Sunday, 31 January 2010

Choose Your Own Adventure. Write Your Own Adventure

You’re on your way to work, going down the escalator in the Tube station. It’s a long escalator. The longest in the world you’ve heard someone say.

Your mind is wandering. You’ve made this journey so many times, the whole trip is as automated as the escalator. Adverts for cosmetic surgery and stage adaptations of already popular films wash over you as you let it carry you down.

Then it hits you. Or, more accurately, they hit you.

You see them coming up on the other side and then, for no discernable reason, your eyes meet. And it’s like someone has stuck a lance in your heart. It’s like someone has flicked a switch in your chest and made your lungs light up and like your stomach has just filled with blossom. In a city where no one makes eye contact, where everyone is hermetically sealed in their own antiseptic bubbles, some connection leaps between you.

You don’t quite know what it is or why it’s happening or why it’s this person and why it’s this time and it scares you a bit, but in a good way. As you slowly, inexorably, come closer together you can feel something rising inside you and it feels like this is the most exciting moment of your life. And you see that they feel it too, but you’re still both hedging your bets, not wanting to give too much away in case you’re wrong.

You’re now nearly opposite each other and you think how ridiculous it is that something as mundane as a moving staircase has brought you together. But as you reach each other – so close you could actually reach out and touch each other – you both look away. Is it shyness? Propriety? Taking preventions to preserve your pride?

And then it’s already too late. The one moment you had, you blinked and it was gone.

And now you’re past each other, and whatever has brought you together is slowly taking you further and further apart. For the first time, you realise that you were always moving in opposite directions and that however much their eyes had closed the space between you like someone closing a telescope, there was always a barrier in the way.

And you see that you have a choice. It’s not the first time you’ve had this choice, but it could be the first time you take it, rather than letting it pass away. You can turn around and run up the escalator after them, and risk maybe not finding them waiting at the top but know that at least you tried and that maybe you got your answer. Or you can carry on your way like every other morning and go to work, and wonder whether something could have happened, and wonder whether they’ll be wondering whether something could have happened, and long for what might have been every time you go down here.

So, what do you do?


If you decide to continue down the escalator: turn to page 2

If you decide to turn around and go up after them: turn to page 17

Empty Spoon

It had been six weeks now, but still he slept on only one side of the bed.


She was called Lily.

Afterwards, he would think about how apt it was that she was named after a poisonous flower. At the time, only some half-remembered line would drift woozily through his head. There is richest juice in poison flowers.

He had drunk deep from her nectar. She had poured her honeyed tones in his ear, sweetening his sorrow and sugaring his bitterness. She had placed soothing kisses on his eyelids, streaking his tired eyes with her juice. He remembered thinking that, finally, he could forget.

But he had forgotten too much. She had numbed his conscience and coated his conscious with her thick, sticky sap. His thoughts were like a honeycomb suspended in a jar of glutinous, amber honey, and his world beyond Lily was indistinct, as if he were trying to view it through that same jar. He had drowned in nectar.

She was a flower who could make the Sun turn to face her. And so now he found himself on his way to the shop with a baseball bat under his coat, all for another drop of her.

She had poisoned his mind with honey. And he didn’t care.

It’s not fair that you’re so fair of face. And also so fucking ace

John was 15. He had been brought up to believe that there were two types of girl in the world: the beautiful ones, and the nice ones.

Unfortunately, he had been brought up wrong: she was clearly both. He found this to be unfair.

Worse, she appeared to be a hitherto unencountered type of girl: one who appeared to take some interest in him.

He found this to be deeply unfair. What was a boy to do?

Snakebite Love

She had poured a pint of snakebite over her own head to get another boy’s attention.

That was the exact moment he fell for her.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Key to the closet

Carl had a skeleton in his cupboard. His dead mother’s.

As he was led away in handcuffs, he turned to Inspector Janowitz.

“You’re probably going to read something weird and Freudian into this, aren’t you?”

Monday, 18 January 2010

Cold Reading

This story is for you. You know who you are. Others will read it, but no one else will understand it. Not like you will. Only you will bring the right meaning to these words.

You're on the verge of making a big decision in your life. In the past you’ve doubted whether you’ve made the right call or done the right thing. But I don’t doubt you. I know you’re doing the right thing and I support you.

You’ve got so much potential that you feel you’ve not fully harnessed. You sometimes think that when people praise you they don’t really understand what they’re praising – like a mum singing their child’s achievements. You worry that what you’re doing is not as good as what other people are doing. But it is.

I know there was something you used to love in your past that you’ve left behind but are looking to pick up again. Do it. You’re worried that time is running out, but it really isn’t. You’re too often too critical of yourself.

Sometimes you think no one truly gets the real you; they only appreciate the appearance you put on for them. You want other people to like you and admire you – but you won’t admit to yourself that a great many do, even if they won’t tell you.

I like that you think for yourself and don’t like to follow the crowd or accept others’ views. Sometimes you think that going with the flow might be easier. I feel the same way, too, but you’re right to stick to your path.

We all sometimes read things written by strangers and see thoughts and feelings that seem so intimate and unique to us marked there on the page. The words are a hand extended towards you. It means you’re not alone. You’re never alone.

Take my hand. I’ll look out for you.

And I’ll make everything right.

Sunday, 17 January 2010


The first time he met Chelsea was in somewhat inauspicious circumstances.

He had been walking through Regent’s Park and had nearly knocked her to the floor.

He had nearly knocked her to the floor because he hadn’t seen her. And he hadn’t seen her because she was bent over scooping up dogshit.

He was all kinds of stunned by unexpected forceful contact with a woman who was coldly, piercingly beautiful. But who was also, inescapably, holding the warm faeces of a tiny black plug in an inside out plastic Waitrose carrier bag.

Angel, falling

They say that it’s not the fall that kills, but the abrupt stop at the end.

They also say that you’re dead before you strike the ground.

One way or another, Lucy was going to find out which was true. She hoped it would be neither.

Even as she fell through the sky, she was still so high that curve of the Earth could be seen. She had a while to wait.

All that glitters

There is no such thing as a nearly perfect crime.

You either go to your grave at a ripe old age having gotten away with it, or you don’t and you might as well have tried nick the pen from the duty desk in a police station for all the good your planning did you.

Kemp had done everything conceivable to make this one perfect. The job was simple, elegant, classic. The preparation had been rigorous, the execution meticulous.

They were going to steal gold bullion from one of the vaults of the London Bullion Market Association. Defences were light because secrecy was its security. Everyone knows you keep gold in a bank vault. Which is why they kept gold in unmarked boxes in cellars across the City.

They had cut into the cellar from the sewers: the beginning of the job, but the end of five years of preparation. Five years in which they’d gone to every conceivable length to account for every possible complication, sweeping up every grain of incriminating evidence behind them, taking care of every ramification and every ramification of every ramification. It wasn’t just picking up the paper trail behind them; it was making sure they weren’t then caught dumping the bin bags.

Investors around the world bought and sold the gold in these cellars. They bought and sold the future value of the gold. Ownership moved but the bullion itself stayed in the cellars, unchanging, unmoving. Abstract values arbitrarily tied to lumps of metal by pieces of paper. A pyramidal house of cards of speculation – but a house built on foundations of gold.

Kemp pulled down his goggles and shone his torch around the cellar.

But they wouldn’t be keeping the gold. Trying to dispose of gold was where most people’s problems began. No, their plan was to remove some and effectively hold it hostage. There was only a finite amount of gold on the planet. Each bar had a serial number so every ingot in the world was accounted for. You couldn’t just magic up replacements or move bullion around to hide its absence, like some giant game of find the lady. If the news got out that gold had been taken, the whole system would collapse.

So all they would demand was a few million to buy their silence, secretly wired to some offshore accounts. After all, who better to hide money away than the Square Mile’s finest?

Kemp stepped gently into the cellar.

There was just one complication.

Where was all the fucking gold?


Clem kept coming back to the same phrase over and over again: Many a true word spoken in jest.

She remembered how they’d pissed themselves that night in the pub. She’d only just started her new job and had sort of gravitated towards Sarah. She was confident, opinionated and about the funniest person she’d ever met. A session with her in the pub was like two hours of stand-up.

“You must have a death list!” Sarah had said. “I thought everyone did! A list of all those miserable sods, bitches, bastards, arseholes, tossbags, ball sacks and weirdos you’d like to give a little bit of a gentle nudge along to when it comes to their shuffling off this mortal coil.”

Clem confessed she didn’t have one.

“Oh come on! Seriously, it feels so good just writing it down. And then when it’s written down, it doesn’t niggle away to you anymore.”

So between them they scribbled down the list on the back of napkin. Everyone who had wronged her; everyone who had lied to her or stolen from her; everyone who had hurt her. Everyone who had just, you know, really got on her tits.

Nathan in accounts. Bloody Louise. Gaby for stealing Gavin. Gavin for being stolen. Marie at school. Donna at university. That dick on the Tube who’d knocked her over that morning.

It had felt good. Cathartic. She was purged.

And then she’d had to attend Nathan’s funeral. And Louise’s. And suddenly it wasn’t so funny.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010


Jimmy had been picking his scabs again.

His mother had told him not to but it had driven him mad all that morning. It was a great scab. It was the shape of a heart, the colour of rust and the texture of tree. And it was in the middle of his knee. The best place for a scab. It would be wrong of him not to pick it. Plus, it was so itchy and he’d really wanted to see what was beneath it.

He’d gone out to the curb as soon as he’d finished his lunch and started winkling away at it. He’d finally got his thumb nail under the rim and prised it up a few millimetres. It had hurt a bit but in a good sort of way, like a wobbly tooth.

It reminded him of when he’d helped his dad lift up the flags in the back garden and they’d seen all the weird white spiders and millipedes underneath it. Or when he and Dave had prised up that grid and looked down into the storm drain. He’d wanted to go down but Dave was too scared (but Jimmy was secretly a bit pleased that Dave had been too scared).

He had been worked away steadily at his scab in the sun for he didn’t know how long when his knee suddenly shouted at him in pain. He looked down.

Jimmy wasn’t sure how long his mind had been wondering and wandering but there was a little hole in his knee. A real hole. Not a patch of fresh skin or a bit of blood but a hole. It seemed to go a long way down. A really long way down. He couldn’t see the bottom of it. That wasn’t right.

Jimmy pushed his finger down inside. It went in up to the knuckle.

That really wasn’t right.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Mr Bligh

"Come in, please."

There was a faint rustling sound at the back of his throat when he spoke, like ashes in a grate.

Short minute, after noon

Lucy was becoming increasingly concerned about her shadow. It was definitely fading.

She looked down at her feet. Even in the early afternoon’s bright winter sun, there was nothing to show but an indistinct, grey penumbra. Stretched out along the frozen ground from the gnomon of her legs, it looked like a silhouette drawn charcoal and then half erased.

When Lucy was younger she’d never had such problems.

At 13, her shadow had been as dark and cold as the bottom of the oceans.

At 16, it was black as pitch and distinct from everything around it, with sharp, precise edges. If she spent too long standing on her parents lawn, the grass beneath her shade would eventually die, leaving a shadow of her shadow.

At 18, it would draw things into it and she would never see them again – light, warmth, smoke, boys.

But now she was sure it grew fainter with every passing day. And she didn’t quite know what that meant.

Future Tense

Daniel Popper is about to have a very bad day.

It will begin when his girlfriend ends their relationship at 7.27am. It will worsen at 9.15am when he is made redundant. Having lost both his girlfriend and his job within 108 minutes of each other, Daniel will grow to hate the phrases “I’ve got to let you go” (girlfriend) and “It’s not you, it’s me” (employer).

Daniel will then attempt to drown his sorrows. However, he will find out that he is unable to withdraw any money from the nearest ATM, being deep in the financial impossibility that is being over his overdraft limit. He will come to the conclusion that, with minus minus money and without any income, he is effectively bankrupt. Daniel will then attempt to drown himself.

On the way to the canal, Daniel’s day will improve slightly when he runs into his best friend, Graham. Graham will buy him drinks.

His misery lubricated by alcohol, Daniel will lament that he has “Pissed his life up the wall.” He will then bitterly reflect that pissing up a wall, particularly a long way up a very high wall, would imply some sense of achievement. His day’s brief improvement will then end.

He will bewail that all he has to show for career earnings of around £100,000 are a very big television that is too large for his living room and a boxed set of The Wire. He will curse himself for living a champagne lifestyle on beer money. He will then correct himself and instead curse himself for living a premium continental lager lifestyle on Special Brew money. Daniel will then ruefully conclude that he will now be living a Special Brew lifestyle on no money.

Daniel will go on to bemoan the fact that his lack of job will no doubt perpetuate his lack of woman, as the first question any potential mate will ask is “What do you do?” However, Daniel will not know that it will be a good one year and 100 days before any member of the opposite sex will even think about asking this question. Nor will he know that the answer will not have changed in the meantime.

Graham will attempt to raise his friend’s spirits. He will observe that there are plenty more fish in the sea. Daniel will observe that he cannot “fucking fuck a fucking fish” and does not wish to become a fisherman. Graham will end his efforts there.

Upon leaving the pub six hours later, Daniel will be splashed by a car. He will not realise that he has left his wallet in the pub, from the contents of which his identity will be forged, eventually embroiling him in a highly improbable series of events involving international terrorism. He will also be unaware that his pet cat, Hodge, will have grown weary of his repeated absences and supermarket own brand cat food and adopted his neighbours instead.

But before all that, Daniel Popper will be awoken from a hitherto excellent dream about racing a rocket car across the Nevada salt flats by the sound of Celine Dion caterwauling her way through My Heart Will Go On.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Black Night

At first, they assumed that it must have been clouds that had made the sky so remorselessly black that night.

And then they realised the stars were gone.

Three Days

It had been three days. Still no call.

Maybe he was playing it cool. Maybe he was playing hard to get.

Leave it for two days – that was the rule if you were keen, right? But everyone knew that, so maybe he was leaving it another day, so as not to look obvious. Like not emailing someone at 11am, but waiting until an insouciant 11.02am.

And why should he call? Would she call him? She hardly knew him. He seemed nice enough but it wasn’t like he was the one or anything. He may have been a one, of several, but certainly not the one. How did the poem go? Keep looking, or something.

So why did she feel like every second since he’d left her bed her entire body had been asking a question still unanswered? Or like there was a gap in her chest that she couldn’t fill?

She sometimes imagined a string of fairy lights wrapped around her heart. Why did it feel like one of them had gone out?

The Morning After

It was a perfect summer morning. Bathed in the sun’s gentle pink radiance, he basked in the afterglow of the night before.

He wasn’t walking home; he was strutting home. There was a spring in his step, a song in his heart, and a shit-eating grin across his face. And for the first time in God knows how long – he knew precisely how long, almost to the hour, but was refusing to think of it this morning – he had something ,and someone, beautiful in his life.

The warm air and tentative breeze across his skin echoed what had happened only a few hours ago. He could smell flowers on the air and her perfume on his shirt. He was trying to act casual, as if last night happened to him every day.

Birds burbled liquid song from the roofs above him, as if the dawn chorus was applauding him and his exploits.

He passed a milkman and thought he saw his eyebrows raise a millimetre. He tried to emit “Oh yes, my friend, you and I, we know the score” vibes. Complicated vibes to give off.

He pulled some gum from his pocket. And to think, some people called this the walk of shame! Walk of pride more like.

He was aware of the saying Pride comes before a fall. But he hadn’t noticed the scrap of paper with her number fall from his pocket.

Twenty to Two

Listen to this while reading this. And if you don’t have it,
buy it.

nobody finds the one but keep looking

She looked on as the hot, writhing crowd slowly atomised and paired off, dancers already bathed in one kind of afterglow.

He watched on with a sinking heart as his friends one by one sought out counterparts of the same approximate level of attractiveness as them and made their excuses. Some euphoria. In a room so full of people that their body heat made his skin hot to the touch, in the middle of a city of six million people, he was all by himself.

Where had her friends gone? In a room full of people doing the same thing to the same beat she was moving to a jerky rhythm of her own. She felt lonely. She didn’t want to be alone tonight.

There was that boy again, sipping beer by himself, looking lost and sticking out like a sore thumb. And yet still ... he did stick out. He’d kept turning up all night. He was tall and handsome. And he’d not once sleazed on to her or asked her if it hurt when she fell from heaven.

There was that girl again. Somehow her face cut through the crowd, like hearing a whisper slice through the din. He’d seen her at the bar but she was too cool and too pretty for him to even reasonably countenance standing near her, let alone speaking to her. She was an amazing dancer. He couldn’t dance; but he’d been pulling shapes in his head all night.

Was he looking this way? She could feel herself blush. Great, he’d definitely notice her now, shining away like a stupid red beacon like a stupid fucking loser.

Was she looking this way? No, she couldn’t be. But just in case: act casual, look cool. Great, his stupid gangly limbs wouldn’t obey him. It was like trying to paint a portrait with a yard broom. His dad could dance better than this.

She looked at him.

He looked at her.

She stepped forwards.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

The Best of Dark and Bright

Following Josie's request for things written in glitter, here's something about someone dark and sparkly written on something dark and sparkly.

The Best of Dark and Bright

Her dark eyes glittered.

Under the lamp’s velvet glow, points of light sparkled in them like stars.

He watched them dance as she held him with her gaze, feeling as if he were transfixed on the points of a dozen winking blades.

Her eyes pulled him in like black holes. He imagined he could see his own reflection in their dark glass, already trapped inside her.

She had stars in her eyes, diamonds at her ears and silver at her throat, and his heart was in her hands.


Alice was excellent at hide and seek.

But even allowing for this, the fact that she had been silently waiting unfound in the cupboard for three hours and counting suggested something was amiss.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

An ever-fixed mark

He loved the lines around her eyes.

He thought they made her even more beautiful, a delicate filigree, ringing and radiating out from her eyes like rays from a sun.

But they were also witness to all the experiences, good and bad, that made her the woman she was, the woman he loved. A visible echo of her laugh, an imprint of her easy smile.

He often found himself envious of the people who’d been there when they had been written on her face, sharing times with her that he wished he’d shared before he knew her.

Sitting opposite her as a finished his morning coffee, he looked forward to watching the lines grow, writing their own story there together.

“Will,” she said, “I’ve got something to tell you.”

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Ear today

Mark frowned at the nose of his car.

There was no escaping it – the small, pink, rumpled, rubbery article folded into the radiator grill was almost certainly someone’s ear. The right one, to be exact.

He scratched his chin.

Now what? Remove it, obviously. But was he meant to wrap it in a bag of frozen peas, in case the owner wanted it back? Or was that just for fingers? Was there some lost property office that he could take it to? Should he put an ad in the paper? Donate it to someone? Just, you know, keep it?

He bent over and peered at his aural stowaway, like some flat, crinkled remora.

How the hell had that got in there in the first place? He felt a spasm of nausea at the thought of the weight of his metal car striking the weight of someone’s boney head wobbling on their skinny neck.

But he was pretty sure he would have noticed that. And there were no signs of any impact on his car. And he was fairly confident that he would have remembered being chased down the road by some livid, ear-sheared unfortunate. Had someone just stuffed it in there, like a crumpled crisp packet?

Still frowning, and without taking his eyes off the car, he edged up the drive and went to get some chopsticks.


Perhaps the worst thing about being dead was the complete absence of bereavement counselling for the recently deceased.

He had attended his own funeral, drinking in an unhealthy cocktail of schadenfreude and self satisfaction mixed with longing and regret.

Who knew he was so popular? And who had known that Maila had held a torch for him all these years? Too late now, of course. And he and Ed hadn’t spoken for a decade, but here he was. He’d always assumed they’d drifted irrevocably apart, but his death had pulled tight on the faint threads that joined them. He had so much catching up that he wanted to do with the ugly bastard.

But then he saw his mum. There had been few sights in life, or unlife, worse than the sight of his mother in tears, but now he was helpless to console her, unable to tell her that he would make everything right, incapable of even putting an arm around her. Not that he had when he could.

As she was led away by his brother, a crowd of well-wishers gathered around her like a huddle of black penguins, he was left to haunt the cemetery by himself.

And that was when he realised how alone he now was. They had lost a son, a brother, a friend. He had lost everyone. His entire world was dead. And he had the torture of seeing it carry on in front of him, without him, as untouchable shadows. Everywhere he went, he was to be haunted by the ghosts of the living and the regrets of the past.

Had it had gone too far already?