Echo

The horizon was tinged with wispy tendrils of the sun’s fading fire. Shadows tentatively crept out of their diurnal prisons reclaiming their domain of sepulchres filled with dusty relics. The cemetery was a sanctuary for the shadows; they could swathe themselves in melancholy, silence and solitude.

The shadows whispered to one another and the trees rustled uneasily…something was out of place. A girl was sitting on the edge of a tomb. She was wearing scuffed Doc Marten boots, ripped fishnet tights, a short black leather skirt and a black t-shirt with the image of a bleeding heart. Her sandy-coloured hair looked brittle, like it would snap if someone tried to touch it. Black lipstick and deliberately overdone black eye-shadow could not detract from her brown eyes which were overflowing with soul. What was the girl doing here? They decided to observe her.

Priscilla brushed broken twigs and desiccated leaves from the tomb until she could see a name, she read out aloud: Jacques De Villiers! Angels carried him up to the heavens on 2nd July 1886.

The persistence of memory. That was Priscilla’s affliction. What made a tomb? Masonry, marble, grandeur, inscribed words or the skeleton within? Walk through a cemetery, read the names and messages, you can feel an echo of love and loss still lingering, cheating the fickleness of Father Time. The deceased persist in our memories and when we, the torch-bearers of their lives fade, cemeteries are their enduring testament.

Priscilla knew she should not be here. How was it that her journey had started at the end? It did not make any sense. A cemetery was definitely the end of a journey. The things she had seen – wondrous horror and terrible beauty. She lit a cigarette. She could sense the shadows were watching her.

“Do not fret, my sable friends, all will be revealed!”

The shadows rippled. This girl was strange.

“I will tell you a story!”

The shadows stretched closer towards her.

‘A noble family with one heir; the son was raised in the manner of a prince. The widowed father’s design was to have his son marry into royalty and promulgate the family lineage. While Jacques was well-versed in societal protocols, he found his peers to be frivolous and shallow. The De Villiers’ estate was large and renowned for its game. Jacques hunted to avoid the presence of simpering girls tittering behind bejewelled brocaded corsets.

It was during a pilgrimage in the forest when he chanced upon her…a girl unlike any other. She moved with the natural grace of her arboreal surroundings. Her clothing was smudged, the hem of her dress was bedraggled and she had dandelion seeds caught up in her flowing hair. He remembered his botany classes and without thinking spoke aloud.

“Did you know the botanical name for the dandelion is Taraxacum officinale?”

The girl whirled around, grasping a hatchet.

“Peasants call it pissenlit!”

Jacques was taken aback. Nothing in his education had prepared him for this encounter.

“I meant no disrespect.”

“If you touch me, I will hack you to death!”

Jacques laughed. He was smitten. He would often seek her out in the forest. She would always ignore him when he spoke to her about books he had read. The girl loved his stories. She did not understand this strange man at all. One day she would consent to tell him her name. Their lives were intangibly different yet neither of them had ever been so happy.

Charles De Villiers had noticed a change in his son’s demeanour. He charged one of his servants to spy on Jacques. Bernard was a shifty fellow. He reported his findings to his master with glee. Charles was furious! This peasant was a passing fancy. His son was defying him. Charles paid Bernard to remove the problem. The De Villiers’ bloodline could not be tainted.

The girl was missing and Jacques was frantic. He spent every waking hour in the forest searching for her. Charles asked Bernard to bring the girl back. Bernard smirked.

“She was a feisty one, attacked me with a hatchet. I threw her down a well.”

“She is dead?”

“Very.”

Charles could not tell his son the truth, he was quasi-insensate without that damned girl. Time would temper his son’s current fever.

Jacques emerged from the forest one night and saw Bernard chopping kindling. He sat down on a log to watch. Bernard was uneasy. Had the old man let something slip?

“Permit me to assist you, Bernard, it would alleviate my nerves.”

Bernard was bemused but acquiesced. Jacques studied the hatchet Bernard had handed him.

“She never would have surrendered this, it belonged to her father.”

Bernard cursed himself. It had been too fine a hatchet to throw into the well. Death blazed in Jacques’s eyes as he advanced on Bernard. The servant fell backwards, scrambling in the dirt. Jacques gripped Bernard’s left wrist, pinning the hand to a log. The hatchet flashed hungrily in the moonlight. Bernard screamed in horror and grabbed his severed hand. He garbled about following orders and a well. The babbling stopped. The hatchet was lodged in Bernard’s skull.

Jacques ran amok, setting the family mansion aflame. Charles saw his son disappear into the forest and dispatched servants to retrieve him. They followed the glow of Jacques’s torch as it flitted in the darkness until it stopped moving. They were too late. Jacques had flung himself into the well to be with his love.’

The shadows sighed.

Priscilla took one final drag of her cigarette.

“It is a terrible thing to know your loved one will never know your name. It took me three days to die in that well.”

Priscilla lay on the tomb.

“I could not let death keep us apart, your Priscilla is here for you.”

The shadows watched in rapt amazement as a phantasm manifested; it embraced the prone girl and pulled her gently into the tomb. Dandelion seeds floated by in the breeze.

 

City Exit

Sauf-effing-ampton! The Atlantis of Hampshire. Not. If you ask me the Titanic hit that iceberg on purpose so it never had to return to port.

I was supposed to be on secondment for six months and now I was trapped. It was month twelve.

Before the trouble started, my rule was NEVER to go into the city centre on a Saturday afternoon. This was the peak time, the spike in the head, sorry I mean, demographic where bovine creatures shuffled along in their tracksuited finery, drooling debt like crash test dummies reanimated by Dr Frankenstein. The missing link? Scarily evident and it was breeding.

I used to wish that a huge iceberg would crash into Southampton and unleash an armageddon of bazooka-toting polar bears and penguins with Uzis. It could happen. Global warming, right? And flying killer whales, yeah, that would work. A brattish kid having a strop on the High Street then whoosh! A killer whale swoops in and minces the child in seconds. All that is left of little Tommy would be a bloodied shoe and red rain falling from the sky.

Sometimes I would go into the centre on a Sunday and pretend to be a homeless guy with Tourettes. Used to have some good scraps, especially on match day, until the rozzers turned up and I had to leg it.

People say I have anger management issues…they can go fuck themselves! Anyway, I threw a Molotov cocktail through Primark’s window one night. I was beered up and it seemed like a good idea. I was never identified because I was wearing a Mexican wrestling mask.

A while back I was attacked by a girl. I had made a harmless comment about her hair and she tried to burn my face off with ceramic hair straighteners. I think she was Lithunian or something. That’s why I decided to get a gun – angry birds, the Southampton edition. I popped over to Millbrook to do some shopping and take in the lovely architecture. Left with a snub-nosed revolver and a box of ammo.

You may be judgy and say it is a bit extreme me packing heat like some gangster from Thornhill but I had a premonition something bad was going to happen.

Southampton is now a quarantine zone. Anyone trying to get out over the barricades is shot. The bodies piled up quickly at the beginning. People could not believe they would be executed in cold blood. Blame Brexit.

The bridges into the city were blown up. No one had any interest in getting in. The city was left to fester, decay and burn.

No one really knows what happened other than a cruise ship crashed full tilt into the docks late one night. The emergency services attended and the virus escaped the ship. It’s called the I-Virus and it is one of the most virulent known to humankind. They started burning the bodies alive or dead and the cruise ship was blasted into oblivion by fighter jets. They thought it was airborne virus. They were wrong. It’s passed through saliva. The virus attacks the red blood cells which mutate at an exponential rate. Symptoms manifest in murderous rage and cannibalism.

I still shiver when I think of the first time I encountered an Infected. It ran towards me screeching, its eyes were terrifying, I shot it in the face.

I have not felt pity for a while. The Infected are no longer human. It’s still bad if you have to kill one you know. I shot Dave the plumber. That was tough. He had fixed my ballcock once, decent job for a decent price. Plus he wasn’t stingy with the beer either. I was gutted. I had hoped he was okay because I had a leaking pipe in my flat.

Marvelous, isn’t it? Successive governments allowed the NHS to crumble into ruin, the train services were medieval and the police spent more time filing paperwork than accidentally shooting Brazilians on the Tube YET one little outbreak of contagion and Southampton was walled in quicker than a dead pharaoh. Personally, I think the government always had a plan to do it, they just needed an excuse.

I like the city more than I used to, which is a bit screwed up I guess.

Guest

Before her life changed, she dreaded going to weddings. Everyone looking, staring, gossiping, judging. She wouldn’t eat for several days afterwards, convinced she was too fat, too ugly.

She wasn’t even invited to this wedding. No one knew her. Both sides of the families assumed it was some wacko cousin that had randomly turned up. Who else would come to a formal occasion looking like Pris from ‘Bladerunner’?

Free food and booze, it was fantastic.

No one had the balls to turf her out.

The braver souls attempted to socialise with her.

“How do you know the bride and groom?”

“Ex-lover.”

“It must have been an amicable split then?”

“Ex-lover to both of them.”

Silence.

She could chop off any conversation to avoid the one question that would unhinge her…

“What’s your name?”

She can hear the screams in her mind.

Sometimes the screams are hers

Pain

Anguish

Loss

Silhouette

I have no name

I have no identity

People look right through me

I am invisible

I want to be noticed

I want to be loved

I do not know who I am

People seem so happy so normal

Is something wrong with me?

I need to exist

Where am I?

I peel back my soul

Unleashing chaos from the void

I will create a new me

I will be seen

I will be noticed

I will be feared

I will haunt your dreams

You shall never know my name

The Cabin

Katie adhered to conformity, did the salaried job thing, had an accidental boyfriend here and there then she would dance over the line, getting wasted at festivals and starjumping with druids at Summer Solstice. Cider, herbs and unicorns…the rainbow was everywhere if you stared hard enough.

This was one of her many random moments. Between jobs, trying to kickstart her creative writing juices, she had noticed an advert in some obscure magazine she had bought when she had wandered into a WH Smiths half-pissed. ‘Cabin of Doom’, it said. ‘Dare you send a week in an isolated forest where ghouls and goblins roam?’ Fuck yeah, she thought! Especially as 2k was on offer. She rang the number and an old guy who sounded high answered. Katie started having doubts. Was this legit? Maybe he was a perv with a sex cellar? Three hundred quid was transferred to her PayPal account to cover petrol and sundry costs. Pete e-mailed her a map.

Katie drove to Suffolk and left her car at Last Outpost. It wasn’t so much a village as a scattering of houses whose inhabitants were one lobotomy away from being Grade A drool machines. It was all a bit ‘Wicker Man’. Katie had marched away from the village, ignoring their furrowed frowns and their sibillating whispers. It was one of those villages where everyone knew each other because in some way they were all related. Katie imagined them sacrificing a fatted calf to a pagan goddess. Bunch of banjo strummers!

Summer’s warm glow had faded over the months. Now the bright sunshine ushered in brisk crisp air as the light retreated across the cloud-tinged sky. Leaves clung wistfully to gnarled branches and an autumnal hue coloured the woods with reddy-yellows and orangey-reds.

Two hours later Katie saw the gleam of a lake in the twilight. She was getting close. Just as well. The backpack stuffed with her supplies was getting heavier and heavier. The lake was deathly quiet. No birds were on the water or in the nearby trees. It was weird. She took a photo of the lake. Soon after, she reached the cabin. How could she describe it? Stoic? Arcane? Expectant?

Pete had told her three other intrepid adventurers had taken up his challenge and disappeared, never to be seen again. Bollocks! It would have been on the news. Despite her bravado, she hesitated before opening the door…and when she did she almost pissed herself. A bat flew out! A motherfucking bat! Oh yeah, it was on now. Katie could see through it all. That consummate twat Peter had obviously been to the cabin and put the bat in there. He wouldn’t be laughing when she rinsed him of 2k. Boom!

She lit some candles and placed them on small plates. Last thing she needed was the cabin going up in flames. No electricity or gas. Well, she had a little gas stove with her. She could cope with a brisk cold wash but a hot meal was non-negotiable. The decor and furniture had been abandoned decades ago. The faded orange sofa was a wonder to behold. Katie wondered why someone had even bothered to put up the brown curtains which were now tatty from hungry moths. She had a good view of the lake from the window though. Katie fired up the stove and ate.

It got real dark, real quick. Katie could see the lake glittering in the moonlight. Her bravado levels had dipped somewhat. It was unsettling being away from the hustle and bustle of city life. She was used to the whoosh of cars, the wheezing of buses, the vomiting of uni students. She stood at the window drinking Merlot straight from the bottle, listening for a noise of any description. “Neighbourhood Watch, mofos!”, she said to herself. There were no crazy-arsed calls, yelps or screams from the usual nocturnal animals. What was she expecting? Pervy Pete jumping out from the darkness in front of the window? If he did that she would shit herself. Then bottle him. Katie watched the lake for a while. It was hard to tell if the water was moving or not.

When she finished the wine, she shoved a candle into the neck of the bottle. Old school Gothic. Sweet. The small bedroom didn’t take her fancy. There was a bed base with some slats missing and no mattress. The bathroom looked like a crime scene, although the cold tap in the basin worked, which was a bonus. Turned out the orange sofa from ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ textile school was the best place to lay her sleeping bag on. The candles had warmed up the room. She snuggled into the sleeping bag, facing the window. She wasn’t worried about the the front door or the one that led to the other rooms because she had wedges underneath them. She stared at the window. There was nothing to see. It was so dark she couldn’t even make out any trees. Yet, she could not look away. She thought if she did, someone or something would appear at the window. That was what happened in horror films, shortly before the killing started. There was always a killer at the window. Fuck this! Katie got up and pulled the curtains. Did that make it better or worse? What happened if she heard a tapping at the window and had to pull the curtains back to see what was making the noise? It would only be one thing, a masked killer with a fucking axe! Why in hell had she agreed to do this? It was pretty hard to write a best-selling novel if some nutter had decapitated you. She rummaged in her rucksack and pulled out a hunting knife. It had a calming effect on her. She slipped back into the sleeping bag and nodded off. The curtains rippled and all the candles went out.

Unt?tled

You came back haunted.

When you get to the edge of the barrier, the threshold, whatever you want to call it, you cannot turn back. Innocence can be remembered in a photo, a frozen echo, you can still see it in their eyes. When innocence has been damaged, the eyes will be changed for ever. The smile is more forced now.

Innocence is our Eden, our tabula rasa, where everything is beautiful. This is when our spirits dwarf our human form, they radiate from us like a protean chrysalis in its naissance, drinking the purity of our perception. There are no boundaries. But once we are tainted, the colours are unlustred, mutated by melancholy. It hurts. Oh, how it hurts. Soul shock. The first scar can never truly be healed. It is our stigmata, the Holy Spear in our side, bleeding out. Now the eyes tell us of sadness and heartache. The spirit retreats back into the fragile shell of the host. It still yearns for beauty but it is wary.

What is beauty? It is a glimmer and a shimmer from the beyond. We have a word for it. Quintessential. Of course we have a word for it. Blah, blah, blah…cataloguing the banality of existence – a kaleidoscopic mindfuck. The conveyor belt of humanity pouring out drudge sludge.

Returning to the quintessential, or the fifth essence if you have a stunted education. It is angel dust mixed with demon spunk. We cannot quantify true beauty, it is an act of folly to attempt it. We have sold the lie to ourselves. And still we bleed. We have taken the ugly side of human nature and deified it – glossy images of opulent ocular onanism; capitalisted, capitulated, copulated.

There are boundaries but they are trampled obliviously, carelessly, deliberately. Wreckage is everywhere. Monoliths inscribed with the names of the dead, photo montages of corpses in casual embraces. Pile them up, a Mayan Jacob’s Ladder. Fuse religions for more flesh and money! Assemble a placard that says nothing and tote it like a fresh crucifixion. Bless them with your blood, your fervour and your hate. Murder by flesh lust, by cerebral mutilation, by spiritual massacres. The killing fields are our stigmata, souls weeping for eternity. We hear them when we sleep, they try to warn us. Sometimes we are caught in their phantasmal slipstream, blundering beyond time and space, a coin rattling in the universal slot machine. Do you know how to collect your winnings?

The bigger the collective, the bleaker the isolation of self.

“Help me, help me!”
Are you lost? Are you a prisoner? Who holds the key to your freedom? A god? Yes, one so ancient its name has been obliterated from our subconscious. It has bought your soul with the blood of your ancestors.
“I don’t believe in gods.”
Oh. A human then. Do you believe in saints?
“Yes.”
Good. They are scattered through the annals of history – impaled, chopped and burned – the punk rockers of religion, keeping it extreme until they can fit into a matchbox.
“Religion is a human construct and thus invalidates any credo.”
You lied to me.
“Martyrdom and persecution are real.”
Has someone radicalised you? Maybe in some alternative reality?
“What is reality?”
I am not sure. Let me ask my avatar.
“And?”
My avatar is travelling through fictitious landscapes and environs, she is looking for someone new. Apparently, I oppress her.
“How does that make you feel?”
I am a bit pissed off. I may delete her.
“Harsh.”
Some are destined to be martyrs, singing their devotion as flames consume them.
“Now who is being radical?”
I meant from the past.
“Is there any difference from then and now?”
Fuck knows! Anyway?
“Yes?”
We were searching for a key.
“I thought that was a metaphor?”
What?
“Can I ask you something?”
Yes.
“Who the fuck are you?”
I have no idea.
“How is that possible?”
Psychogenic fugue?
“La-di-da!”

And then she was gone. Her simulacrum was fresh in my mind. A saint awaiting martyrdom. Did she realise this? She was surrounded by mirrors etched with mutable memories yet in her world she was invisible. I wanted her to come back. A truth was trapped inside of her. Surely she could free herself by raising a hand and bidding the world to stop spinning? She did not have a key but she could pick the lock, she could trick them. Maybe the door was not even locked and she was too scared to confront the reality behind it.

Wait. She was right. Keys are a metaphor. If she was here now, what would she say? Probably nothing. She would simply stick her tongue out…mocking. I need to be more abstract.

Voice: Why are you crying?
I a weeping for the helpless, the abused, the lost.
Voice: Who weeps for you?
I cannot answer that question. I have poured my love into the hearts of others.
Voice: I weep for humanity. My tears are oceans.
And the rain too?
Voice: No. Rain is rain.
Is all of humanity worth weeping for?
Voice: Yes. How do you select who is worthy of your tears?
Instinct.
Voice: My tears are unconditional and a blessing.
Your tears mean nothing! Pathos is a construct to you.
Voice: You amuse me.
Why?
Voice: You are drawn to broken souls. You feed off their energy. You stand tall, a prophet with wise words and benevolent tears. Are we so different?
Fuck you!
Voice: Ha ha ha! You have a sharp tongue for dull minds.
You are not real!
Voice: Neither are you!

Then the voice was gone. I was not sure if it had ever been there. Would it be simpler to run, to hide? Maybe we are caught in the echoes of past-future, ripples in the flux – unhappenings, irreality.

Would the demons ever drop the mirrors? What is your best side? The side no one can see, the void filled with darkness, a universe inside of me. A universe that lusts for the absolute. Absolute control, absolute loyalty, absolute tyranny. This universe wants to be the last ever divine idol recorded in history. The One that forced billions into yoked submission, the harvester of sorrow. A primordial soul enmeshed with a new soul. A war was raging from the instant of my inception. The darkness infects my DNA – hibernating, hatching, h(a)unting. Isolate the defective gene, experiment on it, kill it. Except you are too late. You have always been too late. Remember when you stopped at the edge of the cliff and peered down into the abyss? You heard the whispers of dead bones. You said that was when you started to fall. You had been falling way before then. Staring into the bloodied mirror shard, your eyes flashing with lightning, your cruel sensual mouth breathing logos into your victims; legions of living corpses marching to the beat of your laughter. Dance, twirl and cavort for the end of days. You can feel them creeping over your skin like cold-blooded harbingers. You are worship, you are blasphemy, you are contrition, you are heresy. You are the love that kills and incinerates. You are complete.

I understand who I have to weep for now.
Who?
Myself. I came back haunted.
No.
No?
We came back haunted.
Don’t ever leave me!
I can’t.