Archive for the ‘Cornwall’ Category

The Complete Works, (so far!)

Hey there, and many thanks for stopping by. On this site you’ll find a collection of my short stories and screenplays for your enjoyment. Please feel free to leave feedback both good and bad – as Plato once said –  the worst thing is to just be ignored!

Even better however, would be if you could find your way to actually purchasing one of my published books using the links below, that way I may continue to dodge bullets and bailiffs with your help. All books are available online, in all reputable books stores, E-books… and no doubt soon, all local Charity Shops.

Hope you find something here to enjoy….

Best Wishes,

Mike   x


“SPRINGBOARDS”         – A further collection of original short stories, short scripts and feature screenplays.



“BUM NOTES”          – A collection of eighteen original and diverse short stories:



“DIFFERENT STATES”           – One Man, One Credit Card, One Continent… No Plan. A travelogue from East to West Coast USA.



“MOLEHOLE”            – Essays on the Human Condition. The story of one man’s dark and lonely three year journey so far up his own ass that he arrived out his mouth to recount the tale to a deaf world.  (Not suitable for minors or miners.)


Thanks awfully x


Harry and the Whale


Harry paused in the doorway to study his reflection, making sure his tie was straight and hair slicked back. The glass wasn’t clear enough to check that his eyes weren’t looking too bloodshot but he was sure they were. By way of summoning up the courage he recalled what Caroline, his wife, had said to him that morning whilst pressing his shirt, all smiles and hope, her pregnant belly nestling against the ironing board:

‘When I was a child I used to have this book of fairy tales, you know the type, I always wanted to be the princess who was swept off her feet by some noble and brave knight. But when I grew up, and looking at you right now, I realise that a truly brave and noble man is the one who gets his head down, works hard to provide for his family, hardly ever complains and lives his life as kindly and thoughtfully as he can. That’s true courage, and you have that in spades Harry. You are a decent man, Harry. A true nobleman.’

As he entered the bank and tapped on the desk with the lucky silver farthing his father had left him, along with the small Cornish small-holding that he was now running into the ground, he just knew that he was going to let her down… again.

The bank manager was halfway out the door to lunch when his intercom buzzed. He was in two minds whether to even answer it such was his hunger, but having always felt a loyalty to the job and secretly hoping for that fat promotion to a comfortable office with perks in the city, away from this yokel Cornish coastal town, against his better judgement he picked up the receiver and pressed the flashing red button.

Harry entered the small windowless office dressed like he’d just come from a funeral. The bank manager sat back down in his chair, mentally kicking himself now that lunch felt like a distant dream. Over the rumbling of his stomach he heard his guest speak.

‘Good afternoon, I’ve got all the forms here, I even filled in the Ethnicity survey, and I don’t usually do that, it’s against my principles… And age wise I’m glad your forms tick box put me in the next category, I’d hate to be classed as a youth these days, what was it..?’

Harry looked down at the forms in front of him on the over-lit desk and took off his suit jacket feeling the heat and pressure.

‘… thirty-five to fifty. I mean look at the eighteen-to-thirty-fours these days, all miserable and spending all their waking moments pretending they’re not. Then again what do you expect? They can’t help it. All their lives they’ve been brought up on TV and these… these… magazines…’

He threw his arms wildly around the small office as if somewhere there might be magazines to prove his point.

‘… These magazines full of women with their tits out, men in sharp suits with fifty pound notes falling out their arses, excuse me but… I mean, something like 90% of people in England hate their jobs. That’s why… that’s DIRECTLY why they all go out and get smashed at the weekend. They spend the whole week being belittled and humiliated by a job they feel is beneath them, get their pay cheque on a Friday night, then blow it all so they can feel like the people they see in magazines for those precious weekend evenings.’

Harry became aware that he was gabbling out of nerves and tried to finish on a strong closing statement.

‘…It keeps them trapped, you see..?’

The bank manager let it wash over him, he knew the decision had already been taken, no amount of banter could change it. Harry reached into his suit pocket hanging off the chair back and pulled out what looked like a hip-flask. About to take a sip he paused, suddenly aware of the other man watching him, and he remembered his surroundings.

‘Sorry… do you mind? I’ve got Diabetes and must keep refreshed…’

The bank manager waved his hand in agreement, his eyes incredulous. Was this guy for real?


Harry was already drinking deeply. Between sips he spat out, ‘…it’s like everyone… is Tony Mantero… you remember…? From Saturday Night Fever…. just living for the weekend to feel alive…’

The bank manager seemed agitated. ‘Well it’s money that makes the world go round, Mr…’ He tried to hide himself looking down at the file in front of him. ‘…Chapman. Even teenagers need money.’

Harry’s thirst quenched he turned round to put the silver hip-flask back into his pocket, his fingers rubbing over the embossed letters of the moniker ‘JC’. He was talking again before he’d even turned around.

‘But I got out of that game. I stepped off the wheel figuring I wasn’t really cut out to be a hamster, or sheep I guess would be a better animal… although sheep wouldn’t really walk round a wheel would they? Hmmm, sorry I’m talking all over the shop here. What I’m trying to get across to you is I’ve done my time working in offices, everyone bloated on their own self-importance and miserable, that’s why I moved down here.’

The bank manager looked at his watch, a mixture of anxiety and irritation. Leaning back on the head rest of his plastic chair he swept his hands over the dome of his receding hairline and decided to force the issue.

‘So… how have things been, Mr Chapman…?’ He leaned across the plastic wooden desk, clasping his fingers together as he’d probably seen his father do before him.

‘No idea. I don’t like to think in those terms. I’ve blocked it all out.’ Harry picked at a little dirt missed from scrubbing under his thumb nail that morning. The bank manger unfolded his fingers and took to tapping nervously on the badly veneered faux-leather desk, making it sound more plastic and cheap than ever.

Harry caught the small fleck of black from under the nail and flicked it to the floor. Suddenly his mind was back in the room.

‘Sorry, did I just say that out loud…?’

The bank manager offered the smallest of affirmative nods. Harry leaned back on his chair feeling the die had already been cast in this grey man’s mind.

‘Okay then, how’s about it. Are you going to give me this loan or not?’

The bank manager felt totally back in his comfort zone. As a bad poker player slow-rolls his hand, so the bank manager languidly flipped up the plastic cover on the file in front of him as if it weighed a kilo. With mock concern his eyes looked down then back up again straight into this gentleman farmer’s wide, pleading gaze.

‘It’s a no, I’m afraid.’ Slap bang down went the file onto the plastic desk, as shallow and plastic as the man who sat behind it.

Harry gripped the chair arms, his knuckles turning white. ‘I haven’t told you everything,’ he said, ‘things have got a lot more complicated since I filled in the application last week… I really need you to help me…come on man, help me, one human being to another, I’m desperate here… My wife’s expecting our first child, I say she’s expecting a child;  I’m  just expecting trouble. Anyway, that’s the least of it…’

The bank manager leaned forward across the desk once more his palms flat on the closed file.


‘Well, it’s like this… things have recently got a whole lot more…complicated… I’ve got this Whale see…’

The bank manager put all thoughts of a quick lunch out of his mind. He sure had a live one here.

‘‘Look,’ said Harry in pleading tones, ‘ just call me Captain Ahab, I don’t fucking care, excuse my language, but I’ve just got to shift this dead whale…’ he stabbed his finger into the side of his temple, ‘it’s fucking with my head, see…’


Harry dragged his heels along the coast road, dejected and desperate, remembering his past mindset and salary. Five years ago that bastard of a bank manager would have bitten his hand off to offer him a loan, but now he was alone. Freelancing was what everyone did. All of his friends were making it pay freelancing in the media. Just because he had decided to move down to a place without broadband shouldn’t make a difference. By way of consoling himself he looked around at all the trees and imagined how to make them work for an advertising campaign. Yes, he still had it, still great. Why was no-one paying him? It should have worked. He should be working.

He marched back through the winding country road past the parish church, hearing the rich and comfortable inside praising a God that had seen them right, he couldn’t help but feel that the Lord giveth with one hand, taketh away with the other and was  now flipping him the bird. This whale was like a dark thought, a hangover, a brute fact that refused to disappear however much he tried to think it away. Having chosen to beach itself on the thin strip of land that had come with his deceased father’s property not more than a week ago, he’d already gone through the fist-waving at a cruel universe that on a three hundred miles of clear coastline this stricken mammal had chosen to die on his little hundred metre stretch. He hadn’t even bothered to show the bank manager the letter he’d received from Restormal council telling him it was his responsibility to remove it.

Harry could’ve guessed something bad was coming even before he’d been woken that morning a week ago by locals admiring the whale, trying to save it: The nightmares had started again. Not like normal bad dreams but more visual and profound, night terrors he thought they were called, having searched online. A spiritual crisis rather than just undigested pork belly. They always followed the same story-line: He was underwater in a midnight ocean, with whale-song, a terrible moaning whale-song filled with disappointment and regret. There was a pain to the twisting and mewling sound that went right through him. In the dream he was naked, swimming in the murk, he could feel the cold water enveloping him but he had a slime on his skin and barnacles that seemed to resemble the faces of everyone he’d ever known, even though he was able to breathe and feel the icy water rush in and out of his lungs, he couldn’t tell if these barnacles were giving him buoyancy or were a weight dragging him down deeper into the canyons and crevices of the frightening unknown blackness below.

Such powerful lucid dreams reminded him of being a small boy. Not since he’d been about seven years old had his sub-conscious thrown up dreams like this. Being a child was like being in a permanent state of dreaming, he’d thought with the benefit of hindsight. In a dream he could experience true fear, true joy, true sexual arousal, true panic as there were no boundaries of his adult mind to set perimeters and rationalise away the infinite expanse of possibilities. Now the dreams were back with a strong adult vengeance and it was starting to affect his daily interactions.  Fear of having these images was keeping him awake at night, and with such a physically demanding job as being a gentleman farmer the insomnia was making him crazy. Whilst his childhood dreams had always revolved around him being some sort of lithe dolphin, chattering and rushing through the light blue sunny warm waters, accompanied by an incredible sense of speed and freedom, these new nightmares occupied the same known ocean but now he was slow and bloated, the waters always dark, cold and green with menace.

Then, less than a week after these dreams began to infect his mind the whale had appeared, beached and flapping on the rocky coast of his small-holding. At first he’d thought it a waking hallucination brought on by the financial stress and anxiety of his situation, Caroline’s pregnancy and his unwanted impending fatherhood, but as the locals started gathering to try to help the creature he knew for sure that the two tonnes of immovable blubber and fins was real.  Throughout all this, in his mind’s eye he could see the milky eye of the dying whale watching him steadily, mocking him.

Upon leaving the bank Harry found his legs had walked him to the only bar in the village. He decided to fall back on the one thing that hadn’t changed since he’d moved here: getting smashed. Alcohol could always be relied on as a steady certainty in an ever changing world. Reading again  the letter he’d received from the council he scrunched it up and threw it over the bar, missing the slop bucket by a wide mile. They’d do nothing to remove the whale, it was his responsibility as the landowner. However, if he couldn’t afford to do so they’d very graciously do it for ten thousand pounds, and as Harry ordered up another Scotch he mused how he was about nine grand short. Surely there had to be another way? Pulling out his iPhone he Googled for information from a Canadian website, an area of Ontario where Whales frequently beached. Apparently the gases in a whale’s stomach will eventually build up and make it explode. So, surely he could play the waiting game? He knew the farmer down the road from him kept pigs and those greedy porcine teeth could surely munch their way in a few days through all that blubber? As the second and third Scotch disappeared down his throat, he could feel the gasses building up in his own stomach. Overdrafts, credit card payments, loans, all due within days. No, he couldn’t wait, he needed to do something about it right now. He’d felt impotent for too long, a rudderless ship in a storm that he hadn’t even created.

Outside the bar window he could hear children throwing firecrackers. The barman tried to move them on, but it had already given Harry an idea. Firework night was fast approaching and this was the one time of year his local shop would stock colourful exploding projectiles. He had thought about buying some to celebrate Caroline’s pregnancy photo that day she’d come back from her first ultrasound scan and the gender had been decided but his heart wasn’t in it. He was to become a father to a boy. He’d secretly hoped for a boy to help out, then chastised himself for falling into old country ways. He’d been born a metrosexual city man, why force gender roles on his kids? Maybe this was the trade-off for selling up and living the good life on a farm? He was slipping into unreconstructed ideas. Pink princess wings for his daughter and a pitch-fork for his son to help him bring in the harvest? God, was he actually becoming his father after all? Feeling the effects of the alcohol he forced his mind to deal with less abstract concepts. Fireworks. Yes, that was the answer, he congratulated himself, he would blow the fucker up, then once it had been reduced to bite-sized chunks of flesh he’d get his neighbour’s pigs to eat up the remains. What Genius, he thought and ordered up a final Scotch to toast the scheme.

Almost sliding off his bar stool, he settled his tab and left, stopping in to the village store on his way home, trying to look as sober as possible in front of the redoubtable Mrs Stouter, the proprietor. She reminded him of a fifties school ma’am and they’d taken an instant dislike to each other, but without another store for two miles he’d had to get over it. Upon entering she eyed him with the same disappointed features he was sure his wife would have when he finally winded his way back home. In his mind he rehearsed the dialogue that was about to take place.

‘Yes, it’s me, drunk again. Yes I’m about to buy another bottle of whiskey’.  He lurched up to the till and as he leaned back to reach into his back pocket for his credit card he studied the fireworks on display in the glass counter beneath her, all the while his internal monologue continuing.

‘And a bottle of John Power. Fuck it, make it two. Yes two you sour old puss. I’ll drink a toast to your judgement and dried up snatch. You should be grateful I’m spending money in this store, quit with the eye darts.’ So absorbed was he that he failed to notice the small queue forming behind him. Making sure he was now speaking aloud, he matched her gaze and handed over the plastic credit card as if he meant to stab her with it.

‘How many fireworks you got, Mrs Stouter?’

‘A fair few Mr. Harry, business has been slow since they changed the law…’

‘I’ll take them all.’

Her eyes narrowed, changing from benevolent judgement to mercurial incredulity.


‘You heard me, (you old witch)’.

She reached for the keys that hung next to the tobacco and unlocked the glass case beneath her counter, much to the groaning of the three people behind him in the queue.

‘Stick it on my card… (and stick my card up your judgemental old arse)’.

‘What was that…?’

‘…and don’t forget the two bottles of Scotch….’ He suddenly felt self-conscious and added a meek ‘…thanks…’ on to the end.


Drunk, he stumbled back home, any fear of getting lost down the dark coastal path road were soon forgotten in the unbelievable stench of the whale getting stronger with each step. For the first time in his relationship with Caroline he felt a sense of dread at returning to her. He could already see the stoic disappointment trying to be hid on her face. What a failure of a husband, a father, a man he had become. He patted the fireworks at his side as a soldier about to go into battle. He dodged the inevitable confrontation and headed straight down to the beach.

Caroline watched her husband sitting cross-legged on the beach staring silently at the whale from her kitchen window as she prepared the evening meal. Hadn’t she become the good country wife, she mused to herself, against all her better judgement? She peeled the potatoes, her mind drifting back to that morning watching Harry get ready. She’d ironed his shirt mindfully, really digging in with the palm of her hand on the old steam iron around the cuffs and collar. She hadn’t taken this much care over a shirt since he’d gone for his promotion at the BBC nearly five years ago. She felt the hand of fate pushing her own hand down onto the creases and didn’t like it. He hadn’t got the promotion that day despite her careful laundry effort, and now she felt the same way about his trip to see the bank manager about their loan. She desperately wanted him to be happy, in fact hadn’t these last five years demonstrated that, she thought to herself as she neatly folded the completed shirt and put it on its hanger. Hadn’t she subjugated all her hopes and dreams to help his, to push him up into the light even if that meant her own face must be below in the darkness? Her belly was starting to notice now, only in the last few days, but it pushed out distended from her t-shirt, like an unavoidable brute fact. She’d talked to him about having a child and he’d always seemed evasive, talking in abstract terms. She worried that now the child was becoming visible he was having second thoughts. She looked out the window again to see him poking the whale’s distended belly with a stick, it looked bloated and inflated with all the gas now it was clearly dead. She imagined it building up for some great explosion and suddenly panicked that her husband might engender it with his poking and get injured. She chastised herself for being so foolish. Harry looked a truly broken man as he limply poked, no real conviction or force used.

He poked at that blubber willing it to disappear but it wouldn’t, just like so many of the other thoughts in his head. Throwing the stick over the whale into the waves behind it he retreated back down the beach and sat down out of Caroline’s sight to kick up a few pebbles. Dejected and crushed he lit a cigarette and took a few puffs, listening to his lungs wheezing and creaking like an old wooden ship. Christ, he thought to himself, when did he get so damn old? Too much. He placed his earphones carefully in each ear, making sure no sand or grit had got in there and pressed play on his iPhone. Reaching into the side pocket of his trousers he pulled out the hip-flask and touched its side, feeling how warm it had already got against his nervous and sweaty torso. How ironic it felt that tonight was the perfect early autumn evening. Under normal circumstances he’d have felt so smug that he’d jacked in his stressful media job and was now sitting staring out at the kind of pink sunset you only ever got on an October evening on the northern Cornish coast. But now it felt like a curse. No matter how he tried to block it out, no matter how hard he tried to see beyond it by looking left, right, over out to sea, each time his eyes would be drawn irrevocably back to the now darkening shape of the dead whale.

Some well-meaning second homers had lit Chinese lanterns on the water behind the carcass and Harry watched them bobbing up and down in the twilight. He could see the handful of people, some with candles holding a misplaced vigil for its dead soul. To them it was a glorious imperious creature taken out of its natural habitat. To him it was ten grand he didn’t have. Fucking thing. What about his dying soul? He was still alive, just… Who was going to hold a candlelit vigil for him?

Harry felt the stress of the day bubble up through him and through lack of sleep he began to lucid dream again. This Whale was a stain, a blip, a fly in the ointment, something he couldn’t ignore. All his hopes and dreams of being someone, being a success whatever that now meant to him, all his graceful dreams flipping through endless clear water now came to a head with this massive mammal beached on his land. It was too much. Both he and the Whale were fish out of water. No, mammals out of water he reminded himself and no amount of music or Scotch would render either of them invisible. He could delay no longer, it was time to face the music, so like a schoolboy on a Monday morning he forced his wobbly legs to take him back up the rocky steps to face the missus.


Caroline took the news exactly as he’d feared she would. She continued to dry Harry’s favourite coffee mug in the dishcloth, the mug he’d used all those years ago at his desk at the BBC. He was so lost in thought about what to do about the uninvited guest down on the beach that he hadn’t noticed her scrubbing motion had become almost pathological. She was grinding the damp cloth deeper and harder into the edges of the old cup. Finally she could take no more and threw it against the furthest wall in the kitchen hoping to make the biggest impression. The pottery smashed into a few choice chunks and flew over his head causing him to instinctively duck under the oak table.

Realising it wasn’t an earthquake he stuck his head out to see the large ‘C’ from ‘BBC’ remaining at his feet having narrowly missed his eye.

‘WHY? Why Harry?’ she could take no more, no longer could she formulate her thoughts into sugar coated pills to be administered nightly with his whiskey, now it all came out at once.

‘What fucking dream are you following? You got lucky with your dad dying and leaving you this place.’ She realised how brutal this sounded but with the smashing of the cup something deeper had smashed, along with the egg-shells she’d been walking on these past few years. ‘You’re living in a fantasy. You got lucky. You brought me up here, leaving the job I loved, promising me children. Now you’re bottling out, leaving me to iron your bloody shirts, iron away the crinkles in your damaged ego…’    Caroline felt her natural instinct to pull back on this final outburst and once more force her feelings down deep inside her, but like a volcano dormant too long she allowed herself to erupt, to cleanse and let it all out, all the poisonous thoughts she’d subjugated in the hope of her husband getting his act together by himself. Finally, irrevocably she couldn’t hold it down any longer and like a bad kebab she wretched it all up.

‘Time is precious. You’ve forgotten that, haven’t you Harry? You’ve got too much fucking time on your hands. It doesn’t MEAN anything anymore. Remember that time is PRECIOUS…. WE are precious… THIS…’ she patted her stomach with a gentle hand, ‘… he is precious, he deserves better than a father who’s given up on life. YOU and that fucking whale are the same. Do you hear me? You’ve both run aground, given up on life to slowly die on some godforsaken beach bloated and fucked…look at you. Husk of a man, what happened to that go-getter I fell in love with, eh?’

She felt it all come out, the pent-up aggression of a thousand conversations she’d backed down on for his greater good, only now she was starting to enjoy this new-found freedom, the raging felt liberating.

‘…You hear me Harry? You and that bloody whale. FUCKED. Time to grow up. Jesus H Christ what is it with men? You’re all just babies looking for mothers, new mothers you can have sex with… Well here’s the news Harry, I’m not your mother, and the sex isn’t even that great anymore. Not since you moved us here in your beaten child-mind…. Get over it…. This whale is a blessing I swear to god. Really. It’s like a boil that needed lancing. Quit dreaming, Harry.  Admit you fucked up. Go back to the BB fucking C. Make some money. Provide for us. Provide for our unborn child. Admit you took your shot and missed. Be a man. Fucking man up. MAN UP…’

Harry continued to cower under the table his mind racing with the onslaught of a thousand terrible things heading his way. Like a hurricane Caroline continued.

‘…I’ve taken all I can take. If you can’t find it in yourself to save us, US, then at least save yourself. Fight for yourself, Harry, goddamnit, FIGHT YOU PUSSY… PLEASE… I LOVE YOU…’

The smashing of the mug was nothing compared to the power of her cursing. Harry looked down at the letter ‘C’ of his BBC cup, shattered beyond repair. In the ten years he’d known her he could count the number of times he’d heard her swear on one hand, now he was cowered under the table amongst the smashed pottery of his previous life. With a weak gesture that he knew to be weak even as he did it, he flicked the chunk of pottery emblazoned with the ‘C’ towards her like an impetuous child.

‘Yes…’ her eyes were blazing now with a deep fire, a maternal protective fire for her unborn child, cutting him out of the picture as she’d done so many times now she was pregnant. ‘…And the ‘C’ stands for ‘CUNT.’

She’d finally reached him, this was too much. He leapt to his feet. The Caroline he knew would never have hit the C-bomb. He frantically scanned the draining board beneath the window for something to throw back. She had stacked the washing-up neatly into tidy clean piles. Looking out the window he could see the greying stinking blubber of the whale glistening down on the beach in the new moon. He could take no more. Grabbing the fireworks from the bucket by the door, he rushed out, uncaring that he was barefoot. Captain Ahab would kill his white whale and set himself free or die trying. It was a noble gesture he told himself as he began his headlong descent.

His movement was part stumble; part leap. His eyes were full of salt water tears, part anger; part self-pity. As he hurtled towards the small crowd still milling around the shoreline he could no longer see the dead mammal as a thing, it had become a concept, a thing he must vanquish, was it his pregnant wife, was it his impending bankruptcy, his hatred of the city world he’d tried to leave behind yet had somehow found him and beached itself unavoidable to be dealt with? Was it his own bloated ego, his own desire to be swimming lithe and nimble in his own environment? Or had he just gone mad, was it just a Whale? All these thoughts turned over and over in his skull and as he got closer he could see the silvery mass of the dying creature as a physical thing, his thoughts made flesh. The stench hit his nose before he could even get near, forcing him to slow down.

A father and son had made a makeshift fire on the beach out of twigs and driftwood in a hopeless vigil to save the whale’s life. Without even stopping to see if he knew them or giving a ‘hail fellow well met’, Harry threw down the heavy bucket of fireworks and jumped over the fire and picked up the largest of the burning branches. Feeling himself to be an Olympic javelin thrower, or worse some sort of caveman he lunged at the stricken beast, sticking the flaming spear into it’s side again and again. His tears came freely now, as in a dream, without boundaries. He fell to his knees repeatedly stabbing the moist blubber.

‘Die you cunt. Die Die Die…’

With each pointless stab the whale’s flesh seemed to give up a flatulent moan, more putrid and wet than before. The hot spear soon became a sodden tip and was no longer strong enough to pierce the tough outer skin. Godammit he would kill this fucking thing, he would rid it from his property, from his mind. Whatever it truly was, whatever it truly represented to him, IT MUST GO. NOW.

Turning back to the startled father and son, Harry lurched back to the fire covered in the stinking blubber. They were scared, the father pulled his now crying child close to him as the madman started rooting around in the fire for something to light the motherload of fireworks.

One by one Harry stuck them in to the carcass without thought: Catherine Wheel, Rocket, Starburst, he didn’t care – they all went in, like sticking the spines back into a naked porcupine, all the while frothing at the mouth for the moment he could strip naked and dance round this motherfucker lighting each taper. Soon…. Soon it would be gone and everything would go back to normal, he comforted himself. Back to the way they were, without children, without money worries, Caroline in love with him…. soon and forever. In the coming explosion he prayed that somehow against all the odds he could get caught up in the blast and be blown back these past five years to when things had made sense.

Left with just the bloody rib cage opened up like a doorway into Narnia Harry dropped the fireworks that couldn’t be wedged into the tough hide and lit each firework where it lay, hanging out of the flesh like a Stevedores spear in some futile bull-fight. He made it just round in time to stare a final time into the milky mocking eyes as the first cord burnt down to set off the rest. He had just enough time to look behind him, back up the cliff to Caroline, her palms pressed against the window. She seemed to be shouting at him, but in the roar of the ocean it was lost, he managed to get his hand half way up to wave when it hit.

The explosion lit up the night sky as far south as Land’s End to the south and Plymouth to the north. It would be reported in the local paper that seven people had called the police fearing a terrorist attack. But Harry would never get to read the morning’s paper. With arms out-stretched he embraced the blast, and in those final few seconds Captain Ahab couldn’t tell what was whale blubber and what was his own burning flesh as they became one in the hiss and fizz, rendering the fat down to each mammal’s bone.

Fanjo Blake and the Mermaid

It was the year of Our Lord seventeen hundred and fifty-two when Britain changed from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. In order for the new calendar to work the King’s mathematicians and scientists had decided that eleven days needed to be lost in the transfer period. So, for those eleven days the country lived out of time, in a limbo. Many strange things were reported during those ‘lost’ days and here is one of them…


Millendreath Cove. Southern Cornwall. All Hallows Eve. 1752.

Under cover of night…

She looked so beautiful to him caught on the shoreline, on the dividing line between their two worlds. She was more beautiful than the northern lights, more hypnotic than running water, more necessary than salt, and he couldn’t take his eyes off her as she glided towards him from out of the boiling sea.

Fanjo Blake dropped his heavy bag of gold, which had hitherto been the most precious thing in his life, until now. For here was something infinitely more desirable and rewarding, perhaps almost sacred: a word Fanjo had heard many times before but never really understood. But now, as she floated towards him, eyes twinkling in this Hunter’s moon, he felt he finally knew what those priests had always been ranting about. Here was something perfect. Each word that slowly formed on her lips was given breath through the most incredible, beguiling voice. Angelic yet suggestive, promising dark pleasures amongst the brilliant light. She was all women yet more than any one woman could ever be. And oh that voice! That sweet voice drawing him in powerless, as inviting as a warm bed after a hard day’s ride. The song promised him a warm and watery velvet blanket to keep him snug, as she would cradle him in her arms whispering her soothing lullaby. A few more steps and he would cross the terminator into her world and how readily he embraced the change…


A few hours earlier…

The Menac Ale House. Hangman’s Copse, far above Millendreath Cove.

The rain had been coming down hard all night, sharp jagged drops that left a dent in the thatched roof of the old pub. So heavy was it that the smoke from the fire was being battered back down the chimney and into the room of the candle-lit tavern. Periodically a stray drop made it down the stack and hissed onto the crackling logs shooting violent sparks across the room. One such hot cinder landed on the boot of Fanjo Blake and he kicked it away before it could scar the leather. He returning his attention to his dinner on the large oak table, skewering a fatty piece of meat with his rope-cutting knife and chewing on the beef brisket like it was a prison sentence. He swallowed the gristle and felt it catch in his throat. He began to choke.

His three male companions took to slapping him on the back and laughing, but Fanjo being of a disposition to never be made a fool of, knocked over the plate and kicked back his chair. With his hand he reached deep into his throat and retrieved the trapped brisket. With a terrifying cough that silenced the entire room he pulled it out and threw the lump of congealed fat across the table where it skidded leaving a glistening slug trail in its wake. Able to speak once more he snarled in the direction of the landlord.

‘Barkeep, you’re food is trying to kill me, and god knows there’s enough that walk abroad this night trying to do that.’

The tallest of his companions joined in the culinary critique: ‘This chitterling isn’t fit for ship rats. If ye can’t trust your food, what’s a man got left?’

A short pudgy man hurriedly appeared from behind the bar carrying four flagons of scrumpy cider.

‘Here you go Misser Blake. On the house, so to speak. It’s the good stuff too, not what I give them regulars. I’m sorry about the fare. Cook hasn’t been worth a spit since the accident.’

Fanjo stared up at him from bloodshot eyes. This alone was enough for the barman to squirm and end the conversation.

‘Look, I don’t want any trouble, alright? I was just saying, that’s all.’

Fanjo grabbed one of the tankards from the quivering man, the frothy cider spilling over the brim like waves over a ship’s bow. The Innkeeper noticed Fanjo’s fingers like blackened tree stumps gripping the pewter tankard handle and imagined them around his own throat.

The four men huddled together, shutting the grateful Innkeeper out of the conversation and fell into a game of ‘knife-finger’. Fanjo put his own hand over that of his companion’s and took to stabbing the knife between their splayed fingers at ever greater speed and recklessness.

‘Keep your hand still, Red, the more ye squirm the more chance of a strike, and you’ll be needing all your fingers if you mean to please Rebecca later, eh?’

All four fell about their bench lost in laughter at this. Fanjo let the joke run its course before becoming conspiratorial and beckoned them in to a closed huddle once more.

‘Enough. We must talk of business, my men. The Grey Guinea is charted to sail past this very cove in the witching hour’.

At this the blood drained from all the faces of Fanjo’s companions. The man who had been under the knife felt compelled to break the painful silence that had descended, seemingly across the whole inn.

‘I ain’t going wrecking on All Hallows Eve. It ain’t right. Especially in these strange days of no date. God have mercy on their souls, no-one should have to die during this age.’

Fanjo put his knife back in his leather jersey. ‘You don’t believe in all that do you, you old fuckfinger? Where’s your stones, does Miss Rebecca have them safe in her keeping already?’

‘And what if I should do? It’s All Hallows Eve you salty dog. Everyone knows that the souls of all them’s been lost at sea are given licence to walk amongst the living for the hours of darkness on this cursed night.’

A wind had got up and caused a loose shutter on their alcove window to slap against the glass. Fanjo shuddered involuntarily and then, fearing to look foolish in front of his drinking partners, he drained the rest of his ale and slammed the pewter tankard hard on the table.

‘The dead can reach out for the living. I’m reaching out for the easy gold.’

The nearest to him spoke up, nervously flicking the pewter tankard with his rotten thumbnail.

‘Then you go alone Fanjo. The devil plays a strange tune tonight and I’m not of the mood to dance to it.’

The men buried their faces in their thick coats. Fanjo stood to leave.

‘Hang you all. I’ll go alone then.’

The nearest tried again a final time.

 ‘Fanjo, be reasonable man, it’s madness.’

‘Aye I’m sure you’re right, but I’ll have riches to comfort me in that madness. You bottlers carry on eating this rancid chitterling if ye so feel inclined. I shall be feasting on plump goose come sunrise…without you.’

Before he could be hushed into silence one of the seated men spluttered out, ‘She won’t be there you fool.’

With reflexes that would have made a man twenty years younger proud, Fanjo spun on his leather shoes and pulled his knife. He rushed back to the table and turned the blade to the man’s throat where he let the Adam’s apple throb against the cold edge.

‘Say that again, fuckfinger, I dare ye’.

The man’s eyes turned a sickly yellow and his voice came in timid squeals:

‘Fanjo, it wasn’t your fault. You couldn’t have known she was on that ship. None of us did, not even Straw Peter.’

Fanjo pressed the blade deeper into the soft neck , the steel making a cut into flesh.

‘Be it All Hallows Eve or not, I go the same. She’s lost to me, understand? I will take what’s coming to me at the appointed time.’

Fanjo pulled the knife away from the quivering man and thrust it back into his jersey.

‘Least said, soonest mended. I know you speak from the heart, but maybe it’s time ye learned to speak with your head. I want things I can hold in my hand. Gold. You can’t pay for a woman with memories.’

He moved to the door and unhooked his heavy sou’wester, throwing it on. He paused in the doorway to fill the bowl of his clay pipe and reaching into the fireplace he pulled out a glowing ember with his bare hands. His colleagues were impressed into silence as Fanjo lit the pipe, the ember glowing a fierce red causing his eyes to glint with a devilish intent. He unhooked a lantern and waved it at the barkeep before leaving.

‘Landlord. I shall be requiring this tonight.’

The barman offered up an obsequious grin, unable to look into those glowering eyes, and returned to cleaning his tankards.

Fanjo stepped out into the cold Cornish night air. The rain had stopped to be replaced by a low hanging cloud that was rolling in off the sea. He turned his collar to the wind and sucked on his pipe, fighting the hissing of the bowl against the damp. After a few steps Fanjo turned round and looked at the inn, so warm and inviting on this of all nights, the windows steamed-up with the condensation of laughter within. He fought against the urge to return and set his mind to the task ahead. As he turned he was sure he saw her face in the smoke from the inn’s chimney stack as it rose to mingle with the fog. He banished such thoughts and reached the cliff path where he knew the tools of his trade would be waiting in a hidden fissure in the rock. Candle, wick, fuel. All that was needed to trick the ship into crashing onto the jagged rocks below.

As he reached the head of the path, rough stone steps hewn out of rock, unseen and unknown to anyone who wasn’t right upon it, he looked up and saw a large fog bank heading in from the east. He reckoned it was the vanguard of a storm front moving in. A good omen for his work. His light would seem even more tempting to the ship out there in the oceanic night, and when he’d lured it to the rocks the salvage would be all his. Goose breast for breakfast.

As he walked carefully down the steps he reviewed his position, he was almost glad his partners had decided against coming, no-one else to split the profits with. But by hell it was a troublesome night. The fog had descended like a cobweb and he could barely see his boots strike the steps, each one taking him deeper into the mist. He reached the coastline and turned back on himself to a small alcove behind the stairway. He pulled away a large dried kelp to reveal the kerosene lantern and the flint and tinder box. There was enough wood left from the last wrecker’s fire to quickly get a blaze going. This was good.

The fog allowed sound to carry better than usual and he could hear the groaning of a large timber frame in the distance. The ship must be close. He must act now. Fanjo was suddenly troubled: would they see his fire in the fog and crash onto ‘Old Kernow’ a fearsome basalt rock that jutted out from the brine near the entrance to the cove, or would they miss it altogether and carry safely on with their journey down to Penzance unimpeded, his fire as invisible as charcoal?

His train of thought was interrupted by a higher pitched noise. At first he thought it was a whale, but there was a definite human lilt to it. Hiding the lantern under his arm he turned towards the crashing waves and began stumbling across wet black rocks, fearing the unknown slimy creatures in the large rock pools winking at him by the light of his candle. The noise was comforting like a lullaby he’d heard once as a child. His mother had sung a sweet song to him years ago when they were nearly shipwrecked on his father’s fishing boat in a storm, on a night much the same as this one. He’d heard his mother singing and he knew not to be afeared, he had total faith in her to keep him safe. That was how the song sounded to him now, enveloping, wrapping his mind in a drowsy blanket. He followed the voice. It was only when the water reached up to his knees that Fanjo realised he’d walked out to sea. He knew this shoreline well, a few more steps and the shelf dropped away to bottomless ocean.

The harsh sound of seagulls squawking pulled him back to land.  In the blackness with only the moon shining off the water they looked like great bats swooping. Tars, Cormorants, they circled above him like vultures expecting food. It must be cold out there tonight, Fanjo thought to himself, with the birds being so close to land.

He stepped out of the crashing waves and returned inland to light the Wreckers Fire. In the glow of that false fire he saw his shadow stretch out across the fog and out into the deep water. He looked at the silhouette of his wide brimmed hat and out of that centre she rose, the water falling off her like autumn leaves.

He knew the face.

Fanjo walked to the shoreline and called out across the cove.

‘It’s you.’

She smiled and continued singing.

Fanjo was dumbfounded, ‘You were the most beautiful on land, of course the sea must honour you as a mermaid.’

He felt the water lap against his knees, soaking the course fabric but still he waded out towards her. She swam closer, almost open him now. Only the tips of his boots could scrape the rocky sea-bed and the occasional strand of seaweed caught in his beard. She brushed it away and touched his shoulder, gently pulled him towards her. He could feel the cold droplets of brine on her warm face and smelt ozone as he moved his face through her matted hair. His mouth was about to find hers when she suddenly pulled back, shaking her head.

‘Just a little further, Fanjo my love. Come…’

Her palm moved to the nape of his neck and gently pulled him towards her, cold droplets of water ran down his collar, making him tingle.  He allowed her to lead him further out, unaware that he was now having to tread water. His voice came in breathless spurts as he struggled to keep his mouth above the tidal water line.

‘I’m so sorry my darling. I didn’t know you were on that ship. How could I? Your letters said the next month.’

With her other arm she reached out to him, placing her finger to his lips.

‘Just a little further Fanjo my love…Come…’

With the last of his strength he brushed the finger aside.

‘You must hear me. Living by the permission of another is no life. I’d rather live one day free than a life as a slave. That’s how I came to be a wrecker. You knew that when we met. So many things I’ve wrecked. Ships and people both. Forgive me.’

He looked up towards the fog bank and saw it spread from Jamaica Point all along the coastline to Highwayman Cove. The green algae that always hugged the rugged shore had become fluorescent green in the fog. He turned his head back out to sea and back out to her. Her breasts rose and fell with the wave crests and on each descend the water sank low enough to reveal two perfect nipples protruding out against the cold. Fanjo reached out for her and grabbed her left breast. He closed his eyes and relinquished the last of his fading willpower to her completely.

Even through his leather glove the breast felt strange. It was hard and splintered. Cold. Not the warm heart he remembered. Fanjo opened his eyes to find her changed. Her whole countenance had become frozen and glazed, almost wooden and as surely lifeless as the drift wood from his last wreck. He dived underwater forcing his eyes to stay open against the salt water sting and was horrified by what he saw. What mermaid was this? She had no tail, she had no anything. There was nothing to her beneath the waterline. She bobbed around like a fisherman’s buoy before beginning to sink as if her wooden skin had finally become too waterlogged. She was too heavy for him to hold and her breast slipped from his hand as she descended beneath him into the green darkness to become once more only a memory.

With a crippling fear Fanjo realised how far out to sea he had allowed himself to be dragged. He boiled in the water, foam and bubbles all around him like a black cauldron. He splashed back towards shore, but something made him turn round. Her face was breaking back through the fog, but this time something followed her. He heard a creaking, a great mass of ancient wood moaning against the storm. She was attached to something high up and clear of the water. A large pole pierced the fog like a needle, and as the mist parted he saw her fully revealed. She was wooden and painted, the paint cracked on the maidenhead. Behind her, the huge hull followed and was upon him. Fanjo braced for impact, fearing diving down into the water and trying to get under the ship more than facing what was coming to him. The impact was brutal and decisive as the hull of the Grey Guinea slammed into him following his fire.

The first breath of the cold water felt ecstatic, filling his lungs with thousands of sparkling jewels which descended to form bars of ice-cold gold in his stomach. Fanjo finally had such riches inside him as they weighed him down below the surface, whilst all the while that enchanting song echoed beneath him, calling him deeper and deeper to give an account of himself and the things he’d done.