Tag Archives: short stories

Aspire to Asylum

ASPIRE TO ASYLUM

Back to the quiet routine. Back to watching the dust and the bar flies settle in the reflection of a patterned mirror. Moments nuzzle up close to one another, leaving no personal space. Gruff John’s glass is empty. Specks of froth scatter the interior in a pattern which defines the last disappointed sip. He leans on the counter and begs the nurse for another dose. Politely first, then more insistent, sensing resistance to the logic of just one more.

In the corner Dog One is getting ratty towards Dog Two. They see each other every night and exchange the same old woes. Some time is spent with belly and jowls lowered on the floor, paws pushed forward as though diving towards an idle nap, eyes watching the feet that pass, drool leaving a small pool to mark the passage of time. Some time is spent greeting regulars and staff, tail uncertain in its waver, an empty wine glass caught as it’s nearly knocked from the low table. Some time is spent, like this time, re-establishing boundaries. Dog Two must know where he is allowed to sit, and who gets first dibs on pork scratchings.

The Rude Lady thumps the counter. She’s tolerated here. She takes advantage of this by being demanding. She demands because the world has never given her nothing. Least of all manners and gumption. The more she demands, the less is given. Nobody gives a shit for someone who gifts them nothing but grief. She has spilt cider on her table cloth skirt and loudly jokes about pissing herself. Nobody laughs. Her neediness fills the space around her. Those closest shift bum cheeks on bar stools.

The Intellectual Beard is preoccupied by the cryptic crossword, or at least he seems to be. Really he’s wondering whether his best friend has read his new book yet. It’s been three weeks and nothing has been said. He has grey hair sprouting from his ears but has yet to notice how it interlinks with the kinetic energy given off by the skittish nervous systems of those nearby. The whole room and its life forms are interwoven and yet the sharp tug of a single thread could pull the whole place apart.

But. No, nothing, it doesn’t matter. I never meant to say that, I’m just a bit pissed, mate.

Gog the Manager is not as old as he looks. But he still looks younger than Gruff John, who has the beetroot nose of a man who likes his tipple more than himself. Gog the Manager doesn’t judge, he has been known to match them all glass for glass, each new ale turning over his tongue. They are all connoisseurs here, except those who have resorted to habit and can no longer taste anything but the routine slug. But this is a nice pub, fights rarely break out here. Glass is smashed only with laughter, and a disorientated grace of being. You can take the pub from the community with beer tax and monopolising Pub Co’s, but you can’t take the community from the pub. Every man and woman is one-another’s equal here, and knows it. The outside world is the place where madness and insecurity rampage the streets and shout at the traffic. In here they are contained. A safe jacket with a tab where sandwiches can be ordered before 9pm.

There is no detached observer here. Even the man who only drinks soda water and keeps himself to himself. He scribbles in a notebook but if you look closely at the black boards his words are reassembled there.

TITANIC STOUT 4.5% £3.20 A JAR.

The door to the yard is propped ajar. Laughter and the chill breeze slip in through the gap. Two women smoking share the jokes and secrets only smokers understand. The heat lamp lasts three minutes and then Sheila with the Big Bum pulls the cord again. She always pulls the cord because she feels the cold settling in her mittens. Frances with the Curly Fringe forgets. Forgets how cold she is, caught up only in the laughter, in the promise of the night sky that squeegees away the dirt of daylight and leaves a clean surface on which tomorrow can be written, like the next guest ale off the draymen’s list.

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Pyro

Tangled sinews twist up beyond the ether. A match strikes & a flame gasps into life. The dripping rag takes the flame, becoming alive in deep orange light. The gleam of an oil painting in which he is both the viewer & the subject. His body is for a moment suspended in a crouch, eyes shining faintly in the contemplative light. Then his arm stretches, reaching through the broken panel of the doorway. In through his sweater the edges of stubborn glass shards graze his arms, marking him as the culprit if forensics were ever to bother looking. But they won’t. The heat on his outstretched hand is now unbearable. He drops the flaming rag & retracts. He is shaking his hand & licking the skin between sweater & glove where it is scorched. Another mark that only the bathroom mirror will find. Private crimes that climb into his own eyes & settle. They’re promises to the fiend inside. He has been true to the flames. Flames which now lick the edges of the laboratory, searching persistently for fuel & oxygen, to feed their need to destroy.

The Graveyard Shift

THE GRAVEYARD SHIFT

Dusk came early, gulping the city and surrounding valley. Irish Steve clocked on as the builders and engineers packed up and left for the day. The easy craic and banter of the local lads soon dissolved in the approaching mizzle. Pulling on his high-vis vest over a thick wax jacket, Steve gazed about the place. The building site changed a little each day, but as night fell it loomed with the same ghouls and echoed with same sounds. He sat on the threadbare swivel chair in the foreman’s hut and pawed through a newspaper by lamplight.

The tiny lamp inside the tiny hut made the surrounding darkness deeper, darker and colder. Towering girders rolled overhead, reaching out into the indigo which enveloped the seven hills, the seven hopes, the seven places of shelter for a fugitive of daylight. The city sat spread-eagled in between, its gennels and gulleys running amok over broken-heeled cobbles. Mosswood bridges over the sound of brooks babbling, the boards creaking under the weight of ghostly padfoots patrolling the twilight.

A distant farmer making a last check on his sheep looks down from his stile. Beyond the shadowy pasture, heath and stubble fields Sheffield twinkles with secrets. Rustic bricks battle Utopian concrete. Ribs ache from laughter and drunken mishaps. Tomfools lying on cracked curbstones, while piss-artists sing at the pockmarked walls.

Irish Steve checks his watch. Many long night shifts have taught him patience, but not the kind his boss expects of him. The bricks and mortar provide stoic conversation, the sprites and goblins melancholy nonsense. Steve answers both with dry humour and the boldness of a man who has faced worst demons. A nearby derelict warehouse focuses in the gloom. Every grey window with a brick through and whiskers twitching, tiny scuttles disturbing the dust. Scrawny pigeons flock in to roost for the night, calling neurotically to one-another amongst downy twigs and shit splattered brickwork. The cold sets into bones and Steve can already sense the routine of travelling home on an early tram. Home to Brokers Place and the 7am sleet.

It’s too long to wait. He knows his will power is too weak and his guts crave beer and human conversation. A nearby stack of rubble is gurgling, damp from the soft weightless rain which is barely falling.

“If they got me a damn dog, it wouldn’t be so dull. But he’d do a better job anyways, so I’d just let the mutt mind this rammel,” he says aloud to the rubble and rats.

His newspaper rustles in reply. His breath is shallow like the lamplight, but still seems loud in the gloom. He longs to be away from sobriety and creeping loneliness. Sometimes he enjoys the solitude. He was brought up in the sticks after all, used to conversation with sheep and grasslands. Used to the mocking wind and chatter of hail. But now his kids are grown and left, he needs silliness even more. Up the hill in the city centre, the football fans will be flocking in, half-cut and full of jokes. There are local haunts where the barkeeps have named him ‘Irish Steve’, just like the dayworkers. His face is familiar – lined with a life of laughter and troubles drowned with cheap lager and knock-off cigarettes. He’s built a habit of skivving for large parts of the evening. He’ll still be on site in the small hours when the toe-rags are most likely to come looting for tools and making mischief. But the graveyard shift passes a damn sight quicker with beer in his belly and a takeaway brought back to the shabby little hut.

The same dull details, the same signs. Hard hats should be worn at all times, and hardships must be shoved into steel toe cap boots. He lights his second cigarette of the evening and puzzles over whether the newspaper belongs to today. The stories seem familiar, written for an audience that wants the same thing day-in, day-out. Sun rise, sun set, and after it sets, Steve is alone with a night-time that no-longer spooks. He smokes some and idly checks his watch again, knowing it’s a terrible habit. He tries, at least, to last a little longer each night after the lads have left. Counts up the minutes as rewards. An extra bag of pork scratchings deserved, buy that pretty bar maid in The Duck a drink tonight. He’s not one for sleazing, but takes small pleasure in seeing her smile at his jokes. When they’re good enough.

It’s colder tonight, though. So much easier to keep the icy air out with a beer jacket on. Nodding off for a wee while at 1am to the fuzz of the radio. He rubs his hands close to the little heater, which is about as hot as a candle, and stares at the dried up skin around cracked nails. The open door shifts on its hinges and outside the half-built walls grin cynically at him.

“Already?” A discarded wheel barrow says.

“No bother.” He sniffs. With weary predictability he stoops to a stand and shoves the maglite in his jacket pocket. Pushing the door further open his steps down, then stops his casual tracks. His ears chase a sound across the deconstructed brickland. There’s someone else on the site, creeping suspiciously about.

“Fur fox sake.” Steve emits a hefty sigh. He pulls out his torch, positioning it just above his head, the beam reaching out into the dark.

 

© Kirsty Fox 2013

Frank City Film Club – Episode Four

Brian Snuff – With yesterdays mumbles

NIKITA : A little piece of my soul dies when I make the fucking effort to get everyone together and they don’t even have the common decency to answer. I’m really busy and haven’t haven’t slept properly in days, yet here I am!

We were sat out on the fire escape of her flat. She was smoking weed, swigging straight from a bottle of whisky and looking a little bit wired. These were all signs she was unhappy. She rarely smokes anything. She says the words ‘common decency’ with such bile and venom she makes them sound like bitter swearwords.

SNUFTY : Bane texted me to say Rhian’s folks are coming around. Clearly he didn’t want to say that to you, he knows you’d ride him for becoming domesticated.

NIKITA : Not even fuckin Kes answered. And you know that damn phone is glued to his tiny hand.

SNUFTY : He’s scared of saying no.

The sun was sitting low over the suburbs, orange shapes perching in branches. We were close enough in place to town, but it felt like we were in the middle of a vast maze of backgardens. A teenage boy was taking down washing from a line down below, attaching the pegs to the hem of his t-shirt.

NIKITA : We’re all becoming domesticated aren’t we?

SNUFTY : I don’t know.

NIKITA : I remember lame-ass excuses used to be having a hangover, or just having bought the box set to season three of 24.

Just the words ‘bought a box set’ dated this already and we realised how much time had passed since our student days.

SNUFTY : Where’s Jeanie? Did you phone her.

Niki nodded as she drew sweet smoke into her lungs. She offered me the whisky and the joint. I accepeted only the joint.

SNUFTY : I don’t really like whisky.

NIKITA : Man trouble. She said ‘no man is worth my time anymore’.

Her voice mimicked the high-pitched whisper perfectly without being mocking.

SNUFTY : She just needs to change her taste in men.

Nikita made a silent gesture to say I took the words right out of her mouth. She examined peeling nail polish.

NIKITA : Don’t we all, Snufty. Don’t we all.

I took another drag on the joint, worried as always I was making the roach too wet. My lips are the wrong shape for smoking. I passed it back.

SNUFTY : Didn’t you see Leon last night?

I tried to say it in a tone that suggested a change of topic, even though we both knew it wasn’t.

NIKITA : Oh, yeah. Him and all his workmates. They all just talked about coke for three hours. How is that possible?

Niki gets very bored when people just talk about drug adventures. Especially coke-heads, she’s got a bee in her bonnet about coke-heads. I think it’s something to do with her older brother.

NIKITA : The trouble with druggies is that they’re like Christian fundamentalists, they’re obsessed with converting you to the righteous path.

I smirked and gave a half-nod.

NIKITA : And Leon really over-does it. I worry he’ll give himself a premature heart attack. He even says he thinks he has a weak heart… and it just shows that, something is really wrong with his life if he feels the need to do that…

She glared at the sky which was turning a pleasant indigo. I feel like there are tiny bits of broken glass inside my heart when I listen to Nikita talk about Leon. I remember it was my fault for dredging him up. Maybe I’m a sucker for punishment. Maybe I hope if she talks about his failures as a humanoid, she’ll realise I measure better. The trouble with love is that it’s the failures we get stuck in love with.

I clambered to my feet to slide back inside the window.

SNUFTY : Shall I make a cup of tea?

NIKITA : Oh, Snufty. This is why I love you.

Subtext : If only.

Dead Mouse

Remember me skulking into the kitchen like a cat. Laying out some offering on the tiled floor at your feet. Just anecdote or whimsy. Nothing that really mattered, but at they same time they mattered to me. You would look a little bewildered. Peering down at the mouse I’d so lovingly broken the neck of and laid at your feet.

Did you notice the detail? The inscisors slightly visible on a clenched lip. The trickle of blood so perfectlly formed. The facial expression stripped of life energy. I laid at your feet, a broken thing, having given up the good fight and accepted the inevitable.

You looked at me for a while as though I were a sweet, charming thing. A cute destraction. You feigned appreciation for the raw, rodent suppers I carefully prepared.

When I wasn’t looking you picked up the mouse by its tail, holding it away from you between thumb and index finger. No burial for the broken mouse, just a dustbin that smelt of cigarette ash and the urine of drunks.

When I returned I saw the empty spot on the tiled floor. The perfect trickle of blood by itself.

But you had thrown away all that I’d given you. You had crunched my vertebrate and left me broken. And still you looked bewildered. As though I shouldn’t have cared so much about a dead mouse, or bats in the attic, or fucking dime bars.

…The sound of your voice is distant now, still unsettling hairs on the back of my neck. I’ve stopped seeing your face. It’s just a disappointed smudge in the room.

Frank City Film Club – Episode Three

Brian Snuff – Faithful Narrator of a Lost Generation

All generations are lost. The writhing, habit-forming, un-requited love drug keeps us distracted from the real issues. Then we realise time has passed. My twenties are nearly over. Where am I? I spent most of last decade in some cyber reality, a game zone where death is less real than love. All I have to show for it is poor eyesight, repetitive strain injury and a calculated philosophy of dread. The rest of the hours I watched films in order to freeze time.

The film club is a paranoid reaction to all this. We’re all in semi-dead-end jobs, people are starting to marry off and stuff. Some weekends I still chase good music and proper 3am chatter, blinking in the early light as I stagger home. Then, Sunday, I pop round to see a mate who has reproduced an actual real little humanoid. I can refer to them affectionately as ‘spawn’ and fictionalise their hiccups. But they’re real. And it scares me.

Video games and telly and films, and the whole interwebs are addictive because I feel I stay young inside them. I’m a young traveller collecting insight. I’m still learning, and if I’m still learning, I’m still young.

But then the sober daylight slaps me like a bitch. It’s 7am and I’m walking to the game shop where I work. Today a customer will ask me a stupid question. Today a customer will express their opinion on something as though it is a concrete truth. I’m the specky kid behind the counter smiling politely, thinking indeterminate swearwords. New swearwords spawned from old swearwords. Clamped over my mouth like a facehugger.

SNUFTY: Do you think we need to make films to stay young?

BANE : What the fuck are you on about?

Bane of all people is in the process of ‘settling down’. Out of all of the film club, he is drifting fastest towards having a life plan. He has lived with his girlfriend, Rhian, for three years. When he first moved in there, I didn’t think he’d last the month. Back when I flat shared with him, I couldn’t use the same bathroom. Now his habits are nearly civilised.

SNUFTY :  We make frames, we create a Neverland.

BANE : Can you just do a Masters and write a bloody thesis, to save us from your theories?

Jeanie seems to have absorbed my question and is thinking deeply about it. But she’s like a cat when she looks thoughtful. Sometimes you wonder if they have everything unravelled, in a true meditative state… other times you recon maybe they’re just thinking up new cruel ways to toy with their prey.

Jeanie is a catastrophe waitress. People patronise her a lot because she has this slow way of speaking that can infuriate. Jeanie only has one speed setting. How much of that is personality and how much is the effects of long-term weed-smoking I can only guess. Jeanie’s contributions to the process of filmmaking are very ‘girl’. I waste a lot of time trying to explain technical and rational things to her. This annoys Bane, he didn’t want girls. But Jeanie is a great little actress, and she and Nikita come as a package. And we needed Niki. She has an incredible brain and she makes us get shit done. Bane sees this as hen-pecking, but without it we’d still be drunk on the novelty of being back together as a group, reminissing about the student days.

I thought Niki wasn’t listening, but she looks up at me from her laptop.

NIKITA : If this isn’t relevant to the script, can you just put it on your blog? Someone in cyberspace appreciates your insights more than Bane.

SNUFTY : That’s the worry. I’ll stop existing in the real world because of fear that nobody I know gives a flying pig’s ear.

She holds me in her deadpan gaze for a moment. Time freezes. My heart slumbers in fanciful juices. She breaks my gaze and looks back at the screen. I watch her lips as she sighs inaudibly.

NIKITA : It’s difficult to write this bit. I don’t know how to describe it how I see it in my head. I just want to make the vision.

Niki has short, dark hair and electric blue eyes. She doesn’t look like the character Nikita, but there is something of the same toughness. But a tender toughness. Luc Besson does that with all his female leads.

JEANIE : Say what you see in your head and I’ll type it.

Niki slides the laptop across the table to her.

NIKITA : So, he’s swimming along the bed of the lake. With the goggles and dramatic bubbles. He sees this movement through the blurry, tinged water. At first it looks like an animal, a porpoise or something. He realises it’s a person swimming towards him.

She stops talking and stares into the distance. We’d already plotted this and deconstructed the levels of cliché, but there’s still subtle impact in her pause.

NIKITA : He realises that it’s him. A doppelgänger.

BANE : Can we film this, with our resources? Kes? What do you recon?

Kes has been sketching things in his notepad. Lost in the beauty of nuts and bolts. The things which make artistic vision into proper stuff. He points at his drawing and opens his mouth to speak, but Niki interupts.

NIKITA : Where the fuck is Leon?

I read his text out to her from my phone.

SNUFTY : ‘Sorry dude, can’t make it tonight. Things are bad.’

Niki rolled her eyes and sighed again.

NIKITA : Fucking sick note.

Frank City Film Club – Episode Two

Brian Snuff – Your King of Subtext

Nikita and Leon. Nikita and Leon. It took me too long to notice this. I have a deep fear of serendipity. How does Snufty stand a chance?

Nikita was of course a complicated creature. I mean all women are, so Bane likes to remind me. Though really I think he underestimates how complicated men are.

SNUFTY : We do subtext too.

BANE : But ours is obvious. It’s innuendos, or dropping a hint that we’re hungry, or too sober to cope with reality.

SNUFTY : Well, my subtext is a little more complicated.

BANE : Yeah, everything has to relate back to Neuromancer. Chicks dig Neuromancer.

Niki does, I wanted to say. But I didn’t. Subtext.

But no, I mean, she’s called Nikita for creeps sake, she has a backstory. And he’s called Leon. My second best bud, on days when Bane is really being Bane, my first. The oblivious love rival. I’ve yet to work out what goes on in that nutjob Leon’s head. Partly because it doesn’t matter. His sub-plot is he’s troubled by things in the past. What those things are is pretty irrelevant. It’s standard character notes.

Nikita and Leon are sort of kindred spirits. It hurts my sphincters to admit that. But.

There is some invisible forcefield between them though. Something that keeps them apart. I’ve yet to know what that thing is. Leon just seems oblivious, except on days when he can’t keep his eyes off her. But even then, it’s like he’s comfortable with the forcefield.

Nikita isn’t. She gets spiky. Not like more sarcastic and bitchy than usual (she’s both those things all the time, in an adorable way). Just her aura is spiky, I can see the tension orbiting around her.

Now I’ve minddumped my neurosis – bitter-sweet subtext – I can talk about the film club, because inbetween our own bullshit dramas, we are trying to write a film…