Archive for short stories

The un-baby

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 9, 2017 by ofherbsandaltars

You never existed

They told me you did

For 2 hours, maybe 3, you were there

I gave you a name

And then I pissed in a cardboard bowl

And they said no

 

No baby

 

I didn’t want you

But I do now

And your father is dead

He died a month ago

The grief overflows

 

I won’t say what I called you

That’s a secret between you and me

But everything changed in that ambulance

And now I want you

The grief is doubled

I can’t look at babies

I went shopping for baby clothes

I saw you in them

I see you so clearly

Your dark eyes, brown skin

I see you, but you’ll never be

 

I want you now

With him, with Jazz

Who’s gone forever

 

This is all nonsense

I just want you

In my arms

My wrinkly newborn un-baby

You would’ve been Jazz’s

A little pale brown thing,

Clutched against my chest, warm, wet,

His dark eyes, perhaps,

My narrow nose

 

I lost you both

I lost my last friend

And I lost his baby too

 

My un-baby

Who was never, ever there

But I feel you just the same

I feel you, a tiny person in my belly

A little piece of Jazz

 

Stolen

Forever

PAINPAINPAINPAIN

I screamed until I lost my voice

In the middle of the night

I lost you both

And I’m overwhelmed

There’s nothing but pain

Bones & Stories; Morgue Drawer

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 22, 2017 by ofherbsandaltars

Magnetic as the moon –

No one could help

But love the lunatic

Who licked faces left and right

And hid every inch of his ongoing plight

Behind smiles and drugs

And the warmest of hugs

 

Now he’s lying cold in a morgue drawer

Lost and gone forever more

 

They’ll slice a V in his neck,

Bloodless flesh

Bleached yellow with death

Crack open his ribs

Weigh his heart, check it for size,

It was plenty big enough – no one’s surprised

They’ll test his toxic tissues

And take slivers of his brain

In that organ nothing will remain

Of the superstar he used to be.

 

Some people want to let the dead lie

And just lie down and cry

Because dead is dead

So sterilise it, synthesise it, powder it up

Take it away – don’t let me smell the stench of decay

But the fact is it’s all true

It’ll happen to you, it’ll happen to me

No one gets immortality

In the flesh

And that flesh, that fleshy vest

It comes off, it gets sliced and prodded

It lies in the ground and it rots

Bloodless with decomposition

Eyeballs fall back, gasses burst free

Veined purple with pooled lividity

Underneath –

That’s all any of us are

In the end.

 

In the end, I want answers

In the end, I want to see him

Even in this state –

It might seem real then

It might be final then

That he’s really gone, forever –

Misshapen and cold on the cutting room floor

In the cold, cold blood-scented air

Of a sterile cold morgue drawer

He’ll never style his hair again

And it might seem real to me

Some kind of epiphany.

 

Is it easier to let the dead live on?

In photos and stories

Of their joyous former glories

Or is it better to tell the truth?

To be perfectly ruthless

And grab it by the entrails

And pull them out until you see

Until you see the end of you and me.

 

I promise I’ll love you just as much,

Cold and stiff on a tray

I’ll just have to love you in a different way

Because you won’t talk back anymore

And your kisses are cold, they taste like frozen meat

There’s a tag dangling from your icy feet –

I’d want to warm you up.

 

Like you’d done something stupid

And taken too many pills

Then gone for a walk, got lost, caught a chill

I’d want to invite you back in for soup and a beer

But you’re never coming back here,

Are you?

 

You’re lying in a morgue drawer

I hope it doesn’t hurt your back

I want to give you a pillow and a duvet in there

But soon, you’ll be ash

Or beneath the earth

Crumbling away, never so pretty as on even your worst day

 

Just bones, just bones

And stories

 

Never forgotten.

I need to know how you died.

I need to know why you didn’t say goodbye –

That’s all.

 

Just bones and stories…

Just bones, and stories.

Ode to an Old Dog

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on October 22, 2016 by ofherbsandaltars

You’re fifteen now, and every single time I make your breakfast I cry until I can’t see the bowl in front of my face, because every day that I get up and you’re still around is a reminder that soon, inevitably, you won’t be. I can’t even remember or imagine this house without you in it. Your name is Presley, but lately I just call you Dog, because you’re the very essence of dogness, you’re the only dog, not a dog but The Dog, the only dog I want in my life, now and forever. Dog is a word that means love – if there is a God, I’m sure he’s happy that his best creations have his own name, spelled backwards. Dog means love, because dogs are made of love – they know nothing else. So I just call you Dog. It doesn’t really matter what I call you though, because you’re deaf now anyway. You used to be able to hear food fall to the floor from a mile away. There are a lot of good things about you being so old. You sleep a lot, so you don’t get bored, you can’t walk far, so we never have to go out in the rain and walk for miles and miles while I wish I got a cat instead, and since you’re deaf you don’t bark at fireworks for the whole of November. You also shit on the patio instead of up the garden, which is a bit unsightly but makes picking it up easier. You’re pretty convenient now you’re old, Dog, but you’re still you, and everything I loved about you, everything that made me choose you out of all those rows of sad dogs in cages, it’s still there. You’re still scruffy with a beard and hairy feet and a white tip on your tail, and you still love hugs, and you still grumble about everything – mum used to be scared of you, because you growl so much, but you’ve never bitten a single person in your long, long life. You just like to grumble.

I love you, Dog, more than I love most humans, to be honest. You can still get up and down the stairs, you can just about jump into the car, sometimes (though sometimes you can’t, and I have to lift and boost you, and you’re one hell of a lump – sorry, but it’s true), you’re still smiley and exuberant since the vets put you on painkillers for your arthritis, pills for your Cushing’s, but even so, Dog, you’re like 94 in human years, and every time I look at you now I wonder when and how it’s going to end. Sometimes you sleep so deep I’m not sure if you’re still breathing, and I hope it’s that, in the end, that you just slip away in your own house. I don’t want to have you put down, at the vet’s, where you’re scared and you trust me to get you out of there safely but this time I won’t – I’ll leave without you, forever, and go back to an empty house with your worn out collar in my hand, hanging loose, nothing inside it but memories and your fading scent.

But however it goes, I hope it’s not for years. I hope you break world records. I hope you live to be 32. I get bad feelings a lot, when I say goodnight to you, and I say ‘See you tomorrow’, and wonder if I won’t.

Please don’t die, Dog. Not ever. Here’s some incentive: Mum says that when you’re gone, she’s getting a cat. Maybe even two cats. That’s right, Dog. There are going to be cats living in your house and drinking out of your bowl, and being hugged by your humans. Fucking cats, Dog. A whole army of fucking cats. So you can’t die. You have to keep the cats out, just like you always have. Hating cats is your raison d’être.

So that’s what I wanted to say to you. But for me, I need this part – I need to make a list of all the things I love about you, while you’re still here, and I’m going to keep adding to this, every single day that you’re here with me, even as my tears fall and my makeup smudges. I need to be able to remember you, everything that made you so special. This is your legacy, your history, your life. This is my love for you.

I love your grumbly hugs – sometimes I pretend I’ve forgotten to give you dinner just so you come up and give me grumbly hugs until I relent. I love the way you go down the stairs like a floppy old rug mated with a Slinky, boing, boing, flop, flop. I love all our memories together, when you were young and able and we’d explore the woods for hours, and sit on rocky outcroppings overlooking the forest. I remember the times you’d chase squirrels and throw yourself right over cliff edges, but somehow you always came back up, smiling. I remember when I had a psychiatric assessment at home, and you were with me, and it was the one time I could vocalise myself without crying. Ironic now, that I cry almost every time I hug you, because I know you’re leaving.

I love how you like to round up your humans, how you have to know where everybody is, so whenever I come upstairs you follow me, then you do your rounds – bathroom, toilet, bedroom – until you find me. Then you lie on the floor and chew some trash for a while, and go back downstairs, where there’s more going on. I wish it didn’t make you so stressed every time I go out at night – you never used to be like that when you were young, but now, you hate people leaving you at night, even with the lights on. It’s sweet and sad all at once when I come back and you’re lying right by the door, in the draughty hallway, waiting.

I love how you have no interest in toys whatsoever, unless it’s a ball to catch. Instead, you like trash – empty chocolate wrappers, receipts, tissue paper, it’s all fair game. I love that you see the wonder in trash, that you delve through my bin and cause absolute fucking chaos, then you find your favourite bit of trash and lie down to munch on it for hours.

I love how you come out to see me whenever I go down in the night – I don’t know how you do it, now you’re deaf, I guess you catch my scent, but if I go downstairs at 2am, you’ll get out of bed on your stiff old legs and come to give me sleepy hugs, smelling of soft warm sleep-laden fur. I love your shoulders, where the fur is thick and soft and I can lay my head and you don’t mind – I’ve seen all the articles about never hugging dogs, but you like it. You like it when I whisper in your ear, too, maybe because you’re deaf and it’s the only sound you hear now, or maybe it’s because I like it when you snuffle in my ear too. It feels nice. You get that. I love your crazy hair, that your white patches are twice the length of your short black parts, so you have a white mohawk on the back of your neck, a furry, furry belly, big white shaggy feet, a glorious beard and a tail like a fox. I love your eyes, how you look like a seal when you’re sleepy and your ears are back – nothing but gleaming black fur and big, shiny, deep brown eyes. I love your smile, it’s easy to make you smile, even if I’ve been boring, even if I’ve been on the computer all day and you’re so fucking jealous of my computer – you forgive me. You smile, you give me hugs. I love you – all of you, every bit of these past thirteen and a half years, even when you pulled me over and I grazed my knees, even when you stayed up all night barking at thunderstorms, even when I had to walk you in the rain, even when you shat in the park and I had no poo bags and that chav yelled at me, even when you chase me around barking because you think six treats in a day isn’t enough – I’d never take it back. Not a second of it.

I’m honoured to have been your Person, but it breaks my heart knowing that I only got that privilege because somebody else dumped you on a random street and drove away. Because you were, you were a sad dog in an RSPCA cage – you’d been a stray. Nobody claimed you. But you’d been loved – for months you kept trying to curl up in my lap, thinking you were still a tiny puppy – someone had held you and loved you, and then you grew up into a wild, anarchic, shoe-chewing teenager and they just dumped you. They fucking dumped you. I know how anxious you get waiting outside shops – I rarely do that to you, because you hate it. But those people, whoever they were, who’d loved you as a tiny little bundle of black and white fluff, who were everything you’d ever known, they left you waiting forever, in distress, cold and hungry and lost. You’re so forgiving, Dog. You were wild and noisy and crazy and frequently a royal pain in the arse when you were young, and I admit, we had some discussions about you being the wrong dog for us (especially when you tried to eat my mum’s favourite cat, and we had to split the house in half – dog downstairs, cats upstairs. You outlived the cats, much to your delight…), but you were always loving, and so much fun. And now you’re old, there’s less fun, but so much more love. You’re my best friend. I’m on pills too, Dog, you know I’m always at home, not like I used to be. Well, people, humans, they’re not like you. They’re not forgiving, they’re not made of love. If you can’t be fun anymore they dump you just like your asshole owners did. So now, you’re all I have, really.

This is mostly a letter to you, but you can’t read it, and humans can. So I’d like to say, don’t leave the old dogs rotting in their cages. Don’t go for the cute little puppies. Old dogs are wise and beautiful and loving, and extremely lazy. They can be great. Yes, you’ll lose them soon, and the vet bills might stack up, but they will love you, and shuffle up and down the road with you, pissing lethargically over the lampposts. We only got Presley because of a misunderstanding – we thought he was old; his grey beard, a confusing sign on his cage. We thought he was an old, calm dog, and it turned out he was 18 months old and fucking mental. But we were in love by then, so he came home, and Dog, I’m so glad you weren’t old back then. Every shoe you destroyed, every grazed knee as you yanked me onto the pavement, it’s been worth it, to have had all these years with you.

Whenever you go, you’ll never be forgotten. I don’t know how the world will continue to turn for me, honestly. There’s too much, Dog, too much to even list. I love you. Please don’t leave me…

 

________

 

Edit: He can’t get up the stairs anymore, he doesn’t even try. He has an ear infection that makes him fall over and gives his head a tilt and he can’t take treats or eat properly. He’s going. 24 Feb ’17. Please, please, get better Dog…

 

____________

 

Edit 2: 22 June ’17 – he’s on extra medication and has his balance and joy back – I can’t express my gratitude. We thought we were taking him to be put down, and he’s still here and happier than he’s been in months. He still doesn’t attempt the stairs, can’t get into the car without being lifted (and he IS a lump), doesn’t like going out most days. But he’s still Dog. He’s still smiley and grumbly, and he gives the best hugs in the world. He knows when I’m ill, he gets worried, and when I’m well enough to give him hugs again he smiles and presses his face to mine, and I love him beyond words. His shoulders and thighs are turning grey, his eyebrows are very distinguished now, but he’ll always be Dog. This week I lost a human friend, and I need Dog to keep going – I can’t take more sadness right now. He loves his treats, he gets in and out through the dogflap ok, he’s managing, he’s happy. If he makes it to winter he’ll be 17 years old, and that’ll mean more to me than Christmas. I love you so much, Dog.

Twisted Sunrise, May 2014

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on May 16, 2016 by ofherbsandaltars

I wish I could go back

To before

I remember the full moon was beautiful

And you were pissing me off

I was pissed off with you a lot,

If I’m honest

You were so far in denial

With the rainbow bandaids all up your arms

The cutesy artwork

Hiding a mess of cigarette burns

And the food, the fucking veganism

Those goddamn healthy pitta-breads

And the endless candy

That you were only going to throw up

The fact you were so obsessed with your fucking self care

With your rituals – your movies, the incense, the yoga, the nail polish

Self care – like a sick joke

Healthy food. Cutesy bandaids.

And we were all supposed to ignore the fact

That you were drinking with your pills

That you had pneumonia more times than I have fingers

That you crashed your car every week for a fucking month

That you’d been disappearing for over a year

Until you looked 67 instead of 32

And I barely recognised you anymore

And your goddamn idiot teenage fans

Those fucking repulsive teenagers, who idolised you

And idolised you even more once you were dead

 

So, yes. You pissed me off.

But I wish I could go back, to before

Before the full moon

Before your brother’s crass announcement  –

Or maybe not crass – he just couldn’t find the words,

But all he said was “Gretchen is dead. She died in her sleep last night.”

Just that. On your account. As a status update.

And I’m sorry, but I laughed at it

Because it had to be bullshit

I saw you drinking cocktails in the sunshine

Just two days before

And you’d been here forever

In my life

So you couldn’t just be gone –

Not you

I thought it was bullshit

 

Because I’d been to that place too –

Hadn’t we all?

Bleeding and emaciated and silently screaming

Eating and puking and posting pictures of nothing

But endless food and our shrinking selves –

The only things we valued

Bones and sinews, and shiny candy wrappers

But it never lasted – it never took anyone –

That’s why I was so pissed off

I was pissed off with you

Because you wouldn’t just move on

From this annoying phase

This dip into idiocy that we were too fucking old for

I thought you’d come back, and then you’d be fun again

I didn’t see it.

That we were too fucking old –

That was the clue, the clue I missed

Too fucking old to weigh 60lbs

To live on alcohol, and pills

And just keep on going

That we weren’t 18 anymore

I didn’t see it

And I’m sorry

I’m sorry for that

 

But I don’t know what I would have changed

I was mean to you, sometimes

Because you were being stupid

And those teenage fools were idolising your self destruction

And you believed your own lies

And I wanted to slap you

So I did, verbally, a few times

I hope you forgave me

But I suppose it doesn’t matter

I think everything was too late

Your collision course was so long in the making

I couldn’t stop you

Maybe even you couldn’t stop you

 

But I wish I could go back to before

Before the full moon

And tell you how much you meant

That I loved you even though you fucking pissed me off

And that I’d miss you forever

And that you mattered

I don’t think you knew that

How much you fucking mattered

Like a goddamn rockstar

And the mourning spread over the whole world

For you, for weeks

You left holes in souls on every continent

 

I see you in every rainbow

In every full moon

And if life ever gets too much

It’s nice to know that I’ll see you again

When I get there.

 

Miss you, G xx

The Dying Ones

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on January 13, 2016 by ofherbsandaltars

The children were afraid of death, because it seemed so black, so final – it was darkness, the shadows in the depths of the closet, it was the unknown, all those myths of hellfire and damnation, or the booming voice of some frightening, stranger-God who watched you stealing sweets and judged you for being naughty. And above all, for the children, everybody they loved still shared the Earth with them – there were no welcoming faces waiting in the realm of the dead. A child in pain wants their mother, above all things – separation is unthinkable, to go into the terrifying black arms of death, where a mother can never follow, can never comfort. This seems the worst thing of all.

But the old men do not fear death, because it no longer seems like that yawning black void, a fatal drop into the endless unknown – oblivion. For the old men, death had changed, in the way that America, the New World, changed with the invention of the aeroplane. It wasn’t the great beyond anymore – anybody could get there in less than a day. And then people started making friends over there, until the internet was connected and people were talking face to face with those friends across the Atlantic, and that big cold scary sea no longer seemed so big and bad. It became a safe little puddle, just a short hop away, and that was how the old men felt about death. When they lost their first friend, it was devastation, unthinkable – it pierced their shield of invincibility, of childhood. All children grew up invincible, thinking that death was for the old, for the weak, for the grandmas and granddads, but it’s not for us. Not for you and me – we’ll be here forever, or at least until we have grey hair, and we’re riding round Waitrose on our motorscooters, pissing ourselves and laughing about it – that’s how the future goes, for the invincible, staying real, staying true, staying young inside until it’s finally time to go. But then the first one dropped dead, the first one in the gang, and maybe he was only 27 or 32, and that shield of invincibility was shattered forever. And it hurt like hell.

But then time goes on, just like it always does, and death becomes more common. Sometimes it still shook the earth, other times it was just a fleeting sadness to raise a beer to. But by the time those children were old men, death didn’t seem so far away, because there was more comfort in those cold black arms than was left anywhere in the realm of the living. The comfort of their mother was in that place, the great beyond, and so was the bravery, the camaraderie, of all their friends. It was always easier to follow a friend than to go alone. And so the old men knew, if Bob and Dave and Sally and Paul, and Scruffy the dog and Fluff the cat, if they’d done it already, experienced whatever surreal mindfuck really met you on the other side of the great divide, it just couldn’t be that scary. It wasn’t a vague, menacing place anymore – it felt like a trip to Benidorm or Majorca, just a quick hop away, then they’d wander into some hotel lobby, and there they’d all be, Bob and Dave and all the rest, a bit sunburned, cocktails in their hands, and after a few rounds they’d all go reeling up the road to find a decent Chinese. And that couldn’t be so scary, could it? Not if Bob and Dave and Scruffy were there already.

By the time you got old, death just felt like mass immigration. Like everyone you knew and loved had one by one decided to abandon the boring little town you all grew up in, moving away down to the unthinkable chaos of London. Abandoning you, one after the other, until you couldn’t help imagining what London really felt like, with the whole gang back together again. More than that, the town, the realm, that had always been your home, it felt empty now, and cold. Time moved on, everything had changed, and the old men were left behind – the last ones lingering at a dying party. And so, for the old men, death wasn’t that terrifying black oblivion – it was just a triumphant return to an old, familiar pub.

New Year’s Resolutions

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on January 5, 2016 by ofherbsandaltars

I have eaten the Posh Chocolates

Yes – all of them

In my own house, I will do as I please

And that includes eating the Posh Chocolates

In multiples of six, or even eight

At a time.

I know I didn’t buy them, strictly speaking

But you left them unattended

In my presence

So I ate them for my lunch –

Yes – all of them.

And I’m not sorry 😉

 

New Year’s Resolutions

Needn’t be kicked off too promptly –

You start them at the beginning of the year.

That means there are eleven months

Before you need to worry

About still being a bit fat

 

So – I ate the Posh Chocolates

Yes, all of them

And I’m really not sorry 😀

 

(P.S – I didn’t touch the Quality Street –

You can have those,

Because they’re shit

And I hate them.

When there’s nothing left

But Quality Street

I’ll start eating salad,

For real 😦 )

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.