Tag Archives: Notebook

Escaping Idaho

I’d been dead for five years by the time I decided to stick my head back above the edge of the shallow grave that was Boise, Idaho.

Why I did it, I don’t know. Being dead had been good to me, far better than life ever had. My postmortem existence had freed me to feel alive, for once, rather than living in the constant shuddering shadow of my own looming mortality. I had a job, a dull one, hobbies too, meaningless ones, I ate at the local Waffle House every day and drank in the same bar every Friday where I answered the same questions and said the same things to the same people week after week after week after week. Purgatory to some, sanity to me.

So why go back? Why emerge from my forgotten grave and risk coming back to life? Not boredom, that’d be ungrateful y’see, I’ve never been so childish as to forget the blessing I found in that tedium. Curiosity? Perhaps. A poisonous sort of curiosity, the dangerous sort, the sort which bubbles out of nothing and grabs you for a moment, just long enough to take it’s toll, before leaving you to wonder why you’d ever cared enough to humour it in the first place. The type of curiosity that had probably killed the cat and which would almost certainly kill me but wisdom, as always, came too late and by the time I got smart to my mistake I was back in the land of the living – Chicago – a dead man walking once more.

The second I walked into Tyson’s Bar I could tell I was a zombie to those people. Old faces I knew from when I’d been alive gave me the sort of look people gave things that shouldn’t be. Hands reached for guns and cudgels and knives, shock fluidly translated into action as my face appeared flush with the colour of the newly resurrected. If I lacked the rotting flesh and stumbling gait that the dead should be expected to have there were plenty present there on that icy November night willing to make that right. I can’t even say I blame them, if they saw a man who shouldn’t be walking when they saw me then I reflected it from the other direction. It only took a second to realise how out of place I was, how much like a spectre, voyeuristically staring at the living I was. Their world wasn’t mine any more, I had a grave to return to and the intrusion was all my fault, not theirs. I should have been back in Boise, quietly rotting away in their memories, but here I was and with one foot in the door I didn’t even know if I could get away.

“It’s a shame to see you walking around.”

Sal was the barman, the first and only one to break the stunned silence. Laconic as ever he carried his own shock not into anger but into the all important role of being Sal, every ready with words to disarm and lines to remember.

“Figured I needed to stretch my legs, grave’s a cramped place.”

Sal nodded and sloppily poured me a whisky before clinking it down onto the bar. The others didn’t ease up, didn’t talk or smile or look at me as anything other than a dead man. They did let me walk over and place a hand around the glass though, whatever was inevitably coming they were content to let me and Sal go through the routine. Like a Witch Doctor he was speaking out the rituals that were necessary to put me back in the ground.

“Safe though, down there, there was worse things in this world than a bit of discomfort. That one’s on the house, by the way.”

I pulled my free hand back from my pocket where I’d been reaching for my wallet. Or a gun, I guess that’s what those behind me would have thought. I wasn’t packing though, like I said, it was curiosity that brought me back, dumb, random curiosity, nothing more malicious or meaningful than that. Besides, dead men don’t need protection do they?

“Thanks Sal” I downed the drink in one swift motion, trying not to gag as the unfamiliar fire ran down my throat. I’d stuck to beer in purgatory, I preferred it that way, but life was meant to sting a little I figured.

“Did you make it to my funeral?”

He nodded, bulldog face taciturn and formal, body relaxed but only so as to be out of arms reach from the zombie in front of him.

“Yeah, was a quiet one, your Ma threw herself in after the box. Didn’t have the heart to tell her they never found your body.”

My turn to nod, like the rest of the vital, living world she seemed a long way away. I felt sad for her, losing her only son, but these things happen and unlike me she was religious, at least she could imagine me in whatever heaven made sense to her.

“And the wake? Anyone turn up?”

“A few. You did good, going out when you did, made it easier for people to remember who you were, instead of what you did.”

I shook the glass for another drink, Sal shook his head in a sad refusal. Smiling I put the glass back down. There was some upside to my curiosity then, some people at least had remembered me for who I was, rather than what I’d done. It was a nice last thought, a comforting one, certainly better than the fear and anguish that had come when I’d died the first time. It almost made the shudder of pain from the first blow to hit me from behind bearable.

I won’t go back to purgatory this time, I thought as unconsciousness and more crushing blows fell on me. I won’t go back to Boise.

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. All ideal escapes from 2016 and, if you time the reading right, you can dodge a chunk of 2017 too just in case…

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The Rhythm of Life

“We can’t stop here, this is Cat country!”

It wasn’t the ideal line to hear from a bus driver, especially as he overshot my stop and picked up speed on an increasingly mad dash through Catford. I tightened my grip on the seat in ahead of me, getting a wary look from the man in front as he watched my knuckles turn white. Why he wasn’t panicking I don’t know, especially as a booming ‘YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEHAW!’ rang out over the speakers on the top deck. Usual behaviour for London bus drivers perhaps? It seemed unlikely, they never did that sort of thing back home, not as far as I can remember. But then back home I never got the bus, so perhaps this was the norm in all big cities and my fear just marked me out as a newcomer.

I ducked down as the bus screamed through traffic lights, not much of a defense against the possibility of a t-boning truck, which we narrowly avoided to the maniacal laughter of the driver downstairs. Still nobody seemed bothered, in fact a mother and daughter were even playing a game of ‘I Spy’ behind me. A routine past time made worse by the little girl’s loud and excited guess for ‘s’ – ‘sudden death’ she shrieked as the truck that had narrowly missed us spun out of control and flipped over in a spray of sparks. We’d missed the two stops after mine too.

“Do you have a valid Oyster card? Well, do you?”

The driver’s voice had suddenly grown sad, a good thing I reckoned as it coincided with the bus slowing down to a more sedate rampage down the road towards Lewisham. It was ok, I figured, I could walk home if I had to, plus my Oyster was valid, which had to be a good sign, right?

It was also irrelevant, apparently, as the now crawling bus continued to avoid every stop it passed. My grip had loosened on the seat in front, the wary looking man visibly relaxing as my minor physical invasion at the periphery of his vision went into retreat. I could, I reckoned, jump off the bus now, hit the emergency button downstairs and make a running landing, or at least a stumbling and non-fatal roll along the pavement. That’d be sensible, that’d be sane, given the circumstances, I should escape before the maniac in charge perked up and decided to start racing with death again. I didn’t move though, in fact if anything I relaxed into my seat, on the edge of a panic attack on the inside but somehow anchored by the gentle swaying of the bus. Besides, everyone else still seemed completely calm, they must have known something I didn’t and it would have been rude to start acting all crazy and jumping out of moving vehicles. I didn’t want to be rude, and the bus had to stop eventually, right?

“This is the 185, terminating at termination. Please remember to take your bags with you and, for the love of God, don’t put your feet on the seats…”

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The Devil Wears Gold

It’s the end of days
or so they say
in corridors of power

The Devil he rode in to town
shot the Sheriff,
ran him down
he came in with a soulless swagger
full of spite
and sinner’s glamour
a punishment sent from below
surrounded by a strange dark glow

We didn’t call him said the farmers,
herders, drifters and sundry misfits
We just want a peaceful life,
no excess drama,
no excess strife

The writers they denied it too
and drinkers said they had no clue
no engineers held the seance
that called the beast up from the chaos
the Padre had no words to say
and the Madam stayed off locked away
as cloven feet and horned head
marched a path now filled with dread

Just one small cluster kept the silence
fearing for inflicted violence
not that they could have a clue
or be expected to pay their due

It was the Mayor,
the Boss
the Rancher,
the Journalists, the ones not plastered,
moneyed men, safe from disaster

Their wages given to the demon
they knew they were all set and even
safe from all dramatic prose
ensconced in mansions well enclosed
and even though their eyes averted
the cries they heard went un-diverted
and if the guilt lay at their feet
then the Devil never skipped a beat
as six-gun swirled and pitchfork trembled
he made the rest pay prices dreadful
a savage raging debt collector
ignoring every last protector

And at the end, the balance struck
a nod was given to those higher up
the moneyed men of wealth and fame
had paid their price with others pain
and what was learnt from this disaster
was that cruelty knows one lonely master
Money, wealth, and gilded greed
are the drivers of the steed
and when you hear that rattling spur
smell that sulphur coated fur
it’s not your neighbour who’s to blame
but the Masters of your own domain
and if you want to last the rest
cut their debit, end their rest
because the Devil’s coming back
and only you can break their pact

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