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Review: A Moon Shaped Pool

12 May

A new Radiohead album is always cause for alarm in certain circles. ‘What will it sound like?’ Is the question most asked and after a thirty year career pushing their own boundaries and making forays into alt-rock, experimental dance, electronica and jazz it’s easy to see why.

Their ninth album, ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ sounds like a culmination of these various trips into the unknown and a combination of the nuances they have learned over the years. It also strives into unfamiliar territory as, for a band as restless as Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool sounds almost content in parts. The band are much older now since they released Kid A, at the time a massive departure from their work in the 90s, and there is a sense that this is finally the place they have been searching for.

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Jonny Greenwood’s work scoring films has certainly made an impact as many of the songs feature string segments that would be right at home in a Paul Thomas Anderson film. The Numbers is the most striking example of this as a rousing environmentalist folk song transforms into a cinematic epic with sweeping violins that dart in and out around the vocals and mimic the piano. Thom Yorke sings ‘Your system is a lie/a river running dry/the wings of a butterfly’ as the string section swells to a crescendo behind him and you can’t help but believe that the people really do have a power that must be tapped into, and soon before it’s too late to do anything.

Environmentalist themes and visions of a rotting earth are certainly not out of place in a Radiohead song, nor are the feelings of disassociation, panic and isolation that make up many of the songs here. But never before on a radiohead album have they seemed as personal as they do on this one, especially on Glass Eyes. No longer a distant observer, we can almost feel the air on the train platform we find ourselves on. Surrounded by faces of ‘concrete grey’ we feel close enough to embrace and maybe that’s exactly what we need.

‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ is not a completely depressing affair however, many of the arrangements serve to invigorate rather than sedate and in the right environment many of the sounds here are almost uplifting. The Bossa Nova guitar on Present Tense and the cool beat behind Decks Dark help to show us that if we look beyond the darkness of the lyrics we might just find some hope.

As usual with Radiohead, nothing is quite as it seems. First listens are deceiving and as we dive in it becomes apparent that the waters are often deeper than we realised and suddenly we are pulled under by the current. Tracks that felt underwhelming to begin with are transformed into works of beauty (Tinker Tailor, I’m looking at you) when a switch somewhere in your head is flicked and suddenly everything is illuminated. Something that once seemed insignificant now looms in front of you and a shadow is cast over everything else, distorting a once seemingly empty landscape into a breathtaking scene.  

The first Radiohead album in five years feels more complete, more full and more comfortable than their previous outing, the unfairly dismissed The King of Limbs. It also, in a way, feels like a goodbye. The album’s closer True Love Waits has been a fan favourite for over twenty years. Usually played on an acoustic guitar with Yorke’s soaring vocals begging ‘Just don’t leave, don’t leave’ and more recently as a subdued opener to Everything In It’s Right Place, their most displaced song has finally found its home as a stark, heart-wrenching piano ballad similar to In Rainbows’ own gorgeous closer, Videotape. Yorke’s voice breaks as he sings ‘Your tiny hands, your crazy kitten smile’ and he has never sounded more sincere.

Gavin

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Input/Output: Feeding Creativity

11 Sep

I have a rule that I tend to follow a lot better than any other self-imposed restriction I place on my life. Its stuck just a little bit behind “brush your teeth every day, you mongrel” and is thankfully ignored far less than “no pints on weeknights”. It’s a simple rule, and one that may seem painstakingly obvious to anyone with a creative drive, but it works for me in so much as I truly believe that it helps to keep me engaged and aware (although it does nothing to further my quest for immortality) and it is this: Consume one piece of art every day.

Now I know what you’re thinking, and so far there has been only one instance when I have been dragged from a museum, wielding a knife and fork, and begging for my condiments to be returned to me. But I adapted, I said to myself, “Gavin, rather than literally ingesting the art – No, hear me out. Why don’t we try this in a more metaphorical sense?”

When I was finally released from the overnight lock-up, I walked to the nearest cinema and instead of running for the projection booth and feeding the roll of film up one of my nostrils, I bought a ticket and watched the film.

I try to do something like this every day. I watch a film, I read a short story or part of a novel, I visit a museum and look through the galleries (now avoiding one particular establishment not too far from my house, the bastards). Every day I feel more accomplished. Every day that I take something in, whether I like or not it, I can feel it change me. I feel my opinion of it form and this shapes another (albeit miniscule) part of my personality. It helps me to grow bit by bit.

When I talk about consuming art, I‘m not talking about the latest Summer Blockbuster or marathoning a season of your favourite TV show. Although I wouldn’t necessarily discount these. I mean something that challenges you, something that makes you question yourself or the world around you. By art I mean something that has been created out of passion. An honest expression, an insight into the mind of another person. Its too easy, for me anyway, to forget that something else exists outside the trawl of normal life. Something inspiring and awesome and just a tiny bit magical. Consuming art helps to curb my overwhelming desire to procrastinate meaninglessly, and it makes me want to create something myself.

I do this because, if I don’t, I find myself sitting in my pants watching the X-Files on Netflix and sucking cheese dust off my fingers while I fight the urge to open a fourth bag of wotsits. “There is nothing in there but cheese,” I tell myself, “and you still have plenty of that beneath your fingernails.”

This may seem like common sense (it is), but it is frighteningly easy to forget how much your creative input affects your creative output, so remind yourself often.

Gavin

Short Story: A Hero

25 Aug

Act 1: Loss

Loss. It usually starts with a loss, or at least ends that way. All the stories I’ve read anyway. It kind of has to, if you think about it. If the hero hasn’t lost anything or isn’t going to then where’s the plot? There’s nothing at stake. No real feeling. No fear.

I think fear is important. You can learn a lot about a person through how they act when they’re afraid. Some will run and hide, some will stand and fight and some will look on in horror. You can learn a lot about someone when they’re acting through fear, but I don’t think it’s fair to judge them.

I’m talking about fear because everyone is afraid of losing something. Respect, love, wealth, good looks, there’s always something.

Well, in this story, the hero has already lost everything that he had. Not that he had much to start with. He isn’t rich, he doesn’t have many people in his life that he can call a friend, he isn’t terribly smart or attractive either. But his friend was gone and he was sure of that. He isn’t sure of much else, though. Everything had become completely unravelled in such a short struggle. Loose threads everywhere and the more he thought about it, there was no real reason to sort it all out anymore.

But, you have to start somewhere. And our hero, no matter how terrified he is, is about to decide where.

Look at the concentration in his face as he stares towards the streetlight. Look at that nervous twitch. The cold look in his eyes. The quivering lip and the flaring nostrils. Anger, fear, loss, doubt. All raging through him. If you look hard enough you can see a trace of each one of these emotions. He’s also thinking, and hard too. Trying to figure out what his next step is. But then his brow unfurrows and he lowers his stare to the still, empty little body that he’s still holding to his chest and says, ‘I just don’t know what to do.’

Well, I guess he needs some more time. It’s not easy.

Act 2: Inner Struggle

It can take a long time to get over something like that.  It can take a long time for people to get themselves facing the right direction again. Sometimes they never do.

It may surprise you to learn that our hero is no different. Or it might not, he is just a regular guy after all. I think I’ve made that clear.

Look at him now. He’s been sitting in that same spot, watching cartoons, for nearly three days now. He hasn’t smiled once either.

His phone is ringing. It’s been doing that a lot over the past three days. He picks it up, looks at the caller and hovers his thumb over the green button. He answers. He hasn’t been doing that a lot.

‘Hello?’ He asks. Did you hear that slight tremor in his voice? I think he’s nervous.

‘Yeah, I’m fine, Dad.’ Notices how he’s fidgeting? Picking at the rag nail on the index finger of his right hand with his thumb. I think he’s lying.

‘No. No, you don’t need to come over.’ I guess his dad is thinking the same thing.

‘Right. Yeah, okay. Thanks, dad.’ He sighs, ‘Okay. Yeah, I’ll see you there.’

He sets the phone down again. He seems a little different now. He has something else to think about. Something to distract him from his recent loss. Distraction is good sometimes. He’s standing up now that he has something to do, someone to meet. Keeping busy, that’s the key. He takes a clean towel out of the hot press. It’s about time he cleaned up. Needs a haircut, too.

He’s stepping into the bathroom now. We’ll give him some privacy. It’s one thing to tell a story about a man, another thing entirely to look at his bits.

*

It’s three in the afternoon. That sound is a train pulling into the station. You can’t see it from in here, though. That other sound is our hero himself, flushing the toilet. He unlocks the door and steps out of the stall.

He looks nervous, checking himself out in the mirror, taking deep breaths. He’s even dressed up a bit. Hasn’t seen his old man in a while, I believe.

‘This is going to be awkward.’

Talking to himself now.

‘Ah, come on. It won’t be that bad. It’s only been, what? Five years?’

He thought he was talking to himself anyway.

A man had quietly entered, gently closing the bathroom door. He’s smiling, but he looks a little nervous too. He’s biting his bottom lip and rummaging around in his pockets. Our hero pauses for a second, they’ve locked eyes through the mirror. He turns.

‘Hello, dad.’

Ah.

‘Hello.’

There’s a feeling in the room as if unspoken words are being passed from person to person.

‘How are you doing?’ His father asks, breaking the silence as gently as possible.

‘I’m coping.’

There’s another silence. It seems alien, awkward, until his father breaks it again:

‘Coffee?’

His face says that finding that one word was the greatest struggle he’s had in a while.

*

The journey to the café is unusual. Two men walking in silence, neither glancing at the other, yet at the same time a strange warmth is growing between them.

*

‘Ill have a cappuccino, love.’ His father says, answering the waitress taking their order.

‘And you?’ She says, smiling.

‘I’ll have the same, I guess. Thanks.’

She leaves them.

‘Listen, son. I know this must be hard. I’ve lost friends myself.’

Straight to business.

‘Did you hold them while they died?’ His son sounds angry, like he’s blaming his father for something that couldn’t possibly be his fault.

His father looks up as the waitress returns with their drinks. He smiles as best as he can and thanks her. His son is staring at him, his eyes quivering.

‘Look, son.’ He says, ‘I wanted to meet you for a reason.’ Hesitation? He’s acting like he’s afraid of something. Ashamed, even.

Our hero is suspicious now. He has a feeling. The instinct to run is kicking in.

‘I know why your friend died.’

Dead silence. Always to be expected when a curve-ball like that comes out of fucking nowhere. It isn’t awkward either, just cold. Cold, dead silence. This isn’t the silence of two men who simply don’t know what to say to one another. It’s the silence of one man thinking harder than he ever has before and the other waiting for his judgement.

Finally, our hero says, ‘And how do you know that?’

The father sips at his coffee, gazing at the table that seems to span for miles between them. He’s running his index finger through a small puddle of the spilt brown liquid on his saucer.

‘Well, I know because I know the men who did it.’ The father pauses and looks up at his son, ‘I Also know that they weren’t strangers to you either.’

A twist.

‘How do you know them? How the fuck are you involved in this?’

Anger flares.

‘Don’t you fucking talking to me like that, boy.’ His father snarls, ‘Not yet, anyway. I’ve got an awful lot to say to you and I’ve travelled an awfully long way to say it. So, you could at least do me the favour of keeping your mouth shut and hearing what I have to tell you.’

He turns his face away, pressing his lips firmly together. His expression reads: ‘I shall not say one more word.’ The big fucking huff.

Our hero closes his eyes and breathes deeply. Is that guilt he’s feeling?

‘Look, dad. I’m sorry. I’ve been through a lot. Just tell me what you know. I’ll… I’ll listen until you’re finished.’

Like a hostage negotiator. The sly bastard’s not sorry at all. You can almost see him biting his tongue.

‘Well, I’m having second thoughts now anyway.’

‘Just fucking telling me!’ Our hero shouts, rising from his seat and leaning closer to his father. A silence follows, louder than the yell somehow, and heads turn throughout the cafe.

‘Right. Sure. For fuck’s sake, just sit down!’ He takes another drink. ‘Your coffee’s getting cold, you haven’t touched it.’

‘Right, that’s it. I’m leaving.’ The hero stands.

‘No! Right, sit down. I’ll get to the point.’

He sits again.

‘But you have to let me finish before you start screaming at me, okay?’

Silence.

‘Do we have a fucking deal?’

‘Yeah. Fair enough. I’ll try my best. Do you have a smoke?’

‘Yeah. Here you go.’ The father produces a packet of cigarettes from his pocket. He takes one for himself, lights it and then gives one to his son. He sets the packet on the table, halfway between them.

The tone changes.

‘Right. Before I start you have to understand how much I know.’ He takes a long drag from his cigarette. ‘I know everything that you do and I also know a good bit more.’

This should be interesting.

‘I know that you and your friend were selling drugs. No, don’t say anything. Believe it or not, I don’t give a shite about the drugs. I mean you’re a fucking idiot. But, so are most people.’

He takes another long drag, our hero does the same. There’s an intensity in his father’s eyes matched only by the curiosity in his son’s.

‘I also know that the two of you, both fucking idiots might I add, decided to try and rip off the lads that were supplying you. Now, I’m assuming, and I know that you’re an idiot so I could be wrong, that you have realised at this point that that is the reason why your friend is dead. And if you’re not completely stupid you’re probably scared shitless that these guys are gonna get you next.’

Our hero nods. He hasn’t spoken in a while. What could he say, anyway? His father was right on the mark.

‘I’m going to go on, assuming you still want to hear.’ He takes another drag from his cigarette and stubs it out in the ashtray on the table. A plume of smoke rises from it. ‘If you said anything to me now, you’d either be telling me how sorry you are, and in that case I already told you that I don’t give a fuck, or you’ll be asking me how I know all this. In which case, hold your fucking horses ‘cause I’ll tell you in a minute.’

He pauses for breath.

‘I know all of this and I know those men because I work with them.’

‘You bastard!’ Our hero shouts, clenching his right fist as he rises.

‘Sit the fuck down, boy.’ His father says. It wasn’t a suggestion, it was a command. ‘People are staring already and I’m not finished yet and I promise that you’ll want to hear all of this.’

Lowering himself back into his chair, our hero sits again. The tension between them is incredible.

‘Before you jump to conclusions, no, I didn’t kill your friend. I was told that the two of you had been marked. Now, I don’t want me own son being fucking killed, no matter how estranged we are, so I asked them to kill him instead.’

‘Jesus christ.’ Tears form in our hero’s eyes.

‘I’m not proud of it, alright? But any father would have done the same. I made a choice and I stand by it. No disrespect for the dead.’

Silence again. For a long time there are no words, only tears from our hero and a pitying stare from his father.

‘Why did you not try and save him too?’ Our hero asks, eventually.

‘I would have, but someone had to die. There needs to be a body for it to be a real message. If two lads rip you off, they need to be seen to have paid. That way, other people start thinking twice about trying the same.’

Makes sense if you think about it, I guess…

‘Fuck. Fuck. Fuck!’ Our hero brings his fist down on the table. The cups clink in their saucers. Heads turn once more.

‘I know this is all very hard to accept. And I’m sorry that it’s me delivering the message. I mean, I guess it’s better than a man in a balaclava telling you, at three in the morning, with a gun pressed to your temple. But, you have to leave. If you don’t get out of the country, you’re a dead man.’

A plane ticket appears on the table.

‘I’m sorry, son. I don’t know what else to tell you.’

‘I’m gonna kill the bastards. I’m not leaving. Get the fuck out of here.’

‘I’m leaving, don’t worry. But think about that ticket, alright? I risked a lot to even make that an option.’

‘Well, you didn’t fucking risk enough did you?’

His father begins to speak. He stands instead and puts his hand on his son’s shoulder.

Can you imagine what this lad’s going through? He knows he should get out. He doesn’t want to, but he knows. What he wants to do is pick up that ash tray and bash his father’s skull in before going on your classic action film third act of revenge. But he doesn’t. His sits there and he cries into his, by now cold, cup of coffee and he lets his dad go. The cops would have had him within minutes anyway.

So, he thinks.

Act 3: The Choice

He knew he didn’t have long to decide. He’d have to leave in the morning or kill the bastards tonight. He wouldn’t remember the long walk back to his house from the cafe or the silver car that he’d been sure was following him by the time he’d gotten home. He already had too much in his head to deal with.

He stood in the shower for more than an hour, staring at the tiles. I followed him in this time. You never know what might happen at this point in a story like this. He dresses himself and sits on the sofa. He’ll go for the gun in the coffee table. It’s for emergencies. You never know when you’ll need one in the business.

He’s glancing down at the drawer now, just under his left knee. It’d be the only option if he was gonna kill them. He reaches down, opens the drawer and lifts out the gun by the barrel. He turns it over in his hands. It’s a revolver. Anything else had seemed like overkill at the time. An AK-47 seemed perfect now.

He leans his head back and stares at the ceiling. The tears that have been welling up haven’t left his eyes yet.

I don’t envy him.

He looks down at the gun again. Its heavy.

The barrel is in his mouth at the end of a simple movement. There’s always another option. It’s messy and it isn’t ideal, but it is there.

Tears flow freely now and he pulls the gun out from between his teeth. Saliva drips off the barrel and he clenches his eyes. He take in three huge gulps of air through his nostrils.

One.

Two.

Three.

He sighs, drops the gun in his lap and leans over to the phone beside him. He picks it up and dials a number. The phone rings and rings. No answer. Weird. The message on the answering machine plays.  Our hero coughs.

‘Dad? Thanks. Thanks for everything. I’ll call you when I get… wherever. Bye.’

He sets the phone down and puts his head in his hands. He cries openly and like he hasn’t cried since he was a child..

And I suppose that’s it. Not all heroes leave a trail of blood behind them. And not all of them end up saving someone else’s life. Some of them only need to save themselves.

I reckon he’ll be alright without me. After a while.

Gavin (Originally written in 2013)

Short Story: ACID

25 Aug

The door handle is moving in my hand. I’m trying to open it but each time I wrap my fingers around the cold metal it mutates. The room is swimming and pulsating with the object in my hand. It is a door handle, isn’t it? I let go, take a step back and examine it. I’m fairly certain that the dripping metal falling from it isn’t real. The room isn’t that hot. I reach out again to grab it one more time. I’m too far from the door now, though, I shouldn’t be able to stretch that far but my arm extends until my fingers have grasped the handle again. I pull it down and the door gently swings open, bending slightly as it comes to a rest. This carpet feels great on my bare feet.

Soft music is drifting out of the room that I’m now standing in the doorway of. It swims past my head, drifting along the corridor that I just came from. It looks beautiful, like a river of colour is dancing through the air.

I’m tripping hard now. The acid has completely taken over. My perception of what is real and what is confined to my own head is quickly disappearing, but I don’t care. I’m lost but I’m equally free. I decide that I’ve been standing in the doorway for an eternity already so I sidle into the room around the doorframe.

The room is almost in total darkness. There’s a small lamp on a nightstand in the corner providing the only light, drenching the floor around it and the corner of the bed that’s closest to it. There’s a bed in front of me. The brass knobs at each of its four corners are glowing softly, gently alleviating some of the darkness. It takes me a while to notice but Paul and Molly are sitting on the side of the bed, near the light. Paul is holding something in his hand. Its glowing at one end. Fire. No, not fire, a soft glow. It’s a joint. He raises it to his mouth, pulling, the ember glows more brightly. The entire room is lit for a second.

‘Man, this stuff is good.’ A voice says. My own. I giggle like a child. I had wanted to speak and then I had spoken.

‘Yeah it is. Do you wanna drop now? Are you ready?’ Another voice. Paul’s. I read the words in the air over his head.

What could he be talking about? Does he want to take more? I’m afraid that I might go over the edge if I have another one. But, maybe I’ll be ready by the time the second tab kicks in. How are these guys so calm? Maybe I’m tripping harder than they are.

‘Sure. I guess I could handle another one. How long are my arms?’ I speak again.

Molly laughs. ‘Are you alright? What do you mean another one? How much did you smoke? We haven’t even dropped yet.’

How can that be true? We took the first tabs over an hour ago, in this room. I’m fairly certain that I’ve just returned from the bathroom. I remember staring into the mirror for a while. I shouldn’t freak them out, though.

‘Yes.’ That seems to satisfy them. I sit down on the bed beside Paul. I’m careful not to fall through the mattress.

The joint is in my left hand now. I take a long drag and watch the smoke flow from my mouth in waves and tendrils. The bedside table is shrinking. I can feel myself giggling again.

‘Okay, then. Let’s do this.’ I hear Paul say. I can’t believe how high these guys must be. Maybe a second tab will be too much for them. I can’t tell them that now though.

I scan my eyes over my own hand and Paul and Molly’s. We’re each holding a small square of paper. I try to look at the symbol on each one but when I do the lines rearrange themselves. I blink. Colours are painted across the inside of my eyelids.

‘Happy tripping, guys!’ Molly says. Our hands are raised to our mouths simultaneously. I slip the piece of paper under my tongue and shut my lips. I can feel my tongue growing longer. I don’t want it to fall out of my mouth. I laugh again.

I manage to compose myself. It’s hard to stop myself from fixating on the skirting board. Pieces of dust and fluff are sprouting legs and racing one another along the length of it. The joint is in my hand again. I can’t remember ever not having it but I must have given it away at some point. Paul is blowing smoke rings. I take another drag and watch as another column of smoke flows into the room. It twists around the lamp on the table and vanishes into the darkness.

The music creeps into my ears again. I can feel it as well. I shut my eyes and watch the colours dance. After what could only have been a few seconds Molly’s voice interrupts the sound. The colours explode.

“Yes?” I say.

“You’ve been sitting like that for a while now. I think it’s starting to kick in.”

Paul laughs. I look at him and I can feel my own voice laugh along with him.

I think you’re right.” I tell her. “Give me a second.” I place my hands on the bed either side of me and lift myself up. I can feel myself rising far more than I intended. I’m lucky we’re indoors. Who knows when I would have stopped otherwise.

I begin walking toward the door to the room. Each time I take a step ripples of light spread out from my feet. I don’t turn to tell them that I’m only going to the bathroom. I hope that they can somehow pick up from my body language that I’m only going to the bathroom. I walk through the open doorway and into the hall. I can see the door to the bathroom at the other side. Its open and the light is on. Its glow is oozing out into the hallway curling against the shadows.

Making my way along, I reach out and run the tips of the fingers of my right hand along the wall. The hall is rotating. I decide to crawl. I’ll have better chances when I’m upside down if I’m on all fours. The bathroom light is bright. I wave some of it away with my arms and step into the room, locking the door behind me. It occurs to me that this may not be a great idea. I am very aware that I am locked in the midst of an intense trip. The second tab is definitely starting to work. In front of me I see the sink and just above that, the mirror. The mirror. Should I look at myself? What if I see something unsettling? I keep my eyes focused just below it and reach out for the hot tap. As my hand nears it, it twists and moves out of my way.

“God damn that tap is fast.” I hear myself saying. I stare at it intently. It’s moving slightly. Waiting for me to reach out again. I take my time. No point in rushing things. Maybe it’s like a T-Rex or something. It might not notice if I move slowly enough. I inch my hand closer. It doesn’t seem to notice.

I turn my wrist at an angle that seems to defy at least one law of nature and water begins to flow from the tap. I untwist my arm and gently touch the stream with my finger tips. The water is still cold and as it flows around my fingers I notice that the fluid seems almost gooey. It begins to heat up. I splash some around my face. It feels fantastic.

I watch the water partly fill the sink. There’s a small whirlpool at the bottom as the water is continuously draining through the plughole. As I’m watching it, a light begins to glow beneath the hole. Its beautiful and strangely hypnotic.

“Acid.” I say aloud, giggling at the absurdity of the words. “I am ready to look into my soul.”

Raising my head slowly, I scan my eyes upward across the mirror. My torso is in view. My clothes look vibrant and organic. Like a symbiotic entity, giving me warmth and comfort in exchange for sustenance. I raise my head further and my neck comes into view. As I continue scanning I realise that my neck seems to be stretching an unreasonably great distance. Like some serpent in human clothes.

I close my eyes for a second and shake my head. The light coming through my eyelids shifts spastically. I reopen my eyes and gaze into… Myself. I’m staring back at me from the mirror. Calm. Warm. Inviting. I stare into my own eyes, moving my face closer to the mirror. The glass separating myself from my reflection fades away and we simultaneously raise our hands and press our palms together. Still staring, unblinking, unflinching. Eyes like the deepest oceans, swimming with memory. A small white dog. A man and woman smiling down at me. An empty path on the side of a mountain. Its dark. No one around. The eyes become duller. The ocean of blue surrounding the pupil twists and sharpens. The pace of my heart is quickening. I feel it thunder in my chest. These eyes are frightening. They are not mine. I look away.

“How long have I been here?” I ask this aloud, half expecting an answer. Silence except for the music flowing from the room down the hall. I think I’ll go back there. I don’t want to be alone with the mirror for much longer.

Leaving the bathroom is easy. After an initial small battle with the handle on the door, it swings open. I giggle to myself again. I’d like to smoke more. I follow the river of music. At the end of the corridor I stop in front of the door and clench my toes together. This feeling is familiar. I move my gaze to the door handle. I know this. This door handle. It will not be easy. I extend my hand, it’s shaking, and stretch my fingers outwards. The handle starts to shrink. I lunge for it, grabbing it just in time and close my eyes as I hold it. I breathe deeply, preparing myself, and open the door. A wall of music passes over me as if it had been building up and flooding the room. It’s okay. The hard part is over. I clench my toes together again, the carpet is warm and comforting beneath the soles of my feet.

My eyelids peel back, revealing the dark room beyond the doorway. It is exactly how I left it. I can see the light coming from the bedside table and as I move inside, Paul and Molly are still sitting on the bed. Smoke wafting around them, feeling out the room. I smile and sit down beside them.

“Here you go, dude.” Paul says, passing the joint. I take it. I’m grateful. Something to take the edge off. I inhale. It tastes natural and good. I exhale.

“This is exactly what I need.” I say. Molly smiles at me.

‘Yeah it is! So, do you wanna drop now? We’re ready and waiting!’ Paul says. He smiles as I feel my heart stop inside my chest. I can see into the depths of his eyes and I know he’s not joking. I tell myself that this will end soon. The acid will stop. It is all in my head. And yet I’m unsure. I can feel the mirror beckoning.

Gavin (Originally written in 2012)

Short Story: The Bed

25 Aug

There is nothing particularly interesting about the bed in question. It is, by all accounts, an ordinary bed. It is made of wood, and has been crafted (or rather, it has been assembled) such that there are four legs, each extending vertically upward from the ground and supporting the main body. It is a double bed and is usually left unmade when unoccupied. At this moment in time, the bed is currently occupied, and whereas the titular bed in this story is merely a setting or a prop, its occupant is of great concern.

He is a peculiar character. He does not look odd, he is clean-shaven, neat and no more (or less) than moderately attractive. He was peculiar though. There was something about him, an aura that just reeked of oddity. He didn’t speak much, yet when he did he spoke purposefully and accurately relayed each word as if speaking to someone learning his language. The way he moved was awkward, with forced steps and sharp movements. It was almost as if he had learnt to move from a textbook and had not quite understood the theory. This detail is somewhat irrelevant to the story as our subject is going to spend the majority of his time lying down. The strangest thing, however, about this man is the way in which he thinks. He does not think like you or I. At least, he doesn’t appear to. He is too logical, too cold.

As the nature of the occupant of the bed has been discussed, so too should it be revealed that the bed is, in fact, the occupant of a room, and this room is in turn the occupant of a house. The house itself is situated on a delightfully normal street in the heart of the city, stretching from the main road and sloping slightly downwards until it reaches a black, metal fence. The house has another on either side of it, these in turn are attached to other houses and facing it is an almost mirror image. They are old, terraced houses with red bricks and missing roof tiles.

The room in which the bed is situated is on the middle floor (out of three) of the house. It has two windows that overlook the street that the house is situated on and a door facing away from the street into the hallway. The walls are painted white and are in need of a re-painting. Cracks have begun to appear. It isn’t a large room but the illusion of space is given by its bareness. It contains the bed, its lone occupant and a small nightstand with a lamp placed on top.

The nightstand is hardly worthwhile describing. It is old, with a single drawer and covered in a cheap, brown varnish. The lamp is only slightly more interesting. It is turned on by pulling a chain, rather than flicking a switch.

The occupant; this strange man is currently lying in his bed, on his right side. His head is resting on an old, stained pillow and he is wearing loosely fitted pyjamas. These are also stained, although there is a very definite reason for this. The occupant has soiled himself, twice. And once again, there is a very good reason for this. The man is lazy. So lazy, in fact, that as of now he has not left this bed in two days and around fourteen hours.

He is asleep. Very shortly, he will wake up and contemplate turning on the lamp at the side of the bed. He will decide not to. The occupant hasn’t always been like this. Up until two days and around fourteen hours ago, the longest he had ever spent in bed was eight hours, except for on one occasion; when he had overslept by exactly one hour.

The day on which the man had climbed into bed for the last time until now had begun exactly like any other. It also ended like any other. It was a completely ordinary day and this was exactly the problem.

The alarm clock on the bedside table began ringing. It then stopped. It was ringing for a total of two seconds before Harold purposefully pressed down on the button with his index finger. He pulled back his blanket, raised himself to an upright position, then turned and got out of bed. He quickly made the bed and exited the room. His morning routine had begun and then proceeded with a shower lasting seven minutes; two minutes were allowed for brushing his teeth and a further 10 minutes for putting on his grey trousers, white shirt and one of an assortment of sweater-vests ranging from black, through grey to navy, which was what he wore on a Friday. It was Tuesday. He chose a grey sweater-vest for the day, picked up his tattered briefcase and then promptly left his house.

Harold Sharp worked in an old building that was exactly a nine minute walk from his house, this allowed him two minutes to pick up an apple, a banana and the morning paper from the shop which was along the route he took to work each morning. Harold typed. He was given documents, letters, articles and sometimes even shopping lists at exactly thirty minutes past eight and he spent his day carefully typing each out on the same type-writer that had been placed on the desk in his cubicle for the past eight years. In the eight years he had worked in this building he had never thought to ask why he was doing this or for whom he was typing. He simply typed, all day, with one half-hour break at lunch time when he would slowly enjoy a cup of tea and the newspaper he had picked up that morning.

Harold left the building at exactly five o’ clock in the afternoon, as always, returned home and after undressing and hanging his clothes in the wardrobe, put his pyjamas on and climbed into bed. He then turned to the clock sitting on the bedside table, picked it up, removed its battery and placed it under the bed.

Looking up at the dimly lit ceiling and slowly closing his eyes, Harold realised something and smiled. He had forgotten to turn off his bedside lamp. He quickly did so, and once more began to close his eyes. The same smile was still painted across his face.

Harold had no idea why he did this. In fact, he didn’t even ask himself why he was doing it. He just felt compelled to climb into the bed with the intention of never rising from it again.

A dream lasting days sweeps through his mind in a matter of hours, he awakens, briefly, for a short glimpse of reality before he once again returns to slumber. He dreams again, this dream is longer, darker, more surreal. There are shadows and moving images. Encounters. He begins to grow afraid of them. He wakes once more, peering into the depths of the dark room. The shutters are pulled, is it day or night? He no longer cares. A dream, the shapes are bearing down upon him, the shadows are darker. There is a… presence.

In the hours that he is awake, Harold wonders how long he has been in this bed. His fortress, his life and his tomb. It could be days, months, even years. He knows that he is hungry and that he is stained, yet this still does not deter him from his quest for permanent bliss. Although he has become fearful of his dreams, it has become more apparent to him that this may be in fact his reality. His grasp of the difference between conscious and unconscious thought has become loose. His dreams and reality are becoming indistinguishable, but only to him, and only because he is beginning to forget the sensation of being alive.

And then he forgot it altogether.

Gavin (Originally written in 2011)

Ego

25 Aug

I sit here typing with my right hand, index finger dancing across the keys. Tap. Tap. Tap. My left hand is raised to my face, a hula hoop tightly hugging each finger. This only works with the big bags now, although I’m certain I remember a time when my delicate fingers fit the smaller ones with ease. I look like some sort of mad king, or perhaps a pimp, or perhaps even some sort of mad pimp king. ‘I should buy a sceptre,’ I say aloud, ‘A crown would do nothing for my hair.’

I shrug my fur-lined coat to the floor behind me and ignore the gasp and crash as someone, presumably a peasant of some description tumbles to the floor behind me. He probably uses public transport, I sneer as he yells something into my ear.

The more I write, the more certain things become devastatingly clear to me and some of these are just so fucking inconvenient for people like me. For a start, its hard work. Who’d have thought it, eh? Actually working at something and constantly trying to better yourself is difficult. It’s a mad world.

Aside from that, the more I write and the more I get absolute nowhere, the more I realise how important having an ego is. Picking up a pen and putting it to paper (or picking up a finger and putting it to keyboard) is relatively easy. Seriously, I could happily sit here for three hours and vomit (metaphorically) onto a piece of paper or keyboard (although who would want to pick the metaphorical bits out afterwords?) and once finished I’d have that lovely glow inside me that is the reward of anyone who likes arranging words in nice patterns. This is wonderful, and in many ways, the most satisfying part. But another part can be just as thrilling; having someone tell you how your words made them feel.

I’ve had people tell me my writing is utter bollocks and I’ve had people tell me that they adore it and either way is exciting. If I’m told that I’ve written something beautiful and eye-opening? Wonderful, my erection for myself just grew another inch. If I’m told my writing is shit? Fuck you, you worthless piece of trash.

Seriously though, it challenges me. It brings me down to earth, which is honestly just as beautiful as it is up there in the clouds sometimes. More importantly, it challenges my perception of myself. This is (so much more often than not) so much more useful than having someone tell you what a wonderfully literate chap you are. And this is when having an ego is important.

Finding praise and even criticism is astonishingly more difficult without the presence of an ego convincing you to force people to read what you have written because it is the best fucking shit ever, because they have no real reason to believe it if you don’t first tell them that it is. This is especially true in an era in which so many people are pushing so much bullshit down people’s throats simply because they have been given the tools to do so. Why should I be willing to look at what you’ve done if you can’t ask me to yourself? And besides all this, when you have been kicked down over and over again, it’s your ego that tells you to get back up and make something better.

Gavin

For Terry Pratchett

13 Mar

Everything was dark, as it always had been. Everything was silent too. Everything was as empty as absolute nothingness tends to be, until a sound lumbered through the void that nothing heard. The sound was like a sigh, only much lower and much, much longer. Like the rumble of a mountain forming from the earth or the breath of a god. And that was how time began or unpaused or… something.

While time was getting around to sorting itself out, which may have taken anything from a moment to an eon (the invention of clocks was a lot further down the cosmic to-do list), space heaved itself into existence. This was a bit messier than the beginning of time (which tended to follow a straight enough line) and may have looked something like a sneeze, only much larger and in every direction all at once. This is purely speculation however as the lights hadn’t bothered with turning themselves on at this point.

During all of this chaos, little clumps of something that had appeared in the nothing began assembling themselves and clinging together to form shapes. One particular clump of something began stretching itself into the form of a disc, resting on the backs of four elephants and balanced on the back of a great turtle before it realised that none of these things existed yet. After some deliberation this idea was scrapped and a little sphere was decided on instead.

While this was happening, some of the other clumps of something decided that this whole mess would be a lot easier to sort out if there was a bit of light. These particular clumps of something became stars, and named themselves that after working out exactly how important to the whole set-up they were. The divas. Orbiting the stars were the planets and orbiting the planets were the moons and other things that weren’t quite as keen to orbit anything at all drifted about in between and became a bit of a nuisance for everything else. They’ve generally been referred to as ‘a load of nonsense’ ever since.

Some of the planets that happened to be lucky enough to orbit their stars at just the right distance had something altogether more fantastic happen in their bowels and on their surfaces. Pieces of the matter that made them up began to consume. After they had consumed enough they divided and multiplied and grew. After this they began to think. Rudimentary thoughts at first: consume more, multiply. Eventually this matter changed again and the thoughts grew more complex: consume more, don’t be consumed by that, multiply.

On one planet some of these creatures crawled from the oceans they had occupied for millenia and grew curious. After several more millenia, and a few ideas about how consuming these other wobbly pieces of matter (that tasted so wonderful) could be made easier, one of the creatures looked up at the dots of light in the night sky and said ‘why?’ And so, the first philosophers realised themselves into existence.

‘Just because, I guess,’ replied one.

‘Mmm, maybe. Maybe there’s more to it than that,’ said the first.

‘Fire. Very far away. Lighting other places like the big light that lights ours sometimes,’ said a third.

The group stopped and thought for a while. Some gazed at the lights in the sky and some stared into the burning embers of the cluster of branches and dead wood they were huddled around.

‘I think they’re just little holes in that big, dark thing up there,’ said a fourth.

‘Could be,’ said the first. ‘What’s behind it then?’

The fourth thought for a minute, poking his own stick into the fire and watching the flames crack and dance around it. ‘I dunno,’ he said.

‘A big thing that looks like us put them there,’ said a fifth. ‘Very old and very big… with strange powers. If we don’t do what it says, the lights will all go out.’

A second silence passed as the creatures tried to work this out. The air around the fire seemed to cool.

‘I think that’s a load of bollocks,’ said the third. Some of the others laughed and the warmth of the fire seemed to return, just a little.

‘He’s watching you,’ said the fifth. ‘And he’s not happy you said that.’

And it was a very, very long time before anyone questioned this.