The Summer of ’22

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on December 30, 2015 by ofherbsandaltars

In general, Zed thought that John was a bit of a pussy for his retreat into the coffin, following the New Year’s Eve of 2013. As time went by, however, he began to occasionally, reluctantly, understand. It had been Gangnam Style, that godawful trend, that had sent John tumbling over the edge from drunken fury into absolute terror, at the fact that he could no longer understand the modern world.

“I have no place here!” he’d moaned into Zed’s neck, in the back of the taxi home. “I don’t understand these people! Why were they all dancing like that? Why is the whole fucking world dancing like that?!”

Admittedly, Zed hadn’t really helped – though he was a lot younger than John, Gangnam Style was utterly lost on him too – all he could point out was that it was just a trend, another fleeting trend, over and done with in a matter of months, and what did months mean to an immortal? But John had groaned in despair, replying, “Just a trend…that’s even worse! Trends following trends, and don’t you see them getting more completely insane with every year that goes by? I can’t bear it anymore! I can’t bear another fucking second of this repulsive planet! I’m going to sleep! I’m going to sleep forever!”

Zed had been pretty sure, initially, that John was just being his usual melodramatic self, when he’d threatened to sleep “forever” – as soon as they got home, John had stomped into the kitchen, drained three bags of A-positive, then stormed off upstairs, crawled into the coffin that had previously been nothing more than an artistic coffee table, slammed the lid into place, and after an hour of quiet sobbing, it all went silent. Zed had peeked inside the next night, and found John utterly dead to the world. When there was still no change two weeks later, he’d given John a hopeful poke, but John might as well have been a corpse.

After that, Zed resigned himself to a bit of a wait, but just a bit – six months, maybe. A year at the absolute most. But the years had rolled past, and if Zed had been told in those early days that it would be near enough five decades before John finally returned to him, he probably would have staked himself. Sometimes it was better not to see the future.

In the year 2022 though, Zed had managed to rouse John from his slumber, albeit just for a groggy hour that John would later write off as nothing more than a surreal dream. The catalyst behind Zed’s decision to drag his tormented lover from the grave had been – ironically – another mortal trend. In 2022, Zed began to feel that John might have been right, drunk and slurring in the back of that long-ago taxi. Trends stacked on trends, slithering into a yawning abyss of absolute madness. The humans were going completely demented, and he felt that he might finally be losing his foothold in sanity.

Back in the 1950s, when Zed had been made immortal, rock n roll had been the trend that terrified the old folks. Elvis Presley’s sexual gyrations were the most lewd and dangerous thing they had ever seen in their lives, and preachers all over America, that foreign land he was washed up in, were decrying the satanic blackness, the End Times, brought on by nothing more than lively songs with mild sexual undertones. Zed and John had surfed that wave with abandon – it had been a good time to be alive, and an even better time to be alive forever. The music had flowed on, sometimes becoming interesting, sometimes appalling – but the human trends had just gotten weirder and weirder.

By the time John retreated into the coffin, leaving Zed to face the world alone, there was really no such thing as music anymore. Occasionally Zed came across a rockabilly band that warmed his heart, but in general even these seemed so recycled, so artificial, or worse, a depressing reminder that those days were forever gone. Even the young mortals of this awful new millennium knew it – all over the internet they bitched and whined about their shit luck, in being born now, in this vacuum of plastic-wrapped crap, when all the real stars, made of blood and sweat and drugs and fury, had burned out in the sky or drowned in the chemical soup that had become the world’s toxic oceans. The ‘End Times’ those ancient preachers had prophesised really did seem to be upon them.

But the thing that did it, the thing that really drove Zed over the edge, in the summer of 2022, was the fucking noses. Over the past decade, facial features had been getting bigger and bigger. First it was the eyes – women were blinding themselves with huge plastic contact lenses that made them resemble sad little anime characters, their artificially enlarged eyeballs fringed with a million false lashes. Then it was the cheekbones, injected with fillers, contoured and bronzed and highlighted until they looked like David Bowie had mated with a sexual alien. The eyebrows came hot on the heels of this trend, bigger and bushier and angrier, and then along came the lips, a million children bruising and slicing up their mouths as they attempted some ridiculous charade known as the ‘Kylie Jenner Challenge’. Even the teeth were getting bigger – Zed spent many a horrified evening drinking whiskey and watching grisly Youtube videos of veneers being fitted, a person’s perfectly decent-looking teeth filed down to tiny, painful, useless stubs, before being stuffed into vast, neon-white porcelain tombstones. By the end of the 2010s, humans barely looked human anymore. And then, in the early 2020s, there came an abrupt parting of the ways when it came to noses. For many years, noses had been getting narrower and narrower, almost disappearing in the midst of those swollen, accentuated features, the huge round eyes, the bloated lips, glowing white teeth and furious werewolf brows. But finally, as with all trends, this look became cliché, it became so basic bitch, as they all used to say, and a new trend sprouted in its place.

By 2021, you could hardly find a single adult human who didn’t have fillers somewhere in their faces – in their cheeks, their wrinkles, their lips, and finally, the humans seemed to decide that their noses had been overlooked for way too long. The anime look was out – the manatee look was in. Some of the humans went for a perfect, wide triangle, bloating out their rounded nostrils and applying a perky blob of pink blush to each swollen extrusion. Others went for the ‘Roman dignitary’ look, and had fillers applied to the central bridge, to give a haughtily downward-sloping nose. And then, of course, as always, there were the kids who just wanted to be the next internet sensation, and they went the whole damn hog. Their entire nose would be filled with up to 50ml of Juvederm filler, until it was the size of a baby’s arm. For maximum effect their lips would be blown up to similar proportions, and painted royal blue, a jaunty pop of colour peeking out from beneath the vast, dangling sausage of their oversized nose. Fashion bloggers of the time raved about the sexual connotations of this cosmetic enhancement – these vast, blubbery noses often turned mildly purple and veiny, resembling an engorged penis. Just like Elvis’s hips, it made you think of sex, and sex always sold. More than this, it was a status symbol – these kids were carrying around near enough $6,000 of liquid filler in their faces, and the kids of this era, Zed had long since learned, liked to flash their cash in the most grotesque of manners.

Zed’s horror at the ongoing mutilation of human faces continued to grow, day by day, week by week. By 2022, John had been asleep for nine years – Zed had long since moved the entire coffin into a dusty storage room, and resigned himself to living life with the awkward, tentative freedom of a guy whose partner had as good as authorised him to sleep with other people…but not without crippling guilt. All Zed really wanted was John back – they’d been together for over half a century, and Zed was stuck in his ways almost as much as John had been – a creature of habit. He loved nothing more than listening to Elvis and watching Lonesome Dove on an endless repeat, and he loved nothing more than being with John – the one person on Earth who he could reminisce with endlessly, about anything. Their whole lives had been shared, lived together – until now. Until the point that John had got so crazy, so infuriatingly irrational, about nothing more than that stupid goddamn song, he had abandoned Zed completely, sulking in his coffin like the worst vampire cliché on Earth. There were a lot of times that Zed got seriously pissed off with John, late at night, all alone, drunk on whiskey, adrift in this crazy human world. At times like these, he often found himself storming out into the night in his most melodramatic trenchcoat, and disappearing into the humid embrace of a gay club.

The first nose-related disaster Zed suffered, happened at a gay club just a few blocks from his apartment. Already a long way past drunk, Zed was rapidly befriended by a young, cute guy with bright purple hair, who had offered him a small white pill. Zed was too pissed off with the world to even bother asking what it was – he just swallowed it, and rolled on top of his new friend. They’d ended up on the dancefloor, and for a modern-day club, Zed was reasonably satisfied with the music, but the boy, who had introduced himself as Fish, was getting sulkier and sulkier, until finally Zed allowed himself to be dragged out into the night, and into the back of a taxi. Everything had taken on a mildly surreal tinge by the time they reached their destination, the sweaty neon-lit depths of another gay club – the décor slicker, the music even louder and more obnoxious. Fish had gone to the bar for a round of drinks, and Zed had lost him completely. By this point, he was definitely feeling weird, and he couldn’t make his mind up yet whether it was a good weird, or a bad one – he felt a bit like an alien spy, slipping unseen through this demented Gomorrah, and the feeling was pleasingly mischievous. At the very least, it made a change from feeling like a depressed, abandoned vampire whose boyfriend had been replaced with a fleshlight.

Zed began taking a tour of the club, slipping through the shadows, quietly making spaceship noises to himself, becoming more and more convinced that he was a sinister, invisible entity, sent to discover the culture of these peculiar young mortals. When the bass dropped and the whole place went insane, he’d managed to strand himself right in the deepest depths of that awful place, and this was when it all went wrong. Suddenly the strobes were going crazy, the flailing bodies jolting between beats of light, and Zed was equal parts hypnotised and terrified by their faces. This club, it turned out, was very, very hip, or swag, or on fleek, or whatever the fuck all the jumped up internet tossers were saying these days, and that meant that every face in the room was down with the manatee trend. Zed found himself staring into a glowing sea of hideous, mutated faces – bulbous, veiny, dick-like noses bouncing wildly up and down, until he felt as though his mind was under attack from a dangerous colony of aggressive neon penises. Artificial teeth were glowing under the blacklight, and the music sounded like the scraping of a million dental drills, grinding Zed’s teeth into terrifying raw-nerved stubs, his mind flashing up gruesome images of dental surgery, plastic surgery, syringes stabbing into swollen lips, plastic lenses being prodded horribly into the jelly sacs of eyeballs, the strobe flashing madly and the purple penises bouncing and the alien race he was studying had seen him now – they knew he was an outsider, and they were going to get him, going to mutilate him, chop off his dick and staple it to his face – for all eternity he’d be trapped in this godforsaken hellpit with stumps for teeth and a dick for a nose, and what came next, what came next, he didn’t know, but he had the ghastly sensation that his nuts were trying to crawl inside his body cavity and he was pretty sure that he was about to puke everywhere, and the lights were driving him crazy, and those faces, those fucking faces!

Zed had no idea how he got home, that night – it was all a hideous blur of vomit and headlights and warped, swaying faces, but finally he was home, with a blanket over his head, watching Lonesome Dove and alternating between a sense of soaring peacefulness at being safe in the sanctity of his flat, followed by sudden waves of paralysing dread that those nightmarish creatures would find him and come for him and crash down his door at any second.

After that, Zed avoided the gay bars for quite a few weeks, but inevitably the loneliness returned, and the resentment returned, and out he went once more. He managed a few quiet drinks this time, and a bit of a dance, before he was aggressively hit on by a guy whose once-attractive features were now marred by the most monstrous of dick-noses. It was a bizarre experience for Zed, being chatted up by this absolute mutant, whose self-confidence was sky high purely because of the monstrous abomination he had grown on his own face. Finally, when all attempts at subtlety failed, and Zed couldn’t get the guy to just go the fuck away, he told him flat out that manatee noses really turned him off. The guy watched him with a calculating gaze, whipped out his phone, and snapped a picture of Zed. Before Zed could be entirely sure what was happening, the guy had tapped and swiped and tapped some more, and then he flipped the screen around to show Zed the result.

“You’d be so much hotter!” Dick-Nose yelled over the music. “Big is beautiful, man – ain’t no need to be jealous! I can hook you up, yo – I know this guy, works strictly on the down-low from a hotel car park, and he’d do you a pretty sweet deal! We’d put in 20ml for starters, then-”

To Zed, his words filtered through a red haze of disbelief, fury, and nauseous dismay. Glowing from the screen in front of him was a picture of himself, looking mildly shell-shocked, with the most gigantic dick-nose he’d ever seen in his life. Worse than this though, it was so realistic – the image was burning itself into his brain forever more, until the ground seemed to sink beneath his feet and he had the horrifying sensation that he was staring into a mirror, and it was all too late, too damn fucking late. The strobes were flashing again, the guy yelling in his ear about prices and sizes and internet-purchased self-injection kits, and Zed just about managed to pull himself together enough to shout,

“I HOPE IT ROTS RIGHT OFF YOUR FUCKING FACE!” before he whirled around and stormed out into the night.

As he strode furiously through the rain, Zed’s phone vibrated in his pocket, and when he reached the shelter of his apartment building, he pulled it out to find that the hideous picture was now saved to his phone, complete with the message,

“2-for-1 deal on 2mrw, bring a friend. Back of Red Lake Motel, noon!”

Zed snarled at his phone, feeling another wave of horror and confusion – he certainly hadn’t given that dick-nosed wanker his phone number, but the stupid devices came with so many apps installed these days he couldn’t keep track of what was possible anymore. Apparently dick-nose could now harass him throughout eternity with nose-job deals, and this really was the final straw. Zed marched into his apartment, grabbed a bag of A-positive, and crashed into the storage room, flinging off the lid of the coffin and staring down at John. Something inside him relaxed immediately, just a tiny bit, at the sight of that sleeping face. John’s black hair was a tangled, dusty chaos, his pretty young face smooth and untroubled, over a foot of empty air between the top of his head and the end of the coffin. Seeing John’s face was like coming home – always, but tonight it was particularly soothing to Zed, to gaze upon the one face that would never change, a face bereft of bizarre mutilations, a face that had never been stabbed with syringes and pumped full of crap. The face that was reflected in every one of his favourite memories… But as Zed sat there, that sense of peace rapidly faded into loneliness, just as it always did. John was nothing more than an empty shell, just like he’d been for the past nine years. He might as well be a faded photograph, the urn of a loved one’s ashes, for all the comfort he brought. And as Zed sat and stared, the unfairness boiled inside him once more, that he had to deal with this shitty, shitty world, all alone, while John sat it out completely, nestled inside his satin-lined coffin, stubbornly oblivious. As this thought crossed Zed’s mind, John smiled peacefully in his sleep, and Zed lost his shit completely.

“Wake UP!” he hissed, grabbing John’s shoulders and violently shaking him. “Wake the fuck up you lazy little arsehole!”

John remained limp and lifeless, still smiling, and Zed shook him all the harder, snapping,

“If you do not wake up this fucking second so help me god I am going to piss all over you! You can spend all eternity in a coffin full of PISS for all I care, you lazy, self-centred, obnoxious, selfish little shit! I AM GOING TO-”

“Wha’ th’fck…” mumbled John, beginning to frown sleepily. “Wha’…wha’?”

Zed stopped shaking him, and attempted to pry John’s eyes open. Finally a bleary green eye stared back at him, and John mumbled,

“Wha…whass…goin’ on? You gon’…piss on me?”

“Yes,” said Zed, grinning widely. “If you don’t wake up right now and keep me company, I am going to piss on you. Right in your hair.”

John let out a grumble of disgust, opened his other eye, and stared at Zed with a bemused frown. When the silence stretched on, Zed broke open the IV tube on the bag of blood, and stuffed it into John’s mouth. John sighed happily, and drained the entire thing in seconds. When it was gone, he clumsily tugged it out of his mouth, yawned, and mumbled,

“’s a bit early…f’me…”

“It is not fucking early!” Zed snapped, “You’ve been asleep for nine years!”

John shrugged, and closed his eyes, lapsing back into corpse-like stillness. The sight of it sent a shiver of absolute terror down Zed’s spine, another nine years of abandonment crashing down on his head, and he pleaded desperately,

Please, John – just wake up for a little while, just for an hour or two! I need you! Everything’s so horrible, and I can’t bear it anymore!”

John opened one eye, and surveyed him like a haughty cat. Finally he let out a dramatic sigh, opened his other eye, and sat up, giving Zed a hug. Zed wrapped his arms around John’s small, dusty body, and never wanted to move again, but finally, John asked,

“What’s so horrible? Are they still…doing that dance?”

“No,” Zed told him. “It’s the noses… I just can’t stand the fucking noses anymore…”

“Think…” said John, “You’re going to have to explain…”

.

.

Over the next half hour, Zed sat John down in front of the laptop, and took him on a tour of mutilated human faces. John stared in quiet awe at the whole thing, then demanded a cigarette. Zed got him out an old stashed-away pack of Luckies, which was probably stale and revolting by now, but John sucked up the smoke delightedly regardless. Zed showed him the grisly Youtube videos of veneers being fitted, and John wrinkled his nose from within a cloud of smoke, before carefully poking his own teeth as if to make sure nothing terrible had happened to them during his absence. Eventually, when John seemed to be more or less up to speed, sniggering at an Instagram feed of one of the darlings of the manatee scene, a dark-haired boy with a veiny purple sausage-nose dangling right down over his lips, Zed sighed, and asked,

“Are you ready to see the thing that really fucked me up tonight?”

John glanced at him with a frown, and said,

“You mean…there’s more? More than…that? What else can they possibly do to themselves?” He paused, apparently considering this, then went on in speculative tones, “I think toes could be quite interesting, really. I think they might be the next big thing. These people are going completely crazy, but they’re definitely being innovative. So…what about toes? Lots of people in the world have foot fetishes, don’t they? And everybody has more toes than they need, probably. So…I think the next thing will be cutting off a toe, and just…sewing it onto your face. And then, instead of kissing, the people of the future will just suck on each other’s nose-toes…” He trailed off, and they both shuddered in unison.

“No,” said Zed, trying to banish that gruesome visual from his mind, “Nobody’s sewing toes onto their faces. Not yet, anyway. But…a few weeks ago, I took some…well, fuck, I don’t even know what I took, it didn’t exactly feel like acid, but no one does acid now anyway, it’s all this synthetic crap, but I was depressed, and angry, so I took this stupid pill, and I ended up in this godawful nightclub full of these dick-nosed wankers, and I was tripping hard, and it really…it just…scared the shit out of me, and then, tonight, I-”

“You’ve always been fucking lousy on acid,” John interrupted, lighting another cigarette. “Why haven’t you learned that yet? We don’t trip, or, well, you don’t trip, without a pocketful of valium and antipsychotics in case of an emergency. And in a gay club? On your own?” He shook his head in despair, exhaling a cloud of cigarette smoke.

“Yeah,” Zed muttered, cracking open the nearest whiskey bottle, “It was stupid. But as I might have mentioned, you’ve been asleep for the past nine fucking years, and you’re the one with the mysterious ability to summon up any drug known to man at a moment’s notice. I can barely get weed without you…”

“Apparently you can get synthetic LSD. That sounds interesting…”

“It wasn’t. I mean, it really, really wasn’t! It was even worse than that time in ’69 when we tripped with your ‘harmless hippies’ who turned out to be the Manson family. Worse than that.”

“Bummer,” John mumbled, yawning. Zed watched him with a frown – his eyelids were drooping and he looked half asleep. How in hell a person could sleep for nine years and still be tired was absolutely beyond him, but he could feel his time with John slipping away by the second.

“Look at this,” he commanded, pulling out his phone, suppressing a shudder as he brought up the edited picture, and thrusting it under John’s nose. “Just look at this fucking thing!” John stared at it in groggy bemusement for several long seconds, before asking,

“When was this taken? You…you did that thing? To your own nose? Ohhh, it’s hideous, Zed, thank god it’s gone away now!”

“I didn’t do that thing!” Zed snapped, rolling his eyes, “I’m not completely fucking mental! I went to a club, tonight, and this dick-nosed wanker started hitting on me, and then he…I dunno, he photoshopped me into…into this, and now he’s trying to make me get it done for real! He wants you to get it done too, this ‘two for one offer, bring a friend, you can both get mutilated into total twats together’ thing! This is what I’m dealing with, John, every fucking day! This is what life is like now, and you’ve just left me, to deal with it all by myself! It’s not fair, and I can’t-” He broke off as John’s head nodded forward, and just before he fell off the sofa, John woke himself up with a jolt, beginning to blearily rub his eye. Zed watched him dubiously – John had had the occasional dalliance with heroin since the eighties, and this was an all too familiar sight. But when John met his gaze, his pupils were perfectly normal, and besides, he hadn’t left Zed’s side for a second since he’d stumbled out of the coffin…

“’m really sleepy…” John mumbled, by way of explanation, flopping over and burying his face in Zed’s chest. “The noses’re…awful, but…’m jus’ really sleepy…”

How?” Zed asked. “How in fuck’s name can you possibly be sleepy?!”

John just sighed, but after a long silence, he dragged himself upright, and mumbled,

“I toldjoo ‘m not ready to…wake up yet. ‘m sorry, but…’m just not. So…put on some…Lonesome Dove, or somethin’, ‘n just…hold me, for a while… before I go back to sleep…”

Zed frowned, torn between misery and sexual frustration – nine damn years he’d been waiting, and apparently he wasn’t even going to get a five minute fuck before John sodded off back into his coffin. But John was crumpling sideways onto the sofa, and Zed sighed, grabbing him and hauling him to his feet. They plodded a weaving path into the bedroom, where Zed zapped on some Lonesome Dove, and curled himself around John’s slim body. John tangled his fingers into Zed’s hair, rolling over and sleepily biting his neck, mumbling,

“’m sorry… I guess y’could just…sleep…with me, in my coffin, f’r a…few years, or somethin’…”

“I can’t,” Zed said quietly. “I can’t just…crawl into a box for decades, wake up not knowing what’s going on. One of us has to keep up with the world…”

“S’pose…” John conceded. “Sorry ‘m so shit…”

Me too, thought Zed, but instead he kissed John on the forehead, and they lapsed into silence. Zed tried to soak it up, every second of this – every slow, steady breath John took, every tiny movement of his fingers, lazily stroking Zed’s hair. John was still here, and still himself, even after nine years in a coffin. Dead to the world, but not dead. Never dead – not really. However long it took, Zed decided, he could wait it out, keeping up with all the demented trends of the mortal world, until finally, some day, when John was ready, every night would be like this, just like it used to be – John’s small body nestled into Zed’s, Lonesome Dove on the TV. No more loneliness, no more depressing masturbation, no more soulless gay clubs. Someday…

Even the noses didn’t seem so terrifying, now he’d shared them with John. Everything he went through, battling this hideous modern world, he would store it up in his mind, nothing more than a strange tale to tell John, when he finally emerged from the coffin. Whenever that might be…

Zed had just about resigned himself to this fate, when John groggily raised his head, and said,

“Make me some coffee, Zed… N’one’s fucked me in…nine years…or somethin’…”

Zed laughed, asking,

“Really? I think it might traumatise me for life if you go into corpse mode with my cock in your mouth…”

John gave him a serene smile, and promised,

“I’ll stay awake…prob’ly. I’ll risk it…f’you will. Coffee?”

“Coffee,” Zed agreed. “Strong fucking coffee.”

“For fucking with,” said John, sniggering.

 

On the Other Side of the Ouija Board

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on December 3, 2015 by ofherbsandaltars

Steven was getting pretty pissed off with the living, of late. Ouija boards everywhere, all these jumped up bastards surrounding themselves with candles, trying to feel like their dull little lives would be a tiny bit cooler if they could just rattle off a ghost story at the local pub. Everywhere he floated these days, Steven found these obnoxious breathers pestering him with their Ouija boards, their ridiculous questions – Is anybody out there? Is Granny Marshall listening? Give me a sign! Admittedly, Steven quite liked that last one – he was getting rather adept at giving them a sign, but they never seemed to cotton on. Steven’s favourite ‘sign’ came in the form of ghostly flatulence – he would summon up the rotting gasses from his decaying remains, where they lay buried in mud some fifteen miles away, and he would release this ungodly spectral fart into the room, directly into the face of his questioner. Sadly, it never seemed to terrify them – they usually blamed it on the dog. Best he ever got was a bit of retching. And then the inane questions would resume.

Is Granny Marshall listening? Well, what the bloody hell do you think! Steven found it endlessly infuriating, how naïve the living could be about these matters. He honestly wondered whether the whole world had gone completely senile – didn’t they understand the most basic fundamentals of time and space, let alone of social etiquette? If they had a friend called Bob, and Bob lived in London, then Bob lived in fucking London, didn’t he? Just because Bob had a passion for Levi jeans, you couldn’t walk into a shopping mall in the middle of California and start hollering, “IS BOB LISTENING? GIVE ME A SIGN, BOB!” No matter how dead Bob, or Steven, or Granny Marshall might be, they weren’t God, and that meant they were never going to be omnipresent. And didn’t they realise the dead had better things to be doing, believe it or not, than floating around the rooms of their relatives, watching them burp and fart and masturbate, year after year, on the off chance that they might finally bother using a Ouija board – Granny Marshall had places to be, and things to see! Things that were far more interesting than watching her grandchild scrolling endlessly up and down Facebook while picking her nose – the kind of spirits who found that interesting, weren’t likely to be the ones you wanted to converse with, as Steven saw it.

Although, of course, Steven supposed it was really the telephone that had fucked it all up – breathers could actually do that these days. They just pressed some buttons, and summoned up any living entity, anywhere on the planet, speaking right into their ear. And for some ridiculous fucking reason, they assumed that ghosts had worked out the same technology. Those bloody breathers thought that Ouija boards were like a telephone switchboard, and that any ghost in the vicinity would happily sit there all night like an unpaid receptionist, wiring them through to any poltergeist, ghoul or shadowchild anywhere on the planet. And quite frankly, Steven thought they should all just fuck right off. In fact, that was his signature phrase – it took a lot of effort to push those damn things across the board, particularly against the will of breathers who inevitably shoved the thing about on their own, spelling out all the drivelling bollocks of their deluded, egotistical minds, but on days when Steven was feeling particularly powerful, he got great satisfaction out of telling them, amidst a sinister cloud of ghostly flatulence, to –

F – U –C – K – R – I – G – H – T – O – F –F

But the thing that Steven really didn’t get, the thing that really, really ground his gears about the whole Ouija board palaver, was why the breathers gave a shit in the first place. Didn’t they realise that ghosts were just dead people? Didn’t they realise how socially inept, bizarre and deranged they seemed, behaving in this way? When Steven had been a living person, no one had found him very interesting at all! Certainly, no strangers had spoken to him on the street, much less invited him randomly into their houses and begun asking him personal questions about their love life. So why in hell did the living do these things to him now that he was dead? Why was talking to strangers suddenly so fascinating, just because the stranger was a dead one? Wasn’t it just a bit weird, to walk into a half empty room full of total strangers – an art gallery, for instance – and suddenly start hollering “HELLO?! AM I GOING TO GET PREGNANT THIS YEAR? GIVE ME A SIGN!” – Steven knew for a fact that you’d get tossed into the loony bin within a month, if you treated the living the way they treated the dead, but with this Ouija board craze, all rules of politeness and sanity went straight out of the window!

Of course, Steven did get bored, and lonely, now and then, so occasionally he’d indulge the whims of these socially backwards breathers, but it was always a depressing affair. No one ever gave a shit about Steven. He could’ve told them a few interesting things, if they’d actually bothered to ask – the dynamics of summoning up a ghostly fart, for instance, or how in cemeteries, the undead got drunk on ectoplasmic mead and told crude stories about all the personal secrets they’d been given across a Ouija board –

“You would not believe it mate, you would not fuckin’ believe it, the shit I was told last night by this girl! I mean, she wasn’t bad looking, all in all, had a bit of a weird eye, been eatin’ too many pies, but I’d’ve done her if my cock wasn’t rotting off in that tomb over there, but anyway, anyway, that ain’t the point, is it? I’m gettin’ off topic here! Point is, she ain’t bad looking, so I told her I was this handsome vampire, you know what they’re like these days, vampire’s the thing to be – so I’m this six-foot tall vampire called Edwardius Prenderghast (that took a lot of shovin’ around the board, let me tell you, but it was worth it!), and as soon as she thinks I’m this muscly sexpot spectre, she starts telling me all this bollocks about her relationships falling to bits, and how she thinks it’s because she’s got the soul of a fucking fairy and no one understands her, and how she’s drinking this iodine bollocks to clean out her third fucking eye – what the fuck is it, mate, with humans these days obsessing over having an extra eyeball in the middle of their fucking foreheads? Oooooh, I’d be an all powerful god if I could just clean up my imaginary fucking eyeball! Flouride in the water what does it, innit, clogging up my fucking mystical eyeball! That’s why I’m so fucking single! Jesus fuck, mate, this bird was bollocks raving nuts. She went off at me for half the night about all this crap – wanted me to summon up a unicorn ghost for her, so I told her I was already riding one, and she got really excited then. Like…sexually excited. And you know I’m up for that, rotten cock or no, but I couldn’t get into it, fact is, I couldn’t stop laughing. Best thing about being dead, I reckon – breathers treat you like the local priest, they tell you fuckin’ everything! And none of ‘em know that every night we’re down here takin’ the piss out of all the total bollocks they spout!”

So admittedly, for Steven and the rest of the dead, there were some positives to Ouija boards. The living got their ghost stories, and the ghosts got their “aren’t the living a bunch of total twats” stories. But all the same, it made Steven a bit depressed. The living were so self obsessed – if he ever replied to them on a Ouija board, they’d just ask him questions about themselves – Will I get a new job soon? Does Mikey really love me? Will I ever get pregnant? – or they made him jump through pointless, stupid hoops – What’s my favourite colour? Blow out a candle! Knock on the window! GIVE ME A SIGN! – or worse, they made it patently obvious that they didn’t give a shit about Steven, and only wanted to talk to a very, very specific ghost, which was a double kick in the eye. For starters, Steven had been polite enough to reply, and they didn’t even give him the courtesy of a five minute chat about spectral fart technology, and secondly, why in hell did they think ghost stories were so unusual? These sodding breathers, why couldn’t they put two and two together? Billions of them on the planet these days, thousands of years in human history – didn’t they realise how many people had died in the world? Didn’t they realise that they’d be tripping over ghosts left, right and centre, every moment of every day, if every goddamn Granny Marshall remained floating about the planet waiting to talk to them across a Ouija board?! It was so obvious, but the breathers never got it – it was a curse to be stuck here, and every time they asked to speak to someone who wasn’t there, who was in a better place, Steven was reminded of his curse – of his misery.

The real reason the ghosts liked to get pissed up every single night and bitch about breathers, was because it made them feel better about their own shitty situation. Nothing cheered up a morose soul quicker than talking about what a wanker somebody else was, so that was what they did, every damn night for all eternity, or until they finally found their way home. What lay on the other side, what lay in the promised land, the earthbound ghosts still didn’t know. Some of them had caught glimpses, and it wasn’t at all like the Biblical heaven – understandably. The humans only knew life on Earth, caged in their bodies, trapped by the rules of earthly physics. The great beyond had a whole new set of rules, and from the little Steven knew, it was surreal enough to blow the minds of all those Bible-clutching breathers. But what he did know, was that you weren’t alone there, not anymore – not ever again. Souls lost their shape there, which sounded terrifying, but it wasn’t really – everyone melded together, until communication was wordless and immediate, until loneliness and misunderstanding and awkwardness ceased to exist, until every soul was immersed and glowing in the everlasting cuddle-puddle of eternal bliss. From the glimpses he’d seen, it was as warm and bright as the haloed flames of a million shining candles, it was a soft feather bed on a winter’s day, the laughter of young lovers, it was gleaming gold and pearl white and rose pink, the colour of peace, the colour of angels, and one thing Steven knew for sure was that no one ever came crawling back to this shitty existence, having spurned the embrace of that perfect realm. But despite all his longing, Steven had never made it there.

The problem with the great beyond, was that it truly was beyond. The laws of physics on Earth were very different to the surreal set of rules in the great beyond. And that meant that travelling between the two was somewhat fraught with difficulty. Every soul had an automatic ticket, precisely four days after the expiration of their fleshly form. Four days, a spirit had, to say his goodbyes, and get ready for lift off, but not every spirit made the flight. Most that stayed behind were bitter and evil, and rather than saying goodbye to their loved ones, they realised how much fun it was to be dead, and sinister, and accursed. They chose to stay behind, forever fucking with the minds of the living. Others remained on earth because they were afraid – fear of change was innate to the human condition, and ghosts weren’t so very different. Most of the spirits getting drunk in cemeteries filled this category – they were comfortable with their world of beer and football, and they couldn’t leave without seeing the next match, without getting a solid confirmation on whether Stella Artois existed in heaven, could they? Then, finally, there were the disorganised spirits, who just plain old missed their flight. Steven was one of those.

Steven had always been disorganised, and it seemed a cruel irony that his disorganisation had not only killed him, but cursed him to wander the Earth eternally. On his final day as a breather, Steven had missed his train, and been forced to take a phenomenally expensive taxi to his business meeting, which as a final insult after shelling out fifty fucking quid, had been ploughed into by a lorry and Steven had been crushed to death between that sodding lorry and a particularly large and stubborn tree. And after that, well, he’d gotten the memo about the Four Day Rule – get back to your corpse for the pick up, or you’ll be sorry – but after spending four days shooting around England trying to get a quick glimpse of his ex girlfriend in the nude, and paying a final visit to his mum’s grave in case she was waiting there for him, he tried to fit in a quick visit to a stripclub to really make the most of his invisibility in the changing rooms, and he got so carried away that he misjudged the time and got there an hour late. And that was that. Stuck on earth forever.

But there was hope now, finally – a slim hope, but hope nonetheless. A crackpot idea had been passed on by an old ghost called Edgar, which all the other ghosts had blown off as babbling nonsense – a way to hitch a ride into the great beyond. It had seemed like utterly deluded bullshit for years, until all of a sudden, Edgar disappeared. Vanished completely – couldn’t be found anywhere. He’d actually made it, out of this accursed place, and into the great beyond. And after that, Steven had been forced to believe. Edgar’s theory had been that a newly-dead soul had passage to the great beyond, obviously – that golden one-way ticket – and perhaps, that soul could bring a passenger along…but only if both souls were willing. This was where the challenge lay, he had said, remorsefully. Four days was all you had, to track down a freshly dead soul, and befriend it so hard it would risk its own everlasting happiness to bring you along with it. Which, of course, was complicated even more by the fact that newly dead souls were so damn busy during those four days – so many relatives, so many friends, to say goodbye to; most of them floated about weeping piteously as they watched their wives and children grieve them. It wasn’t really the best sort of time to sidle up and start with the New Friendship Conversations, asking them what team they supported, whether they’d read a good book before they kicked the bucket, that sort of thing. They’d usually just stare at you with reddened eyes, and tell you to fuck right off.

So, although Steven had the formula, he was well aware that it might take months, years, even decades. Edgar had been trying since 1976, before he finally vanished into the great beyond. And after a long period of depressing failures, Steven had decided that the only way to preserve his sanity was to take the occasional break. Three weeks out of every month, he haunted the local hospital – an obvious breeding ground for newly-ejected souls. This way, he could float about, reading patients’ charts and listening to doctors, getting an idea of who was likely to croak. Then, he’d stay in their room for days on end, getting to know the dying one, and all their family members, so that as soon as they dropped dead, he could behave as though he was their guardian angel, watching over them, ready to ease their transition from the trauma of death, towards the eternal bliss of the great beyond. His approach was getting pretty well polished now, but it was still slow going. Ghosts were as unpredictable as breathers, and in a hospital like this, Steven had plenty of competition – all too often, the newly dead would latch onto a ghost in the same situation, frequently another ex-breather they’d known in the hospital. They were in the same boat, and Steven couldn’t compete with that. It was a long and frustrating crusade, and as a result, Steven had begun taking one week off in every month, just to keep himself halfway sane.

But between the hospital trips, and all these sodding Ouija boards, Steven was getting more and more pissed off with the living. All those poor unfortunate bastards dying in hospital beds, full of regrets, scrabbling to make amends to those they’d hurt, those they’d ignored. And then out here, in the world, all the healthy breathers were just carelessly pissing their lives away, huddled over that damned Ouija board, obsessively harassing the ghosts of total strangers. If they were so desperate for conversation, why didn’t they talk to their lonely old neighbour instead? Why didn’t they do some good on Earth instead of relentlessly pestering imaginary entities, or talking to ghosts who thought they were deluded fucking wankers? Wasn’t there something better they could be doing with their precious, limited time? Instead of trying to talk to the ghost of Granny Marshall when it was much too goddamn late, why didn’t they go and visit their mum instead, so that when she died, they wouldn’t have any regrets – they’d just let her drift off into the afterlife, where she was supposed to be. Round and round they went, in this shambolic, idiotic spectacle – obsessing over the realm of the dead, obsessing over the ghosts they’d wronged, ghosts who’d moved the hell on, whilst continuing to blunder through their real lives, ignoring all the other people, the living people, who needed them so much more.

It was a pretty infuriating thing to watch, night after endless night, and the only things Steven could do to keep his sanity intact were to spend half his week off getting pissed up in the cemetery with the other lost causes, and the rest of the time, he would vent his wrath through the medium of spectral farts and snarky Ouija board messages like

S – U – C – K – M – Y – D – I – C – K

and

Y – O – U – F – U – C – K – I – N – G – P – I – L – L – O – C – K

But mostly, Steven just kept his eyes on the prize. He had the solution now, the recipe for success – eventually, he would vanish, just like Edgar, into the eternal bliss of the great beyond. And so, when the breathers drove him mad, he tried to satisfy himself with that, with the knowledge that soon he would be free of all these imbeciles, the dead and the living alike. All these misguided prats huddled over their spooky boards, they’d find out soon enough. And by then, Steven would be long gone, basking in the candlelit warmth of his hard-earned afterlife.

Soon enough, they’d see.

 

The Cruel Fate of Coco

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on November 11, 2015 by ofherbsandaltars

The Coco Pops monkey was just like any other child star – deeply and irrevocably fucked up. He’d been captured from his native jungle when he was just a baby, and at the time it had seemed like a triumph. Coco’s dad had been a forward-thinking monkey, who enjoyed swinging through the trees around the nearest village, and watching the progression of human culture. He would tell Coco tales of faraway places, of the things the humans had built and created. One day he’d brought Coco a baseball cap that he’d stolen from the humans, and Coco had worn it with pride – it seemed a weird thing, initially, the idea of wearing something on your head that served no purpose and wasn’t for eating, but his dad had taken him down to the village, and explained what clothing meant. It meant having an identity, it meant creating your own image – often the humans wore on their chest the symbols of the music and culture they loved and believed in. After that, Coco came to like his cap, because it made him different, and even the humans in the village grew quite fond of him, that little monkey in the hat.

Coco’s reputation with the villagers had grown, and it wasn’t long before the people from Kelloggs came down to meet him – they were looking for a new mascot, a new star, and Coco was dazzled by everything they told him. He was to leave his jungle home, and move to the city of London, where he would have an apartment all of his own, overlooking the bright lights of that thriving, vibrant city. His image would be on cereal boxes all over the country, and he would even be on television, like a real live star! Coco felt a pang of sadness about leaving his family, but his father urged him on, as did the rest of the monkeys – none of them would ever see anything beyond this jungle, and Coco was being offered the chance to see the world. It made Coco feel special, and after three days of talks with the people from Kelloggs, he agreed to their terms, and said a teary but hopeful goodbye to his family, and to the jungle he had always known.

That had been fifty-three years ago, and since then, a lot had changed. Coco’s image was still splattered across cereal boxes all over Europe, and to any onlooker, he was the same fun-loving, happy monkey he’d always been, but the truth had become far grimmer. Since the very first day Coco arrived in London, bright-eyed and over-excited, he’d been given ‘vitamin pills’ to ‘make him strong’. It was several decades before he realised they were hormone blockers, designed to stop him ever growing up. Forever and always, Coco would be small, endearing and childlike, but they couldn’t halt his ageing altogether. For the past fifteen years Coco had endured endless needles to the face, botox and juvederm, paralysing his muscles, plumping up his cheeks – the botox regime was so intense that Coco couldn’t show any emotions at all, his face permanently frozen in a wide, happy grin. Coco had smashed every mirror in his apartment, because he couldn’t stand it, feeling so much pain on the inside, while his frozen face grinned and grinned as though it was the happiest day of his life. Sometimes he wondered, in the depths of some bleak, drunken midnight, whether when he died and his flesh rotted away, his skull too would be fixed forever in that same imbecilic smile.

Of course it had been good to begin with – the bright lights, the big city, the adulation of those human children. Coco had loved Coco Pops when he first tried them – they were an explosion of crunchy sweetness unlike anything he’d ever tasted in the jungle. One of the stipulations of his contract was that he would be given a lifetime’s supply of Coco Pops, so he ate them and ate them for every meal, but soon he started getting fat, and that wasn’t good for the marketing. Coco tried to diet, but fruit seemed so bland now, and all his cupboards were stuffed with Coco Pops, eternally tempting him. Soon enough he’d learned how to get rid of it, to stuff himself with Coco Pops, then slip away to the bathroom, insert one long hairy finger into the back of his throat and regurgitate a torrent of chocolate milk. He lost the weight rapidly, but it left him feeling strangely vague and empty, curled up on the bathroom floor, missing his family, missing his jungle.

As Coco aged without ageing, he began to experiment with nightlife, but after he was photographed drunk with a cigarette in 1984, the Kelloggs people were furious – Coco was the mainstay of their brand, and he was a children’s character, for god’s sake, if the parents found out that he was drinking and smoking, their stocks would plummet, don’t you know what that means, Coco? Millions of pounds, millions of jobs, millions of innocent children, all relying on you! After that shameful night, Coco was more or less imprisoned in his apartment, but he got bored, so bored, and after all he was still a star, with bodyguards to do his bidding, so Coco just partied at home, privately – all alone. His bodyguard was a simple but well-meaning man with a shaven head and missing teeth, and for the next three decades he brought Coco anything he asked for – vodka, weed, cigarettes, heroin. Coco spent all day every day staring at the TV, drunk out of his mind, in a fug of cigarette smoke, surrounded by overflowing ashtrays, syringes, spilled bottles of valium. Years ago he’d turned his own TV adverts into a sort of sick, masochistic drinking game. Whenever his own beaming face appeared on the TV, he would pour out half a glass of vodka, down it with a handful of valium, and start cooking up a shot of heroin, muttering bitterly under his breath, “I’d rather have a bowl of Coco Pops…”

Coco still looked presentable enough to star in those adverts, once he’d been given a good wash and a haircut, and sometimes they would make him wear coloured contact lenses, to hide the redness of his glassy, dilated eyes. But with these preparations made, in front of the camera he returned to being that sprightly, carefree monkey, and just like always, he leapt around, grinning eternally, devouring Coco Pops, then shuffling off to the bathroom to throw them all up again. The only thing Coco couldn’t do anymore was his own voice-overs – somewhere around 1987 they’d brought in a voice actor, because Coco’s voice sounded like roadkill dragged through gravel, full of booze and cigarettes and sadness, and when he spoke his childish lines they sounded tragic, doomed, ironic, so they dubbed him over with the high-pitched enthusiasm of a perky woman in her twenties.

Then, in 2015 a famous human chef started up a ‘sugar tax’, and he pointed the finger directly at Coco. Human children were getting fatter and fatter by the year, so much so that they’d had to make up a new word for fat – ‘fat’ was just normal now; ‘obese’ was the new fat. And all of these obese children with their Type 2 diabetes and their asthma and their heart conditions, who would drop dead long before their parents did, it was all being blamed on Coco. From the rumours he’d heard, he was going to be sacked, so that he couldn’t “corrupt the minds” and health of children anymore, but then where would he go? He couldn’t bear the thought of returning to the jungle, full of shame, bereft of heroin – his mother and father were long dead anyway. The one spark of hope for Coco was that maybe now, once he was sacked, once he was free, he could finally be himself – he could tell his bitter truth after all these years, get his vengeance on the Kelloggs people, who had stolen his life and destroyed it all, kept him rotting away eternally behind the bolted doors of this gleaming apartment.

Unfortunately, Coco wasn’t much of a secret keeper. The Kelloggs people had come round to discuss his ‘contractual alterations’, and Coco had been slumped across the rug, the whole apartment foggy with cigarette smoke, a half empty vodka bottle rolling across the floor, and so many needles stabbed into the arm of the sofa it resembled a junkie hedgehog. Today, Coco had seen four of his own adverts, as Kelloggs went for a final push before the new ‘sugar tax’ legislation came into play. As a result, even by Coco’s standards, he was pretty well fucked up. And those smug, condescending Kelloggs people came round to tell him that he was being all but fired – the new ‘sugar tax’, and its ban on Coco’s advertising, only applied to the UK, so they had considered moving Coco to Berlin, where he would continue to star in European adverts, but due to his ‘current circumstances’, they had instead chosen to terminate his contract entirely. Coco stared at them with vacant eyes, his face frozen, as ever, in that eerie, empty grin, and they stared down at him with contempt – glossing over this betrayal with their fancy words, until Coco started laughing, muttering,

Terminate me? We’ll see about that… Poison. Iss all just poison. They know it’s poison, and soon enough they’ll know who the real poisoner is…” He dissolved into raspy laughter, draining the dregs of his vodka bottle, and the Kelloggs people looked at each other for a long time. Finally, they asked,

“What do you mean by that, Coco?”

Coco snorted. “Nothin’ at all. I got nothin’ to say to you anymore…but I got plenty to say to the world, soon’z you let me out of here. None of your business though, is it, now I’m terminated…”

The Kelloggs people shared another long, meaningful glance, then one reached into his pocket, and held out his hand to the drunken monkey. In his palm rested five scrunched rizlas, each forming a little white ball with a twisted tail, and Coco reached out a trembling hand and snatched them up, asking,

“Wha’d I do to deserve this?”

“Just a little goodbye present,” said the Kelloggs man, with his forced, artificial smile. “Tide you over until Tuesday. Two more days here, then they’ll come to move you out – don’t worry about the details, it’s all been arranged for you.”

Coco didn’t bother to reply, dragging himself into a sitting position and riffling through the detritus for a brown-stained spoon and a lighter. The Kelloggs people turned, and walked away, ushering Coco’s bodyguard out with them, where they delayed him in the corridor for the better part of twenty minutes, discussing the fine-print of his contractual alterations – for him, it meant early retirement, well-paid to sweeten the deal; Coco’s affairs were to remain private, so that the world would always remember him as the cheerful, smiling Coco Pops monkey, and not the disaster he had become.

When the bodyguard re-entered the apartment, Coco was sprawled out amongst the chaos, fingers splayed and rigid, eyes wide open, yet showing nothing but white, frothy vomit filling his mouth – no pulse, no heartbeat, no breathing. The Kelloggs people returned with surprising promptness, relieving the bodyguard of his duties – telling him to rest assured that their poor, fallen monkey’s affairs would be put lovingly in order, after five decades of faithful service.

The next day, the papers told of a tragic heart attack suffered by Coco the Monkey, who had been distressed beyond endurance by the foul accusations of chef Jamie Oliver. A sweet and gentle creature, he had lived solely to bring joy to children, and the accusations thrown at him – that he was poisoning, was killing the children he loved so dearly – it had all been too much for him to take. In the wake of Coco’s obituary, children and parents alike cried out at the cruelty of Jamie Oliver’s ‘sugar tax’ – generations had grown up eating their breakfast as Coco smiled down at them from the cereal box, and his untimely death was the British version of Cecil the Lion. Support for Jamie The Murderer’s sugar tax faltered, then failed, until it was thrown out altogether in the House of Lords. Finally, as before, Kelloggs could use whatever mascot they liked, but it was all too late for poor, beloved Coco.

At the funeral, there was an open casket, and in it lay the corpse of a slim and youthful monkey, lying peacefully in eternal sleep. In the depths of a Kelloggs factory, a hefty bin-bag was dragged across the floor, smelling strangely of cigarette smoke and rotting flesh, before it was hoisted into the fiery depths of the incinerator.

I Don’t Want To Be A Dungbeetle

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on September 24, 2015 by ofherbsandaltars

“I think I might be different,” said George. “I think I might be-”

“You ain’t different,” George’s mother interrupted. “You’re a dungbeetle, just like the rest of us. Ain’t no one ‘different’ in this family!”

“But I don’t think I want to be a dungbeetle,” said George. “I think I want to make music, and I think I want to-”

“You ain’t makin’ music! Your father rolls shit, I rolled shit before I ‘ad you, and your granddaddy rolled so much shit it killed him. You’re a dungbeetle, George, and you’ll bloody well roll shit like one!”

“Aye,” agreed George’s dad, scuttling in and shaking the shit off his six feet. “You’ll roll shit, son, and you’ll roll it wi’ pride!”

“Don’t know how,” muttered George. “It smells so bad…”

“That,” said his father, unwrapping a squashed cheese sandwich, “Is the smell of legacy! It’s a proud thing, bein’ a dungbeetle.” He proceeded to devour the sandwich without even washing his hands, and George sighed.

“It’s easy for you,” said George, “You’re a proper dungbeetle. But how am I ever supposed to roll shit with only two legs, and these…awful, mutated flaps? I’ll never be able to-”

“Ain’t nothin’ wrong wi’ you, son,” said his mother firmly. “Dungbeetles lose their legs all the time, an’ it’s just a sign you worked hard. Ain’t your fault you came out a bit…different.”

“But that’s exactly what I’m saying! I’m different! And I want to be different! Last night I couldn’t sleep, again, and I heard this music, and it was-”

“Fuckin’ owls,” grumbled his dad. “Fuckin’ menace, those owls.”

“…it was…beautiful…” George finished, wistfully.

“Owls ain’t beautiful! Shit is beautiful!”

George lapsed into silence, and sulkily examined his fingers. Except his fingers were all wrong, just like they’d always been – they were sort of feathery and flappy and useless. Come to mention it, George was covered in feathers all over, the result of some hideous undiagnosed medical condition. Dungbeetles didn’t have feathers. Everyone laughed at George. His mum had tried plucking them out when he was young, but it hurt, and underneath he was all pink and bumpy, not at all like a normal dungbeetle. So they just let the feathers grow back, and George hid away from the beetles who mocked him. The daylight hurt his eyes, anyway – it made him sleepy. Night time was when he really felt alive, and he’d listen to the distant music of those strange creatures they called ‘owls’, and he’d wish that he could be an owl, as well.

The Opium Sanctuary

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 8, 2015 by ofherbsandaltars

2nd September, 1865:

I think that I like being immortal – it suits my temperament. I always thought I had the right temperament for wealth and power – I certainly had the right face for it, but a face will only get you so far unless you’re prepared to throw your arse into the deal as well, which I most certainly was not. Well…not usually. Only for the right price. And not for anybody hideous, stinking, or syphilitic, which of course rules out the majority of London. But anyway, those days are behind me. Now that I’m immortal, and in possession of a whole slew of fiendish talents, my lifestyle has finally begun to suit my temperament.

Look around you, for instance. This is the sort of place in which I was always supposed to be living. One could almost call it obscene. Vast and sprawling, most certainly, with the lovely dark wood panelling and the Oriental rugs covering these age-worn floorboards, trampled into a warm patina, made silken underfoot by the aristocratic soles of two centuries of Lords and Ladies, the last of whom I confess I ate in order to secure the property. Their disapproving oil-painted likenesses scowl down at me daily, and I smile back up at them, relishing their annoyance. All that power, all that wealth, all that blue blood, and I swallowed the very last drop of it. I was a little disappointed to discover that it wasn’t actually blue – I even took a short trip to Windsor Castle to sample one of the lesser royals, as an experiment into the colours of blood, so I can tell you without any doubt at all – it isn’t true. Not a word of it. They didn’t even taste any different, really – a little richer on the tongue, a little more complex, a touch spiced, but that has nothing to do with breeding, and everything to do with diet. If you want a truly exquisite dining experience, you have to try seducing that enormous homosexual who always presides over the best dining houses – he is vast and ruddy-faced, an elegant brandy glass in his bejewelled fist, his little finger pointed to the sky like a prim old aunt. He will be bedecked in glorious satins like an obese peacock, forever drunk, reasonably amusing, and always receptive to the attentions of someone such as me. And this man, I tell you in no uncertain terms, has the finest blood in all of England. It’s the things he eats, you see. All the spices, the duck fat, the expensive port and the fine cigars – all these things, all these delicious trappings of wealth and finery, they are distilled into the thick red potion of his blood, and it is quite the experience. So much so, in fact, that I never kill this sort of man – I like to keep him alive and friendly, so that I might experience him again and again, and every time is a little different, for he is just as much the intrepid dining connoisseur as I am.

Anyway – I digress. Not that it matters – one is allowed to digress when one is well-dressed and wealthy. People never interrupt their betters, and everybody sounds more interesting in a well tailored suit. I am learning all sorts of things about life these days, which is ironic, when you consider that I am really dead. The details of that event, I do not care to dwell on. It was traumatic, and violating, and unpleasant. I often wish that I could have appeared as an elegant spectre to the slovenly pauper I was before, and told him, “Don’t be so bloody silly about the entire affair! There’s no need for all the screaming and howling and praying to a nonexistent god that we never believed in anyway! It will be over and done with in the space of a few hours, and after that, you will look like me, and your life will be splendid. So don’t be such a wet blanket about the whole affair!”. But of course, I can’t. Time travel and spectral haunting are not amongst my new boudoir of demonic skills. As for the downsides to immortality, well…there aren’t any, really. I can still drink wine and brandy – thank the gods! I mean, what aristocratic figure would be seen to be an abstainer? Wandering about the best ballrooms with a cup of steaming tea? Nobody would take me seriously, and they would be quite right in their mockery! So, I still have all the pleasures of a human.

I don’t have to concern myself with my family either – it was clear from the outset that they had every intention of leeching away my newfound wealth, so, naturally, I ate them, and then the matter was quite solved. As for my new family, my immortal family, they number just two. Obviously, there is the demon who created me, in every possible sense of the word, and he is quite pleasant enough. I only see him perhaps twice a week – he bought me this house, and set me up with a bank account, as he likes to keep me in the finery to which I have become accustomed. For him, I am quite willing to bring both my face, and my arse, into the bargain. His name is Byron. The second of my demonic clan is a rather spoiled and objectionable female named Matild, who is old enough to be my…god only knows what, to be perfectly honest, but you wouldn’t know it to look at her. Captured in the body of a pouting teenage concubine, and quite aware of her own good looks. Byron likes to fuck her on occasion, hence the reason for her continued existence in London – he often appears in my bed drenched in the poisonous stench of a whore’s bed-linens, and I refuse to present my posterior until he’s bathed himself clean. I do not interact with Matild. Because I’m jealous? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I suspect that Byron has more of us, to be honest – his appetites are insatiable and yet he only troubles me twice weekly; it is evident enough that he is fucking others in this city. But jealousy is an ugly emotion – I refuse to sully myself with it, and besides, it’s not as though I don’t have other people that I’m fucking. Byron isn’t jealous – it’s one of his many fine qualities; there are really no drawbacks to our little contract. I gave him my mortal soul, and he gave me…everything. Forever. So why should I be jealous?

My favourite thing in the world though, my favourite thing, in the midst of all this splendour, my oil paintings and rugs, my gleaming horses, my young, beautiful, obscenely shaved fucking-boys, my bottomless wealth and newfound social status – of all these things, there is one I love the most. I have many vices, and all of them delight me, but opium is the finest of them all. I am rarely to be found in an opium den, because they are foul places filled with foul people, and one’s reputation can be ruined in an instant if seen in such a place too frequently. But reputation doesn’t unduly trouble me – it’s the squalor that does. When one goes to an opium den, and smokes there, one is forced to sprawl out upon stained, stiffening pillows that reek of sweat and vomit, with dirty straw and rat droppings beneath one’s feet, and worse than this is the company. Opium ceases to be remotely enjoyable when one is forced to endure the inane babblings of the deformed, demented, frothing halfwits that frequent those places. Mortals in the depths of an opium dream are hideous to witness, sprawled about with strings of drool hanging from their slobbering mouths, groaning horrifyingly and scratching their filthy crotches, stumbling about like impinged ogres with their eyes gone crooked – it truly is the stuff of nightmares, and I strongly suspect that opium tar’s bad reputation is solely due to these scenes. But opium itself, is quite a different thing. Opium itself, is elegant and warm and beautiful – I think, in fact, that it is my favourite thing in the world. There is nothing about it that isn’t beautiful, from the fields of flame-red poppies whence it comes, to the intricately carved splendour of my pipes, to the warm golden light of the lamps and trays, and finally to the state of perfect contentment it invokes.

I realised all of this some nine months after Byron made me what I am. I rapidly set about transforming a room of my house into the most splendid private opium den I could manage, with gloriously coloured Oriental silk draperies and cushions, all the necessary setup created from hammered gold and copper, so that in the light of my lamps the whole room would become a glimmering paradise, a warm smoky heaven of my own creation. I purchased a selection of pipes in bone and silver and wood, all engraved and inset with fabulous stones, glittering opals and gleaming tigers-eye, so that I would always have things to touch and look at and wonder over. I brought in a variety of instruments from across the globe, and would spend whole nights hypnotised as I ran my fingers over the strings of a lute, or tilted a crude tribal creation back and forth to make the sound of falling rain. I installed a small library of my favourite books, complete with quills and ink and rose-scented paper, that I might write letters to my lovers from the true depths of my heart, with all my cynicism, all my mortal hindrances, washed clean by the opium. I employed two small Chinese slave boys, who were well versed in the preparation of opium tar, the loading and upkeep of pipes – of course one can do it oneself, but it’s such a bore; the whole point of wealth is to separate oneself from the mundane tasks of mortality, so that one has all the time in the world to pursue loftier and more valuable pastimes, like actually smoking the opium. It took several months to complete, but finally my opium room was perfect, and I loved it more than anything else on Earth.

It was my slave boys who made the trips down to those sordid dens on the river, bringing me back my opium. They get it for a far better price than any white man ever would, and despite their helpless youth, their own people would never beat and rob them – they’re quite safe out there. I feel a strange affection for those boys, borne of so many long, drowsy nights, when they would share my glistening sanctuary, silently loading my pipe and watching from a corner, still as statues, their dark eyes gleaming in the lamplight. They speak a little English, and sometimes I converse with them, just to hear their charming accents – so strange that their voices should sound endearing in English, when their own tongue is so harsh and jarring, a gibbering of wide, incredulous vowel sounds. The other servants I keep here, I confess I often feed on. Several have vanished mysteriously, having succumbed to my appetites and been dumped into the reeking mud of the river, but my opium boys I would never lay a finger on. Recently I have been teaching one to read, and encouraging the other to learn to play my piano. At first they stared at me in horror with their huge dark eyes, convinced that it was some trick – grubby little Oriental children, laying their fingers upon the ivory keys of this gleaming grand piano? It was blasphemy! But finally I convinced them to try, and so they did. He likes to play with two fingers only, picking out strange disjointed tunes that flow in their own odd way like early morning birdsong. I am considering having the piano moved closer to the opium room, that I might hear it while I dream.

Of course, there are plenty of other pleasures in life – often I think that life has become nothing more than an endless stream of perpetual pleasure, and I revel in every second of it, from the simplest to the most indulgent. Small pleasures are usually the product of Byron’s wealth – clean, luxurious bed-linens, to sprawl out upon, drunk and naked. Scented handkerchief water, and elegant cologne – for that matter, my marble bath, in which I might have each of my conquests cleansed and perfumed before we fuck. I still remember with distaste how foul fucking used to be, when I was just as foully poor. No matter how beautiful the boy or girl, I would kiss them and the taste of their mouth would make me recoil, or when they parted their legs, the stench that arose would be ungodly. Of course we would still go about our business, because in those days we knew no other way. People were all smelly creatures, weren’t they? Nothing to be done about it. How pleased I am to be taught otherwise! Tooth powder and brushes were quite the revelation – to kiss people whose mouths tasted of peppermint or pine, and then to perform orally on genitals that taste of nothing more than soft, fragrant skin; these things are pleasures in the utmost.

Another of my favourite pleasures, or perhaps vices, is pride. I always knew that I was beautiful, but there is no pride in that when you are poor, and your soon-to-wane beauty is the only thing you have in the cold, cruel world. These days, I am far more than just beautiful. My eyes were a sort of warm, trustworthy brown before, I was told, whereas now they are filled with light and dimension – gold glimmers and a deep, velvety violet lurks in their depths. The power of my eyes is also a benefit, that I may bewitch the minds of mortals, and have them do my bidding, but often there is no need to wield this advantage – my beauty alone undoes them. I am pale, and youthful, and my eyes are shocking against my white skin, my long dark hair. When I enter a ballroom, everyone turns to stare, and I stare back at each of them, drinking in the adulation in their eyes, assessing it, feeding upon it…working out who I shall fuck tonight. The most beautiful virgin girls in London allow me to deflower them, and then I make them thank me. And so they do. And I adore it.

In my bedroom, I keep an entire cabinet of absinthe – I am currently sampling a new one each night, or sometimes for a succession of nights, as an experiment into the pleasures of dreaming. Absinthe in the correct quantity produces splendid, vivid, and frequently erotic dreams, but you have to get it precisely right. Too little and you will be overly excited for sleep, too full of thoughts and fancies, but too much and you will close your eyes and be overcome with nausea. Yet with just the right quantity, combined with a touch of opium – for this I use the tincture, and add it to my drink – you will fall into a long and blissful sleep, full of awe-inspiring visions and depraved acts. These dreams I will often wake from, and yet strangely find that I may close my eyes, and return once more to the same dream, continued. Occasionally I am even visited with power and lucidity in these dreams – aware that I am dreaming, and then of course, I behave as no man may ever do in reality. In these rare lucid dreams, I have slain entire ballrooms and fucked the corpses as the orchestra played on with abandon, gore spattered across their faces. I have flown across otherworldly purple jungles as though I were a swooping bat, and above all, the things I have seen in these dreams are beyond all comprehension! In the depths of a normal dream, one takes all as reality – one never notices the absurdity. And yet, when one is dreaming, yet aware, one sees all – the people on the streets I walk down will have tongues for eyes, their heads on backwards, the scenery grotesquely, obscenely distorted, and when I awake, I try my best to draw the scenes I have witnessed. The art I create is depraved beyond words, and I never show it to anybody, or rather, I haven’t yet. I am still honing my skills, and I want the moment to be perfect, but I know for a fact that when I show it to the world, I will be lauded and despised as a pervert genius, and I shall love every second of it.

.

.

.

23rd August, 1872:

I think I am becoming bored with life, this summer. So many balls, so many garden parties and picnics, endlessly fucking brainless youths under oak trees, and all I can think is fuck it all. I’m so frightfully bored. And I listen to the brainless drawling of those brainless youths, and I think, Oh, do shut up. Just shut up, and put on your bloody clothes, and bugger off! The boredom never seems to leave me. At the moment of my very orgasm I am bored – it just never fades! And I can tell you why, as well. It isn’t that I am a boring person, as so many claim – that infuriating, petulant adage that only boring people find themselves bored – I am most certainly not a boring person! The reason for my perpetual boredom, is that Byron has spirited me away to this ungodly countryside shithole, just one of many – we travel constantly from house to house, and ball to ball, but always it’s the same, trees and fields and tedious bumpkins. It’s just intolerable!

Byron’s stated reason for this ghastly exile is that he tires of the maelstrom of London society, and yearns for the unchanged landscapes of his youth, which is a very pretty and poetic way to put it, so like a fool, I fell for it. It seemed such an elegant notion, to be reminded of the spectacular creature who is my lover – to be reminded that this youthful face and perfect form contain a being that has walked the Earth for centuries, alone and unchanging. It’s such a romantic idea! I was swept up in it, wanting to walk those ‘unchanged landscapes’ by his side, and to hear all these glorious, impossible tales of a time centuries before my birth. He is far older than any mortal man alive today, and every single one of them from his own time has died out – isn’t that a thought! What a thing he is, I thought. I will go with him, and I will learn more, for perhaps one day I shall be just the same, ancient and elegant, a powerhouse of hidden secrets and unfathomable depths. So I went along with him, and for a time I was entertained.

When I became bored by our exile, however, and I spoke my mind to Byron, begging for a return to the city, even for just a week or two, he became evasive, and even manipulative. I rapidly began to suspect that everything was not quite what it seemed. He had brought me here under false pretences, and he kept me here under still falser ones. His reasons, I cannot wholly fathom, but I have my suspicions: Byron is beginning to deeply disapprove of my vices, particularly of the opium, and of the absinthe, and above all, of the painting. He was the second person I showed, when I decided that my art had reached a high enough standard. The first was a drunk young boy who I’d just finished fucking, and he was so appalled and speechless that he began laughing hysterically, to the extent of vomiting – right across the bed! This I took as a very good sign. My art was truly as depraved as I hoped! And so, I showed it to Byron, believing that he would be awed, and pleased with me – he is, after all, an immortal demon who has slaughtered thousands, and who taught me everything I know of decadence. And yet…he was not pleased. Not in the slightest. He seemed deeply concerned for my mental state, and the look in his eyes was of one gazing into the drooling face of a lunatic! I was quite insulted, actually! And barely three months after this, I am dragged off to the countryside, bereft of opium or absinthe or paints.

And I tell you, in no uncertain terms, that I am intolerably bored with life!

.

.

.

17th October, 1889:

This year has been a sad one. I suppose it was all coming for quite some time, but I never truly noticed it. Things, to me, seemed as though they were perfect. My opium boys, once so small and silent, had grown into men, and through necessity had been told, in the strictest of confidence, what I am, and why it is that I have not aged in all this time – they appear far older than I do, now. They never came to view me as a demon though, instead I seemed some sort of god to them – the Orientals have many odd beliefs, and peculiar deities; they seemed to idolise me, rather than cringing in fear, as all English mortals do, if they discover my secret. Although, in general, those English mortals are right to fear – I rarely reveal my secret to anyone who is not destined for a prompt execution. But my opium boys were quite different – I had brought them up into men, and had taught them many things they should never, in the natural course of things, have learned. One became adept at writing and mathematics, and is now employed in accountancy, doing very well for himself and often coming to visit me. The other – who as a young boy adopted the name Stephen, having found that for Londoners, his given name was quite impossible to pronounce – continued in his studies of music. He rapidly learned to use all his fingers to play the piano, and I engaged the services of a tutor for him. He was a fast and adept learner, and I spent many happy nights in my opium room, listening to his songs drifting in through the open door. From there he studied a little with the violin and flute, and was very soon in constant demand as an entertainer at London balls.

Stephen was the one who never left me, despite his many engagements. He lived under my roof always, and although I had employed new boys to service my opium requirements, Stephen seemed to take pleasure in his old work, loading my pipe, then bowing politely, and slipping outside to begin playing for me. I loved him in a wholly parental manner, a wholly clean and platonic sort of love – they are beautiful, the Oriental boys, but Stephen had become a son to me; I would never have dreamed of fucking him. I don’t fuck many people, in truth, these days – I often wondered whether it was simply my age, that although my body has not begun to sag and wither (for it never will), my mind had perhaps grown old and weary, calmer and less filled with lust. But Byron met these views with scorn and anger – it was not the case with him, nor with Matild, nor with any other immortal he had ever known. “We do not age, Lucas,” he stated, rather tersely, “not in mind, nor in body – you are wasting everything I have given you.”

He blamed it on the opium, you see. He blames everything on the opium. He doesn’t like it at all, my love for it – I believe he thought that I would grow weary of my infatuation, and it would begin to wane, but it truly never has. I love it just as much now, if not more, than I ever used to. My love for opium has not changed in the slightest, but I find that my love for many other things has. The theatre rarely amuses me now – I go, on occasion, usually on Byron’s insistence, but by the middle of the second act I begin to feel restless, unsettled, and the whole scene commences to irk me. The stench of sweat and perfume and orange peel rankles in my nostrils, the stage lighting hurts my eyes. My seat feels impossibly uncomfortable, and I begin to feel that I might scream or attack somebody or leap across the room in a terribly inhuman feat, if I don’t escape immediately, and yet no matter how eloquently I try to explain this, Byron always seems exasperated, if not furious. And yet…it never troubles me for long. I feel simply awful as I hurry out of that palace of stinging lights and perfumed flesh, and the carriage journey seems impossibly long – nauseating and horrid. But when I arrive, and I slip into my little sanctuary, and the boy prepares my pipe, everything is instantly alright again. More than alright – the miseries I suffered beforehand seem to amplify the peace I then feel. The silence of my glittering haven washes over me with the soothing hands of angels, my lamps glow all the warmer, their golden illumination seeming pure and holy and angelic, and I feel that I have entered some religious trance, and that can’t be wrong, can it? It can’t be wrong to feel so good, so pure, so holy.

Over the past few years, there have been a number of…unpleasant scenes, between myself and Byron, when it comes to my love of opium. Many of them I have dulled and blurred memories of, having been intoxicated during, or immediately afterwards, but nonetheless, I feel their sting. Sometimes he seems despairing, saddened, pleading with me, and on those occasions I confess I feel the most guilt. I will always try, for him, thereafter, to appear more normal, more outgoing, more jovial. I force myself through theatre outings, through balls and writhing orgies, but always the strain begins to tell – always it exhausts me in the end and I can no longer endure it, and in the depths of some hellish semen-stained dawn I burst into tears and confess it all and everything descends into a sort of blind, deaf chaos, and I never know quite what I have said or what has happened, but always I find myself back in my opium room, and everything seems alright again, until I next see Byron’s face, and the fury behind it. And after that, the pleading and the sadness give way to a terrifying anger, and he storms about my sanctuary like a terrible god of destruction, smashing my pipes and my lamps and horrifying my slave boys, but this only makes me worse – it makes me hate him, for days at a time, and so I throw myself all the more violently into my love of opium, in order to spite him, and to comfort myself, all in one fell swoop. But I never thought that he would take it as far as he did. I never thought him capable of what happened next.

It was three months ago that the tragedy befell me. Our tired old routine had played out once more – Byron pleading with me, despairing of me, until I launched with renewed vigour into Trying To Be Normal. Trying to give up opium. Trying to separate myself from the thing I loved most in the world. It was doomed to fail, just as it always is. Every moment of every day, in every theatre and bedroom and brothel, I found myself bored and restless, never fully present, never truly able to be there, in the room, with everybody else. At balls I would only feel myself when I slipped away to the bathroom, or slunk into an unused bedroom to smoke a cigarette, for in there I could sit down, and be silent, and be sad, and think of my loss and my misery and my overwhelming sense of ennui. But eventually somebody would find me, and I would be dragged back out into that appalling, dazzling chaos, and I would have to smile and laugh and make clever anecdotes, and it felt as though my whole body, my whole personality, was some sort of elaborate but artificial machine, and I was simply fuelling it with the guttering flame of my tired soul – curled up in the back of my brain, exhausted and defeated and depressed, and desperate to escape. That was how it went for three whole weeks, and it never got any better. It came to the point that I saw no reason for my continued existence, and began to think lazily of suicide. It became my entertainment, my salvation, in those ghastly situations, at balls and brothels. I would clutch onto the thought of suicide like a drowning man to a raft, holding it in my mind like the golden key to a final door of escape – escape from all this awful futility, this tedious, exhausting pretence.

Would I really have ended my own life? I don’t know. I don’t like to think so – it’s a little bit weak – isn’t it? I am only 47, and I have the possibility of eternity before me, which so many mortals would give up a limb for. I soon resolved that it was not death I truly lusted after, it was simply that I couldn’t endure the circumstances I was trapped in. My ennui was not inexplicable, incurable – I was not some deranged depressive poet. I knew perfectly well what made me happy – a mere three weeks ago I had been perfectly, blissfully happy, and the solution was simple enough. Opium was my salvation, just as it had always been. Opium makes me happy, above all things. More than happy, it makes me content, which is the sort of happiness that lasts forever – contentment is something purer and deeper and truer than the fickle nature of ‘happiness’. I understood that Byron disapproved of the opium, but the simple truth of the matter was that we would have to agree to disagree, when it came to this particular subject. I had tried it his way, and to put it bluntly, it made me want to kill myself. So, that was that, I thought. I had given it a fair shot, I had turned the matter over in my head at great length, and this was the way of things. I would explain it to Byron, and he would understand. Surely he would understand, because he loved me, and he had created me, and we were family – immortal family, forever and always. I may have some quirks of character that displeased him, but that is the nature of reality. Byron would understand.

As it turned out, Byron did not understand. Not at all. I explained everything very lucidly, and logically, and with – I thought – a reasonable degree of eloquence. I had been carefully compiling my words for some hours, that they might be well received, but…it was as though I was spouting gibberish. He made me feel that I was spouting gibberish, when I knew that I was not! I knew my own soul, didn’t I? Had I not suffered in silence for weeks in an attempt to placate him, to please him? I had tried so hard and suffered so much, and yet he made a mockery of it all. He didn’t understand, and he wouldn’t understand, and I got more and more emotional as he mocked me and belittled me and twisted my words into knots, until finally I could endure it no more, and I picked up an entire desk and hurled it at him. It missed, of course – Byron is far faster than me, a result of his increased age – but it infuriated him, and as I raced into the night I heard him cursing me and damning me, and the whole thing was a terrible mess. I’m sure you can guess where I went, directly. My opium room was the place I had fantasised about for all those miserable weeks, my little haven, my glimmering oasis of serenity. I was so upset by Byron’s words that I didn’t even take a carriage – I leapt up onto the rooftops and sped across the city in a matter of minutes, hurling myself in through my own bedroom window, and racing down the stairs to my opium room. I didn’t even take the time to call for my boys – I loaded my own pipe, heftily, and lay down to smoke it.

It was not to be the joyous reunion I had hoped. The opium soothed me, as it always did, but my distress at the terrible mess I had left behind, the awful chasm that now gaped between us, it tugged at me and it hurt me, despite it all. And so I loaded my pipe again, and again, until I was so intoxicated that the pipe slipped from my fingers and landed on the tray with a horrible clatter, and I just lay there like a depressed worm and stared at it. And then Stephen came in, my beautiful Stephen, and he seemed to sense my distress automatically. He knew without me saying a word what it was that I needed at that very moment, and so he fell back into his comfortable old role of opium boy. Just as it always used to be, he lapsed into silence, and busied himself with my pipe. And that is when Byron found us.

Before I could speak, he had grabbed Stephen about the neck, and hurled him into the wall. Byron had destroyed my sanctuary so many times before, but this time his rage was direct, and it was white hot. All of it went into Stephen – he didn’t merely kill him, he obliterated him, destroyed him – tore him apart and trampled him underfoot, and what was left would have been unrecognisable as a human being. Brains and gore and entrails were strewn across my sanctuary, until it was as if Stephen had never existed – he had been dismantled, and I could not grasp it in my mind. I had been too intoxicated to move, to intervene, even to rise from the floor, and now I could not wrap my mind around the enormity of what had just happened. Stephen had been here, with me, just as he always was, just as he had been for thirty years, and then he had been terrified, and in pain, and now…he was dismantled, into the base components of his physiology, slippery purple sleeves of intestine, a blood-clotted porridge of brains and hair, crunching shards of ivory bone – how could this mess ever have been a person, a living thing? I felt that Stephen’s soul had been torn into bleeding shreds before my eyes, and burned into oblivion! Byron stepped through the gory wreckage, and told me,

“I want you to think of his death and his pain, every time you pick up that filthy pipe.”

And then he was gone.

.

.

After Stephen’s death, things went on as before. Byron visited me the very next day, and he was clean and polite and charming, and he spoke as if it had never happened. I began to feel that it had all been an illusion, some hideous bloated opium dream, but the stench that lingered in my sanctuary for weeks told me otherwise. But Byron would not let it come between us, did not give it time to fester – did not give me time to think in a sober state, and resolve to truly despise him. To Byron, I believe, it was a just and level punishment. It was as though I was a misbehaving child, and he had spanked me, and broken my toy, and I had learned my lesson. And that was that – the lesson was over, and life moved on. I do not understand it, if I am truly honest. I do not understand why I don’t hate him, why I can’t hate him. He is the one who created me, and these days, he is really all I have. And the most painful thought of all, the thought that shreds my throat like razors to speak it aloud, is that I know Byron believed his intentions honourable. He perceived Stephen to be the instrument of my destruction, crouching there with my pipe in his hands, he perceived Stephen to be hurting me, and so…so he tried to help me. To save me. This knowledge has the taste of bitter bile – it would be so much easier, so much simpler, to despise him forever more, but I truly cannot. The memory of that awful night is too terribly muddy, and I haven’t the strength to turn away from him. And so, life continues, without my Stephen.

But I do think of him, just as Byron threatened – I do; I think of Stephen always. I think of him in life, and I am haunted forever by his ghastly end. But it doesn’t turn me away, why on Earth would it? It saddens me and it hurts me, and that makes me want the opium all the more. I can drift back then, and remember him. Sometimes I would swear that I can hear his thin brown fingers racing across the keys of the piano, until I remember that Byron took it away too, and burned it, another punishment for my love of opium. I don’t know why he cares so much. I admit there was a period of a few months where I found it impossible to summon any physical arousal, when he would kiss me and suck me and there would be a shameful lack of response – it wasn’t that I didn’t want to, not precisely. I was just quite content with the opium, and I wanted him to simply lie with me and stroke my hair. I would always submit, and let him fuck me anyway, but my flaccid cock seemed to annoy him, as though it was a personal insult, and on the night during which I fell into a deep sleep with him still inside me, I awoke to find a very unpleasant note upon my pillow. But after that I really did try – I went to the apothecary, and to the Orientals at the opium den, and with a combination of Mariani’s coca wine and a pouch of Chinese herbs, I became quite well able to stay awake and perform to my best, but Byron still seemed displeased. He said that I looked different, that my eyes were glassy and that it wasn’t the same – the vin tonique made my hands shake and I would often find myself talking for hours, as though the conversation were a blossoming flower and I could see every potential root sprouting from the last one and it became an obsession to follow each tangled root down into the dirt of truth and experience, and it fascinated me, but Byron said I was gibbering like a madman.

And yet, life goes on. I suppose this is how it will always be – I am finally learning the truth of immortality. Things can befall you, things so awful, so horrifying and traumatic that you feel the very Earth has ceased to spin, that life cannot possibly go on…and yet it does. Life goes on, eternally, no matter how bleak and gruesome it becomes.

Life goes on…

.

.

.

10th May, 1905:

I feel very uncertain today, very uncertain indeed. Life seems far more daunting and perilous now than I have known it for half a century. I never realised how entirely I relied upon Byron, my tie to the world, my eternal guardian, until it seemed that he was no longer there, and I cannot truly tell you how it happened.

I have a new opium boy, who is barely eight years old, at a guess, and speaks not a word of English besides ‘sorry’, which he pronounces in the most comical manner – I am very fond of him already. But it is deeply unfortunate that this was the boy I had employed, on that fateful, terrible night. All seemed as it should be, when I awoke from my dreams, and gestured for my pipe to be loaded anew. All seemed wholly tranquil when I lapsed back into sleep, but when next I awoke, the tiny boy was sobbing in a corner, and could not tell me what was wrong. I sent for my second opium boy, some years older and fairly competent now in English, to translate what had distressed him so, and I learned from him that Byron had appeared mere moments earlier. Had he been violent? I asked. Did he hurt you? The older boy said no. “He seemed…” It took them a while to seek out the fitting English word, and finally he told me, “Weary. But…not so. More…failed. And…going. Weary, but…going. He was…done with his weariness.”

At these words, I grew quite cold, and asked them if he had spoken. Yes, they said – at length. There had been rage in his tone, more and more so, and this was what had upset and frightened my boy. But only he – that tiny child – had heard the words that Byron spoke, and to him they held no more sense than the sad and slowing bumbles of a dying bee. His mood was all they could give me. I arose as soon as I was able, and went to search for Byron, but his house was empty, as was Matild’s. I truly fear that Byron has gone. I fear that he has left me.

He didn’t even wait for me to wake up – didn’t care enough for a goodbye, to even tell me where he was going! Just gone – just like that! Gone for how long? I haven’t the slightest idea. But it has a terrible feeling about it, a terrible feeling of permanence. Particularly when I spoke to my bank – Byron would always transfer my allowance on a Thursday, that I might have ample funds for any weekend activities I cared to partake of, which is something we often laughed about. What did the days of the week matter to creatures such as us? Still, it seemed to amuse him, this little private joke, where we would pretend to be hardworking peasants who must respect the grim sanctity of a Monday morning, so I always remembered – Thursday is the day. The money day. I would usually send my opium boys out on a Friday – my whole existence revolved around Byron’s schedule. And this week, no money came. Byron isn’t absentminded – even in the midst of travelling to wherever he’s gone, he would have remembered me, and made arrangements for me…if he still cared. I can’t bear to think of him not caring. I wish I knew what I’d done wrong. I wish I remembered. The last few weeks are such a blur. I mostly remember being quite happy, quite tranquil. I didn’t leave my opium room too frequently, but that isn’t unusual. If I think very hard, and enter the realm where memory meets imagination, I believe I can see Byron lurking in a corner of my room, wearing a face like thunder. My opium boys feared him. He does look so disapproving, or…no, perhaps not disapproving. Bored. Bored with me. How terrible…

.

.

.

2nd November, 1930:

It is such a cold winter this year. I know not whether winters were always so cold, and I just never noticed before. Finances are becoming problematic – I can no longer afford to fuel the fires. I have held it off for as long as I can, the dwindling of my resources. The only thing I have left is this house, and I am clinging onto it by my very fingernails. I have tried as best I can to get by – I sold off the furniture first, then the oil paintings. When I can find tenants I let out some of the rooms, but the economy is bad, I am told, and nobody wants to live in this draughty old house, with its bad plumbing and no furniture or telephone. We have weathered so much together, this house and me – I never left it during the war. I couldn’t bear to leave my opium sanctuary – the thought of leaving it and it being destroyed by a bomb, never to be seen again – it was all too much. I felt safest here, no matter how illogical that may have been. If there were bombs, I knew that my sanctuary would protect me. And there were bombs – I heard the sirens, I saw the whole of London blacked out, in utter darkness, as never before. It had become a ghost town, steeped in a clinging fog of perpetual fear, those sirens rising up like the cries of the dead – so many nights I shivered, alone, in my sanctuary, listening to those terrible wails, the distant explosions of falling bombs. My house was lucky, in the end – it passed the war nearly unscathed, with only mild damage from nearby explosions. It protected me, just as I had hoped. But this only pains me more, as I watch my resources dwindle – I know that some day, and some day soon, I will have to leave this house, to abandon my sanctuary, and I will be lost and alone as never before. I have used my demonic powers to their fullest extent, in protecting myself from being dragged from this house and tossed onto the streets, but I do not understand the ways of the world now, and it is becoming ever more impossible. When the men come to remove me, I bewitch them into leaving, or even kill them if they come alone, but always there are more, and more – an unstoppable tide of beastly men bent upon my ruination. I know that I cannot stem these floods forever.

The world has changed now, in so many terrible ways. I truly never thought that my opium would betray me, but it has. The horrid schemings of mortal men are meddling in my business in the most heinous of ways – opium has been made illicit, even to the very tincture sold in apothecaries. For a time it made almost no difference; I had to be a touch stealthier in my acquisition, but I paid it little heed. And then…everything began to fall apart. The ground on which I walked commenced to crumble beneath my feet. First of all it was the quality – the opium I bought was always of very good quality, in both consistency and strength; it was easy to smoke, good-tasting, and highly potent. Over the years I had experienced very few problems, and when problems arose, the fury of my threats were more than enough to rectify the matter. But now…all is in ruins. I began receiving opium that was packed with straw and dirt, and no amount of threats could alter it – it was truly the only thing reaching these shores. I began smoking it nonetheless, but I barely felt its effects, and it tasted of filth. And then, in a heart-stopping instant, it was gone altogether. Days stretched into weeks, weeks into months. My lover had deserted me, after all these long and blissful years.

When I went in a fury and a panic to the Orientals, they sold me morphine instead – it was the new thing, they said; nobody was smoking opium anymore. And so I returned home, anxious and bemused, but desperate to try it anyway – desperate to find some comfort in this stark and lonesome world. The Orientals had furnished me with everything I required, and had taught me by demonstration precisely how it was done. The boy who had given me my lesson had been barely conscious by its end, which gave me a small flaring of hope – hope that perhaps there was still bliss to be found in the world; that the beating heart could be restored to my sanctuary. Nothing had been more painful than to dwell there without opium – every surface was coated in the memories of my love, and I felt its searing loss all the more keenly. It was horrid, truly, for my sanctuary to have become the barren pit of my newest hell.

And so it was that I came to be back there, with the equipment I had purchased from the Orientals. It was strange to me, and not at all as elegant as my shapely pipes and glittering lamps. I possessed a peculiar tool of the mortal physician, a syringe of glass and steel. My new drug was a clear liquid, contained in a number of slim glass vials. Finally, they had equipped me with a worn old belt, nicked all over with teeth-marks, its end looped through its closure. And so, with dread and hope in equal measure, I began the act.

I shed my shirt, and slipped the belt about my bicep, pulling it tight and biting down on it as I had been shown. I took the vials and syringe, and drew up the recommended dose, then I turned it in my hand, and began driving the point into my own flesh, into the soft skin at the crook of my arm. The pain was not so bad as I had feared, but the act itself was gruesome. I was seeking in the depths of my flesh with this insectoid silver needle for the elusive vein therein, and I rapidly found myself nauseated, coated with a film of nervous sweat. When the needle met with my vein I felt it – there was a rubbery resistance, until with a loathsome muffled crunch, the point tore through the casing of my vein, and slipped within. My hand had begun to shake, and the metal in my grip was cold and slick. It was with great difficulty that I forced the plunger down, until finally the thing was emptied, and I yanked it from my arm with a groan of exhaustion. For some seconds I stared at the floor, shaken and unable to compose myself, and then, from nowhere, everything had changed. There was an intense and breathtaking wave of tingles across my entire body, and I felt it – the morphine! The world had in a single instant grown warm and soft and golden, and the glimmering trays of my little sanctuary were glowing just as they always used to – the colour of late autumn honey, the colour of safety, and I felt that I was sitting upon some long ago hillside, watching the sun set, with Byron’s hand in mine. Everything was alright again – I was home.

I lay down and slept.

.

.

.

18th June, 1951:

I truly despise the world of late. There is almost nothing left that I do not despise. My beautiful house has long gone, and with it every memory I ever had, of love and bliss and happiness, has been taken from me and forever destroyed.

I am living now in a small and horrid flat – much of the money from the sale of my house went directly to the bank, but through many stealthy bewitchments I managed to keep for myself enough to live on for a time, and enough to secure my present dwelling. At first I felt that I would warm to this abode, eventually – life had been horribly uncertain, for so very long, as I constantly fended off my angered creditors, that teeming army bent on my destruction; there was no peace to be found anywhere, not even in my sanctuary. And so, once I had the key in my hand to this little flat, I felt that perhaps I would be at peace here – I would be left alone, I would not be bothered by all those meddlesome people. This property was legally mine, and I would be safe here. Perhaps in time I would grow to love it. But it has been many years now, and I truly have not. It is so dingy, so depressing, and there are always hideous children shrieking in the streets outside, drunkards brawling in the evenings, and on occasion I even have bricks hurled at my windows. There is no peace here, and I fear there never will be.

The world continues to change, and more than this, it continues to strip from me all that I love. I had begun to grow comfortable with the morphine – it was never quite as glorious as the perfumed elegance of my beloved opium, and I never ceased to abhor the grotesque ritual of self-injection, but nonetheless, I had adapted. I had just about adapted, when the same hideous cycle befell me! Morphine became scarce, and then vanished altogether. Once more, I was forced to beg and plead with strangers, until I was sent home with another unknown drug. They call it ‘heroin’, the substance I take now, and I loathe it to its core. When first I heard its name I felt so hopeful – it sounded so elegant, so aristocratic, a relic of better days. And yet its name is nothing more than a sinister, filthy lie. Heroin is a grim and slovenly drug – truly it is – it tastes entirely too disgusting to smoke, but injecting it is just so thoroughly vile, this ‘cooked up’ soup of reeking chemicals, always leaving a foul residue of mysterious origins in the spoon. With every needle I poke into my vein I respect myself a little less.

Worse than the nature of this grim synthetic drug is the people I am forced to buy it from. How I yearn for the days when I had my boys, my beautiful, kind opium boys! When they would make the trips for me, to those gruesome dens by the river – when I was never forced to tarnish myself with these horrid people! The men who sell me heroin are peasants, truly, in the worst possible sense of the word – they are lowly and unpleasant to their very bones, mean and stinking, and con-artists with it. I never know what I shall bring home – sometimes it has been nothing more than dirt mixed with sugar, other times I will inject it and be visited by a heinous chemical stench, a mirage of a scent, coming not from the air, but from the chemicals within my veins! It will linger in my nostrils for several seconds, and I shiver all over as I think of the poisons that run in my bloodstream. Yet more than this, I despise the constant uncertainty. I despise being at the mercy of these criminals. Much as I detest it, heroin is the closest thing I have to safety, to happiness, in this cruel and changing world, and like a pathetic beaten dog I crawl back time and time again to my loathsome, peasant masters.

Even when the heroin I buy is of good quality, it is never the same as my lost, beloved opium. The most purely refined opium was not a stupefying, narcoleptic thing, you see – history has mangled this fact, in all its vulgar depictions. I know this, for I read every book I can lay hands on, in the hope that it may convey me back to those wonderful times, but always I am sorely disappointed. They paint my beloved opium in such a cruel and tarnished light – it is clear that the authors know not of what they speak, these idiot scholars wishing only to court favour by regurgitating tired moral cliché! Am I not living proof of the beauty of opium, the perfection of opium – that it was the drug to end all drugs, free from the sins and filth of this gruesome modern era? Look at how my life has changed, beneath the sordid whims of the law-makers, the politicians, who know not of what they speak! It is their laws and their sins and their idiocy that has driven my downfall, and with it that of so many others! In the days of freedom and rational thinking, this filthy peasant underclass did not exist, these wretched criminal ‘junkies’ – each one of them, and the miseries they inflict upon society, is a product of nothing more than the idiocy of their political masters! When opium was traded freely, in dens and apothecaries, people had their dignity still! In the glorious days of opium, blissful intoxication did not bring about such utter ruin. I had my dignity, and I had my house. I had my beautiful sanctuary. And I had Byron…

Opium was a beautiful thing, in truth. If ever I chose to leave my little sanctuary, after I smoked, to take a walk through the darkened streets, I would see beauty and magic in all creation – in the eyes of the mortals I passed, in the cloud-veiled face of the crescent moon, in the reaching leaves of trees. Opium blessed the entire world with her elegance, and within her cradling arms I wondered at each miracle of existence. Heroin is not like that. Heroin sucks me down into a heavy stupor, and I feel no compunction to do anything. I simply lie there, and listen to the wireless, and stare up at the watermarks on the ceiling, watching the dust motes swirl. Watching the light fade into darkness, until I am left in gloom, sprawled across the mouldering dust of these old rugs. It sounds terribly depressing, when I say it like that, but I suppose it isn’t quite so bad as it sounds. Or rather, it is not so bad, because I have known far worse. My greatest fear is that I will be conned once more by those reeking, peasant criminals, and the heroin I buy will be useless. When this is the case, life becomes simply unbearable – I am lost and alone in this terrifying modern wasteland, and there is no escape from my loss and my pain and my sadness! And so, when the heroin is good, it is never truly depressing. Though it feels heavy, and though it makes me slow and sleepy, and I merely lie sprawled across these dusty rugs, in a small way, I find myself content. I am wrapped up once more in the velvet arms of opium’s love, the ghostly arms of my long-lost Byron, and I am safe here once more.

At these times, I have come to realise that my sanctuary was never truly a place. It was never about the golden trays, the exquisite lamps, the Oriental hangings or the beautiful music of the piano. The opium sanctuary was in my heart. The opium sanctuary was the opium itself – do you see? Anywhere could become my home, my sanctuary, so long as I had my opium. My sanctuary was in the opium, and in my own heart, and it protected me from everything. Until it was taken away from me forever.

.

.

.

4th September, 1982:

Looking into the mirror is the most painful thing, of late. The reflection I see is the oldest thing I possess, the only thing that remains to me of everything I once had. I was forced to pawn every beautiful garment, every glittering diamond ring, many decades ago, until all I have is memories. I have no pictures of Byron, nor Matild. But my own face…it remains with me. And yet within it I see every moment of the pain and loss that I have suffered.

I do not even have the miserable solitude of my flat anymore, not in the way it was. Money became so scarce that I was forced out into the strange and ghastly world, to seek employment for myself. For a time I was surviving on my demonic wits, bewitching mortals into giving me money – just enough to buy heroin, for what else is there, but it was exhausting – so exhausting. Every night I had to go out, like some desperate, low-paid whore, dredging the streets for blood and money – it was endless, and it was exhausting. And lately, I am finding that my powers do not always work. It made no sense to me for a time – from everything that I learned from Byron, my powers would increase as I aged; my speed, my strength, my demonic abilities. And yet they have not. I am very strong, and very fast, when I am not intoxicated, but my power of bewitchment seems…faulty, of late. I fear it must be the heroin, or perhaps some loathsome chemical therein – I never suffered these pains with opium, because it was so pure, and so good, and so natural. But heroin…it is filth, truly, and all the more filthy by the time it reaches these shores. It nauseates me often, I become shaken and sickened – on occasion I even vomit, bringing up the clotted, blackened remnants of the last blood I drank. It happens enough that I keep a bucket in my bedroom, and it is all so grotesque, so awful. So far removed from my opium sanctuary – its glimmering beauty, its elegant library, the gleaming eyes and kind smiles of my opium boys. All I have now is this cold and squalid flat, with its peeling wallpaper and threadbare carpets. Though I do love the invention that is the television. I am no longer alone, you see – not truly. I feel that they are my friends, the miniature humans who speak to me nightly from that happy little box. I have company again, and entertainment.

But my employment brings me no pleasure. I am working in a prison, and it is a grim and godless place. Each day I don my ugly grey uniform, and as I regard myself in the mirror I feel a little sadder every time. Seeing myself in these clothes is like seeing myself eroded. Everything I loved and valued in myself, every ounce of pride I had, it is eroded by this thing I see in the mirror. I feel so lost…so lost in this new world. Some days it feels as though everything I once knew was nothing more than a blissful dream, and now I have awakened into the cold, harsh light of this relentless reality. The heroin is my only escape, my only respite. I put on my uniform, and I stare at myself in the mirror, and I smoke a little heroin – not from an elegant silver pipe, but from the loathsome surface of a cheap piece of ‘kitchen foil’. It tastes of filth, and I despise it, but it numbs me enough to manage the day.

At the prison, the convicts and officers alike mock me. They mock my long hair, though I tie it back, and they mock my manner of speaking. I know not how to change it. I try to imitate the way the tiny humans in the television speak, but it feels so artificial, and I often get it wrong and provoke further mockery. The convicts I am allowed to hit with my stick, which is deeply satisfying, and I do it often – it is the one part of my employment that I enjoy. I frequently find myself taunting them, not directly, but vaguely – I will speak in my most archaic manner, so that they will begin taunting me, and then I hit them about the head with my stick until they bruise and bleed, and I immediately feel a great deal better. When I am hitting convicts with my stick, I feel almost alive.

At the prison, I often feed upon the children who come to visit their fathers. The minds of children are easy to bewitch – I do not kill them, as this would provoke great inconvenience, but I feed upon them a little, to keep myself warm and comfortable, and the blood of infants is sweet and vibrant. Yet even so, it is all so grim. A grim and godless existence, night after endless night. How I long for my oil paintings, for my Oriental rugs, and for Byron. Above all, how I long for my opium. I have nothing left but memories, and all they do is haunt me. Night after night, as I pace back and forth in front of the cages of imbeciles, poking them with my stick, I think of opium, and opium, and opium, and it makes my soul sick with longing. And every night when I roast the putrid heroin over a candle flame, and it releases its ungodly chemical stench into the air, I think of opium, and opium, and opium, and I remember its sweet narcotic perfume, the seductive spice of its smoke, and I feel my soul shrivel a little in the cold, bitter air of this vulgar century.

.

.

.

24th December, 1996:

The heroin I was sold last night was rather strange, but not unpleasant. I lapsed into a deep sleep for many hours, the drugs overwhelming me so suddenly that I fell into unconsciousness with the needle still hanging from my vein, and I found myself dreaming of Byron. He was here with me, in my little flat, peering down at me where I lay. His face was pale and smooth in the darkness, his hair as long and luxurious as it ever was, and I felt tears rise up in my eyes at the sight of him. I wanted to reach out and embrace him, but I found myself paralysed, unable to rise from the floor. His face was sad, a worn and weary angel, as he said to me,

“It appears that nothing has changed.”

“Everything has changed,” I told him. “Everything has changed…”

“I am so sorry, Lucas,” he said softly, as he knelt to brush his fingers across my cheek. The scent of him brought back a thousand memories, a thousand bedrooms, a thousand ancient midnights, and I wanted to weep. “It was wrong of me to make an immortal of you, when you were so young, so wayward. I would take it all back now, if I could…”

And then he was gone.

I dreamed on, and grew quite peaceful. When I awoke, there was a pan of freshly cooked pasta on the stove. Was he really here?

.

.

.

2nd September, 2015:

Some days, I feel that I am coming to terms with life. There are still the days when I weep and moan for all I have lost, but they are becoming fewer. I am no longer struggling through my accursed employment at the prison – some three years ago I made a concerted effort to give up heroin for a period of five weeks, and my experiment was bountifully rewarded. My powers were returned to me – greater than ever before! I was quite well able to bewitch every necessary individual at that reeking gaol, and ever since I have been on early retirement, which means that I no longer have to go there, and am instead paid to simply live my life with freedom. What I am paid is a pittance, but nonetheless, I am rather happier than I was.

I could not endure to live without heroin any longer than was vitally necessary, but when I have recouped my mental energies, I intend to undertake a second crusade into sobriety, in the hope of bewitching myself a more pleasant abode. I know not how to go about this, as yet, but I have been visiting the local library, where a helpful lady with shiny hair has become my friend, and helps me with my enquiries. I pretend that I am a novelist, and as such, my strange and disjointed questions about the intricacies of modern housing and banking law are not viewed with suspicion. She is very good to me, and I like to see her smile. I think that even after I have made sense of the modern world, and bewitched myself into a comfortable house in the country, I shall continue to pay visits to her, and ask her more questions. She seems to find joy in seeking the answers for me.

In the meantime, my retirement money is sufficient, enough money to live on – I only spend it on heroin, I don’t eat mortal food anymore, so what else is there to buy? I did buy myself a friend. I suppose all of my life that’s what I’ve been doing – buying my friends. My latest friend is a ferret, a sort of lovely mottled brown with a black snout and tail, and I have called him Byron in an attempt to sweeten the memory of my abandonment. He is warm and furry, and always filled with joy. He makes me feel a hollow memory of joy as he bounds around my poky flat, making wonderful chuckling noises and pouncing on my feet. I take Byron for walks every day, on a lead. Right now we’re sitting by the park – Byron is tired of walking and has clambered onto my lap. He likes to roll over like an otter in a stream, and I stroke his long belly. He reminds me of a fox scarf I used to wear, all those centuries ago, and this shames me a little. In those days, no doubt I would have made Byron into a scarf without a second thought. Were we all so cruel, in those days?

I am rudely jerked from my musings by a raucous chorus of voices, howling again and again, “FREAK! WIERDOOOOO! OI, YOU WEIRDO!”

I know they’re talking about me. I suppose I do look eccentric. I could never bring myself to cut off my hair, and even if I did, it would grow back within a few nights. I like to wear green velvet trousers, and a jacket of some futuristic fabric which gleams like a river, slick and bright red and wholly water resistant. People think me eccentric. People think me homeless. People think it odd, to cuddle a ferret in broad daylight. The voices continue, and they are bothering Byron. I gently lay him down, and turn to see who is mocking me. It is a small van filled with school children, nasty little rotters. Their adult driver is temporarily absent. Even as I face them, they continue, and something about the mocking in their eyes drives me out of my wits. I have just enough forethought to tie Byron’s lead to the bench before I cross the street in a single bound, moving far beyond the capabilities of a human. Some of them don’t notice, others show fear, and it thrills me to my core. I seize the handle of the door, and rip it from the vehicle with a crunching groan of tearing metal, and then I’m inside, in the warmth and heat of eight pulsing bodies, and they’re breaking in my hands, blood gushing into my mouth. Behind me I hear Byron chuckling in delight – ferrets are quite vicious, you know. Once they are mostly dead, lying bleeding and shattered across their seats, I return to the bench, and untie him, carrying him to the vehicle. He laps at the blood, paddling through it and leaving wonderful little red pawprints everywhere he goes. One boy-child is not quite dead, and stares at me with terror and confusion in his wide, gleaming eyes, wordless choking sounds sending delicate sprays of blood from his gaping, stupid mouth. He will mock me no longer – this is quite certain. Smiling, I lift Byron, and we return home. There is some pleasure in the world, it appears, even now.

Life goes on.

Purple Ghost

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 17, 2015 by ofherbsandaltars

Is it because my dick is not yet bolted on

With screws of flesh and hammer of bone

That I am not welcome in your presence alone?

(And do not mention the stag night)

Is it because I wore a dress on All Hallow’s Eve

And she seemed insecure, not knowing –

Is this thing a boy, is it prettier than me?

I do not trust it…

But no, it was before –

Always before,

That she knows our tangled histories

Stretch back into the infinite, unknowable,

Like the tangled webs of galaxies

For isn’t that what children are?

And how can she ever know

What is gone and lost, forever more

*

But I know what came before

I know what lies beneath

The thickening flesh of his exterior

The boy I knew was bones and hair

Insecurity, thin fingers, a drifting coil of weed smoke

Redbull cans and Prozac pills,

Angst and nihilism and Nine Inch Nails

How can memories not prevail

Against the puckered lips of a nervous present

Manipulation, mistrust inherent

And worst of all his own lethargy

To let his history drift away

Like the unmoored boat of all he used to be

So who are you now, Mr D,

With your suit-clad figure and your new degree?

*

I do not know this thing I see

The boy I knew is dead to me.

*

*

…Or does he wander, like some wraith of memory

Still sitting in a Brite-ian cemetery

As though he never saw this ugly reality

For isn’t that what memory is, intangible,

Prone to fits of doubt, or nostalgic romance?

If the past is a place and memory is its realm

Do our past selves all wander through the

Minds of one another?

Is each one of us a fleshy thing,

Surrounded by the ghosts

Of everything it used to be

The lust, youth, naivety

And with every version that emerges

From its cobwebbed black cocoon

It grows uglier, more staid, more grey and wrinkled and realistic

For isn’t that the crassest word?

As we turn into our parents, into sagging caricatures

Souls trapped in office blocks,

In briefcases, management meetings

In closed-lip kisses and casseroles

And if this is the thing you really are

Then I’ll just keep your memory

Of the imperfect thing you used to be

When you would smoke weed under a dripping starlit canal bridge

When the world was full of magic, blacklight and uncertainty

When we saw the planes plough, exploding, into the Twin Towers

In the dingy monitor of your dingy room

And it meant nothing to us at all

Because we were too young to fear the adult things, like war and loss and catastrophe

Because all we needed was you and me

And everything seemed temporary,

The whole world disposable

In its unknowable concrete tangles

Its maddening adult routines

The demands of your mother

To fill the fucking dishwasher, James,

And we always stood apart from it

In the tangle of thin limbs under sex-smelling duvets

We made a shelter from it all

And the world seemed more purple

Purple like my hair, and purple like your bedroom

There is a shade of purple that to this day belongs to you

But you do not belong to it

Now that you are something else

With your suits and your stag nights

And your…and your…

There are no words for unremarkable

We know things by their difference

*

I watch you sink into her world

Her dreary adult world

Like a screaming black amoeba

Devoured by a larger one

And you are gone forever.

The Sticky Cat

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 8, 2015 by ofherbsandaltars

If there was one moment when you knew your life had gone to shit, Sam thought, this had to be it. Washing methadone out of an angry, sticky cat. Sam had sucked spilled methadone out of his carpet in the past, and for a few seconds he’d contemplated doing the same thing to the cat – 50ml of fucking methadone, and every drop of it was absorbed in the shaggy tabby fur of that ungrateful fucking cat. Which meant that he now faced a day of feeling unpleasantly twitchy, followed by a full night of climbing the walls, constantly yawning and nose blowing, and taking more shits than the average person managed in a week. And all because of this sticky green bastard of a cat. Sucking bitter methadone out of the cat’s fur had been deeply unappealing, and Sam’s attempt at wringing the cat out hadn’t gone down a storm either – it had merely yielded a few lumps of moist, sticky fur, and an even more furious feline.

This, he supposed, was why you weren’t supposed to get an animal while you were a junkie. Get a fucking pot plant, they said, that’s all you’re good for, even you can’t fuck up a pot plant, surely! Sam hadn’t fucked up the pot plant, well, not exactly – at least, he hadn’t meant to. It had just seemed so fucking judgemental, that pot plant, probably because it was a gift from Sam’s mum. She’d obviously read the same book about recovery, telling you that the first step was a fucking pot plant. So there it was. A great big flowery pink thing, sitting on the windowsill, and every time Sam shot up gear in the living room, happily nodding out to Depeche Mode with a cigarette burning holes in his jeans, he would suddenly notice that ghastly bloody pot plant sitting there, watching him. Judging him. One night when his dealer had been feeling generous, and gifted him with a ten-bag of crack, which Sam had duly dumped into the syringe along with the brown, he’d become deeply paranoid about that fucking pot plant. Was it more than just a pot plant? More than just a metaphor? For days he’d felt the thing watching him – what if it wasn’t just familial guilt that was prickling at him? What if his mother had actually bugged the fucking thing, and every time he shot up in front of that beastly pink plant, his mother was watching his every move, weeping into her gin and tonic and plotting to have him carted off to rehab, or even a lunatic asylum?! That was the night Sam tore the pot plant to shreds in search of a hidden camera, frantically apologising to his mother and making wild promises of sobriety as he clawed through handful after handful of mud and compost and roots.

So the pot plant wasn’t a success. It clearly wasn’t time to move onto anything bigger, like a hamster, or a relationship. But then, along came that fucking cat.

It was a great big shaggy bastard of a cat, hairy and tabby with a ripped up ear, and Sam had absolutely no idea how it got into the house, the first time, but when he came home it was sitting on the sofa like it owned the place. Since he had three newly-purchased bags of gear in his pocket, which would do significantly more than his three sweaters to warm up a shitty winter’s day, he ignored the cat completely, and got on with the task at hand. Before he knew it, he was sprawled out on the floor in the blissful embrace of the best batch since October, and the cat was curled up on his chest, purring. It was so fucking furry, so fucking soft and furry, and its deep rumbling purr-vibrations ebbed and flowed like the sea, as if the cat was sharing his high and loving every second of it, and at that moment, Sam became quite attached to the cat. The next day, he went to buy it some tins of fishy cat food, and the cat became a permanent resident.

That had been three months ago, and Sam and the cat had been getting along just fine, until today. He’d put the opened bottle of methadone down on the coffee table for five seconds, while he went to grab a cup of tea to chase it down with, and when he came back, that fucking cat was drenched in the stuff, blinking its big yellow eyes at him with an expression of smug amusement. The cat wasn’t quite so amused now though, since Sam had taken it upstairs and dumped it in the sink for a rudimentary washing. He might be a dysfunctional smackhead with an irrational phobia of pot-plants, but he was still aware that the Cat Situation needed to be rectified – if he ignored it, the stupid bloody thing would lick itself clean and get high off its furry little tits, and then probably drop dead.

Unfortunately, there was no explaining this to the cat. Maybe because the cat had wanted it all along, had wanted to be slurping up Sam’s methadone and getting fucked off its furry little face. Maybe the cat had planned the whole thing! That fucking cat was always watching, when Sam shot up gear, perhaps growing curious, growing envious, but cats didn’t have thumbs – there was sod all a cat could do with a needle. The methadone though, that was fair game, for a scheming, plotting, deviant feline…

By the time the cat was more or less cleaned of sticky green methadone, Sam’s wrists resembled those of a disenfranchised emo teenager, hashed with shallow, stinging scratches, and he got the strong feeling that his pleasant relationship with the cat might well be over for good. Finally, he gave it a bit of a rub with a towel, and the cat dealt him one final hissing, snarling gouge across the back of the hand, before it shot out of the room and vanished completely. Sam muttered a rude word, rinsing his torn-up arms under the tap, and plodding down the stairs to survey the remaining chaos. The carpet wasn’t too bad, so he ignored it, but the cat had done a thorough job – not a drop of methadone remained in the brown plastic pharmacy bottle. Sam frowned at it for several seconds, then he checked his watch. It was barely past one in the afternoon – that left a very, very long night ahead of him…

Well… said the insidious little voice in the back of his head, it doesn’t HAVE to be that way…

He felt the beginnings of a tantalising nervous-excitement tingle in his stomach, urging him into junkie autopilot – grab your phone, grab your wallet and your keys, dial the golden number and get down to business – what the fuck are you waiting for?! But then, with a heavy sense of crushing defeat, he remembered the precise reason that this Methadone Cat debacle had happened in the first place. The Dreaded Piss Test. Usually, his consumption of methadone was lazy at best – he generally just chucked it in the cupboard for a rainy day, and shot some smack instead. But not today. Not this week. He’d already fucked up the last one, and if his piss wasn’t as pure as the Virgin Mary this time around, his worker had informed him in no uncertain terms that There Would Be Consequences. Which meant that he’d spent the last four days so sober, so bored out of his skull, that he’d resorted to drinking every last drop of stashed methadone. It had been better than he’d expected, actually, but now he was double fucked – no stash, and still handcuffed to tomorrow’s piss test.

Well… said the voice, there are always options…

Frowning, Sam picked up the empty methadone bottle, screwed on the lid, and experimentally shoved it into the pocket of his jeans. It fit well enough. Bit of a bulge, but nothing that wouldn’t be fixed by a baggy sweater. He stood motionless for several seconds, staring at the empty bottle, frozen in an agony of indecision. If they caught him, he would be absolutely, completely fucked…

Microwave, said the voice. Put it in the microwave, make it nice and hot…

Three seconds later, Sam lost the battle with temptation, and launched into frantic movement. In the kitchen, he yanked the top off the methadone bottle, gave it a perfunctory rinse-out, whipped out his dick, and filled the whole thing with Grade A dope-free piss. After screwing on the lid, he held it up to the light, feeling proud of his creation, as though he had personally brewed an exceptionally fine batch of vintage champagne. Four and a half hard-fought days of boring sobriety, distilled into this priceless golden solution. It seemed such an achievement, in fact, that he went delving in the cupboard, and when he found a small Tupperware box, he pissed into that too, and when he could piss no more, he put all of it away in the fridge. Hiding his precious fluids behind a jar of pickles, he suppressed a snigger, feeling like a deviant genius. This fridge-full of piss was more precious than gold – Sam didn’t see a bottle of lukewarm urine, he saw absolute freedom. Grinning, he shut the fridge, and went over to the sink to chug down three large glasses of water, before he shot into action, snatching up his wallet and keys, and dialling That Number as he hurried out of the door.

By the time he got back, forty minutes later, he had a pocketful of heroin, and a bladder ready to rupture, but he was armed and ready, a two-litre bottle of cheap lemonade purchased from the corner shop. He poured the fizzy contents down the sink, and gave it a thorough wash, before he grabbed an old jug, and stood proudly in the centre of his kitchen, unleashing the piss. Soon enough, he had enough piss in his fridge to sail through piss tests for months to come. The latest batch he was particularly proud of – it was so pale in colour that it barely resembled piss at all, and from previous urinary experiments, he knew that this was best. Watery piss would never begin to stink, no matter how long you kept it. If you presented your drug worker with a cupful of stale old piss that was orange as marmalade, thick with sediment and reeking like a blocked up sewer, your game was up. Sam gave his creation a proud nod, and continued into the living room with a smile on his face.

Sitting down on the rug, he started cooking up, but as soon as he dumped the gear into the spoon, he felt the unpleasant creepings of his conscience. Scoring was one thing – the chase, the mission, the uncertainty – it was so tense and all-consuming that there was no room for doubt. But now that he was here, in the safety of his living room, teetering on the brink of a Stupid Decision, the doubts flooded back. Though he was reasonably confident that he could get through the Dreaded Piss Test without being convicted of illicit piss-smuggling, there was the morality of the thing. Though it baffled Sam, some people were proud of their piss tests. You could even get a fucking print-out to take home and hang on the fridge – an official certification of your pristine, saint-like bladder. And although Sam had no desire to give his mum a Piss Certificate to hang on her wall, as a matter of personal pride, wasn’t it a bit shit? A bit of a wankerish cop-out, to find yourself incapable of surviving five miserable days without smack? It was the sort of thing that was supposed to kick you into recovery, that – looking around yourself at the feebleness of your willpower, and going Well Shit, I Guess I Have A Problem…

Despite his doubts, Sam’s fingers had been deftly running through the familiar and beloved ritual, and he found himself staring at a fresh syringe half filled with warm amber liquid. As always, it was the most beautiful sight on Earth. Fuck the Grand Canyon. Fuck California sunsets and lunar eclipses and Kim Kardashian’s juicy great greased-up ass – this was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen in his life.  The doubts continued their grumbling unabated – you useless, wankerish, pathetic little junkie – but as Sam surveyed his loaded syringe, he remembered the cat. That fucking cat, drenched in his methadone. None of this was Sam’s fault! His morality and will-power remained proud and unblemished, for he had had no choice. The fucking cat made him do it!

Spurred into action by this cast-iron excuse, and the glowing feeling of utter vindication it gave him, he snapped the belt around his bicep, and drove the needle into his favourite vein. When he’d forced the drugs into his bloodstream and dropped the syringe on the carpet, he stared into space, swaying slightly as the rush enveloped him, savouring every second of this lover’s reunion, after four long days of lonesome separation. The warmth, the golden tinge it gave the sunlight, the way his sense of smell seemed to cloud over with a subtle dusty scent as everything was turned down like a volume slider on the radio of existence, smoothly gliding from the too-bright, too-sharp ugliness of sober life, into the honeyed treacle bliss of his heroin reality.  The air in the room, the blood in his veins, it all became as thick and golden as warm molasses, the ticking clock of life slowing into stillness until all that remained was the languorous dance of dust in the afternoon sun, spilling through the gap in the curtains.

As he gazed across the room, he saw a movement in the doorway, and the cat came melting out of the shadows. Its pupils were the narrowest of slits, turning its eyes into vast, glassy golden lamps – he’d never seen a cat look so smug, or so wasted. Whatever methadone he’d left in its fur, that fucking cat had gladly devoured. Sam smiled at the cat. The cat smiled smugly back, beginning to vibrate with a low, rumbling purr. Drowsily, Sam wondered whether, just maybe, the cat wasn’t such an intolerably fiendish bastard after all – maybe it had had his best interests at heart all along. A cast-iron excuse to get high, with no guilt at all, and then a furry little friend to curl up and cuddle with afterwards. What an awesome cat. Those recovery books, he decided, sprawling out on the rug, were total bollocks. Fuck the pot plants – what every junkie needed was a plotting, scheming, dope-fiend of a cat…