Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ 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

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

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http://www.amazon.co.uk/Springboards-Michael-G-Zealey/dp/1291060103/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1369732955&sr=8-2&keywords=michael+zealey

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

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http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1447839889/ref=pd_lpo_k2_dp_sr_1?pf_rd_p=103612307&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=1447823931&pf_rd_m=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&pf_rd_r=0G9A7XND7E5NS8XMQ3Z1

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

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http://www.amazon.co.uk/Different-States-Michael-G-Zealey/dp/1447824245/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1366284192&sr=1-3

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“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.)

miol

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Molehole-Michael-G-Zealey/dp/1447824113/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1332168305&sr=1-1

Thanks awfully x

Ex-Stacy

The following story is for adults only. It was recounted to me last week in a bar in Montmartre and I have no reason to doubt its authenticity.

 

03:00. Friday morning, Le Crazy Horse Strip-joint.  Pigalle, 18th arrondissement, Paris.

Despite all eyes being on her, Stacy still felt bored. Worse than that she was actually beginning to feel numb to the whole experience. She didn’t even feel that rush of excitement anymore when she took the stage to see the eyes of all the seedy men light up with a dirty animal desire, a desire not to love her, but to possess her body as a trophy, an outward symbol to other men of their own power. For Stacy, the feeling of ennui had been a slow creep over a couple of months, but as she removed her basque and brushed her breasts against the silver pole turned purple in the rotating floor lighting she felt a blankness that depressed her. She kept her eyes fixed into the middle-distance on a neon beer sign above the back bar, trying to conceal the fact that her heart wasn’t in it as she revealed everything else to the leering crowd.

Stripping defined Stacy, it was her metier, she needed to get the excitement back and quickly, otherwise it became just another job and she’d be no different to the grubby men out there in the audience trying to pay for a fantasy moment outside of the mundane grind. She used to consider herself the John the Baptist of stripping, evangelising to other women how liberating and empowering it was. But tonight it felt squalid.

Perhaps she’d give the protest rally a miss tomorrow she thought as she gyrated in time to the bass-heavy music. Maybe it was her illness, maybe just the season. How long would she be allowed to continue lap dancing once her monthly medical came back anyway? She upended herself on the pole allowing her legs to suspend her vertically as she twisted slowly back round to the ground, all the while worrying whether she’d deadlocked the door of her small apartment on the Rue de Rivoli earlier that evening. Things were getting desperate, she prayed for something to take her out of this stasis, but she reminded herself that you should always be careful what you wish for. And sure enough, the next day she met Gortman.

 

15:00. Friday afternoon, Protest rally, La Défense business district, Paris.

The rally was quickly descending into a full on riot. If it was one thing Parisians liked to do it was moan, and Stacy was no different. The Banking Crisis had in turn led to massive cuts in public sector spending, and she felt it was her duty to take a stand and voice her dissent, just to feel part of the greater society, even if that society often judged what she did as immoral as the bankers. She was carried by the angry crowd towards the head offices of Credit Lyonnais, a mass of hooded and masked youths brandishing poles, chair-legs, anything they could get their gloved hands on to weaponise for this storming of the Bastards. She’d seen how quickly the mood of a crowd could change enough times at Crazy Horse to know it was time to leave and using her snake-like flexibility she began to weave through the crowd and off down a side-street.

It was cooler here in the shade of the overhanging buildings and she meandered up the alley unsure what to do next but enjoying the respite from the dusty battle. Sitting on the pavement curb in front of a small bistro a solitary man sipped from a can. He looked out of place down in the gutter with his smart suit and Stacy caught his eye as she passed.

‘Good march?’ he asked, his accent sounding southern, Marseilles she guessed.

‘Nah, it’s too much.’

Yep, for me too. I’m just trying to get home.’

He offered up his drink and with her voice being so hoarse from shouting along with the crowd she accepted, sitting down next to him, feeling the cold stone kerb on the underside of her bare thighs.

He smiled at her, flashing capped white teeth, ‘You do realise, you’re drinking with the enemy?’

‘You’re a banker?’

He nodded his head, pointing at the entrance to the road where the marchers were still filing past.

‘It’s such a complex issue, these numpties think it’s so black and white.’

‘And isn’t it?’

‘No. Why should us rich pay more for services we never use and the poor pay nothing for using everything?

‘I thought all you bankers were bastards, that’s what I’ve read in the papers’. He took back his drink.

‘The only thing I believe in papers is the date, my name’s Gortman.’

A rose-seller stumbled past them, his flowers broken.

‘Flowers. Such a female thing. They serve no purpose but to be beautiful, that’s why men never buy them. But women have an eye for beauty. They want flowers just because they are beautiful. Men are interested in human flowers no?

She eyed him suspiciously. Maybe he’d seen the Le Crazy Horse logo on her bag.

‘…but we’re of no use or value except to look pretty for you, right?’

‘Exactly. Nature has made you bloom, why complicate things?’

‘No, I hate that shit. You assume because I take my clothes off for money I can’t have a thought in my head, and that I’m being taken advantage of by evil men. Am I right?’

Gortman rested the can between his knees and crushed it a little.

‘How should I know that you’re a stripper?’

She gritted her teeth at hearing the word.

‘I’m an Exotic Dancer.’

A boy in a hooded top, his face obscured by a white plain mask, picked up a loose paving stone at the entrance to the alley. They watched as he hurled it at something unseen further down the main road.  Stacy jumped in the air and looked around her. Everyone seemed to be angry and lashing out, their faces hidden behind balaclavas and masks. She looked to the banker for sudden reassurance and his calm, smiling face relaxed her. Another angry wail went up from the crowd. Gortman tutted.

‘At least in medieval times the food the peasants were forced to eat was healthy potato peelings from the rich man’s kitchens. Now the peasants must go to one euro frozen food stores to feast on antibiotic-fed grey chicken and processed fats. If I was them, I’d probably be rioting too.’

Stacy lifted her right buttock and relocated it as far away from him as the step would allow.

‘Urgh, you really are a hateful individual, aren’t you?’

He took a sip from his can of cola still cold enough to have condensation running down the side, as red and flowing as the perspiration on her forehead.

‘Yep. I certainly am. Never said I wasn’t.’

He stared intently at her, not so much undressing her with his eyes she thought, but more as a slave-trader would study a particularly pricey subject.

‘You have a bloom, darling. You do know that, don’t you?  I could put some very lucrative work your way. If you were interested of course? If you see a future beyond today’s smashing of bank windows?’

‘I’m not with these dicks… I’m with Satyagraha. Are you a model scout then?’

‘After a fashion, I scout for the unusual, the brilliant, the things money can buy. You have the bloom, I want to buy you…’

‘What the fuck?’

‘… I want to buy your time for one evening. Tomorrow night in fact… if you’re available of course’

‘Where?’

‘You are a beautiful flower that needs arranging next to other beautiful flowers. I’m sending you to an underground florist.’

‘Eh? Maybe it’s not just coke in your can?’

He reached into his tailored suit pocket and produced what looked to Stacy like a small jade hand. She took it, feeling its cold and heavy weight in her still sweaty palm, flipping it over she could see something engraved.

‘Ex-Stacy?’

Gortman drained the remainder of his can and swallowed noisily.

‘Uh-huh. It’s Latin. Out of Stasis. It’s where we get the word Ecstasy. Out of the boredom. Remember, a flower only blossoms for so long, then after that you can give it all the sun and water it needs and it won’t stop it fading.’

Stacy ran her fingers through her hair.

 ‘It’s worth about five hundred pounds,’ Gortman continued, ‘It’ll get you into the private party I’m arranging. Do you know the catacombs?’

‘Sure, who doesn’t.’

‘Well, some friends of mine, some very rich friends of mine, some very rich and powerful friends of mine are holding a soirée and they need…entertaining shall we say?’

‘An orgy? You’re talking about a fucking orgy aren’t you? Do you think I’m a whore?’

He threw his head back and laughed with such force that it echoed up, ricocheting off the tight glass buildings and causing a nesting pigeon to scatter.

‘Orgy doesn’t quite cover it. This is phantasmagoria for the senses. I’m talking extremely connected people, ambassadors, royalty, magnates. You may know them as Illuminati. I bet you’ve never danced for them in the Crazy Horse?’

She shrugged her shoulders.

‘We get all sorts’.

‘You only have to dance, you won’t be expected to join in. All girls have to be medically checked in advance and there isn’t time.’ he winked at her.

‘I wouldn’t pass anyway.’

He took her hand holding the jade and pressed it against his.

‘See the trust I’m putting in you. You can run now and use the jade hand to slap me in the face by selling it. Or you can do yourself a favour and come tomorrow night and get a round of applause with twenty more hands. Yes, five thousand Euros.’

He played with his salmon pink tie, flipping it up and down over his pale striped shirt.

‘You know beneath our differences you and me are the same. We’re both viewed as politically incorrect by the repressed and jealous mainstream. Society insists you must be miserable and exploited because you work as a stripper…’

‘Exotic Dancer…’

Exotic Dancer, excuse me… and I must go to hell for being successful and rich, made to constantly apologise and feel guilty for my hard-earned wealth.’

He let go of her hand and she saw he had left a small alabaster coloured business card with the jade.

 ‘Yeah, we’re regular peas in a fuckin’ pod you and me.’

‘Come-on, what was it Al Capone said? No-one’s untouchable? Every person has got their price. Look at all these hooded numpties smashing windows and rioting. Do you think if they were taken aside one at a time and offered millions and inclusion into the world of the rich they wouldn’t jump at the chance and miraculously forget their principles? They’re not philosophers at all, they are just angry at being excluded from the playground. They see us having fun and are jealous. Just like the feminists wearing their denim dungarees and comfortable shoes are jealous of the power you have over men with your body. Because they can’t do it, they resent you doing it. And woe-betide if you actually enjoy it: they’ll scatter more than your cushions.’

Stacy leant back on the paving stone now that the sun had crept over the facing building and watched the rays light up her floral skirt, the green becoming luminescent against her manicured finger nails freshly painted with the red, white and blue of the French flag in anticipation of the rally.

‘Yep, I hate to admit it but I was actually thinking the same last night,’  she conceded, ‘Feminists say: let’s have a campaign for real women in the media, and as long as they are misshapen and over-weight like us then we’ll be happy. It’s body fascism whichever way you slice it. Slice of lettuce or slice of chocolate cake. My sister hates what I do. She’s convinced that I must be secretly exploited somehow.’

‘Why?’

‘Because she and her right-on feminist friends aren’t comfortable with a woman making money from her body. Feminism says a woman is only allowed to make money from her mind. If she’s making money from her god-given beauty then she must be being exploited because most women are in secret competition with each other and can’t stand the thought of others getting by on beauty when they can’t. They see it as unfair so they want to spoil it for everyone else. Real women must have one breast smaller than the other and hips that look like they’ve been flattened by a steam-roller, Then they’re not a threat to the feminists. Pretty people don’t feel pain? No danger. Well sorry. I’m dangerous. I’m not going to reach out to you with an apology for my sexuality. DEAL WITH IT. DEAL ME IN.’

‘That’s quite a rant. You should go into politics. You play poker then?’

‘You better believe it. I’m the best I know.’

‘Mon Dieu, but it’s too good! I’ve got a deal for you then. You simply must come tomorrow night, they’ll be a great game too.’

‘Straight?’’

 ‘Full House. So you’ll come then?

Yeah, fuck it. Why should the boys have all the fun?’

‘Excellent. Bring a mask.’

 

11:30. Saturday night, Catacombs, Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, Paris. 

‘You sure you just want to be left here?’ The taxi driver turned in his chair to face her, showing a genuine concern.

‘That’s what the man said’, she replied giving him a small tip for caring.

It was only when she got out of the taxi and tottered on her stiletto heels that she understood what the driver had meant. Once out of range of the small orange street light she found herself walking in complete darkness. The entrance to the catacombs was a simple turnstile cut out of the rock face. The entrance portico was covered in a lush dark green algae drooping down over the door to give the effect of dreadlocks over a yawning mouth. A man was waiting in the glass booth to the left of the door watching a small portable television. He was captivated. Stacy guessed it must be CCTV with the grey flickering image, but what she saw was such intense pornography that she knew this old goat had probably rigged up the internet somehow. She tapped on the glass with the heel of her stiletto before putting it back on her feet. She looked at her mud-encrusted toes. Shit, she’d need to freshen up before she went in, but what were the chances? She was getting a sinking feeling. This whole enterprise was starting to smell of a joke:  The entrance to the catacombs with its faded tourist guides in many languages looked deserted and this old pervert in the kiosk was dressed like a tramp, neither boded well for a multi-billionaire’s orgy.

The man in the kiosk asked for identification, she reached into her bag and pulled out the jade hand. He replied with his own hand, pointing through the now unlocking door. She followed, leaving him to his porn.

It was hard to walk on the loose shingle in such high heels, so feeling that her feet couldn’t get in a much less presentable state anyway, she took them off and walked along the torch-lit stone passageway with nothing but the scrunch of pebbles echoing off the limestone walls. Only the rich can afford silence she thought to herself. After the hot anger of the previous day’s marching, the noise of smashing glass and drunken orc roars, sirens wailing and nightsticks a-crashing, the tranquility of the catacombs was exquisite. Turning a corner she heard the shrieks and groans of people lost in ecstasy, all wrapped around the rhythmical throb of heavy Timpani drums beating as on a slave-ship marking the strokes of the oar, the crack of the whip on sun-burned backs.

A further hundred meters and she could see the bright flicker of unnatural torch light. It was more silver and beguiling than regular flame and burnt with an intensity. She moved directly under one of the torches and looked beneath it, the walls weren’t rock at all but human skulls, long-since polished to the smoothness of sea stone with empty sockets no longer raging at the inequalities of the world they’d been born into centuries ago without invitation, their rioting long past. Ahead of her she could see two small carved statues, each had the face of a smiling Buddha with clay horse heads covering their genitals. As she walked closer she jumped as one of them moved.

‘Your invitation madam?’

She reached into her purse and showed him the jade hand.

‘Mademoiselle, this way…’.

The heavy silk curtain was pulled back by the two masked men and as she walked through she could smell the musk of the curtains already getting damp in the cold cave air. A futher smell, coupled with a dramatic rise in temperature hit her. It was a smell she knew only too well from the club. Her mouth fell open at what she saw. Even for someone who’d spent two years dancing at Sapphire in Las Vegas she was shocked. It was like watching the fall of the Roman Empire, all lit by bright silver burning torches with magnesium flame. Such decadence and profanity that someone who’d only ever worked a nine-to-five job could never hope to imagine. At first she thought the glistening on the cave walls was from water above, but the steam coming off it told her it was sweat from the mass of writhing naked bodies engaged in acts of such depravity that a pope would tear his own eyes from his sockets.

Each person was masked in the style of a Venetian ball, but the intricacies of each mask, so complex and diverse in styles, some seemed to be pagan, others tribal African, some were in the style of angry Chinese dragons, cast from solid Jade. But of all the masks one stood out with a chilling simplicity. It was a plain white mask, slightly too small for the jowls it tried to contain. The expression was blank with only a mouth and two eye holes cut into the plastic. Compared to these indescribable works of masked art rising and falling on an invisible tide of ecstasy all around her, this surgical mask was anathema. The wearer sat on top of a pyramid of naked flesh corpulent and engorged, like a fly recently feasted on dead carrion and now too satiated to move. Bodies were intertwined and creating a hot steam that rose up to this fat fly. He was the head fly and beneath him his maggots writhed obediently. Stacy squinted her eyes to see what it was he was doing, but immediately averted her eyes in disgust. Of all the sights she’d see that night, this was unspeakably depraved. Other masked people walking past, upon seeing what he was doing, involuntarily threw-up where they stood. The vomit slowly moved like lava towards the lower incline where it was collected with all the other juices of the night.

The sound of a single bazook like a strangulated wail rang out reaching into every stalagmite crevice. People began to gravitate towards a black stone altar at the far end covered with a large drape showing incantations and sacred inscriptions. On top of this a woman was lying prostrate, grimacing in an opiate ecstasy. All began to gather at the foot of the altar as if being called by a mullah to a dark pray. The woman inserted a small Faberge egg into her sex. She groaned, half aware. The bazook stopped to be replaced by a slow rhythmical drumming. Stacy looked through the circle that had formed, past the altar and to the circle behind, all with hands linked, all masked and all with erections. A naked and masked servant handed the woman what looked to Stacy like a small green snake. The woman held it by is neck, tail writhing wildly and inserted it to follow the egg. The snake disappeared up to its tail, which remained in the entrance, throbbing instinctively from side to side. The woman continued moaning, lost in a dark pleasure. The snake re-appeared, pieces of shell on its head, as it ate the mysterious contents of the delicate egg. Stacy tried to catch the eye of the girl on the altar, but she seemed oblivious to everything except her own thoughts.

‘Jeez, whatever they paying you sister, I hope it’s enough…’ Stacy whispered to herself.

The drumming stopped, replaced by a low chant of voices, neither Gregorian nor Tibetan, a low guttural repetition that seemed to melt into the rocks and reverberate  back imbued with their ancient strength.

She looked around at the men showing everything but their faces and wondered if Gortman was amongst them.

Away from the altar, a servant was leading a white tiger towards the centre of the cave. Around him the many skulls of plague victims and French aristocracy which were stuck into the walls of the burial crypt looked on, unable to avert their eyes, forced to watch as the man goaded the beast. It appeared drugged, with large once-imperious head lolling from side to side, trying in vain to resist the yank of the masked man on the linked metal chain around its neck. The man’s mask reminded Stacy of the Gargoyles she’d seen at the Sacré Coeur years ago. Demonic creatures reaching out of the towers, horned and leering, tongues outstretched beneath rolling mad eyes, much like the men on the building sites when she went to work each morning. She recognised the look. Dying of thirst, but not for water, for something more primal and necessary.

The chanting rose in volume as the man pulled out a ceremonial dagger from a strap on his leg. In a swift and decisive downward arc, the man sliced the tiger’s throat causing an arterial spray to shoot a clear six foot onto an oblivious naked couple lost in their own passions. Stacy jumped in the air and looked around her. Not for the first time this weekend, everyone seemed to be possessed and angry, lashing out, their faces hidden behind balaclavas and masks. She felt powerless to do anything but watch. The tiger fell first to its knees as if in prayer, then slowly rolled to its right side where it collapsed, its legs twitching in motor spasm. Out of the shadows they came, the naked masked figures, male and female, all shapes and sizes. They fell upon the tiger and rolled in its life-blood. ‘Blooding’ themselves in the successful hunt. Taking in the tigers strength and vitality.

Stacy turned away in disgust and headed for a side door hewn out of the wet rock, hoping to find a drink, a lot of drink. What she found instead was the poker game. At the head of the table she recognised the white plain mask, beer belly hanging over the felt. The head fly spoke to her.

‘Ah my dear. Would you care to join us, we could use some new blood?’

She chose an empty seat and sat down. The player to her immediate right spoke up. He wore a mask that reminded her of the statues she’d seen in a travel brochure for the Easter Islands.

‘Too hasty. What is her collateral? I don’t see her chips before her?’

The man in the white party mask leant forward, his beer belly pressing against the felt table causing his chips to cascade towards the dealer.

‘It looks like I’m all-in at last gentlemen.’ He silenced the modest ripple of laughter that followed with his upturned palm. In the silver magnesium light bouncing off the watching skulls, his greenish hand reminded her of the jade ornament. She instinctively checked it was still in her bag. It was. Good, she thought, I can either use it as collateral or to cut my loses and get the fuck out of this madhouse with a profit.

‘Reality is better than the dream here at the Hellfire Club, my dear.’

The fat man beckoned over one of the servants. Now up close Stacy could see they all wore gold masks with eyes casting downwards in subservience, she guessed this must denote to the other guests their position and that they were not to be included in the action. He brought across a large tureen filled with a grainy brown substance. Ignoring the large silver ladle that hung from the side, the fat man stuck his whole hand into the bowl and pulled out a fistful which he began to devour, licking his sticky fingers like a cat after fresh kill.

‘Do you know how they make foie gras, my dear?’

Stacy confessed that she didn’t, and didn’t much care either.

‘They force feed a young chick grain until its liver explodes.’

Stacy began to play with the dealer button, twisting it between thumb and forefinger trying to consciously look nonchalant. The fat man was enjoying her discomfort.

‘I am a gastronaut, an explorer of fine wines and food. So much so that a few years ago I needed a liver transplant. It was such a success I celebrated by having my own cirrhosis liver served to me with a rare bottle of Israeli wine found in the Qumran caves where they found the dead sea scrolls. In case you were wondering, my liver tasted excellent having been steadily marinated in the finest wines and brandy for fifty years previously. So tender my dear. I think I’ve developed a taste for it.’

Stacy tried to remain as business-like as possible. ‘I was told I’d be paid five for dancing tonight. Could I use an advance on that to buy some chips?’

The whole table broke into sinister laughter.

‘The blinds are five and ten my dear,’ his voice dripped with condescension, ‘But there is another way. How about a side bet for two?’

‘Thousand?’

Again the sinister laughter moved round the table like a Mexican wave.

The man held up his hand to silence them. His voice was deadly serious.

‘Million, my dear. We don’t deal in thousands down here.’

Her voice came back with an equally deadly earnest.

‘What’s the bet?’

‘Human foie gras. A true delicacy especially when coming from such a young chick as you. If you lose then our expert surgeons will insert a catheter directly into your stomach and pump you full of the finest grain and Louis XVI brandy until your liver ruptures and releases my fine foie gras.’

Stacy moved back in her chair, the legs catching on the ancient rug. ‘Cannibalism? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me and besides, what use is two million to a half-eaten corpse?’

‘My dear, of course we give you a new liver, and you’d be under general anaesthetic for the whole procedure. It should take about twelve hours from start to finish. Our debauchery here lasts three days and nights, as was the lost time between the crucifixion and the resurrection. We’ll even wait for you to come round so you can join us in eating your own liver. Just imagine it gentlemen!’

One of the other players began masturbating with a handful of 50k chips under the table. They fell to the floor clattering on the loosely laid Moroccan rugs. Stacy stood up from the table and tried to catch her breath whilst the fat man clicked his fingers, recalling the servant.

‘Check with Hans that we have a transplant surgeon on standby as usual…’

He looked across at the masturbator.

‘Hell, if we haven’t, you could do it yourself, hey Piotr?’

The masturbator slammed his fist down on the felt table causing his remaining poker chips to dance in the air.

‘No names. She now knows I’m a world class surgeon AND my Christian name.’

Stacy felt compelled to speak.

‘If you were going to operate on me, you’d best believe I’d be checking you weren’t just a naked guy sitting here beating his meat. Anyway, don’t worry, my job is to keep secrets anyway…’

‘Really? Let’s say Liver Let Die? You’re a spy then not a whore?

‘I keep telling you people… I’m a fucking Exotic Dancer… Exotic Dancer!’

‘Ah. How weak and feeble is the male desire when compared against that of the female. What’s your name?’

‘It’s ok for me to tell you my name, huh? I’m just little people, right?

‘Right.’

His honesty took her aback.

‘It’s Stacy’.

‘It’s too beautiful’.

‘Thank you’.

‘No, don’t you see? Our evening is called Ex-Stacy – literally out of stasis. And we’re taking your liver out of you, literally Ex Stacy – Out of Stacy. It has to be. You must accept.’

Not quite believing she was saying the words, Stacy found herself sitting back down at the table to a rapturous round of applause.

’‘Deal me in,’ she said.

She felt something brush against her bare leg and looking under the table she saw a masked man felating the player to her left. She looked up slowly into where she judged his eyes to be. He spoke softly:

‘You came here looking for suckers, eh?’

‘No, I never go looking for suckers, I look for champions, then I make suckers outta them.’

He pushed the man under the table away, feeling a little deflated.

One by one, the hands were played and as she’d hoped they all played like ego-maniacs to a man, never believing she could be bluffing. Within four short hours she had made her mark on the table. Within seven the men were pleased they were wearing masks to hide their twitching, tell-ridden faces. Stacy could smell victory, she even began allowing herself brief moments when she left to make her toilette of thinking what she’d do with the money. But as is always the case with counting chicks before they’ve hatched her over-confidence was her undoing.

She looked down at her two personal cards to see an Ace and a King of Clubs suited. She raised and everyone but the fat man folded. She studied his body language, trying to get a read on him in the absence of any facial tics. What did he have, she wondered? She knew her hand to be the second best hand to have at this stage, so felt it was probably now or never to settle it.

When the first three cards of the flop came all Clubs she could barely hide her excitement as she made the nut flush: five cards all suited. Nothing could beat her. She moved all-in, pushing all of her chips to the centre of the table.

It took her brain a moment to register what the fat man had just said:

‘I call…’

She daren’t believe it was true. She knew she was almost guaranteed to win about  95% of the chips in play, as she turned over her hand to the table. She looked up triumphantly but the mask on the fat man’s face remained as implacable as ever, as he revealed a pair of aces to a gasping table.  Excellent, she thought.  He’d made his three of a kind, and now she was going to read him the news with her mighty flush. What felt even better to her was knowing how badly this mysogynistic prick would take it.

The next card came as a seven. Her heart began to flutter. Then like a bird being shot out of the sky the last card fell. The fat man’s belly began to wobble in the building laughter.

‘Another seven. Would you credit it. My full house beats your flush, my dear.’

The room began to spin around Stacy coinciding with a sinking feeling as if gravity was trying to pull her through the gravelly floor of the catacombs. She slipped off her chair and watched helpless through the legs as the fat man summoned the servant who came into view carrying a large hypodermic needle on the tray.

Despite feeling winded, Stacy managed to speak in short, gasping syllables.

‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you’.

‘And why not my dear, a bet is a bet. We just want your liver?’

Holding the arm of the chair she rose to her feet as the fat man approached salavating with his glistening injection.

‘I have Hepatitis C’, she replied.

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.

 

The Dolphin Dalai

 

3am Outside the Dolphin Pub. Mare Street, Hackney, London.

Walter Sikhart stank of piss again, only this time it wasn’t his fault. At some point earlier in the night someone must’ve found him drunk and asleep in the shop doorway and actually urinated on him. It was probably another drunk, caught short on his way home from the pub, unaware that tonight this darkened doorway was Walter’s bedroom.

Walter preferred to believe this rather than think they’d done it on purpose, few people deep down were that rotten, he reasoned. These were part-time drunks after all, mere amateurs at the craft, not full-time masters like he who’d studied for years at the altar of disappointment and despair. It was a Friday night and these drunks were off the clock from their regular office jobs. Jobs where they got to use staplers and paperclips for their original purpose and not to hold up their trousers, where correction fluid was used to mask mistakes on paper, not drunk as a shooter to mask mistakes in life.

Walter moved over to the bus stop, hoping the orange glow from the overhead bulb might give the illusion of warmth and dry him off a little. He looked down at the floor and saw a cigarette butt with a good length left on it, probably thrown down in the arrival of an unexpected bus. He carefully straightened out the crumpled end between thumb and forefinger and put it too his lips, rooting round in his overcoat for a match.

He hadn’t been born an alcoholic, in fact he hadn’t even been born Walter Sikhart, he had become both in the intervening years.  He’d actually chosen the name himself when he’d first come over from Nepal some ten years ago, for all the good it had done him. He’d been born Wai Sikhinn, on the northern shore of Lake Rara in the west of the mountainous Himalayan kingdom. Even this harmless twist of fate had gone against him, because if his mother had decided to take the ferry that day then he’d have been born closer to civilisation on the southern bank and wouldn’t have been brought up to believe he was a demigod.

The town elders had decreed that nineteen forty-eight was the year the next Nepalese Lama would be born and they searched the villages in their flowing orange robes scattering lotus blossom as they went and ensuring Walter could never again have a normal life. He remembered nothing of the determining test, laid down for millennia in their sacred teachings. When all the different animal bones had been spread out in front of him that early spring afternoon, smooth and rounded from the years of having been wrapped in silk, his four year old hand had naturally just reached out for the one that interested him the most: the sacrum bone of a pink bottle-nosed dolphin.

He did recall how this action had changed the electricity in the room, the energy had picked up and the people in the funny orange sheets seemed to become animated and talkative. The necessary astrologers and numerologists were consulted and charts drawn up. All had agreed he was a shoe-in for the top job. The stars were in correct alignment, the dolphins were crooning at night in the nearby lake, the bone had been correctly selected. And so for the next twelve years Walter Sikhart was trained and instructed in his future role as spiritual leader of the Limbus people.

Then, about a week after his sixteenth birthday his world changed forever and his destiny gurgled down the plug-hole like the mulch of so many dead lotus flowers and pointless tears, culminating in his inexorable sluice down the drain to exit here in Hackney. His mother had taken ill and deteriorated fast. On what was to become her death bed she confessed to him that she’d got the date of his birth wrong all those years ago. She’d realised soon after the monks had taken him to their monastery, but knowing that they could provide for him better than she ever could, she held her tongue, until the guilt and cancer had eaten away at her and now she was dying. He found it hard to come to terms with either situation. His whole life had been a based on a lie. Having spent his formative years being revered as a saviour he was suddenly reviled as a fake and shut out in the cold.

After much thought and in what was looking likely to be the only moral stand he’d take in his life, he told the elders of his village the truth and relinquished his destiny.

He’d tried to stay in the village but the constant looks of pity and suspicion that the fix had been in from the get-go, had eventually forced him out. He became a fisherman, using the dolphin bone that he still kept with him to call the pink bottle-nosed dolphins close to shore.

Each morning, just after sunrise he’d stand with his bare feet in the turquoise water and sound the bone, relishing the ghostly noise bouncing off the residual fog like a skipping stone and echoing up through the tall pines. What followed was an amazing symbiosis between the land mammals and our aquatic distant cousins. Each time a school of fish congregated in the lake, the dolphins would corral them up and push them towards the shore so the waiting fishermen could catch them. So deep did the relationship run that once the fish were rounded-up, the porpoise would give a flick of their tail to show it was time to cast the nets. It never failed!

What amazed Walter most about this relationship was that there was nothing in it for the dolphins, they were purely doing it to be helpful. It was then that he realised the true connectedness of life. The inter-dependency and co-existence between everything, all alive with the same spark of life-energy linking as one on a sub-atomic level. All relying on each other for survival and a purpose. A purpose in life that had so cruely been robbed from him. The bone had of course been lost in the pissed mist of time, along with any last dreams of redemption.

Walter smoked the butt down to the filter before tossing it back to the floor of the bus shelter, such memories were dangerous for him, they invariably led to bitterness and more drinking. He exhaled slowly, savouring the last puffs of the chocolaty smoke and looked round at the city, surrounded as it was by rat-maze walls of man-made concrete. The exhale became a sigh. There were very few places left on earth where humans still understood this precious symbiosis of life. Here in the artificial urbanity there was only humanity and machines, and both seemed pretty heartless right now. Man appeared hell-bent on an unstoppable rush into the dark and unnatural blending of flesh and silicone. A Cybernetic marriage without possibility of a divorce.  In only a few hundred years we’d gone from being surrounded by the ecstatic hum of life, to the incessant whir of cold anti-life in metal, stone, smoke and plastic. To Walter what was most crazy of all was that we’d done it by choice, but the physical comforts we’d gained sure as hell didn’t add up to the spiritual reality sacrificed.

He was starting to feel the bitterness well up inside himself again. Damn, he wanted a drink. A chemical cosh to beat the bilious monster back down again for a few more hours. He shook the can of barley wine between his legs but it didn’t even make a rattle: more empty than his pockets. Maybe if he had’ve been a demigod he could’ve magic’d up another can, but not here, not now.

His train of thought was broken by the clatter of dustbin lids behind him in the pub alleyway. Twisting his neck in the damp, piss-stained coat Walter watched two teenagers kicking at a trash can. They looked detached, malevolent and empty, surrounded by artificial things he guessed they’d never known how to live connected and real.

They saw him staring, Walter turned quickly away and stared at his feet imagining invisibility, but it was too late. The taller of the two youths swaggered up, the angry vinegar piss coursing inside rather than outside on somebody else’s coat.

‘Hey, what up, clot? You wanna get shanked old man?’

Walter buried his face in his coat. The smell of stale urine was stronger here, he felt there were hints of hops and wheat, definitely a drinker.

The youth was immediately all up in his face, posturing and looking for an excuse to escalate their encounter.

‘Hey, I is talking to you. Want to get robbed?’

His friend had caught up and grabbed his arm.

‘Leave him, he’s just a bum, look at him. He ain’t got nuffink. Fuck it blud.’

As if to show he’d given it careful consideration, the taller youth kissed his teeth and snatched the can from Walter before turning away. He watched them go from the corner of his eye not daring to turn his head, leaving the majority of his face concealed by the coat. On discovering the can was empty the youth drop-kicked it at a betting shop window across the street only for it to bounce off the advertisement for some perfume none of them would ever get to smell.

Right now Walter was smelling piss and he didn’t like it. The smack of the can startled a fox which had been rummaging nearby through a discarded fried chicken box and it started across the road towards him.  In the relative safety of the bus shelter the fox cowered under the red plastic bench, covering three of its four possible avenues of attack.

Walter leant forward and peered between his legs to get a better view of the fox. It was shivering and wide-eyed with a mix of fear and adrenaline. Remembering he had a small piece of kebab left in his pocket he retrieved the greasy strip of meat, grey and glistening in the orange light. He flapped it on the grooved seating and the fox instinctively got up to inspect the offering. As it slinked up to the rancid meat Walter could see something clasped between its teeth, a white bony protuberance sticking out either side of the jaw. The fox cautiously sniffed the meat, then stepped over it towards the scrunched up material of Walter’s coat. Locking eyes with him, the fox bowed its head and dropped the object on the urine-soaked clothing, before retreating back and hastily gobbling up the meat.

Walter recognised the gift instantly and poked it with his nicotine and shit stained finger, just to make sure. For the first time in weeks he forced himself to mentally focus and cut through the drunken stupor. It was undoubtedly the cranial bone of a bottle-nosed dolphin and as he reached out for it he felt again like the innocent four year old selecting the thing that was most pleasing to him. With trembling hand he put it too his lips not daring to believe and exhaled…

Above him in the bedsits and studios of Mare St people found themselves being roused softly from the depths of their slumber to hear a haunting sound that had no business on a London street. Walter took another breath as it began to rain. The droplets danced over the air-hole of the bone making the sound even more watery and ethereal in the blue dawn. The gently haunting sound wailed out, soft yet insistent like a candle against the darkness, becoming a Pied Piper’s rallying cry quite impossible for the sleeping city-dwellers to ignore in their artificial beds.

© Michael G Zealey

Djinn & Tonic

 

I’m a sensible kind of man, a text-book empiricist. If you expect me to believe in things I can’t see then you’ll be disappointed. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if I can’t prove a thing then I’m completely sure it cannot exist.

However, it being Christmas Eve and me brought up to believe that all oxen kneel on this special day, I’m willing to cut a little slack to my usual rigidity. Perhaps that’s why I feel I can tell you what has just happened without you judging me too harshly…

On the train home from work this afternoon I found myself staring at this pretty girl, I allowed my eyes to glaze over as I began to dream about undoing the top few buttons on her winter coat, the released burst of her perfume, the blush of warm air on my face, but as the train went into the tunnel I looked at her reflection instead, because she’d caught me looking directly at her and I felt embarrassed. What I saw took all sexual thoughts from me like heat from an open door. A grizzled bearded man stared back at me where her reflection should have been. The face was swarthy and Arabic. With typical cliché, I took off my glasses and rubbed my eyes, feeling the tired jellied balls squelching in their sockets. I looked again just as the train came out the tunnel into daylight losing any reflection.

I put it down to over-indulgence at last night’s office party and made it home to get ready for Christmas drinks at my neighbours house. He was Muslim by birth but being a learned and well-travelled man he’d decided to annexe the good bits and festivals from all philosophies. He had the air of one not quite of this world, I’d mistaken this for aloofness at first but we’d gradually become friends since he moved to the street four years ago and these Christmas Eve drinks had become something of a tradition. But tonight seemed different, there was something in the air. I’d been looking out the window casually but not seen anyone arrive, in fact the whole house was in darkness except for the glow of the fake tree coming from the back room.

Being a worrier by nature, I decided to knock on the door. I raised the knocker and tapped with such non-committal pressure that I was surprised when he threw open the door. He had his index finger to his lips inducing me to keep quiet.

He ushered me into the kitchen and closed the door behind him. His usual calm almost peaceful expression was gone, replaced by a feverish anxiousness. A bead of pure sweat had formed on his forehead and twinkled under the kitchen’s halogen spotlights.

“I’ve caught a Djinn… “

My response seemed to catch him off guard.

“What’s a Djinn? “

“A genie… a fucking genie. “

I looked around the work surface for telltale bottles of tablets or strong liquor.

“Sure you have. Everything Ok, I mean, really?  Gin?“

“Djinn… DJinn. Come look. “

He flicked open the door and flung it wide as if issuing a challenge to me.

“Is this some sort of Christmas charade… I mean you can’t seriously expect me to believe you’ve got a… “

There it was. On the floor glimmering at ankle height, trapped by an upturned pint glass and piece of cardboard like a celestial spider.

“What the deuce is that? “

“I told you… it’s a Djinn. “

“And a Djinn is… “

“Look, in Islamic thinking, Allah created three types of living thing. Angels, Humans, and Djinn. Creatures of fire, neither totally human but neither angelic. They live out of town. “

“Sure, a LONG way out of town. “

“But being spirits they can also live in animals. Dogs in particular. And that’s where I found this one. “

“In your dog? “

“Yep. Haven’t you ever wondered why Muslims hate dogs so much?  The dog had been acting kinda strange for a few days, then I caught it about an hour ago literally coughing up sparks onto the carpet. “

He pointed to the rug in the centre of the room, sure enough there were singe marks on the white surface.

“I looked in his mouth and saw this glow coming up from his throat, so I reached in with my hand and just yanked. And up came our little friend over there… “

He pointed with his thumb at the sparkling Djinn.

I asked for some music to calm my nerves and help me think. The radio played Fleetwood Mac. The Djinn began to writhe around under the glass in abject agony.

“It’s the sound, the sound, turn it off quick. You don’t want to piss it off. “

I slowly moved in for a closer look at the creature whilst offering the best placatory expression I could muster. My mouth fell open – the face of the Djinn was the face I’d seen in the girl’s reflection on the train, and boy did it look pissed.

‘I’ve seen that face before…’

My neighbour didn’t seem overly impressed.

‘Quite likely. Djinn live among us, taking many forms. Sometimes they’re invisible whispering in our ear, temptations and stirring up trouble. Sometimes they possess people and animals. But you haven’t heard the best of it yet. What else are Djinn, or as you know them: Genies famous for?’

It took me a minute but when the realisation came it struck like a thunderbolt.

‘Wishes?’

My neighbour winked.

‘Wishes. Or in this case A wish. One.’

‘You are kidding me?’

‘Nope. I am not. It’s the real deal.’

We spent the next half hour discussing our options. My sensible suggestions of health and long life or limitless money soon gave way to more fantastical possibilities. If this ridiculous world of magic is actually turning out to be true then why ask for something as mundane as money? Why not ask for time-travel? Go back and see the real birth of Christ on Christmas Eve? Go into the future and witness the birth of the next Christ?

To fly? Rush over oceans, the salted wind making you feel alive as continents whizz past?

Or invisibility perhaps? Creep into banks and get all the money you need anyway?

To make any girl you see suddenly be overcome with desire and demand immediate sex?

To freeze time in any moment just by clapping your hands… and have immediate sex anyway?

My neighbour pointed out, not without some glee, that perhaps I just needed a girlfriend? A wank rather than a wish?

This hit a nerve and I pushed even harder for my choices. We just couldn’t agree. My neighbour wanted Time Travel, and I wanted health and happiness for all our friends and extended family. The Djinn seemed to be getting impatient. Having up to this point been remarkably docile, it had splayed its arms and legs out into a Da Vinci star shape and was beginning to rock from side to side, trying to build up enough momentum to roll the pint glass.

My neighbour pulled rank.

“A coin flip. Let chance decide, I mean everything else here is so out of our control we may as well trust in the universe? “

The coin hung in the air catching the light as it spun, even the Djinn stopped in its struggle and presently looked up awaiting the outcome.

The gold pound coin thumped onto the white rug and I immediately stooped over, praying to see the Queen’s winning face.

Triumphantly she smiled back at me. I reached up in celebration, punching the air and kicking out.

My left foot caught the pint glass full on and hoofed it up into the air, smashing against the underside of the fireplace and making the splinters tinkle down like pine needles in a frosted forest.

As if frozen in time we looked on helpless as the freed Djinn made a bee-line for the chimney stack and disappeared up the shoot. On this Christmas Eve we both knew there’d be no Santa coming in the other direction to block its exit.  

From the window we watched the Djinn shoot out the chimney like a champagne cork into the crisp night air, before racing across the darkened sky as if an ascending meteor.