

 

This is the whore

That gave the blood that Jack spilt.

 

This is the knife

That killed the whore

That gave the blood that Jack spilt.

 

This is the hand

That held the knife

That killed the whore

That gave the blood that Jack spilt.

 

This is the dark

That hid the hand

That held the knife

That killed the whore

That gave the blood that Jack spilt.

 

This is the night watch with a lamp

That lit the dark

That hid the hand

That held the knife

That killed the whore

That gave the blood that Jack spilt.

 

This is the body, desecrated, forlorn

Found by the night watch with a lamp

That lit the dark

That hid the hand

That held the knife

That killed the whore

That gave the blood that Jack spilt.

 

These are the organs, ripped and torn

From the body, desecrated, forlorn

Found by the night watch with a lamp

That lit the dark

That hid the hand

That held the knife

That killed the whore

That gave the blood that Jack spilt.

 

This is Whitechapel, fogbound and poor

That shrouded the organs, ripped and torn

From the body, desecrated, forlorn

Found by the night watch with a lamp

That lit the dark

That hid the hand

That held the knife

That killed the whore

That gave the blood that Jack spilt.

 

Mary Ann Nichols was the name that was borne

By the body in Whitechapel, fogbound and poor

That shrouded the organs, ripped and torn

From the body, desecrated, forlorn

Found by the night watch with a lamp

That lit the dark

That hid the hand

That held the knife

That killed the whore

That gave the blood that Jack spilt.

 

There would be more, did Saucy Jack warn

After Mary Ann Nichols, whose name was borne

By the body in Whitechapel, fogbound and poor

That shrouded the organs, ripped and torn

From the body, desecrated, forlorn

Found by the night watch with a lamp

That lit the dark

That hid the hand

That held the knife

That killed the whore

That gave the blood that Jack spilt.

 

From Dark is my Playground —by Stephanie Ellis. Purchase it here:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dark-Playground-collection-twisted-rhymes/dp/1718128347/ref=sr_1_1?crid=OI0L4S3KIN3R&keywords=dark+is+my+playground+stephanie+ellis&qid=1571749330&sprefix=dark+is+my+playground%2Caps%2C142&sr=8-1

Beware of the Bull -by CM Franklyn

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guernica-e1570031766276

Guernica – Pablo Picasso

This whole place is white. Eggshell white. There’s not much else to be said about it. Not much else, because it’s just a room —and there is hardly anything in it. Not yet. Far better to start with the absentees in any case; in rooms, life, and everything else, that which is missing can often provide the greater presence.

First, there are no windows here, so we are not privy to the weather conditions. And as there are no windows, there are no blinds, and consequently no slashes of sunlight cast upon the floor. There are four walls, one ceiling, wooden boards underfoot, and a table. The walls keep the ceiling up, and the ceiling keeps the walls down. The floor is there for walking and for the table to rest upon. The table is a device for people to sit around, for this is what shall happen in a short while. And as they come, so shall they bring chairs, for they know their own comfort. And comfort is enough —for now.

Bringing her life along, yet making sure to leave it behind, Sam enters through a doorless space. Hi, Carl, she says, once he has squeezed in after her. Hi, Sam. This is not the most inventive of introductions, and these are not the most engaging of people, it has to be said. But this is how it goes in a place like this. This is how it always goes. And it’s enough.

Dave, next. Like Carl and Sam, he has a monosyllabic name for simplicity. Some of these people, as we shall discover, have monosyllabic brains, too. Hi, Carl. Hi, Dave. Hi, Carl. Hi, Sam.

One-by-one, the seat-bringers surround the table until every space is filled in this, the eggshell room in which they will chat. They all have names, and we will come to learn them; whether these people will learn anything about themselves is largely dependent upon confidence, contemplation, and foible.

Bill is entrant number seven. He gets right up in Sam’s face straight away and yells, LIKE ME! But Sam doesn’t want to like him yet, having only just met the guy.

Even after he shows her his private collection, she finds him hard to like. Especially after he shows her his private collection. Managing a half-polite semi-smile, she ferrets herself away into a corner of photographs: images of cats, food, guns —and guns’ results. The latter doesn’t matter; that sort of stuff only registers with people who care. Ferreting away doesn’t seem to matter, either. Not to Bill. What is he supposed to think? The girl is clearly playing hard-to-rape. Pfft —she obviously wants it.

Girls, man. They want it

ALL.

THE.

TIME.

All of them. Bill knows this, so he backs Sam into a corner and up against a version of herself. She’s fuckable, he thinks. You’re gorgeous, he says, even though he doesn’t know her from Eve. This is not to be considered creepy in the slightest; women are well-accustomed to such compliments, and as such, should appreciate every last one. Bear them all with fortitude and a little bit of gratitude, they should, for they might never know another. In any case, there are far worse things to be worrying about than the odd catcall or thirty. Girls should get a grip and worry about serious matters such as the environment or climate change or —wait: strike that. Reverse it. Girls should never worry their pretty little heads about serious matters such as the environment or climate change because those things are not even real issues anyway, and even if they were, they should certainly not be addressed by spoilt brats who should be at school where they can look forward to a bright and wonderful future —it’s so nice to see!

In the next breath, and after a good ol’ cup of covfefe, he mentions his height —it’s a whopper of a number. Huge. In fact, this number of ultimate and almighty bigness means PRAISE MY ENORMOUS PENIS but she (the silly girl) thinks he’s telling her how tall he is. Ha!

Unsure of her options now, being that she has always been taught to welcome attention from men no matter how vulgar they are because it would be rude not to and people would consider her unworthy of a second glance and she must always explain herself and her behaviour and her face and justify her choice to wear make-up on it because everyone knows she looks better without it and she must regularly apologise for her weight and shape and the clothes she adorns it with and she must respond with kindness and a wink to every comment from Every Man Ever otherwise how else will she find a husband and how else will she ever become a mother or feel any sense of self-worth whatsoever and who would even look at her twice let alone want to mate because look how ugly and inappropriately burdensome she is, she hands him her coerced thumb. It is up, but her eyes are down.

Happy with that for now —but only for now— the man sits his arse down with the girl’s digit held aloft for all to see. He didn’t have this much luck with the previous one, who is not in this room. She was a proper pig. A pig who had refused to praise his celestial diamond-cut throne-dwelling penis of golden gloriousness so he’d made sure to tell her how fat and ugly and worthless she was and said he hadn’t meant it when he’d called her gorgeous, the fatuglyworthlesspig. He’d made sure to drive the point home with sharpened words. He’d made sure the pig knew he considered her A Fat. He’d made sure the pig knew he considered her An Ugly. That was all she was, and that was enough.

Now, the group sit ‘round the table not quite knowing what to say, so, being default-weather-talkers, they discuss the mundane. Anyone notice the rain last night? It was wet. They offer equally dull gusts by way of response, including but not limited to the wind (it blows, man) and the ambient humidity which is frizzing all the female hair (a look which is downright unattractive and puts a man right off no matter how otherwise-fuckable the bearer) before they move on to the next topic: films.

John’s favourite is ___________, and the other men agree. This makes them look cool. It makes them look clever. It makes them look educated. Ann, though (oh, Ann, when will you learn?) says ________ is the best movie ever made. She enjoys it and it brings her happiness. But this makes her look stupid. The others laugh and mock, and mock and laugh. She takes off her face and hands it around for the others to witness the parallel blue streams of her twilight tears.

Seven eighths of the room’s inhabitants enjoy a long-running TV show (no, not that one). The odd man out does not. But, as his opinion is crucial and must be shared with the others, he takes a big brown ice-cream swirl of a dump on their enthusiasm. That’s enough, that’s enough.

Next, their favourite author. Dave really enjoys _________, of whom nobody in this room has ever heard, but who is somebody everybody pretends to know. Lucy, though, has a bit of a thing for ________, and happens to have upon her person, at this table, in this room, a copy of ­­­­the latest novel. She approaches her neighbours in turn and fans the pages in their faces. It smells nice (it’s a book —of course it does). But ________ is considered a joke even though she consistently churns out best-sellers, making money while she sleeps the most enviable slumbers that reek of happy Saturdays and extended middle fingers.

Four people fall to the floor and roll about on it, laughing. The reader is as stupid as the author and they know it, so they want her to know it, too. As she is laughed out of the room, the remainers agree on one thing: no pineapple on pizza. Next, a related topic comes up. Neither John nor Ann would be found eating anything that ever had a face, or that which came from anything that came from anyone who ever had a mother. This is a red flag to the proverbial because plants feel pain, too. But it’s the one about the animals being grateful (as in they should be) that gets on Ann’s tits. This weighs heavily on her everything, and she voices her concerns —silly girl.

Dave can’t be doing with this nonsense. Stupid girl, having an opinion; this place has no time for outsiders. With one click of his fingers, he banishes Ann from the room.

The six insiders are still on the subject, and John holds up a photograph of a piglet. It’s tiny and wearing a onesie. Isn’t it cute, he says, and it is not a question. Bacon, someone else says, which is not only hilarious but entirely original because nobody has ever before had the sheer genius to come up with such a thing. What a wag!

People are stupid. So stupid, in fact, they can no longer sit down, as they no longer have arses, having laughed them off at the side-splitting comment about thinly sliced pigmeat. But John is his own enemy —he goes on to hold up a dripping red foetus even though nobody had asked to see it. And now, there are five.

Sam, who is clearly gagging for it by now, frames her face and shows off her freckles. This time, it’s Carl who’s taken by her fuckability. She must only be doing it for attention, he thinks (and says, to the others). He’s right, they think. You’re right, they say. But there is a thing, and the thing is this: she knows she’s attractive. This is strike one. A real woman should never be aware of her own beauty unless she is describing for men her shaven netherparts or the effect of shower water on her breasts; drips and beads of H2-Oh, I’m so horny. Otherwise, she should consider herself quite the moose.

Strike two: she’s wearing a cosmetic mask. She’d look much better without it, and the chorus tells her so via a bollockful of ugly voices. Strike three: she displays herself in another frame now, but this time her tattoos are on display. Females should not be permitted to darken their bodies with ink, for the sake of utter fuck. Have they learned nothing?

It’s obvious what’s going to happen, too —she’ll be in town, or at the mall, peacocking all around (well, pea-henning, to be more accurate), ugly ink on display for all to see, and she’ll be the one to complain when people prod her! You can’t go around like that and not expect to be touched. You just can’t. Pfft —girls should be happy in their natural skin, and that should be enough.

And sure, she could come up with excuses. Shoddy reasons for wanting to look like an ol’ slapper. But it doesn’t matter that she feels good about herself, finally. It doesn’t matter that she’s escaped years of abuse, finally. And it certainly doesn’t matter that she’s found confidence and embraced self-expression and is now experiencing if not self-love then self not-hate, finally.

But who cares, because tits. Who cares, because lingerie. There are no question marks here because there are no questions, only judgement and condemnation. She is clearly asking for it, having brought it on herself via wardrobe and demeanour, so one of the men gives it to her. It doesn’t matter which one. One is enough.

And now, there are four. The man stays, because he was only doing as nature intended. And, as we all know, boys will be boys will be boys will be boys will BE BOYS BE BOYS BE BOYS BOYS BOYS especially when females encourage and insist upon causing the eruption of their volcanic ballbags. If only the weaker, infinitely useless sex would realise they are there solely for the pleasure of the penis, the world would be a much calmer place. Silly girls. Silly, silly girls. Pfft.

It’s just Carl, Bill, Dave, and the one-girl-left, now. I’ve forgotten her name, because she’s unimportant. She’s just a girl. A girl in a roomful of men. A ballsack of masculinity. A murder of testosterone. A girl with skin unlike their own, and with a sexuality and gender far removed from theirs.

They make a bet to turn her, although they regret not having asked her to do a duet before Sam’s departure. She’s sure to have gone for it, too, lesbianism not even being a real thing in any case. It’s all just play-acting. They love putting on a show for men, they do.

In a way, they kind of pity her. It’s a threefer: she’s worth less than them because she’s a girl. She’s worth nothing to them because she doesn’t like cock. She’s worth less than nothing to them because she has dark chocolate skin. Or is it mocha? Gravy? Caramel, maybe. They aren’t quite sure which foodstuff or drinkthing to use to describe her, so they settle on ______. It’s a word they haven’t been able to say until now, and they sure are pissed about it. Why should _______ be the only ones who can say ______? It’s not fair. It’s just not fair.

It’s fine, though, there’s nothing to see here. No racism here. There can’t be; they each knew somebody who used to work for someone who had a cousin somewhere whose best friend’s paperboy’s uncle’s teacher’s sister’s dog walker’s hair stylist’s boyfriend was a ______. Oh —and they liked that actor in that film. The one who’s always mistaken for the other one because they all look the same. And there’s enough black performers in any case. And as for them getting their own superhero movie? Pfft —one was enough.

Now, they touch her hair. In turn, each man grasps a strand and pulls it to fuckdom come to see how long it really is. Handsy people have hands and they have the right to use them, gosh darn it. Wow! How does it coil up so tight? It must be difficult to get a comb through. I bet it was a bastard when head lice were doing the rounds. Why do you all smell of coconut oil? Give us a song, I bet you have a great voice. Next, they ask where she’s from, and because she gives a stupid answer like Liverpool or Cape Elizabeth or Manchester or Nova Scotia, and because she is clearly stupid, they have to explain no, originally. And why do you wear sheets on your head? Why do you have an Anglicised name? You’re so exotic. I’ve always wanted to try it with a ______.

As they try to cure her with their insatiable, irresistible handsomeness, they flag up a concerning discovery between her legs. This makes her a fourfer, now. With her quartet of unworthiness, she’s erased from the room. She’s not even worth turning; she’s not even a she, for fuck’s sake. Since when did pink, white, and blue make the colour of a woman?

With her exit comes her replacement. Jane comes in on wheels and with electronically enhanced ears. How do you people manage to have sex? Does everything work? Is it all in proportion? What’s wrong with you? These questions are not spoken but yelled, for she is OBVIOUSLY A BIT DENSE. Her husband must have married her for the cash because they clearly rake it in with disability benefits. Scroungers, the pair of ‘em. Either that, or it’s a case of pity; he cannot love her. Not in the proper way —the only way: between one man and one woman. I mean —look at her. She can’t use her legs. Scrawny little atrophied things, they are. That’s hardly a turn-on in bed, is it? What is even the point of her existence? What is the point of her?

She retreats; she must be too weak to stay.

Another girl takes her place. A knocked-up, beaten-down girl with only antacid for company and seventeen weeks to go. She should have held her legs together, they say. She’s on her third husband and fifth tit-sucking parasite so they’ll be burying her in a Y-shaped coffin they say they say they say they say THEY SAY THEY SAY THEY SAY they tell her what a terrible role model she is —or what a good one she isn’t.

Funny thing is, though, this is the same thing they tell the ones who do keep their legs closed. The same thing they say to Women of Choice. The same thing they tell women, period. Oh, periods —yet another subject on which they have words. And once those words are spoken, being that the female form belongs to them for purposes sexual and legislative, they mutilate their argument via a certain type of explanation reserved only for their gender (someone should totally come up with a catchy term for that).

But yes, girls need everything spelled out and underlined and yelled at them, such is their stupidity. Men, though, men are a blessing to the thickest, most stupid of doom-brained females. It is those men —these men, right here—we should all appreciate. Poor souls, experiencing sexism —nay, sheer hatred all the time. Fucking feminists. I mean —did you catch that Scouse Bint the other day, shaming some guy just because he sent her an innocent message? Those things are private, for Satan’s sake. Did he give his consent for her to take that screenshot and post it for the world to see? Did he bollocks. A simple, innocent request from a complete stranger offering her a role in his movie along with a gaggle of other redheads —she should be flattered.

Poor men. Poor, poor men.

As they contemplate everything they’ve just witnessed, everything they’ve just heard, every ugly girl and every memory of every fat girl they ever had to endure and every lezzer they had to try to cure and every disabled girl they wouldn’t fuck even though they should be grateful because who else would have them and all those not-even-female-girls who dare to call themselves women even though they have a dick and how dare they because there are only two genders which is something everybody knows because nature and science and GOD, they cry as one, holding and hugging and wiping tears away from a breakage of broken faces. But it doesn’t last; they quickly collect themselves and man up. There’ll be none of that, none of that. There are better, worthier girls out there. Girls who will worship at the Altar of the Enormous and Almighty Penis without question.

One of them says let’s have a fight and is immediately met with a flying fist. Much better –a violent bandage to bridge a sappy wound that’s been bleeding estrogen. The trio get into a scuffle, enjoying every punch, hook, and scratch –no, not scratch, too feminine. Strike that. Every Thump!

They fight, and they fight. And then they fight some more. But besides their own collective, there is nobody left to pass thumbs and hearts around, so they can neither seek nor receive the oxygen of validation.

It’s no surprise they’re pissed. Pfft —fucking men-haters, with their refusal to cook a decent meal for their husbands or sweep up after their boyfriends. Bloody lesbians with their anti-men stance. Bloody man-hatin’ feminist lezzers, the lot of ‘em. How do they ever get wet enough for penetration? They’re such a passion-killer, those dykes, they put the dry into misandry. A good helping of cock would cure them. One cock would be enough.

Hearing the red flag of commotion, the proverbial animal bounds into the room. Like a wrecking ball of cartoon meat, he bowls over to the three men and stops still before making any sort of contact. He looks not so much wrong, as unright. It’s as if he’s been written by Picasso or painted by Burroughs.

So fragile are they that a single breath from his ringed nose is enough to floor the brittle trio, who shred into shards and fall down, piece-by-piece. Down to a floor upon which they can no longer roll, laughing. Down to a floor upon which they sit, now, shattered smatterings of bone china so white and so fragile that even a single pfft from a whispering nostril was enough.

Job done, but retaining unspent aggression, the bull begins to back away into the nowhere and the everything outside the room. There, where it is not so contained and not so white, we get a closer look at the anime meat of his fibre. He’s made of a non-exhaustive list of real men, birthed by and bathed in estrogen. Fighters. Champions. Feminists. Gay men. Men assigned female at birth. Black men, brown. Tall men, short. Round and thin and young and old and masculine men and feminine men and …women, holding up the rear. Women, leading from behind. Gretas and Lindas and Catherines and Jessicas and Allegras and Erikas and Sheilas and Angelas and Lisas and Lizas and Emmas and Pixies. Nicola, Nikki, Peggy and Pippa, Renee, Laura, Brooklynne, Betty, Toni, Larissa, Sloane, Zoe, and Cate are here. Priya is Jennifer is Shana is Sheri is Georgina is Sandra is Tanya is Thana is Sarah is Marie is Roberta. They —we— are all made from the same fabric. We are enough.

The bull needs to break something down, and fast, so he selects the fourth wall. The fourth very white, very fragile wall. From there, a tiny voice from a tiny reader: not all men.

Del Toro sees the red flag again. We bound over. There are smashes, shattering, shards. Unfixable, unputbacktogetherable. No words have they; no power, now. We brush the shreds into the eggshell arena where we lean over their fibre and offer a selection of thoughts and prayers.

Now, the sediment of misplaced sentiment rests where once sat a girl —in a room; a white, fragile room. There’s not much else to be said about it. Not much else, because it’s just a room —and there is hardly anything in it. Not yet. Far better to start with the absentees in any case; in rooms, life, and everything else, that which is missing can often provide the greater presence.

The Perfect Short Story

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Books. I love ’em. But only the good ones. Only the unputdownables, whose brilliance has you gasping/ salivating/ doing a bit of a sex wee. 

But there’s a thing, and the thing is this: I don’t have time to read for pleasure any more. What with reasons and stuff and things, the only sort of bookage my eyes get to see is that-which-I-am-being-paid-to-edit. 

And then last week happened. I took a basketball to the chops, stabbed myself in the foot with a fork, and the laptop threw a six. What’s a gal to do when she can neither walk nor work? 

And so, I started a sentence with ‘and so.’ Then I regrouped and decided to delve into the pocket universe of Steve Shaw’s Black Shuck Books; specifically, the Shadows collection. T’is a darling l’il assortment of tasters —micro-gatherings that showcase individual authors. Or, y’know —single-author collections, as they’re more commonly known. 

Gorgeously designed by Steve himself, and complimenting one another like blackcurrant ‘n’ liquorice and pineapple on pizza (what?), these wee bookies are a delight to behold.  And once beheld, they shall be reviewed. And the reviewer should read a book in its entirety, right? Because unputdownable, remember? 

Nope. Nuh-huh. I just read a story so fucking good I just had to put the book down. I had to leave it alone while I did a rather ungainly thigh-wobble of a jig, and immediately messaged seventeen-thousand-and-thirteen friends to tell them about it (the story, not the wobble). 

This was a first for me —virtually nothing impresses me these days— but Gary McMahon just.fucking.floored me. The fucker. 

I couldn’t think straight. I could barely breathe. And no —I’m not exaggerating. I was bouncing off the walls and squeeing ’round the house. I just wanted to savour the taste of those words —that idea— a little longer, so I didn’t —couldn’t—move on. What I’d just witnessed was, well, perfection.  

I’m talking about *Text Found on a Defunct Webpage; which opens Gary’s collection, At Home in the Shadows

Jesus. Hermione. Christ. How on Kepler-452b has this work of art passed me by for eleven frickin’ years? And how the HELL am I supposed to do it justice without spoilers? I dunno, like. But I’ll try. 

Originally published online as ‘Under Offer’ (The Hub, 2008), this story is smarter than the average bear. It is, as they say in those parts where they use terms like ‘a fucking diamond,’ a fucking diamond.  

Not every story has to be story-y. Not every beginning has to begin with a start. IT’S OKAY TO BE DIFFERENT, FOLKS! I’m not talking about clever choices of tense here, or ‘surprise’ dog-POV, or anything of the sort. I’m talking unique. Despite its originality, the piece is deceptively simple. And yet, this dude is writing so far outside the box that he isn’t even in the vicinity of the forest where the trees are felled to make the cardboard.  

I’m not gonna do that fucking annoying comparison thing. McMahon isn’t the next so-and-so, and neither is his work reminiscent of such-and-such in their finest hour. But what I will tell you is this: it’s impressionism at its best. Monet didn’t paint every leaf, right? He painted GREEN; your brain fills in the rest. 

From conception to execution, Text Found is one of those sinister AF pieces that stays with you for yonks afterwards. Why? Because omission, my friends. Because ambiguity. The power of suggestion —literally (and I mean ‘literally’ literally, not figuratively, before you say it, pedants). Take an idea, suggest the events, hint at the characters, and tease the reader. Be subtle; leave ’em wanting more —brevity is the order of the day.  Be sneaky; be wickedly funny. And be out-and-out creepy. Be everything on the list of must-haves and definitely-dos, and do none of the don’ts. Be. Just be. 

And Gary McMahon has beed, indeed. And that ending —damn.  

 

The Obligatory Link (i.e. the BUY EEEEET) Section: 

 

Black Shuck Shadows on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/bookseries/B07NRKT4M5/ref=dp_st_1913038114

Gary’s Amazon page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Gary-McMahon/e/B004B6NN3A?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1565956801&sr=1-1

And, for Steve Shaw’s freelance design: http://www.white-space.uk

Black Shuck Books: https://blackshuckbooks.co.uk/shadows

 

 

 

 

Think me Under the Table

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This daycare daymare is the horror. The madness of sadness and the onset of fetid, fettered recollections where your snark and sarcasm eventually battle to the death, fighting with, for, and against your thoughts.
The thoughts in the brain that sits in your head; the head that rests on your pillow; the pillow that adorns your bed; the bed that’s in your room —the room where he used to be.
And he —what of him? Is he now? Shall he be? All you know is that once, he was. Unsure of what he appeared to be, and as uncertain now as he had been back in That Place.
There, transmogrification took time and it took forever, where a week was a month and a month was a year —and a year was a nanosecond for the taking. His face, his eyes —they haunted and they haunt. Where were they then? The same place as now? The fuckspace of demonic intervention that your memory inhabits?
You saw them.
Those eyes.
That’s the only matter of importance: that you saw them.
It was those eyes that had drawn you in and ushered you out of yourself, all things inherent in a persistent world of unfinished symphonic celibacy and helplessness, where you were expected to lead.
To teach.
To help.
But you hindered, despite all your best efforts to save him from himself and from the particular You who was a petty rescuer, ill-equipped and foreboding.
Love, then. Or that which seemed to masquerade as such. The veils that spilled, the veils that dripped down in droplets from the planetary persuasions of his sentiment; chairs uncomfortable, recliners upright —a bitter suite for the tetchy, harmonious soul.
Temporary temperaments would reveal themselves inside a package of narcotic hotness, amidst a rushing crowd of skewed, queuing people all waiting for the same incoming outcome. The post orifice of Valhalla’s aunt would have it that lines of scores of dozens of white embittered souls collected that day at six, all for enveloped missives, to where, to whom, and how?
Insensibility, insensitive illogic where nothing is anything and everything is less than zero. Unscrupulous festivity and blame for a life of lovelessness across the other side of an expanse not unlike the one that surrounds the globe and its moons, stars that are long since dead; dead seas continuing to undulate and outlive you via the emission of light that is no longer being emitted at source, but which is nonetheless travelling in the faculty of space. He’s there, exactly where he is/was/will be— but no longer does he wait for you. And as he no longer waits, so did he never, and neither did he ever. As he no longer loves you, not once did he so.
Think on this: recalling him erases you, yet erasing your thoughts puts him back at the front of your mind and its demons of forever, a haunted, tainted taunt to paint the blood of his kind inside rudimentary cascades wherein lies the rub.
To sleep, perchance to undream him.
To never dream again.
To awaken yourself from this madness, this event of erupted terror.
Wake up.
And then, may you sleep.

SECOND DO NO HARM

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Your stories need you

As is the case every single day that ends in y, you pick up a book. And whether it’s just-pressed fresh, or hills-old and tattered, it looks and smells delicious, each individual page tempting your nose towards a quick sniffywhiff, and collectively, begging you to fan them towards your face just so you can snort their entire essence right up the ol’ snout in one go. Shaven, pulped wood feels more natural to you than the trees whence it came; books just make you happy, gosh darn it. Good ones, happier still.

Some books are bookier than others, though; they were not all published equal. The one in your hand now, for example, has certain majestic qualities from its smart artwork to a title embossed in tall metallic lettering.  And until you unshelved it, it had just been sitting there lording it over all the other little books, knowing it looked good with its subtle swank and promises of unputdownability.

But there’s a thing, and the thing is this: this ‘ere volume is written in the dreaded second person, the thing they tell you never to do. The technique they insist you should never, ever, employ. The perspective of, they suggest, sad madmen, hairy-knuckled bookdraggers and those with more than a smattering of ruthless conceit. And because they say those things all the time, on a loop, they must be right, right?

Balls. What utter twaddle. What absolute cobblers, you say. You’ll be the judge of what makes a book a good ‘un; regardless of the author’s choice of perspective, yours is the one that counts.

Just what, then, is it about a book that begs you to devour it? Perhaps it’s something as simple as it having been written by your favourite author, or having been blurbed to Bookdom Come by those whose opinion is Gospel to you. It could be that it’s the right price, in your genre of choice, or it might just have an incredible cover by an even incredibler artist whose creativity acts like a beckoning finger to your salivating, tingling artishness and readerhood. And maybe, just maybe, you’ve read a review that’s made you hop on down to Waterstone’s. Or, y’know —to the nearest laptop, i-thing, or smarter-than-you ‘phone.

George Orwell asks a similar question, which you will already know if you have ingested The Decline of The English Murder and Other Essays[1] (if you haven’t, you really need to get on that). In the essay-wot-bears-the-same-title-as-that-of-the-collection (this description being deliberately cack-handed because of your utter detestation of the uber-wanky term titular), he takes you straight into a warm, cosy setting; you snuggle up, and settle down:

“It is Sunday afternoon, preferably before the war. The wife is already asleep in the armchair, and the children have been sent out for a nice long walk. You put your feet up on the sofa, settle your spectacles on your nose, and open the News of the World. Roast beef and Yorkshire, or roast pork and apple sauce, followed up by suet pudding and driven home, as it were, by a cup of mahogany-brown tea, have put you in just the right mood … In these blissful circumstances, what is it that you want to read about?”

You can see how, straight away, he’s made you at home, having even given you a choice of fodder —what a considerate host! Of course, the next choices on offer are of the infinitely more sinister variety; after answering his own question and telling you what you want to read about, which is,

“Naturally … a murder. But what kind of murder?”

You know these are going to be relatively nice murders, though. The good old-fashioned sort. Accordingly, you don’t fret too much at this stage —ol’ Orwell’s got your back (at this juncture, your brain takes a little deviation as you wait for some smart arse to chime in on the comments section with George’s real name as if it’s the Ark of the Covenant, because there’s always that one guy) …

aaaand you’re back. Back to the beginning. Just read that first line again —go on.

“… preferably before the war.”

Damn.

Considering this essay was first published in 1946, our George speaks of a war through which you know he’s lived. Of course, you know that anyway, because you aren’t too bad at the ol’ history —and even if you were, you could do the maths and work it out. (You also know that maths has an s on the end, because you’re British, what.) And, bless his stiff-upperness, Orwell wants you all cosy and comfy, not smack-bang in the middle of an air raid.

You realise soon enough that he doesn’t stay in second person, of course; you adore George for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that he knows how to mix it up. As he jumps around from second to first, swapping tenses and playing wordball (whatever that is) with the reader, so you notice that he gets away with it —because he can. And so, using Orwell as your example, you feel empowered to do away with all the rules yourself, as long as you’re familiar with ‘em first. You might even say yes-yes to the big no-no of opening a sentence with And so.

***

It’s not just reserved for non-fiction, either, this stuff. Some of your favourite —and more contemporary— authors have been known to employ a crafty little Second Hand technique or two. Remember the first time you sat down with a brew and a copy of Ramsey Campbell’s Heading Home[2]? Remember when you noticed the horror, and how menacing it was? Remember how ghastly? How immediate:

“You know he’s a butcher, because once he helped one of the servants carry the meat from the village. In any case, you could have told his profession from what he has done to you.”

(You can work out how wholly unthreatening and rather dull the events would’ve been, had they been told in a first person alternative, “I know he is a butcher … in any case, I could have told his profession from what he has done to me.” It’s just not a mustard-cutter, is it?)

Campbell continues to direct the movie that’s playing in your mind now, with a reminder that this IS YOU, so you’d better be paying attention, now:

“You hear your wife’s terrified voice, entreating him to return to her. There’s a long pondering silence. Then he hurries back upstairs.”

You’re still not sure if it works? How about third, then? “He hears his wife’s terrified voice, entreating him to return to her…” Nah. Too far removed from the horrific happenings for your liking, isn’t it? Come on, admit it. You WANT to be in on it. You want to put yourself smack bang in the middle of the protAgony —and you have to admit, second person is the smartest —and nastiest— way to do it. You know this. You know this because Campbell knows this. And as soon as you reach the end, like all good stories would have you do, you go straight back to the beginning. Yep —that which you know now has been pretty much spelled out to you from the start in a way you didn’t know you knew, y’know?

***

Here’s another: remember when you discovered Ray Bradbury’s The First Night of Lent, and noticed that he does the swapping-of-perspectives thing LIKE A BOSS?

“So you want to know all the whys and wherefores of the Irish? What shapes them to their Dooms and runs them on their way? you ask. Well, listen, then.”

This isn’t so much a case of breaking the fourth wall, but starting with its bricks in a pile on the floor and assembling them into a partition with the mortar of the second paragraph. You then quickly find that Bradbury has flicked over to first person. And now that he’s fluck, he can tell you about Nick, the “most careful driver in all God’s world, including any sane, small, quiet, butter-and-milk producing country you name.” Did he just slip back into second again there? Why, yes. Yes he did.

Nick is sweet and calm, and Bradbury wants you to understand that. After giving you some more of his first-person thoughts, he once again provides you with a bunch of instructions —pay attention, now:

“Listen to his mist-breathing voice as he charms the road, his foot a tenderly benevolent pat on the whispering accelerator… Look, compare. And bind such a man to you with summer grasses, gift him with silver, shake his hand warmly at each journey’s end.”

There’s a reason for this, of course. You’ll find out when you get to the next bit. Then get thee hence to the end of the story and you’ll see the beautiful, inharmonious harmony; the point of it all, where twains shall meet, and where, somehow, your idea of a decent story has been toyed with, juggled about a bit, put through a blender … and been reassembled into perfection, just like Bradbury’s wall.

This technique can —if executed correctly— get you into someone’s head far quicker than any of the other perspectives. Just think about the humdrum things that happen in your everyday life, when you find yourself asking Second Person things of a friend. You know the sort of thing: “Ever get an itchy arse in public, and you just HAVE to scratch it?” or even asking yourself, “isn’t it annoying as fuck when you can’t get the last bits of blood off yer hands?”

What? You are a horror fan, aren’t you?

***

Speaking of the real life things, let’s not forget the hypnotherapy lark —for those of you who go in for that sort of thing. How does the therapist talk to you? Well, the answer’s right there in the question: they talk to you. They don’t say “I’m walking into my house; try and imagine it with me,” do they? They don’t tell you about a man who is “walking through his front door, and sees a wall, painted in white…” No —because how on earth would you be able to engage with that?

Proof of the second pudding is in the eating: this is how you can talk to your readers, too. So, after a long hard day at work, you come home and open the front door. Walking through the hallway, you put down your bags, hang up your coat, and enter the living room. There, you take a seat on the sofa, and pick up your notebook. You’re feeling verrrrry sleepy…

WAKE UP, WILL YOU? You’re supposed to be WRITING.

For “YOU”, the you that the second person often suggests, read “ME.” Me, Myself and I. An author’s choice to use pronouns beginning with Y, is not, as some may suggest, a jarring degree of separation, but quite the opposite. It’s a way —if done correctly— to pull the reader over the ropes and become the fighter in the boxing ring of the story … and you might just be kept up in the air with literary left hooks until you’re given permission to land.

A crackin’ example of this comes from John Skipp, in Empathy, a good ol’ rompy mindfuck of a headmessin’ story. The Skippmeister does a good ol’ bit of bouncin’ around between first and second person, one of your favourite things-they-tell-you-not-to-do. You don’t know why he does it —at first. But as he draws you in with a dash of persuasion, a peppering of suggestiveness and a threatening air of filth and intrigue, so you realise you must stick around. And you know you’re bad, for he tells you so. You’ve:

“…done a horrible thing. And you’ll do it again. I know.”

As you continue, Skipp helps you to lull yourself into an almost hypnagogic state, feeling, as an engaged (yet slightly inebriated) reader, the “ripple as the veil of sleep parts.” It’s Empathy 101, this, whether you like it or not. This way, when it’s necessary for the first person to take over, your mindframe is in the appropriate state to receive any perspective on offer.

“I don’t even want to think about you. No offense —you know I love you to death— but you’re a total fucking loser, and you’re making me sick.”

You almost feel guilty for making your partner despise you so. What have you done to them? You MONSTER! So, you read on, to find out what the frig kinda things you’ve been up to … and to unravel all the what-the-fucknesses. And, as with Campbell’s story, once you figure out the hitherto unfigureoutable, you realise the answer’s been laid out for you all along. Quite literally, in this case.

Even though you’ve put the story down now, it hasn’t done the same to you. It still has you in its grasp. As you read it for the second time in five minutes, you find yourself,

“Laying there like a lump. Scintillating as mud, and sexy as a tumor.”

Ouch, man. Ouch. Must lay off the carbs. Must … step … away … from that cake.

Speaking of cake, to make the batter, you must first combine the butter and sugar…and to make a story work in an alternative perspective, first you must …

… see all of the above.

Like a recipe written in second (which all good recipes should be, giving to-the-letter, direct-to-the-person instructions), a story in that same perspective will ask —nay, demand— something of the reader. That extra little requirement: the suspension of disbelief —a little bit further than they are normally willing to suspend it.

The pre-requisite of a decent attention span comes with a teasing carrot of danglement that offers the reader the choice to step right inside the head of the protagonist for a wee while. As a reader, it’s for your own good in any case —do you want to lose yourself in the story or not?

So you do. You suspend that disbelief, and relish having proved the know-alls to be know-nowts. You allow yourself to become the YOU of the story, and you enjoy a fresh, empathic experience from which there is no escape. And then, you go and write the hell out of your own imagination.

Don’t you?

…………………………………………………….

LINDA ANGEL

[1] Reprinted:

— ‘Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays’. — 1950.

— ‘The Orwell Reader, Fiction, Essays, and Reportage’ — 1956.

— ‘Decline of the English Murder and Other Essays’. — 1965.

— ‘The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell’. — 1968.

[2] First Published:

— ‘Whispers’ – Volume 3, Numbers 3-4, whole number 11-12 (edited by Stuart David Schiff; Chapel Hill, October 1978)

[3] First Published:

—Playboy, March 1956

[4] First Published:

—’Conscience’ – 2004 (now available through Crossroads Press)

    Reprinted:

—’Demons – Encounters with the Devil and His Minions, Fallen Angels, and the Possessed’ – Black Dog and Leventhal – 2011.

Purchase Links:

Orwell: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Decline-English-Murder-Penguin-Great/dp/0141191260/ref=la_B000AQ0KKY_1_29?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1493591959&sr=1-29

Campbell: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Alone-Horrors-Fiction-Campbell-1961-1991/dp/0765307677/ref=sr_1_cc_2?s=aps&ie=UTF8&qid=1493590944&sr=1-2-catcorr&keywords=alone+with+the+horror+campbell

Bradbury: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bradbury-Stories-Most-Celebrated-Tales/dp/0060544880/ref=sr_1_10?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1493591120&sr=1-10&keywords=ray+bradbury

Skipp: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Demons-Encounters-Minions-Fallen-Possessed/dp/1579128793/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1493591832&sr=1-1&keywords=john+skipp+demons

The Details Don’t Matter

Standard

How do you even begin to write a story?  All I can tell you is what works for me.  Just today, for example, my publisher asked me to write a short story for inclusion in an anthology, of which the details don’t matter.

Start at the end, or end at the beginning. As long as there’s a decent middle, this thing will wrap itself up nicely regardless of chronology.  You’ll find yourself at the END at precisely the most opportune time.

Before long, you’ll stop asking questions, cease pulling it to pieces, and find yourself lost in your own pen (or i-pad, being that it’s no longer 1833). You’ll stop worrying about the mechanics of the thing and SUDDENLY….you realise you’re finished.

Consequently, I reckoned it might be nice to take you along for a ride in my little thought-process vehicle as I write the thing.

My brief is this: When? 1910.  Who? Well, my protagonist has to be a chick and she has to be aged 20. (Oh – and she also has to bump someone off).

Niiiice: the black-and-white era means that my story can remain uncomplicated by unrealistic forensic technology and computers beeping EVERY goddamn time they get a DNA MATCH within three seconds of the sample being run through the database. (Note to CSI producers – you know what I’m talking about – knock it off).

Whilst I forbid myself from getting bogged down with tiny weeny particulars, I never quite know how things are going to turn out until I start writing – hell, I don’t even know what I’m THINKING until my fingertips spell it out for me onto whatever device (or quill and parchment) is nearest at that particular moment.   And before too long, there comes another moment when everything just starts to flow and fit.

First: the name.  Joan?  Margaret? Nah.

(I did also mess around with a Beryl and an Enid, but quickly binned them off because I just wasn’t…y’know – feelin’ it). Hmmmm…..EVIE! Yes: Evie. Perfect.  And now – to see how her story evolves.

Here’s Evie. She’s 20. It’s 1910. I SERIOUSLY cannot be arsed dreaming up creative ways to crowbar-in the inconsequential specifics so I’ll just state them as FACT. Just go with it.  You can imagine her for yourself anyway. That image in your mind’s eye right now? THAT’S her; the details don’t matter.

She’s a bit of alright, don’t ya think? I mean – for a lass of that age to be out on the streets alone, she HAS to be a bit of alright or nobody would want to buy her wares. (Wait – did I not already mention her habitual hookery?)

Let’s start again: It’s 1910.  We meet Evie, a 20-year-old prostitute (don’t feel sorry for her – she’s a killer, remember?  She’s probably a slut, too – it’s right there in the job description.  Although….she has to make money SOMEHOW, I guess. OK – let’s not be too harsh on her).

She kills a dude (except he probably wouldn’t have been called a dude back in 1910, but whatever). He’s a punter – and the set-up is the obvious guy-treats-hooker-like-shit-hooker-gets-revenge one. 

Keep reading. You still with me? Good.

So Evie’s with this bloke – he’s had her before. MINTED, he is. Absolutely MINTED – he always seems to have his entire fortune upon his person, being that his wallet is two-planks thick. She and he are in a bedroom. (Well – I say bedroom, it’s more of a skanky cupboard at the back of an old Edwardian boozer). There’s a blanket-covered crate thing pretending to be a bed, so technically it’s a bedroom, ok? Stay with me, people.

He asks her to try something new. Demands it, in fact.  For the purposes of the story, it doesn’t matter what IT is, that’d just be word-count padding. In any case, she doesn’t fancy it, so he flips his lid.

“You WILL do it”, he yells, as he kicks something irrelevant across the room.

She has a plan. And at this stage, this plan of hers comprises the simple “no” approach.  It rarely works, but she’s gonna try anyway.

“On yer bike, guv’nor” she says. (I’ve watched “Oliver” more than once – does it show?)

He forces himself on her, and we’re appalled. So, now, we’re WITH her.  We ARE her. We forget our prejudices about her dodgy career choice, and we want him OFF us. He has to die.

We ARE her.

So – how do we do it? Let’s look around the room.  As he slaps us across alternate cheeks, our rapidly-flipping head allows us to see various objects dotted around the room. But we’re STUCK. He’s ON us. He’s heavier and stronger than we are – fucker. SHIT! How are we gonna get out of this?

OK – deep breath. The easiest way out would be to simply allow him to do what he wanted to do in the first place. But we can guess that he’s already past that point – doesn’t WANT it any more. He’s ANGRY now.

We can’t throttle the bastard – we’re too weak.  Also: tiny hands, damnit. We could reach for the blunt object (doesn’t matter what) that’s at fingertip-reach upon a neighbouring crate. We might consider the SHARP object that we’ve rather astutely stashed within our undies earlier that day just in case it ever came to this. We pick one – and, despite our supposed fairer-sex weakness, we succeed. The details don’t matter.

Aaaaand he’s OUT. We’ve taken him out. He’s not restin’, not stunned. He is no more. Murder, manslaughter – you decide.

Evie goes home to her London flat (we don’t need the “journey” section) and pops into the kitchen to make a sweet, calming cuppa. She swigs – just the once.

In 1910, our female protagonist, aged 20, takes the money she’d emptied from her would-be-killer’s wallet not ten minutes ago. She walks into the only other room in this, her London flat – and stuffs it under a cot mattress.

“This is for you”, she says as her eyes bleed saline onto her baby’s sleeping eyelids.

“There was nothing else I could do….but this is for you”.

Evie kisses her tainted finger to enable transference of lip-to-cheek.

“You can’t know how. You won’t know why. The details don’t matter”.

 

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