Category Archives: Short Stories

Loving Foundation

I promised your love
an offering to myself
which you said was true

I feasted my soul
on that loving foundation
safe against tremors

Secure in my gift
I felt no fear in your doubt
I saw only security

And so I built on
extending towers of self
with us at their core

And as the earth shook
I refused to see downfall
tied to falling spires

Though the rocks did shake
stones fell, towers collapsed
I sat still, serene

That love, once gifted
still held, immovable
for you could not lie

Even as limbs broke
and as dust obscured sight
I swore I could see

As collapse echoed
and silence fell on my mind
I swore I could hear

As rocks scoured skin
and my nerves became numb
I swore I could feel

And only once dead
lost in the rubble of life
did I know the truth

I was forgotten
with your love you had long fled
leaving an empty heart

My foundation decayed
my tower a fool’s triumph
a folly to love

So with fading time
I found only my own self
muted and destroyed

But even by then
I took nothing back from you
for my love is yours

For more from me you can check out my collection No Cure for Shell Shock – available in paperback and digital formats. Or you can try any of my other work here – variously available as ebooks or paperbacks. 

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Decaying Idea

The eulogies were beautiful. Weeping and barely controlled mourners outlined a saintly life, the sort which only ever really existed post-mortem and whose loss devastated individuals and diminished all else.

Tyrone struggled to look on passively. This day belonged to grief, to sorrow. The anger he felt had no place there. Not that that did anything to ameleorate it of course, if anything the struggle to surpress his reaction heightened the feeling that demanded it. A price to be paid though, not a high one either given the costs already incurred by the person that body in the ground had been.

He knew why they’d invited him of course. Duty. They felt a duty to let him know about the funeral, he’d felt a duty to attend it. In the small talk surrounding the event they’d all been aware of their ignorance as to what more could be expected from the experience. He’d been tempted to cry to break the awkward silences. Not for himself, but for them, to give them some hint that their sorrow was his too. The lie of it would have hurt him more than it comforted them though, or so he told himself, not bothering to question his own selfishness.

In truth he knew he’d never cry for the dead man. How could he? In life they’d hardly known each other, the finality of the grave didn’t alter that fact even if he’d wondered before coming whether it might.

The dead man was his father. A technical label more than anything else. In life they’d had no relationship except perhaps for a distant awareness edged with ill defined and vague feelings. A pattern both men had been seemingly content to let endure. Death, though, had issued it’s own demands. Hollow labels had been reasserted as biological fact, ceremonies of grief had laid out patterns expected not just by society but also by the individuals who felt themselves beholden to it.

Beside him a woman let out a tear fuelled yelp. Tyrone felt himself visibly tense up. She had loved the dead man, that much was obvious although he didn’t know her connection to him. His first thought was to comfort her, a human thought, a natural one, but following it came the truth of uncomfortable apathy. In the sea of grief here he was the only one not drowning, to offer her a shoulder to cry on would be a lie in itself and if she didn’t notice it he certainly would. So he ignored her, half watching as a flock of friends and relatives swarmed over, tears in their own eyes and sorrow obvious on every face. Tyrone stepped back, clearing ground for the grieving. With awkward looks they both condemned him and showed a painful awareness of his reasons for holding back, not willing to sympathise but not quite ready to condemn either.

Later on Tyrone cried. Alone and hunched over a bottle he shed the tears which he knew would have been an unintended lie to any observer. Still, he knew the honesty of them, in solitude he could accept that the tears were his own and not the work of real sorrow delivered by death. That body in the grave was just that and no more, inert matter left to fade away beneath the turf. A tragedy for those who saw more, but nothing to him. He wept for his own loss, something separate from the rest, the departure of something far more simple than flesh and blood. He cried for an idea, a hope that was now interred six feet under. The idea of a paternal love never known and now never to be known.

For an instant he hated the mourners he’d ignored. Detested their hold on the dead, their existence as a barrier between himself and what might have been if their own grief hadn’t screamed so loudly over his repressed sorrows. But how could he resent such feeling? In life the dead man had never won such disdain from him, to let him send waves of it out in death would be a needless defeat. No, his loss was of something that had never existed, a man that never was, an idea that had no right to spawn living reticence.

Still he cried. The idea deserved that much if nothing else.

For more from me you can check out my collection No Cure for Shell Shock – available in paperback and digital formats. Or you can try any of my other work here – variously available as ebooks or paperbacks. 

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I Wrote

I was not alive
until I wrote my own birth
to start writing death

I was not yet dead
until the pen left the page
and I found silence

If nature made me
then I will remake nature
and claim my new birth

I grew to fill pages
and shrunk to become a word
yet never changed

I learnt cruel freedom
and loving cages barred
all fearful, unknown

I drew my own map
devoid of directions home
but all seen was mine

When I returned
the ink was stained to nothing
and I found no path

I found a new page
still blank and all unmarked
but I had no more

Confronted with space
I wept deleting tears
and lost even hope

I prayed and hoped
for new words you would bestow
but we both lost faith

We had no story
but in time we told ourselves
a new type of tale

For more from me you can check out my collection No Cure for Shell Shock – available in paperback and digital formats. Or you can try any of my other work here – variously available as ebooks or paperbacks. 

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Eli of the Woods

Eli scratched his nose, wincing at the half forgotten pain it awoke. Of course, the bear had broken his nose the night before. The ending highlight of a bad evening, only scattered images of which he could recall.

There had been him, the bear and an otter he didn’t know personally. The otter had been a dick, but the bear had brought him along so that was that, you didn’t have much choice about uninvited guests when they were introduced by a 400lbs apex predator. Although, as memories percolated through the hungover and beaten fug of his brain he did vaguely recall spending most of the evening taking the piss out of otters in general and that one in particular. A childish reaction but he had planned the evening out for two, a quick drink for him, some fishing down by the stream for the bear, and a few hours of talking bollocks with an old friend. Having to put up with the little semi-aquatic prick had ruined all of that as it had gleefully shown off, slipping into the water with barely a ripple and smugly emerging with a newly caught fish gripped in his nasty little claws. It knew Eli couldn’t swim, at least he’d assumed it did, although in hindsight that might have been his own paranoia and, after all, it had offered him up the best part of a salmon.

Still, he reassured himself, he’d been right to say that otters were just lazy beavers and challenge him to a fight. Even if the bear had, apparently, disagreed. These things happened though, in the forest, it was a dangerous place after all and no doubt the bear would forgive him. They went way back, right to the time Eli had rocked up in the middle of the vast expanse of nature and given the last of his ‘human food’ to the little cub, as it had been. The gift of a Kit Kat that had forged a friendship for life. Not to mention the fact that he himself had been forgiving back when his grizzly friend had eaten that rabbit, who had been a genuinely good guy with a suddenly grieving family of fifteen.

Shuddering as the pain in his nose abated Eli stood up and looked around. He was in the forest, which wasn’t much of a surprise really. He’d been in the forest for years now, although he had no idea how many, and waking up in some random part of it with a sore head from his homemade ‘Treesap Brew’ was part of the routine. It only took minutes for the memories of last night and the potential guilt they held to subside though, it was another beautiful day after all. Latticed sunlight was spilling down through the green canopy of trees, the birds were singing, nearby a stream whispered gently to itself and he was glad to be alive whatever social upsets he may have caused the night before.

After a few stretches to get the circulation going Eli chose a direction at random and started walking. He had no plans or obligations for the day, beyond foraging for food at some point of course. Even that was a minor concern though, failing all else he could make an impromptu social call on the squirrels, or maybe the deer, they always had a few nuts or berries going and didn’t object too loudly to one more mouth to feed.

As he walked he caught snippets of conversations from amongst the trees. Only the odd word, he wasn’t planning on eavesdropping and besides it was only the usual chatter of the forest. Grumbles about food, bad jokes about the predators, snide insults directed towards the birds, who were universally held to be bastards of the highest order. In a way it was just like being home in the city, only with less concrete and humans, plus he could walk around it naked of course. That wasn’t the main reason he’d chosen to come out here but on a day like this it was certainly an added bonus.

“Oi, you!”

Eli ignored the gruff voice as his mind drifted away from the background chatter of the woods.

“OI! HUMAN!”

Before he could connect the words to himself he saw who’d spoken them, it was a wolf. A big wolf, with two big wolf friends at either side of him. Bad news, even if your best friend was a bear.

Forcing a smile Eli came to a halt a few metres from them and tried to look defiant and harmless at the same time.

“You’re screwed mate, you know that?”

The two lesser wolves let their tongues loll out, looking effortlessly evil and giving Eli all the reason he needed to believe their leader. He didn’t let the smile slip though, playing dumb was always a safe plan of action.

“Am I? Why’s that then?”

The pack leader padded closer to him, a relaxed strut which all present knew could easily swtich into a tensed pounce.

“Otters mate, otters. Words got out, they’re after you, hear you weren’t very nice to one of their lot.”

“Ah-” Eli hurriedly raked through his mind for more memories of last night. He’d taken the piss a bit, maybe sworn at the party crasher too, but that was harmless enough wan’t it?

“We had a bit of a row, that’s all, no harm done. Sure it’s me you’re looking for?”

The alpha looked over his haunches at his two friends, the glint of disbelief in his predatory eyes.

“Certain, unless you know of any other humans walking around here in the nip who’re in the habit of drinking with otters and bears.”

It was unlikely to say the least.

“I didn’t do anything, honest, we just didn’t get along.”

The wolf cocked its heavy grey head.

“Doesn’t matter mate, they’re otters. Not been around their lot much have you?”

Eli shook his head, which meant nothing to his vulpine opposite, so he said ‘no’.

“They’re nutters, the lot of ‘em. An otter’ll take your eyes out as soon as look at you, sooner in fact if he gets lucky. Haven’t you heard the saying? ‘Never cross an otter, they’re wankers’? Woodland basics there mate. No idea why your bear friend even hangs out with one, mind you he does keep strange company eh?”

They could have been having him on, wolves could be like that, they got bored and spread rumours. That’s why half of the forest was still convinced that he’d been caught being unnatural with an elk, a completely unfair accusation. But then they might be telling the truth, savvy as he liked to think he was Eli knew he was still a novice in the law and lore of the woods.

“Look, I can see you’re not convinced son so I’ll come straight with you. I know we’ve got a bit of a reputation, givin’ it the big one and all, but I’m bein’ honest with you here. Not gonna help you out or nuffin’ but I fuckin’ hate those semi aquatic little wankers so fair warning, stay away from rivers for a bit and watch your tail. That one’s free.”

With a savage nobility that still impressed him even not that he knew what liars they were the wolves turned and trotted off into the trees, their last words drifting back to him.

“And stay away from the elks, you dirty bastard.”

Eli was starting to panic, muscles tensing from his twitching feet to his his unkempt thatch of hair. The wolf had seemed honest enough, for a wolf anyway and even if otters weren’t exactly what you’d call nature’s fiercest killers they were still capable of doing damage. He needed to find out if the rumour was true though, that was the thing to do, not just go running off in a frenzy.

And for truth you couldn’t beat an owl.

It didn’t take Eli much searching to find one, they were surprisingly easy to track once you’d gotten used to them. It was disappointing really, for an animal he’d always assumed to be wise and profound in its way they had a habit of being startlingly obvious. He’d learnt long ago though that owls were, for want of a better phrase, ‘thick as dirt’. If you needed to find one you pretty much just needed to follow the sound of forest animals sniggering and there you’d have it, an owl in the middle of a circle of mocking fauna doing something stupid. In this case it was waddling as fast as it could head first into a tree, for reasons best known to itself.

The circle of gawkers didn’t break up when he arrived, they were used to him for the most part and those who didn’t know him to look at probably assumed that, in the worst case scenario, they could mob him anyway. He watched over the top of the smaller animals as the owl repeated his thudding exercise, seemingly un-phased by the blows to the skull and determined to pursue whatever strange end it thought it was heading towards.

The bird was a Barred Owl and no one Eli knew, not that he hung around with owls, or birds in general for that matter, it gave him a sore neck to try having a proper conversation with them and even the smartest never seemed to have much to say beyond mildly offensive jokes about raccoons- a deeply rooted form of bigotry no one had ever been able to explain to him. Familiarity didn’t matter though, the one good thing you could say about the mystic looking flyers was that they were honest to a fault. Mostly because, it was said, they were too stupid to manage lying. He’d asked one for the real reason once, as it sat looking wise on a low level branch, it had just stared at him and, for no good reason, fallen out of the tree and landed on its head. It definitely hadn’t lied as it did it though.

Stepping over a giggling rabbit he broke up the entertainment by planting a foot in the owls path, bringing it skidding to a halt as it looked up at him in confusion, wondering where it’s tree had gone.

“Alright owl, quick question for you and then you can get on with your, uh, business here. I hear the otters are after me, true or false?”

The bird thought for a second, or more likely froze while the slow processes of it’s brain kicked into action, before replying.

“Yes, absolutely, definitely. Otters are going to kill you.”

Eli felt his shoulders slump at the same time as his mind sank to his feet. Owls didn’t lie, there was no arguing with it. And he didn’t fight, not if he could help it, besides half a dozen otters on a dark night, even if he struggled it wouldn’t matter.

“Are you absolutely sure? I mean, I know you wouldn’t lie, but could you be mistaken?”

The owl paused to process the question and turn slowly around in a circle a few times.

“No, definitely true, otters are going to kill you, any second now, lots of them, very angry.”

“What? How can you know that? You’re not allowed to exagerrate.”

“I’m not, they’re behind you.”

With a lazy sweep of his wings the owl took off and drifted off above the trees, leaving Eli to turn and face a line of more than two dozen otters with vicious looks on their faces. A rabbit brushed past his ankle as the circle of creatures which had been watching the self-destructive Barred Owl expanded for some new entertainment, otters eating a human. Something a mumbling badger happily admitted that you didn’t see every day.

Putting his hands up placatingly as the snarling critters came closer Eli took a slow step backwards.

“Now lads, I’m sure we can sort this out. I’m very, very sorry if I caused offence.”

“Lazy beavers are we? Fuckin’ ‘ave it you twat!”

The furry mob surged forward and with in a panicked dash Eli took off in the opposite direction. Long legs versus short legs, he knew that was his advantage but they wouldn’t stop coming and, given how out of shape he was, he was willing to bet that otters would outdo him on stamina.

It made no difference though, forward was the way to go and there were no other choices even as branches snagged him and rocks chipped away at the skin of his usually leather like feet. Go far enough though and something had to change didn’t it? For once he wished he had more of a sense of direction. Strolling around randomly might have been fine for a gentle day around the forest but a destination would really have helped in a life or death dash. He recognised nothing though, the forest was as anonymous as ever, trees were trees, dirt was dirt and trucks were trucks.

Eli skidded to a halt and bowled over the orange jacket and camoflage wearing hunter who been idly taking a leak into the bushes. Ignoring him, the niceties of human society having faded a bit in his mind over the years, he made straight for the unexpected truck and didn’t turn to talk until he was firmly secure inside it.

“OTTERS! LOADS OF THEM! SHOOT ‘EM!”

The hunter didn’t look bemused for long before he saw the tide of semi-aquatic animals swarming towards him and, to his credit, he packed away his manhood in record time. Barely pausing to shake before starting to take pot shots into the crowd with his rifle and making a measured retreat to the truck before jumping in alongside Eli.

“DRIVE! OTTERS! KILLERS!”

Shaking a little the hunter turned the keys and, still too confused to ask any questions, gunned the pick up truck out of the clearing it had been in and off down the track.

For more from me you can check out my novel Crashed America – available in paperback and digital formats. Or you can try any of my other work here – variously available as ebooks or paperbacks. 

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Technical Error

Sergei shook his head, trying to rattle out the incessant thud of the Techno soundtrack that was, for no good reason, blasting out to shake the foundations of the warehouse. It didn’t work.

The building was full to capacity now, the stands erected around the walls heaving with stern faced government apparatchiks, some vaguely nodding along to the music, others taking long draws from red-embered cigarettes or swigging from glasses of vodka. He recognised a few of the faces present, Generals, politicians, even a strangely orange toned man who could, perhaps, have passed for that guy off of the TV, the bombastic American with the bad catch phrases. Although all he could see of him was a small strip of gaudy flesh and petulant looking eyes, framed by layers of luxuriant winter furs and an oversized ushanka. No matter, Sergei didn’t keep up with celebrity culture anyway so his interest was limited and his commander had told him not to look too closely into the crowd. He was here to work after all, not gawp.

A few metres from him his opponent for the day was limbering up on the opposite side of the ring, showily flexing his muscles for the audience. A pointless display given the exoskeleton he was wearing, a series of cables, metal plates and pistons that encased half of his body. It was technology that would do the work, not the man inside it, they were just there to make a token gesture towards thought and give a name for the records to list as winner or loser. He’d noticed that the American fighters always enjoyed their showmanship though. This one no less than the others, his back piece even had the stars and stripes emblazoned on it, an American Eagle engraved on his steel shoulder pad, a weak spot perhaps given the circuitry that might lay beneath.

For his part Sergei is more practical, his commander doesn’t appreciate showmanship, he appreciated winners so a small Russian flag decal on his shoulder was the only concession to style he wore. The rest of his suit was just a bulky mix of wiring and armour plating. More than the American had on his, a point to remember when the fight started.

There were a few more minutes of posturing to endure, as the Yankee, a compact man, slight but densely built, played to his small but vocal contingent of compatriots in the audience. Sergei just stared at him, content not to have to feign his already real indifference. The foreigner had a look of All-American healthiness about him, side-parted brown hair and energetic brown eyes drawn straight from a commercial. Still, not someone to underestimate, when these fights took place everyone sent their best. The stranger would, at least, be military but probably special forces too, or Navy Seals, or drawn from one of those unnamed divisions who lived and died without ever passing through the paper trails of military bureaucracy. Looking clean didn’t mean he wouldn’t fight dirty. But then so would Sergei.

Eventually the showboating ended and, as the mumbled conversations of the crowd came to a trickling end, the anthems started playing. The Star-Spangled Banner first, a concession to the visitors and silently endured by the largely Russian audience, although out of the corner of his eye Sergei could still see the orange skinned man nodding his head in a poor attempt to match the tune. Next his own anthem played, voices around the warehouse dutifully belting out or miming their way through in a necessary show of patriotic fervour. He kept his own mouth shut for the duration, he didn’t know the words after all and as long as he looked suitably intense nobody would challenge him for focusing on the fight ahead, not even President Putin, who was bound to be somewhere in the crowd.

Formalities over a bell rings and the crowd stirs itself into a frenzy, ready to see some blood spilt. The American explodes out of his corner, mechanically augmented fists launching straight into a flurry of blows aimed at Sergei’s head. They hurt, they send him reeling, staggering backwards towards a steel ring rope that offers no give. No matter, he expects to take hits and where they bounce off of his body armour the shock absorbers do their job, where they connect with flesh he feels the adrenaline rush warding off the pain. The visitor gets to have his way for a whole minute, long enough for him to show himself and his intentions, long enough for Sergei to read him and know how he’ll behave. Only once satisfied with his gleaned intel does he launch his counter attack, punches and kicks sending his opponent flying as the force of technologically amplified blows take their toll. His fists focus on the gaudy shoulder decorations, the eagle etched out in gold. With the suits they both wear it’s hard to guess if there’s anything important underneath, he knows where his own precious circuitry is concealed but not his opponents. It’s a good focal point though, it’s worth a try and with surprising ease the metal starts to buckle. He can see that his opponent feels it too as a look of shock washes over his face. A soldier shouldn’t be shocked, not in a fight like this, but his suit is letting him down Sergei guesses, showing signs of damage too early, too easily. Hardly cause for sympathy but he notes it nonetheless as he continues his onslaught.

Soon there are sparks, the audible groan of servos seizing up and the soon to be defeated enemy, or at least competitor, starts to collapse in on himself, his suit becoming little more than an encumbrance. It shouldn’t be this easy, it’s never this easy, but it is and there’s no point in second guessing it. Sergei takes a step back, fist raised to deliver a decisive blow to the American’s head, not a killing blow, not intentionally at least, but one to knock him out of the fight and avoid the ignominy of being stuck in an inert and broken suit. There’s laughter from the crowd although looking round with attempted subtlety he can see that the maybe-celebrity has revealed himself and is screaming with rage, hat thrown off, scarf slipped down. He’d heard that the man had gotten into politics, perhaps that explained the invite, another irrelevance though, Sergei didn’t watch the news much.

The final punch knocks the other fighter out, smoke starting to curl from his exosuit where circuits have fried themselves and motors burnt out. He’ll live, which is good, even if the crowd does prefer a more final ending. The American is stuck squatting, his jammed suit fixing him in position and his eyes closed as the dark fug of unconsciousness saves him from embarrassment. Sergei raises a fist in a minor show of celebration, although he doesn’t feel that it was much of a victory. Too easy, too quick, a poor competition and poor entertainment although no one can blame him for that. Casting an eye down he can see, to his amused surprise, a small plate screwed in to the rolled back metal of his fallen opponents shoulder pad – ‘Made in China’. It doesn’t explain much, he’s fought Chinese contestants before, their technology has never failed them but then he doesn’t pay much attention to the machinations of international trade and politics, there may be a game here played well beyond his pay grade.

His commander is in the ring too now, a heavy hand slapping imperceptibally on his plated back.

“Come on, time to shake hands.”

Sergei lets himself be led away to a hastily assembled line of dignitaries. Generals, politicians, well dressed others of undefined importance, and at the end of the line President Putin and the orange man. The latter still whispering with frustration in the ear of a nearby bodyguard whose expression remains a model of professional indifference.

The Russians in the line nod approvingly at him, or even smile. Even if the fight wasn’t the best they seem amused by it, happy to have observed a spectacle even if it wasn’t as impressive as the clashes they’re used to. Even Putin, when his turn comes seems to flash a half smile at him, not something that he’s ever seen before. Only the orange man, who to Sergei’s surprise is announced to him as the President of the USA by his whispering commander, breaks from the formal mood of satisfaction. He’s ranting, even as he shakes the victor’s hand with a limp grip. Sergei doesn’t react, he’s trained not to and by the sound of it the man doesn’t think he speaks English, unaware of his vague grasp of the language gained from a distant childhood spent consuming American films and TV.

“He didn’t really win, this result is all wrong.” Letting his hand go the American goes on, talking over his head to the assembled officials, some of whom seem to be suppressing smirks.

“I know our boys, they’re the best, it’s just that guy – I should have known when they told me his grandma was Canadian, I did know. I told them he wouldn’t fight right, I told them I knew about this fighting stuff, everyone knows that, just ask them, they say I’m the best coach there is. I could have been a fighter too, I was, I just don’t talk about it, I’m too modest, that’s what all of my friends say, but I could have beaten this guy. Look at him, he’s nothing, He’s weak, not like me, everyone knows I’m strong, and I’m an older guy but I could have gone ten rounds with him. And I’ll tell people that, tell them I would have won, and we’ll deal with that loser later. People believe me, they know how good I am, they won’t buy this because it’s just wrong, Vladimir, it’s just wrong wrong wrong.”

Sergei feels a hand pulling him away, his commander. He lets himself be led as the American’s bodyguard tries in vain to guide his ward away too, gently trying to lead him away from Putin and his cohort who seem to be struggling ever harder not to laugh. It doesn’t work, as the President stands his ground, stubbornly continuing his defence as a translator desperately tries to keep up converting it into mostly incomprehensible Russian. He’s glad to be taken away, back to the lockers where engineers start to swarm around him unscrewing his armour and plugging it into various computers for the post fight analysis. It’s only back here that he can relax a little, free of the obligations of being on show.

His commander is leaning against the wall watching the process, a cigarette slowly dying on his lips.

“Sir, permission to speak?”

The officer nods, rheumy eyes inattentive.

“Was that really the President of the USA?”

An engineer stifles a snigger.

“It was. Not impressed?”

“Do you think he noticed that his wig was falling off?”

His commander pauses for a second to stub the tail end of his cigarette out against the wall.

“I doubt it, he didn’t notice when he signed Texas over to us, he just kept telling people about how he could run faster than President Putin, if he wanted to. I don’t think he pays much attention.

Sergei nods and shakes off the last piece of his disassembled exosuit, glad as always that no one expects him to pay attention to politics.

For more from me you can check out my novel Crashed America (free on Kindle until 6/2/2017!) – available in paperback and digital formats. Or you can try any of my other work here – variously available as ebooks or paperbacks. 

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