Stuck in Traffic

The air was getting thin and so were we. We were hungry and weak. Exhausted from the trek to the meeting point and the sharp and sudden farewells to loved ones we might never see again. Family and friends watching us leave, hoping we might change our mind and stay, wishing things were different, prayers filtering out to Gods who’d thus far failed to listen. A gathering of grief and fear standing beside the idle truck, knowing that in reality, there was no alternative. Knowing that from the moment doors slammed shut and engines spluttered into standby, things would change forever and nothing would be the same again, not the soul beneath their skin nor the hope behind their children’s eyes. The world was moving on and we were stuck within in, travelling across the land searching for a place to stay, a place to call a home away from home, a place to die alone.

I’d taken my place beside the other men and we sat in silence as the miles continued to slip away outside. It was hot and uncomfortable and I sat there motionless as a fly buzzed overhead and landed on my sweaty skin. I watched it slowly crawl across my arm, its tiny legs balancing between my hairs and tickling me as it roamed around and paused to wipe its eyes. The man next to me scowled and shook his head and when I looked back the fly was gone and the sound of its wings was lost amid the grinding of the dogged gears beneath. I could feel the sweat escaping from my pores and as I leaned forward a bead of perspiration ran down my nose and hung there for several seconds before falling to the ground between my feet. I stared at the tiny puddle and wondered how many of my cells would perish and whether I would miss them. I breathed slowly and carefully, sucking in as much air as I could and holding it there, waiting for it to repair the life within, hoping it would but unsure of whether there was anything left to heal.

Despite how long we’d been stuck together, none of us spoke. There was nothing to say. Thinking was enough. I wondered how the others got here. Why they sought a change. What it was they left behind, or who. In the end, we all left something behind, whether we wanted to or not. Desire did not exist. There was no choice. There was only the road ahead, forever damaged and broken, like us. We were all the same whether we liked to admit it or not and this journey was all we had. A final chance to make things right. To do something which might make a difference before our days were done. There was no way to tell when it might happen, how it might happen, or why, but we knew it would, and in the meantime moving meant more than our mortality. There were things we needed to do, people we needed to please before the road ruined us for good. We were human after all, even if we tried to ignore it.

We started to slow down and the man next to me made the sign of the cross and began to whisper psalms of preservation. He pulled out a small copy of the Bible, his hands unsteady and trembling, the nerves within contorted by the calmness of the silenced engine. We sat there and looked at one another, unsure of what was happening, whether we had finally arrived or whether this was as far as we would get. We waited and listened. A door opened. Voices. Footsteps. More voices, this time louder. The man next to me pulled out a photo from within the pages of the Bible and stroked it, the tips of his dirty fingers caressing the fading image of a little girl stood beside her smiling mother. He closed his eyes and bowed his head, the photo clasped between his hands and holding him together. The rest of us sat there silently as the voices vanished and stillness descended once again. I held my breath and thought about my parents. I thought about the home I’d left behind and the fading health of those who’d helped me live longer than my youth. I thought about their diminishing endurance and how the hills were all they had now that I was gone. But I had to leave. I had to find a way to pay them pack, to show them it wasn’t all for nothing, that I was worthy of their love. I wanted to help. I needed to help.

The engine started up again and we began to slowly move over the uneven terrain. I released the air from within my lungs and sat back, the craving for a cigarette greater still despite the tightness of my chest. Placing a cigarette between my lips I wondered how long we had left to go. I wondered whether this trip would be worth the money. There was no way to tell. Stories were common but trust in truth was rare. I sat there and looked once more at all the people sitting beside me, all of them different – all ofus different – yet all searching for the same thing. I wondered if we’d ever find it, and if we did, what would happen once we had. I wished we would. I wished we all would. God knows we deserved it. Maybe not all of us, but enough to justify the faith. Finally the tyres ceased spinning and the engine died. Footsteps stirred the ground outside. The lock unfastened. The door opened. It was time. We had arrived. This was it. This was our new beginning. This was England. This was hope.

*

The Soundtrack for Stuck in Traffic is ‘Carmelita‘ by Fred Eaglesmith

*

*

Advertisements

Loving Rapunzel

Loving Rapunzel was easy, killing her wasn’t.

It all started a couple of years ago when I went to audition for a West End production of a children’s fairy tale. I’d been waiting with the other hopeful actors outside the audition room when it happened. We were all reading over the lines and performing our own preparations when she walked through the heavy doors and stood silently still between the aging architrave. I looked up from my script to see she was staring at me, her eyes bright between the bold mascara and long dark lashes. I smiled and went back to my script. She stepped into the room and sat down beside me, her fur coat brushing my bare skin and sending a surge of shivers up my spine. I shifted in my seat and couldn’t help but notice her long legs stretching out from underneath her dress and down into a shiny set of red high heels, a tiny feather tattoo curling around her ankle and disappearing out of view. I couldn’t believe how smooth her legs were. They were like something from those daft Dove adverts only she was real, sitting beside me, waiting for her turn to tempt and tantalise. I looked at my own dull legs and pulled my skirt down.

I’m Rapunzel, she said. The Real Rapunzel. I wanted to laugh, but I couldn’t. Looking at her from such close proximity I was struck by her ferocious beauty. She was incredible. I had never seen anyone so perfect. I knew that if she could act even half as well as she looked, there would be no point in attempting to audition. The rest of us were fucked. It was as simple as that. I nodded and found myself staring at her moist lips, the bright red lipstick accentuating her perfect white teeth. She told me she was from Knockemstiff, Ohio, her Midwestern accent rippling through the room and adding to her enticing aura. I could tell the other guys were checking her out, and in turn, comparing us. But there was no comparison. Beside her, I felt uglier than ever. I just love your hair. She said. I tucked a loose strand behind my ear and looked away. Even though we were technically competitors, it didn’t feel like it. There was no competition. She had already won.

After our auditions we went to a café and got to know one another a little better. She was single. Lived alone. Loved Marilyn Monroe, Tim Burton, and sex. All kinds of sex.You’re so pretty. She smiled. I just want to eat you up. Two bottles of wine later, I let her. I’d never been with another woman before, but for some reason, it just felt natural. Rapunzel looked even better naked. Her body was everything mine wasn’t. Slim but shapely in all the right places. Firm and tight and smooth. Proportionally perfect. She even tasted good. We spent the next two days together holed up in her appartment, shut off from the world beyond as we explored each other’s bodies and discussed the details which made us different. It was during the third day that she got the call about the part. It was hers. I came to realise there was little she didn’t get if she truly wanted it, including me. But I was just the beginning. I was just the foreplay.

As the weeks went by and I spent more time with her, I could tell I was dangerously close to losing myself entirely. I didn’t think about the fact I was falling for another woman, but I did think about whether she felt the same. I needn’t have bothered. I love you too. I wanted to believe her. You’re mine. It was true. All mine. I was weak. I’d lost control. This had never happened to me before. I’d never loved so resolutely. So completely. So far from any sense of logic. All rationality was gone, replaced by longing and lust. I was hooked. Rapunzel was my drug and I was high on heels and suspenders and vibrators and dildos and all the filthy stuff we used to enjoy. Just the two of us. Or so I thought.

It wasn’t long before the reviews announced her entry into eminence. Her face was soon in magazines beside the other beautiful stars and fashion sought her frame for profit. Dates and dinners and social engagements increasingly kept us apart. She started taking drugs and soon the arguments began. She swore and swiped at me, her preened nails serrating my flesh as blood soaked the sheets of our violent love. But I couldn’t stop. Neither could she. Soon she was seducing directors and sucking sex through her sweaty skin, the drugs pulsing through her buried veins as the girl I loved slowly disappeared and sought to take me with her. Just try it. I missed her so much. For me.

Days descended into darkness and it wasn’t long before the plaudits ceased their praise and the perfume of success was lost amid the scent of heated spoons and sordid sex for cents and satisfaction. Rapunzel was replaced and her reputation ruined. I remained by her side and pressed down on the plunger in the hope things would change, but her heart was paralysed by painkillers and poison and the fists came down with greater malice and revulsion. The fame and friends were gone. Money was scarce. Nothing remained. There was only us. Rapunzel and her lover, destroying one another. I tried to fix her – fix us – but it was too late. There was only one way out for both of us.

I stood in the shower and looked into the mirror.

Don’t do it.

The radio hummed between my hands.

Please.

My real Rapunzel and me.

We let go.

*

The soundtrack for Loving Rapunzel is Milo Greene’s – ‘What’s the Matter

*

rore1

The Angry Beaver

As I awoke, I discovered I was no longer asleep. It had become hard to tell. I was no longer sure. Everything was dark. Day and night were one and the same. Dreams were delusions, and reality was worse. I was tired and weak. My mouth was dry and I could no longer feel my lips. Everything was sore. I couldn’t concentrate. The blackness spread and seeped into my head. I was infected. My mind found difficulty in devising logic. Explanations and understanding were long since lost. For as long as I could remember my life had been a lack of living. There was nothing I could do. No one I could talk to. Nobody who cared. Until I met Mr Johnson.

I had been trying to remember my birthday when I heard her speak of him. She sounded different. Happy, perhaps. I wasn’t sure. I had never experienced such sensations. I had no knowledge of joy or satisfaction. I was unaware of its power. My familiar feelings were matched by my relentlessly dark surroundings. Shadows were my only friends. I was lonely. Desperate. I longed to have a conversation. I wanted to engage with another voice and experience the thrill of recognition. I needed to know that I existed. It was after dinner that he appeared. I had no idea how he got there, but there he was. I was struck immediately by his posture and the gravity of his presence. He knew things. I could tell. But before I could ask, the darkness descended once again.

I have thought about it endlessly. Who was he? Where did he come from? Why did he choose me? What did he want? But the questions did not help. I could not understand the meaning of his appearance. It was confusing and entirely strange. I was lost. In more ways than one. I began to realise that things were changing. My hair was different. My skin softer and scented with fresh aromas. I felt unusual. I could sense that something was about to happen, but I had no idea what or when it would. I searched for answers but only silence acknowledged my cries. It wasn’t long before I realised that Mr Johnson was inhabiting my every thought. I was becoming obsessed. I wanted to know when we would meet again. I needed to know.

I listened out for any further news about Johnson but everything had gone silent. She was no longer discussing him and all I could hear was the radio. I didn’t want to wait any longer. It wasn’t fair. Why was I forced to spend what time I had alone? Why couldn’t I decide for myself if I wanted out? I was fed up of being trapped in this depressing darkness. I was tired of feeling lonely and having no power to change my circumstances. There must be something I could do. There must be some way I could break out and see the world for what it was. Experience the colours of life. Admire the clear sound of music and conversation. Learn about the millions of things of which I had not knowledge. Simple things. Things I had every right to witness. It was time to make a stand.

After a while I was able to have a shower and the cleaning of the days perspiration and discomfort somewhat soothed my mood. I was able to breath fresh air and I sucked it in as hard as I could. I knew that it would not be long before the darkness returned so I tried to enjoy the little pleasures I was granted. The radio continued to play and I was made to dance along to the repetitive beat, I knew it was coming. The shift in mood was palpable and as her voice filtered through the steam, I realised tonight was the night. Tonight everything would change.

I heard the doorbell go, and after several extra puffs of perfume, we were all stood in the hallway anticipating and hoping for a wonderful evening. It was about time. Dinner was served and they ate and spoke about work. I couldn’t hear the exact details of entire conversations, but it seemed they were getting along. Laughter echoed off the walls and wine glasses clinked more frequently. After dinner we sat on the sofa and as the music played softly I could sense the warmth of a hand close to me. It wasn’t her hand. It was different. Stronger. More purposeful. My skin rippled. I wasn’t sure what it was doing. What did it want?  I tried to understand what was happening but before I could develop my erratic thoughts I felt it right on top of me. I tried to get away but it was impossible. There was nowhere to go. Slowly it began to move up and down. Fingers pressing down and moving around. I was trapped.

Then it stopped. I could feel the ground beneath moving until the sound of springs arose as we fell on top of the bed. Everything got more intense. The hand was rougher. Strange sounds emerged from nowhere. Moans and groans and the rustle of clothes. I had no idea what was happening. This had never happened before. Everything was strange and different. I was unsure about what to do. Then the darkness was lifted. I was free. The light stunned my eyes but when I finally opened them, there he was. After all this time, I could finally see him. I was horrified. Angry. This was not what I expected. I could not bring myself to speak. All of a sudden he started forcing himself on me. I tried to resist but he was too powerful. I couldn’t do anything. It was too late. I couldn’t move. I closed my eyes. Mr Johnson was a brute. He ruined me. Blood was everywhere. I waited for the darkness. Take me now, I pleaded. Hide me. Please.

*

The soundtrack for The Angry Beaver is Elephant Revival’s – ‘Ring Around The Moon’

*

rore1

The Last Two People Left on the Nightbus

It’s been three years since my mother ate Bruce. Three years since I heard him whimper and was forced to drive a cleaver deep into the back of her head. I remember watching her fall to the ground and feeling nothing as I buried the blade further into her skull, the inactive brain matter disintegrating and spreading out all over the abandoned pavement. Eventually she stopped moving, by which point it was Bruce’s turn to die, again. As I looked back towards my mum and stood over her ravaged and rotten body, I tried to recall the good times. The mornings in the garden with dad and Jenny, the warm croissants and fresh coffee, the laughter and long summer days, but they were lost to me now. I felt nothing. The only thing I experienced was hunger and exhaustion, and occasionally fear, but even that was rare, especially since there was nothing left to fear. There was no point in being scared. They would get you soon enough. It was only a matter of time.

I stand at the window and look out at them as they gather and circle around the bus. I look at their faces and wonder what they used to do, whether they had a family, and if their life was better then, or now. I used to create entire backstories for them and imagine what their lives used to be like prior to the outbreak, but that was before one of them snuck up on me whilst I drifted from reality and let my guard now. Now I know there’s no such luxury as imagination. All there is this. Us and them. The here and now full of dead ends and darkness and nights of restless sleep and nightmares. There’s no escape, and whether you’re awake or trying not to be, the horror of the city and its occupants prevents any return to what was known of comfort. The distant memory of mortgages and bills and the struggle for survival in a world consumed by greed and formulaic fiction seems so stupid, particularly when you’re faced with the reality of where it got us, of where we are after all our supposed progress. Thinking about the absurdity of all our old concerns of confinement in cages by immoral suits and small print would make me smile, if only I could.

One of the deadskins has found a weak point in the window and it won’t be long before the seal goes and they find their way in. I look at Jenny and she’s still unconscious, her hair covered in blood and stuck to her face, hiding the torn flesh, the bite. It’s my fault. I should never have agreed to let her listen to that CD. I don’t know what came over me. It was a basic mistake. A complete lapse in logic, but I guess I missed the sound of music too, only it wasn’t music; it was the sound of death and devastation. All it took was an oversight in the inspection of the volume control and thirty seconds of the track to notify them of our exact location. Three years of secret and silent survival wasted. All the effort and emotion of ensuring the safety of the only person left that meant something to me, squandered for nothing more than a pained desire to see her happy, to make her realise what it meant to be human, even for a second. And now she never would. She would never know anything anymore. Soon enough, neither of us would.

The last time I had any contact with anyone else apart from my sister was eight months ago, back when there were six of us and sticking together gave us all a purpose, a reason to try and put another deadskin down and take out as many as we could, as quickly as we could, with as little risk as possible. But there was always a risk. A risk that led to ruin and the diminishing of our group until there was only Jenny and me. We got ambushed during a food run and there was no alternative but to separate. It had happened before and we knew where to meet and when, but I took the fact they never showed up to mean they never would, and after a week we moved on. There was no choice. Residency was not an option. The deadskin’s were dumb, but they were also determined. I hear a crack and check the window. The seal’s gone and fingers slowly push through the tiny gap, dead flesh serrating and shredding to pieces on the shattered glass. It won’t be long now.

I remove the knife from my pocket and look over at Jenny. It’s still hard to believe this is the way that things will end. After all the books and films and games about zombies and the undead, nobody ever thought it would actually happen, but all it took was for the brain to realise that it was already dead, and the collapse of the banks merely speeded up the spiritual revolution. Women and children burnt alive to force fear and end the insurrection. But it didn’t work. The people were finally united, and together they marched for liberty beneath the bombs of chemicals and carnage. I look at them now and wonder whether this is freedom. I wonder whether this was worth it, whether the same decisions would be made again if choice was something real and true, but even now they march together, side by side and strong. At least it meant something. Jenny’s leg twitches. She spasms and convulses. The deadskins sense her re-birth and scream and shake the bus with greater glee to let me know my time has come. I watch Jenny get to her feet. Finally our eyes meet. So this is it. I put the knife down. Jenny and me. Forever.

*

The Soundtrack for The Last Two People Left On The Nightbus is Ray Wylie Hubbard’s – ‘Moss and Flowers

*

rore1