Archive for 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.

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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.

 

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.