Archive for the ‘Mythology’ 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

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Snake Eyes

‘Won’t be coming around for to kill your snakes no more, my love.’ (Donovan, Riki Tiki Tavi.)

 

20:30pm. Backstage, Live Animal-Handling Restricted Area. Excalibur Casino , Las Vegas, NV.

About one year ago…

The sharp fangs slammed down on the plastic cup and Jared helped the venom out by gently pushing down on the serpent’s head. The hot ejaculate squirted out in angry bursts through the puncture marks, staining the side of the sealed beaker with white milky streaks.

Jared was aware how much his hand was shaking as he carefully put the viper back into the cage. He looked at the clock on the wall counting down to Showtime. He’d only just had a drink, but darn it if these shakes weren’t getting worse and he still had two more mambas to make safe before curtain up. He shot a quick glance at them curled up under the cage’s heat lamp. They seemed especially pissed at him tonight and Jared had to admit there was something in the air. He felt it in the gamblers seated at their tables as he’d walked through earlier, sensed it in the waitresses keeping them lubricated with complimentary drinks. No free drinks for him this evening. He was earning every cent.

Shaking the jar of venom he watched as the deadly poison splashed up the sides. There was enough behind that concave plastic to kill a man forty times over. Jared reached with his free hand into the back pocket of his jeans and pulled out his hipflask, shaking it too in an attempt to gauge how much vodka-venom remained to him. The sapphire eyes of the silver cobra engraved on the flask twinkled back at him, hypnotizing him to drink deeply and kill the noxious thoughts. But there was backwash only remaining, not enough to last the night and certainly not even enough to kill a man once, especially not on this sweltering August night deep in the Vegas stink. Another quick look to the clock, he knew the time anyway but wanted to second guess himself, looking for a reason to justify what he knew, sure as eggs was eggs, he was about to do. Well for hell, he could make it, just one quick nip out back in the lot, out of sight of the CCTV, it couldn’t hurt any to take the edge of the shakes and snakes to tide him over until he could skedaddle out at half-time to the liquor store across from the Denny’s store.

Jared opened the Stage-Door deep in thought, a couple of showgirls hurried past extinguishing their cigarettes under sequined shoes, their feather boas and brightly coloured plumage startling him as they brushed across his stale three day old chequered shirt leaving a delicate scent. This place was as hectic as Grand Central station, how he longed for some cooling and contemplative silence. Vegas had no heart. Empty vessels and all that, on the surface it was the biggest smile on earth, but dig deeper and it ain’t a smile, it’s a maggoty wound that won’t heal as it’s always being cut by freshly broken dreams. He held the door for the last of the dancers before stepping out. As the door closed on its hinges he instinctively looked over his shoulder to see if the last showgirl was checking him out. At thirty-three he reckoned himself still in with a chance, but the drink had bloated and ravaged the edges of what had once been a strong jaw-line and most days he wanted to hide in a swamp along with all the other croaking toads. She didn’t look back and he turned dejected to the night. It had sure been a long while since he’d gone wild, he was always milking other people’s snakes and had neglected his own. The hot desert air hit him full in the face but he knew his sweat wasn’t due to heat, but a deep thirst which no amount of air-conditioning could quench.

Making sure he was out of sight of the Eye in the Sky CCTV, he nipped freely from the flask, remembering how optimistic he’d felt on first arriving in Vegas all those months ago and finally outrunning his orthodox Christian upbringing. As he stood in the car-park swigging his whiskey he laughed at remembering how within the first week he’d been pulled over for speeding on Fremont Street and the traffic cop had issued him with a fifty dollar fine. Jared had thrown him a hundred dollar bill out the window and told him to keep the change as he was coming back the same way tomorrow. Such optimism. Such arrogance. He’d had to sell the car soon after, but he’d only been heading in one direction for a while now anyway, and he didn’t need an engine to go downhill. Even the stage manager had told Jared he was digging his own grave with his mouth swigging that shit day after day. But he was great at milking the snakes so he let it go. Taking the poison out of them somehow balanced the poison he was putting into himself. Guiltily he knew that for a long time now he’d been putting in much more than he’d been taking out. Maybe he should just cut out the middle man and drink the milky beaker back there on the table and be done with it? But he knew it wouldn’t work having been brought up in the flatlands of Texas as part of the Snake Handling Church of Mesquite. Even though he knew it now to be ridiculous, a small part of him still felt sure no serpent would harm him, protected as he was by God. God…

God the fucking time! Jared kicked the metal stage door with his boot and barreled back into the room. Despite the cushioning of the booze he felt a sudden stabbing fear as he looked over at the empty cage, the heat lamp shining down on a vacant floor. Almost simultaneously Jared heard the roar of the expectant crowd through the tannoy linked to front of house and he knew he was too late. Something was gonna get bit and chances were, it would be his Vegas career. No longer caring who saw, he took out the hipflask and drained it whilst through the speaker he could hear the audience’s screams of joy turn into fear and panic.

 

 

10:40pm. Desert Plains Mesquite, about thirty miles north of Snyder, Texas Panhandle.

Present Day.

‘Fucking snakes’ll be the death of me, I swear it.’ Jared kicked the small brown rattler away from the wheel arch of his pickup truck and pulled the tarpaulin over the open back. It didn’t look like rain, but things changed quickly out here in the desert. He talked to himself as he yanked on the rope, securing it on the hook:

‘A man is changed by the desert, they said. Go out and be tempted, they said. Face those demons. Look ‘em square in the eyes and say: enough. Repent…’ He caught his finger on the sharp metal of the side of the pick-up where he’d had a minor scrape the week before, drunk and with no recollection of whether he’d hit possum, person or Porsche.

‘Fucking repent they said. I’ll fucking resent.’ Jared hated being back amongst his family. It didn’t seem fair. Life had kicked him in the nuts once again. It had taken such courage to go against them and seek his fortune in Vegas and now what busted his balls the most was how the community hadn’t even viewed his return as a failure but as a prodigal son seeing the light and returning to the fold to help with their evangelical touring ministry. Selling yourself for money was one thing, selling your soul was a whole different show. How could he in good conscious preach something he knew to be false?

Even though the sun had been down a full hour it was only now starting to get cooler. He could feel the sweat on his shirt starting to freeze and stick to his back causing a fine shiver, barely detectable over his alcoholic shakes. The not wholly unpleasant sensation acted as a reminder and from the back of his jeans pocket he pulled out the cobra hipflask and gulped down the warming whiskey, telling himself he was just keeping out the cold desert night.

Jared was thirty miles in to the barren desert and about as many years deep into the arid and parched hinterland of his own existence. ‘They’ figured out this was his time and chance to get back. Confront himself and the empty desert head on. Trouble was, he thought, as he struck out into the black emptiness, ‘They’ were a bunch of pussies. He made camp in the shadow of the table top mountain that was still just visible as darker against the threatening sky. Throwing down his rucksack he walked five measured paces away from it, then using his left leg as a point of compass, he dragged round the right leg and surrounded the sac in a dirt circle as he’d been taught by the Native Americans growing up. Happy with his sacred space he walked off into the brush to gather wood for a fire. Kicking around in the undergrowth he drew together a collection of kindling with his boot and checking for snakes before picking it up he returned to his circle. He dropped the wood and raised his fist to the circle, spinning on his heel and keeping it neat.

‘Kill or cure, they said. I’m that fuckin’ clinical tonight, that fucking clinical. I’m not leaving this circle before it’s one or the other.’ As if to prove a point to the desert he flipped the bird round his dirt circle. ‘Come on then, let’s see ya Booze Demon step inside my circle if you dare. Face me, bitch.’

Jared immediately felt troubled by the lack of response. The silence, tapped him on the shoulder and worked itself into his ear unbalancing him. He reached into the army surplus rucksack and fished around for a can of beans he knew to be there, but as he’d secretly hoped his hand felt the phallic tip of the whiskey bottle first. Who could eat at a time like this anyhow?

‘Holy spirit, Teen spirit…’ he unscrewed the cap and smelt the contents, ‘…smells like white spirit’. He gave a rebel yell out into the gathering dark and knocked his head back.  A coyote moaned in reply, it’s sickly cry mimicking his own as the whiskey kicked out the back of this throat. Jared built his fire desert style, short and tight, fashioning three of the larger twigs he’d collected into a pyramid from which to hang his crock pot over the tidy blaze and, retrieving the can of beans, he poured the contents in.

 

 

04:20am. In the shadow of Acoma mesa. Forty-two miles into deep desert.

He was proper drunk. Drunk even by his own standards. The fire had grown ridiculously large, far bigger than he needed it, but each time it had burned down to a red ember glow the shadows had come, strong and long against the ancient native American rock and he’d felt like an unwanted intruder. He felt the presence of spirits disturbed by his own uninvited presence. The pleasant smell of cooking refried beans had long been replaced by the acrid stench of charring matter but he was in the grip of his drinking and had totally forgotten. He wandered over to the crock pot, now stained black by the hours of hot fire and beating back the smoke he picked up a large stick which poked out of the fire and nudged the pot. Like a jack-in-the-box a flurry of black streaks jumped out at a rainbow of angles like launched missiles. Jared watched them hang in the air before descending around him, thudding to the ground and writhing round his boots. Hot smoking black snakes, their molten hisses sounding like steam. Jared stumbled backwards and watched in horror as they slithered around his dirt circle like a cyclone. He threw his arms out wide in fear and with the burning twig he shooed them off into shadow beyond the fire’s reach.

Jared shook his head. That hadn’t just happened he reassured himself, and within moments he believed it. This whiskey was making him blind. He was rocking on his centre of gravity, and felt he’d either fall forward into the fire or backwards into the colder night where the snakes were lurking. Maybe he should try to walk the booze off, step away from the fire and let his face cool down a bit from the searing heat and mad thoughts. His head still lolled on his shoulders like a bowling ball and after only a few steps he collapsed to the ground, rolling around in the scorpions and scrubland like an octopus with epilepsy. His was a blue desperate drunkenness, with no one else to mitigate it or take it out on he felt absolutely alone.

The fire seemed a long way off. All he could see in front of him was a large cactus looking as alone as he. Jared slapped its side, his hand digging into one of the sharp spikes and drawing blood. He looked at his palm and pulled out the bloody spine like a crucifix nail. The blood dripped onto the desert floor, immediately absorbed by the parched earth.

A voice came to him from somewhere nearby but he couldn’t quite locate it, at first indistinguishable from the wind but gradually forming into distinct words: ‘…A fire burns in the darkness and the darkness cannot extinguish it…’

The voice was incredulous and now loud enough for him to pinpoint. It was coming from inside the cactus. Jared allowed himself to forget the drunken absurdity and went along with it, hoping to get a better fix on the origin, ‘Well that’s gotta be biblical I’m guessing?’

The cactus gave an almost imperceivable nod in the warm night breeze that had swirled up the ground dirt and Jared brushed away the desert tumbleweed that had collected in the arch of his legs. He realised he was outside of his sacred circle.

“Remember, If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.’

It was definitely coming from inside the huge cactus. Jared poked the tough green skin between the fearsome spikes. Somewhere way up above them on the mesa an eagle screeched and dislodged some pebbles which came cascading down a few feet away from his fire.

‘And what does it matter if a man wins the world but is himself lost?’ Jared stood up and faced the cactus.

‘Sheet, it’s just like they said’ Unbalanced by the drink he immediately fell forward again onto his knees and as he did so the hipflask fell out the back of his pocket and began leaking onto the dirt floor. Despite his religious upbringing he instinctively scurried round on the ground trying to collect up his precious holy water. He turned back to the cactus, shaking the flask to assess the loss and feeling more guilty than ever.

‘You’re here to tempt me, aren’t ya?’ he said.

The cactus bristled in the wind. The voice soft and mellow.

‘No, I’m here to help you. What’s the point in tempting you, you’d choose give in immediately anyway.’

Jared reassured himself there was still enough whiskey left by taking a long pull. If this was to be his breakdown hallucination, he may as well charge up as much as possible.

‘I’m a good person, I’m deserving of love, ain’t I, Mr. Cactus?’

‘So what? Deal with the fact life isn’t fair. Compare The billionaire New York banker to the three year old girl in the African famine, do you really think the world views both their lives as equally important? The best piano player ever born lived in the Favelas of Sao Paolo, he lived and died without ever seeing a piano in his life. What’s fair? Even tomorrow hasn’t been promised to you? Why do you feel such a sense of entitlement?’

‘You don’t sound like God?’

‘Neither do you.’

Jared noticed that the spines of the cactus were beginning to glow. He rubbed his eyes to clear away the alcohol but the fat green buttons had undeniably begun to look like a lit Christmas tree. It had finally happened, he reassured himself, all the stress, all the booze, all the years of mental torture had finally come home to roost and ripped a whole through his brain. He was having a breakdown, a perfect and complete psychotic episode. Go with it, don’t fight it. Accept the madness, it can’t be anything worse than he’d seen in his time on The Strip, he reminded himself. At a loss as what to do next, he quickly traced round another circle in the ground with his boot and sat down in the centre of it, cradling his hipflask between two open palms.

Jared looked around him at the new circle, there was a shuffling in the early dawn, a scraping sound subterranean around him disturbing the ground more than any wind. They broke the ground as one following the circle, a large circumference of snakes each biting onto the tale of the one before it, slithering round him their eyes turned inwards upon him. He feared they might attack, but they continued their circumvention as if unable to cross into the sacred space. The dark glow of the cactus had begun to register against the dark desert background looking at first like a bruise on the soft green skin, but gradually growing in strength, pulsating and throbbing. Jared felt drawn in as the skin became translucent and he could see veins and cloudy red light coming from within. It was as if the cactus itself had become a womb, growing a secret internal life, sustaining it. Jared was aware of the voice continuing, now with a lisping and breathless delivery as if each word was being immediately whipped away by the wind and carried to him with the tumbleweed and gecko scales. At the centre the cactus opened, like a slit in a serpent’s belly with a white light slicing through the dark green, and from it came a large snake.

The snake flopped out of the cactus and moved towards him. The circle of smaller snakes began to bury themselves back underground, wiping away any trace of the dirt circle with their tails. The large snake stopped by his boot and raised itself up until it was eye-level with him. Jared was powerless to move, he was transfixed by the snake’s milky eyes. But as he gripped the corners of his flask waiting for the coup de grace, the snake bowed its head and his hands immediately stopped shaking, and an incredible sense of peace lay upon him, unlike anything he’d ever felt before, more genuine and heartfelt than any chemical drug reaction in his brain. He opened his eyes and saw a small silver cross caught around the snake’s neck, a scab had formed around the point where the tip of the cross had become embedded into the skin and already the skin was showing signs it was getting ready to slough. The silver cross reflected his campfire way off behind him. Jared leaned in and saw his own face reflected in the polished metal. Without quite knowing why he addressed the snake through booze-chewed words: ‘is hell bad?’

‘You tell me,’ replied the snake, ‘you’re there right now.’

‘I burned my finger once real bad, I was torturing a fly and pushed it inside a plug socket to see if it would be electrocuted, it wasn’t I was. It threw me across the room and I watched as the fly scuttled out and flew out the window. It was so painful and I thought if it is this painful on just one finger, imagine this all over your body… forever. That was my first understanding of hell. But as I got older there’s a different type of hell isn’t there. A mental hell. One that doesn’t burn you up all at once but slowly, leaving nothing but absence as it scorches. That’s why the drink. It puts out the fire… Are you going to kill me?’

He looked down at the underside of his bare arms, the veins were standing out, raised as shadow in the distant firelight. But like the cactus before him the veins seemed to take on an internal glow of their own, powered by something under the skin. In horror he felt his blood congeal in the arteries and begin to slither round his body like a hundred snakes wriggling through fleshy tunnels blind and insatiable. Jared flapped his arms as if trying to dislodge them, but with a growing anxiety he knew them to be inside him. The snake hissed long and slow, it felt to Jared like the release of a pressure valve inside him, the frantic air escaped through his fingertips, taking the memory of glowing snakes with them. Again the sense of unspeakable peace descended upon him.

‘Sit…’ hissed the snake, drawing out the sound like a slowly deflating truck tire.

‘Sure muthafuckin’ thing,’ said Jared, touching his imaginary cap as he collapsed to the earth. This was his breakdown and he was gonna suck it up, goddamn it, ride the bitch and see if he could stay the course without getting thrown. He was so lost in his own thought that he wasn’t even aware of the snake mumbling again in such a soft and seductive voice he had to make an effort to continue his own private and brittle thoughts.

‘The earth is but a little blue bubble in a massive vacuum of nothingness,’ it hissed, ‘Treasure it. Right now as you stand here, all across the surface of the globe there are people engaged in following through on their existence. Some are laughing for joy, some are screaming in agony, some hope this moment never ends, others are looking to the future. Starving, bloated, sick, joyous, some are crying at what they’ll never be while some are crying at what they are.’

‘All of life is being played out now,’ it said, ‘every living thing is breathing in deep from my life-force and exhaling their own reality. Your particular story is as brief as summer lightning, each grain of sand just as memorable and important as you. Enjoy it as much as you can whilst the white-hot energy of life flows through your veins because what you do really doesn’t matter, so long as it is compassionate and honest. Only human arrogance would assume that they’re the most enlightened living creature around these parts.’

The snake took on a mocking southern drawl, causing it’s forked tongue to quiver. As it spoke its tail began to rattle in time with the cadence like a cold-blooded beat box.

‘A peach tree doesn’t think about growing fruit, it just does it. Trust your instincts. You knew how to grow from a baby to a man, trust that you also know how to grow to your conclusion. It’s so very simple, I really don’t know why you, why you all make it so complicated. I’m telling you this now for truth, Jared. Go back. Go back and reclaim the cross. Take it back from those who use it as a totem of suffering and loss. Throw out your arms and accept. Reclaim the action from those who’d remind you of guilt, sacrifice and suffering’.

Jared threw his arms out wide as if being pulled apart by an unseen force.

‘Do it. Stretch your arms out in joy and acceptance, not in pain at having them nailed to a plank of wood. Let the universe flow through you and out the other side. Accept it all. You are it and it is you. Forget about personal sacrifices and feel unified with the one.’

Jared looked up into the sky to see black spots circling in the watery dawn. At first he thought it was dirt in his eye, but as he focused he could see they were desert vultures. What did they know that he didn’t? he thought.

The snake retreated back to the burned out cactus and Jared was aware of feeling connected again to his surroundings.

‘Did you miss me desert, it’s been a while since I’ve come out here. I won’t leave it so long next time.’

The reply came back, rumbling through the canyons and up through the petrified forest lisping, ‘How can I miss you when you’ve never been away?’ The rumble dragged on, becoming more man-made, more like truck tires on loose dirt. sounded more like car tires. Jared forced his eyes to focus. Two white spots were getting larger in the darkness. Coming from the south Jared reckoned it was the Mexican border. Either border police or immigrants. Immigrants probably given early morning light. Out of the periphery of his vision he could detect the Sierra Nevada mountains etched darker against the encroaching dawn. The mountains were lit by hundreds of pinprick small bonfires. The two spotlights grew from snake eyes to car headlamps and were on a direct course to go through his own small fire. Jared stood his ground. He counted seven Mexicans clinging to the sides of the jeep, all freshly crossed from a hole cut in the wire border he reckoned. They screeched to a halt next to his fire, causing the dry sand to shoot over the embers sending red hot sparks into the sky. The driver pointed to his fire.

‘San Juan?’ The men began to laugh as the driver throttled the engine and twisted the wheel to spin off into the promised land.

Jared looked at the date on his cheap Casio watch. Or course. Tonight was the Mexican feast of San Juan where they all jump over their bonfires to wipe out the sins of the previous year and start fresh. He looked back to the snake curled up in the open cactus and he felt a sudden need to wipe his own slate clean. Holding the serpent securely by the neck he took a run at his campfire and jumped as hard as he could, which weighed down as he was by two litres of Wild Turkey and a large rattlesnake wasn’t too high. The heel of his boot caught the tip of a charred log and sent a July 4th of fireworks into the rattlesnakes tail. Jared could feel the snake open wide its mouth in disgust as he held it between thumb and forefinger. Jared landed and twisted round, careful to keep the snake’s face from his to see the cactus burst into flames and set against the dark blue sunrise.

‘Give me a break, who am I? Moses and the fucking burning bush?’ He could see inside the ruptured and burning ribcage what looked like a beating animal heart, still bloody, the fat around its edges beginning to render in the heat. But at its base a dozen snakes had gathered and were edging up trying to catch the fatty run-off. In the half-light it was hard to tell where cactus ended and snake began. Charred flesh and dirt caught in his throat. He reached in his rucksack for his canteen of water, knowing his hipflask to be dry, unscrewing the cap he gulped the contents down.

‘Bah. Turn my water into wine then, King of the Jews.’

Laughing with a confidence that felt fake to him, he took another sip. It tasted like the finest white wine, light and aromatic. He spat the mouthful out onto the cactus, seeing the yellow liquid fizz off the smoking remains.

‘Bah. I only drink red,’ he slurred, eyes flickering on heavy lids.

Jared passed out, his left hand hurling the canteen in front of him, whilst his right kept an instinctive tight grip on the rattlesnake. Within seconds of his head hitting the dirt he was sound asleep, his hold on the serpent slowly relaxing until it was free to slither away or attack him. But it did neither… It stayed.

The sun rose over the canyon gradually warming first his arm, then creeping across his whole body. He looked at the cactus, it looked as if it had imploded from the inside out. He studied it with the intensity and clarity of vision that only a truly epic hangover can provide. He saw the morning dew settle on the snake-like skin and manna forming along the length of the spines. He ate greedily and it seemed to fill him in a deeper place than his stomach. A familiar rattling sound interrupted his feasting and he looked round to see the snake, still with the small silver crucifix embedded in its neck reflecting the sun. Without fear Jared reached down and picked it up, putting it head first into his rucksack and tying a strong knot at its peak.

 

 

06:40am. Encampment of the mobile Snake Handler Church. Snyder city limits. Texas Panhandle.

Jared saw the smoke from encampment’s fire trailing up to the cloud in the early morning sky. Another hot day was promised for all the good it would do them he thought with their faces buried in dusty bibles. Opening the pick-up door he smelt the coffee and the sizzle of hot bacon grease on the breeze. He felt a sudden pang of home-sickness before reminding himself that for better or worse he was home. He walked round to the back of the truck and removed the tarpaulin to carefully pick up his rucksack, he noticed the warning rattle as he put it on his back reassuring him the snake was still healthy enough to be angry, much like his own self. As he strode towards his great-uncle’s trailer he could feel the hipflask in his jeans was totally dry. Of all the times he could do with a hit, this moment was up there with them. Darn it.

Jared pulled on the weather-beaten Formica door and it came open so easily he wasn’t sure if it was unlocked or just rotten. Instantly he heard the clatter of the old air-conditioning unit above the lower hum of his uncle’s morning prayers. He knew he was interrupting but somehow took a perverse delight from the knowledge as he took in his surroundings, unchanged since he’d first gone in their as a child. It seemed even smaller now, claustrophobic. Another reminder of his own failure. Here were all the photos, all the memories, all the indoctrination of everything he’d decided to run away from. Like a rubber band pulled beyond its natural tolerance, he had snapped back to the other extreme: Las Vegas, about as far from the dour caravan as he could get.

Jared closed the swing door behind him with as much noise as the thing plastic would allow. His uncle got up off his knees, a frown beneath his wispy grey eye-brows and moved through to the kitchen area without saying a word, reaching for the same ancient coffee pot, putting it on the stove and striking a match on the wall to light the gas. The coffee smelt like it always had, two day old and acrid. He’d rather drink water from the stagnant creek.

Once the coffee was steaming his great uncle finally turned to him.

‘Mornin’ Jared.’

‘Mornin’ Obadiah.’

The old man heard the rattle coming from Jared’s rucksack. He lit a cigarette and his nostril hair caught fire in the lighter. He breathed up quickly to extinguish the nasal blaze and began sniffing out the debris.

‘Do ya ever smell pork when you burn yourself?’ He flicked at his nostrils, dislodging the charred hairs. Jared remained silent, silhouetted in the doorway with rucksack. His great-uncle rubbed his nose and pointed to the squirming bag.

‘Is this to be an assassination then, J?’

‘Not today old timer. I wanted you to see something.’

‘What ya got in there then son? Sack ‘o serpents instead ‘o spirits for a change. Both as deadly to ya, boy. Did ya learn anything out in the desert?’

The coffee-pot whistled with him. He fixed himself and Jared a cup.

Jared’s hand was shaking again as he put it on the door frame to enter up the steps, ‘Got anything stronger?’

His great uncle ignored the question.

‘I was just thinking about my pa. Strange that you should come a-calling now.’

Jared sat down on the stained sofa and rested the bag between his legs. Leaning forward he unzipped the rucksack and cautiously peered into its black depths.

‘My grandpa? I never knew him…’

The uncle poured the coffee into stained floral cups, unaware of Jared’s timid investigation.

‘Of course ya didn’t, died before your time. Your granddaddy was like John the Baptist, he went out into the desert, lived on locusts and wild honey, came back with a bucket load of serpents that would never bite him. He lasted about forty days out there. How was your forty minutes?’

It was Jared’s turn to ignore the question. The old man treated himself to a rhetorical cackle and before continuing.

‘Ya granddaddy spoke with a lisp that pretty much made him sound like a snake, and what with those eyes of eyes, all yella and serpentine, hell, the deal was done. What else was he gonna do but preach out here? He was special, touched. After all he said we really thought that someone was coming after him, someone great. But shucks…’

The old man rummaged through the cupboard above the sink, its door hanging forlornly from one hinge. Disappointed he turned back to the two mugs and carried them towards the seating area.

‘We was sorely disappointed… sorely… Your daddy was about as much use as a bull with tits when it came to snakes. He got bit and stayed bit, far as they were concerned. But you… you had a talent. And what do you do with it? Ya haul ass to Vegas to whore out ya talent. But, it seems fit to the lord that he’s brought you back to us. Saints be praised.’

Jared looked at the windowsill to see a neat row of green peaches ripening in the sun.

‘That ain’t how ma tells it… she said he got bit holdin’ up a Snake Farm in Jefferson County…’

The old man threw the plastic coffee mug into the sink, slamdunking it off the draining board.

‘That was never proved, you shouldn’t listen to too much of what your ma says anyhoo…’

Jared looked at the peaches ripening on the sill. He shivered as he remembered how his great-uncle treasured that old peach tree out in the yard growing up, how he’d picked them like rosary beads each autumn and always placed them in the window, turning them every few hours to ripen each side, religiously like it was a penance. So desperate was Jared for a drink he checked each peach to see if his great-uncle’s forgetfulness had allowed any to ferment. None had, but he went deeper into memory as he sipped on the gravel coffee, recalling an afternoon long in the past when a few peaches had fermented and he and Ronnie Graham had got his older sister to do their Tarot card reading. His great-uncle had caught them and beaten him within an inch of his life because his god was a god of love who didn’t deal in witchcraft. It dawned on him for the first time, maybe that was why he’d chosen Vegas to make his line in the sand. Jared poured the steaming coffee out of the window, covering a few peaches in the overspill. The old man’s lips curled up dryly around his receding gums.

Jared stared him down, ‘Won’t you just leave it, hey?’

The old man sized him up, Jared was a hulk of a man now and there’d be no whipping today. He backed down with a soft voice. ‘Just saying that’s all. Don’t get all bent outta shape about it. Hey, what ya got in that sack then?’

Jared looked at the old and hunched man, broken by the years, tortured by a self-inflicted life on the road preaching the good word and daring the devil serpents to bite him. Jared felt pity at a life wasted without daring to look at his own. In the early morning light his horizontal pupils, a family genetic defect, looked more like a snake than ever. Jared consoled himself that his ancestors had been snake faith handlers for so long, he was sure there was probably a snake out there with human eyes, so much blood, sweat and tears had been exchanged on both parts.

‘Yeah well I never got bitten by the religion bug, did I? I heard my daddy talkin’ ‘bout the parable of the seed and only felt that stony ground inside me.’

‘Bah’, shouted the old man, ‘Even if I had a million dollars, I’d still be sitting here preaching, that’s the difference between you and me boy, you got no heart.’

‘I’ve had a gut-full of you already,’ muttered Jared under his breath, ‘Look at this,’ he said, reaching into the rucksack with his right hand, straight down, unafraid. From inside the warning rattle could be heard, dry and crisp. Nature’s maracas. Jared yanked it out and brought the rattler’s head to his own eye level.

The old man drew a sharp breath, dislodging the catarrh in his ancient Marlboro country lungs. The snake fixed its hypnotic eyes on Jared and stopped rattling, choosing instead to wrap its tail around his neck. Once again it bowed its head. The alcoholic shaking in his Jared’s hand immediately stopped.

‘See, I don’t need a drink so long as I can do this. What you think about that. Am I cured or what?’

The old man squinted at the brown rectangles on the snakes back. ‘You didn’t catch that round these parts… He’s a copperhead, and a big bastard at that.’ The old timer began scratching his arse, tentatively at first, but then really getting into it. A dust storm had begun to whip up, thick sand battered the thin plastic door, the thinner granules penetrating and collecting in a dagger shape on the rug.

‘Have you found it yet?’ asked Jared sarcastically.

‘What?’

‘Whatever’s up your arse?’

‘Hell, not yet boy. Doesn’t your arse ever get so sweaty and itchy it feels like a baby’s toothless mouth chewing on peanut butter?’

‘Oh man, that’s fucking disgusting. No my arse gets a diff’nt type of sore – on account of all the times the Man has stuck it to me, know what I mean?’

Jared shoved the snake towards him and the old man snapped back against the wall.

‘Where’d you get that, boy? You tell me now, and don’t give me no monkey-shine about no Mesquite plains, I’ve been trampling this route for years, you don’t get rattlers like that this far northeast.’

Jared brought the snake even closer and the old man’s hand went for the hot coffee pot.

‘Watch it, they’re the meanest most vicious snake you’ll see, darn poisonous too. If it bites ya somewhere integral and central you’ll have about an hour tops. I’ve seen these bastards hold a grudge and actually hunt a man interstate.’

It was then he saw the small silver cross embedded in the snake’s neck. The old man let go the coffee pot and made the sign of the cross.

‘Mary mother of god, let me look at that.’

His face turned as white as the silver cross.

‘As I live and breathe’ his eyes narrowed and he looked suspicious. ‘Alright, the jig’s up. You’re playing a trick on me, ain’t ya. This is your granddaddy’s cross. You cooked this up with your ma?’

‘What you talking about?’

The uncle could clearly see from Jared’s open expression this was no set-up. He looked the snake straight in the eyes.

‘Cyrus? Is that you? Oh Cyrus… it is you, ain’t it?’ The old man reached out for the snake and gripped it safely under the jaws with his left hand. He took the snake and turned the head back towards Jared.

‘I told him he really gonna catch the devil if he kept messing round with those snakes, it was unnatural, like he’d become one of them. One night went to bed with stomach pains, and in the night he went to the outhouse and shit out an egg. He kept it in there, secret, telling everyone the shithouse was broken and he was fixing. Then one night there was a commotion and a snake came out. Soon after he disappeared, he just went clean out of his head. Ran off into the desert, probably to talk to the cactuses.’

His great uncle looked deeply into the snake’s milky eyes.

‘We found him a week later, dead. At his request we gave him a heart burial, you know, where the body is buried one place and the heart is removed and buried in another. We buried his heart in the snake pit not far from here. You can hear them at night, the half-breeds I call ‘em, crying at the sun going down, losing the heat they need you need your sour mash. This beauty’s getting ready to slough off his skin.

Jared looked paranoid out the window, feeling his heart beating in his chest. He checked the peaches in the vain hope one might have fermented some.

‘The old man leapt forward with a sprightliness unfitting his years and shoved the snake full up into Jared’s face

‘Say hello to your granddaddy, son.’

‘You’re insane old timer. Has that rancid coffee finally curdled your brain? I worked in Vegas remember, don’t try and fool me with this old shtick. You’re just an unsuccessful wannabe celebrity, with your snake-charmer’s show’.

This bit harsher than any snake-bite and he threw the snake back at Jared.

‘It’s not snake-charming, it’s a goddamn act of faith,’ he immediately held his finger to his lips, ‘forgive my cussing, oh Lord.’

‘Yeah it’s an act for sure.’

‘Talk to me about celebrity? Why ya back here with ya tail between yer legs? I understand though, you couldn’t settle up in Vegas so you had to settle down.’

For only the third time in his life inside that caravan Jared cursed, it just came out like a snap reflex of a snake’s tail.

‘Go fuck yourself…’

The uncle dropped his coffee cup and went to strike his nephew, but as his hand went down the snake curled up, fangs bared to greet the palm. He withdrew.

‘Don’t you cuss in here.’ His uncle shook his head slow like the ticking of a great pendulum ravaged by time, creaking yet still keeping correct time.

‘No, you’ve got it all wrong, son. You think things stay the same. But everything with a beginning can be stopped. When you think of being seventy six, you imagine YOU now at seventy-six, but you change. You change.’

Jared began to feel the night’s excitement upon him and looked at his watch. The alcohol was rendering out of him and he nothing to replace it with till the parish shop opened in two hours. He was scared to sleep, but suddenly just as scared to stay awake.

‘Being back here is just a retreat for me, you understand? This isn’t me. This isn’t me at all. It’s just that out here in the desert you can really strip things back to basics, to the bone and see what’s really what without the complications of the daily grind. And believe me… it fucking grinds. That’s something you don’t know about old timer, something you can’t lecture me on. I had the cojones to poke my dick above the parapet – you just hide in here with you dusty books.

‘Yeah, you poked it above the parapet all right – got it clean shot off too, didn’t ya?’

Again Jared felt the fangs dig into his heart, and the response came like the recoil of a cobra.

‘You wanna dance? Really? I tried… at least I fucking tried…’

‘Go back to your Gomorrah then and whoop it up if you miss it so much, high-tail it round town with some whore… oh but excuse me…you can’t can ya, you ain’t got a red cent. I’ve got chickens out in the coop with more credit than you…’

Jared leapt to his feet and squared up to the old man hunched against the Formica worktop, towering over him to such a degree that even in his red rock rage it still felt like an unfair fight. The old man felt that the wave of anger had broken in his great-nephew and the moment had passed. ‘At least ya still got some fight left in ya, son…’

Jared crumpled back over his rucksack and sunk into the cushions against the window. The rattlesnake made a beeline for the corner of the room away from the noise.

‘It’s going to take so much to get me back into it though,’ Jared whimpered, ‘Like I was saying, you can cut it to the bone out here, but once you want to get back into the game you need money for rent, money for romancing even for relaxation. Out here I don’t miss it, but if I went back I couldn’t even pay the tip on my existence. I’d just end up all resentful again.’

‘Just like your old man. You’re a goddamn pussy. So you ain’t even gonna try?’

Jared looked at the snake curled in the shadows of the broken wooden flooring. He felt a quiet optimism as delicate as desert dew.

‘Yeah I’m gonna fuckin’ try… get off my back, old timer.’

His great uncle moved past him and off towards his prayer area. He reached for the upturned book resting on the rug and turned his back to Jared.

‘If I had a dog as lazy as you I’d shoot it. And that’s for truth…’

Jared reached under the skirting and pulled out the snake which came without trouble. Putting it back in the sack he took a last look at the old man bent over in prayer.

‘What you gonna kill me with? Your book of poison or your fuckin’ poisoned coffee?’

Forgetting his years, the old man instinctively leapt again at his great nephew striking him on the left cheek with the back of his gnarled hand.

‘Now git. Ya hear me…? Get…’

Somewhere deep inside himself Jared knew he deserved that one and let it sting unchallenged. He slunk out the door and back towards his own tiny trailer down by the creek on the edge of the camp. Opening the door he immediately saw the previous morning’s emergency bottle of J&B Whiskey on the breakfast counter.

Jared felt his hand begin to shake as he reached up to unhook the serpent from his neck and set it down next to the bottle where it immediately curled its tail around the glass base. Was he going to drink or leave it? He wanted to leave it, but the shakes were already beginning to make the snake edgy. Jared reached for the bottle, the snake let off a warning rattle. He could see the nostrils flaring in and out and noticed the eyes were opaque, ready to slough its skin. Once more his hand stopped shaking.

‘Steady as a fucking rock.’ Jared ran his dry and cracked hand over the snake’s skin like he was rubbing a phallus, he expected it to be slimy and cold but it felt warm and dry. The snake hissed appreciatively, it’s forked tongue wiggling in ecstasy. Carefully, Jared reached behind its head to where the tiny silver cross was embedded and pulled. It came out without too much resistance and the snake continued to wiggle it’s tongue without distress. He studied the smooth metal.

‘Aw, you drunk skunk, don’t start believing your own bullshit.’ He sank into the giving sofa and let the cross gradually slip from his hand as a final sleep descended upon him. The snake began to rub itself against the splintered leg of the sofa, dislodging the dead skin as if peeling a banana.

It was late evening when Jared finally came to. His face was burned in strips from lying in full glare of the day’s sun through his blinds. He touched the painful red flesh like it was streaky bacon frying without enough oil. About the same time, he wondered why his leg felt so warm despite still being in darkness and leaning up he realised he’d urinated down his inside leg. But all this was lost on him as he looked to what lay just beyond his boot. The snake was nowhere to be seen, but on the floor was a huge empty casing, a sloughed skin as thick and translucent as bubble wrap. The discarded skin was in the perfect shape of a man, sprawled out on the rug as if the police had drawn his outline in chalk.

Jared stood open-mouthed staring at the enormous rice-paper skin, it felt as dry to the touch as his own tongue. The plastic door of the mobile home flapped open and closed in the morning’s sweet scented breeze. Jared picked up the whiskey bottle from the table and leaning out on the step, he poured it away onto the parched earth. He reached across to the broken handle and closed the door behind him, securing it by the old boot lace. Something had left in the night, and he hoped it wouldn’t be back any time soon….

 

 

Checkin’ on the Chicken


Marcus Garvey Tower Block. Hackney Downs, East London. Evening.

Quinton Nganbi reached under the hot grill and turned the chicken wings with his fingers letting out a yelp as the hot fat burned into his young flesh. He kicked the bottom of the cooker in frustration and then cussed when he saw the grubby dent he’d made in the white steel. His mum was going to tear him a new ass for this.

His phone rang and glad of the distraction he went to open the back door and out into the garden to try and get a better signal. As the call progressed, he noticed the sweet smell of chicken fat was gradually being replaced by a more acrid and bitter scent and casting his eyes lazily back up to the kitchen door he was horrified to see a black pall of smoke belching steadily out like an volcano. Dropping the phone he rushed back indoors and instinctively reached up to remove the grill, burning his fingers once more.

‘Clot!’, he chastised himself as both the grill and blackened chicken hit the floor in an explosion of grease and smoke. It looked like the bonnet of a burning car after a smash. Now his mum was surely going to dance on his grave.

Quinton stood arms out stretched, mouth open, shaking his hands like he was trying to take-off and cool his own burnt flesh. But as the smog dissipated he saw above the cooker a face he knew well. A face his mum dragged him to see every Sunday come rain or come shine. Staring back at him was the son of god.

‘Christ!’

Quinton gawped in disbelief at the perfect imprint of the face of Jesus Christ left behind the cooker on the smoke damaged wall. It was undeniably the messiah, each twist of grease and ash perfectly finding the contours of his bearded countenance.

Quinton stumbled back, catching his foot on the grill and causing the remainder of the grease to stain like blood round the linoleum. He rushed to the living room and pulled his mother’s bible from the shelf, flicking through the rice-paper pages not quite sure what he was hoping to find but needing to do something, as he then stood in the doorway staring back through to the kitchen and feeling a sudden sense of dread. He didn’t want to go back in there under any circumstances. Instead he ripped a few pages from the bible, stuffed them in his pocket and left the apartment without looking back.

 

Shoreline, West Reservoir. Hackney. Half an Hour Later.

Quinton sat on the concrete edge of the lake, his trainers just kissing the skin of the water in the evening sun. With the thin paper from the bible he rolled a joint and holding it tightly lit it hoping to draw a line under what had just happened. He breathed in deep from the blue smoke resisting the urge to blow a smoke ring in case that face should reappear. He felt an unnatural stillness to the lake this evening, even the birds had become silent in the trees and as he stared at his reflection in the mirrored water he noticed a slight ripple begin in the image. Perhaps it was just the weed messing with his mind? There was no breeze. He mouthed the words to a tune that had been on his mind as he drained the joint, pleased by how he looked in his reflection. He heard a sound behind him and turned to see a man crossing the path with his dog. Quinton felt his ghetto dream disappear and remembered that he wasn’t in East L.A but self-conscious and skint in Hackney. He kissed his teeth at the man for the interruption and turned back to the lake hoping to recapture the moment.

The dog came up to him and nuzzled under his arm. Quinton couldn’t resist stroking his head and patting him even though it didn’t fit with the image he was trying to project. He’d always wanted a pet growing up but had never got one. His mum always said she had enough trouble finding the money to feed him let alone another mouth. The dog rolled over onto his belly and Quinton stroked the soft skin, liking the total submission to his mastery that the dog was displaying. The man whistled and the dog quickly rolled over to follow him off into the brush.

Quinton found himself aroused by a sense of power but almost immediately felt frustrated. He was desperate and paranoid that at fifteen he was still a virgin, but he couldn’t find any girl who looked as great as they looked in the R&B videos: and he knew more than anything that if he got with an ugly girl then that would show his friends just how much he didn’t respect himself. Was an ugly girl really all he could get? No, his self esteem was worth more than that, how would people think he rolled if his woman wasn’t ‘peng’? No, it was more important to have respect than to be liked in his world and as not many people liked him he felt things were just fine.

His legs had remained still against the concrete wall but the water had began to tap the bottom of his trainers at regular intervals. He looked down between his feet to see there was now a definite disturbance in the water, at first like the oxygen bubbles of a large fish, but gradually a circle of water was beginning to broil like a hot kettle was being held just beneath the surface. Quinton found himself standing up and moving back from whatever he felt was coming feeling reminded of the cartoons he still sometimes watched, guiltily, caught on the bridge between child and manhood. Godzilla? In Hackney? Again he felt foolish and threw the joint roach into the centre of the bubbling cauldron. Something was coming, like a sliver of silver an inverted V shape broke the water as delicately as a hypodermic needle. Up the shimmering silver strip went into the evening air, catching the sun before it set over the surrounding tower blocks. Finally as the hilt broke through the water, Quinton recognized it to be a sword.

A green glow continued to bubble beneath the water, lit from some hot unseen source. A delicate hand twisted around the sword handle, diamonds of water and fish scales falling around the wrist. The sword too now began to glow with a bright green luminescence. Quinton was totally sucked in by the sight,  the sword seemed to beckon him, willing him to come forward and take it. He felt a sudden sense of ownership and right, he knew this gift was for him and him alone.

Without thought for his new trainers, he lowered himself into the water and swam out the short few metres to the prize. Treading water, he grabbed the sword with both hands and felt the cold and smooth hand let go her grip and the digits slip round his own enclosing palm like the tentacle of a squid.

Not quite daring to believe it was really his, Quinton swam back to shore, behind him the hand slowly disappeared back below the water line and the birds began to sing for the dusk again.

The sword clattered on the concrete retaining its eerie green glow. Quinton hauled himself out and sat next to it. It was his. He admired it in the dying light full of strange symbols and inscriptions lost on him, but fearing the glow would attract too much attention he felt exposed and the moment’s spell had been broken once more. The bark of another approaching dog, sure to be accompanied by an owner, sealed the deal. He must go. Quinton carefully shoved the sword down his left trouser-leg and pulled his T-shirt over the hilt which protruded up from his belt to around his chest. Walking like a man with a wooden leg but feeling self-conscious like a man who’d shit himself, he staggered back to his mum’s consoling himself that he’d sure be laughing tomorrow when he sold it.

 

Next Day. George Antiques, Angel Islington.

With the sword concealed under a long coat Quinton moved through the crowds as inconspicuously as a two foot broadsword would allow. Even at the best of times he still felt uncomfortable in this part of town. He didn’t understand the rules or what was expected of him in a place like this. The antique shops wound their way along the cobbled street, the old buildings leaning in like gossipy hunchbacks over his head. This was out of his postcode and he could easily be in trouble if the wrong gang was passing. Quinton looked out of the alley and onto the main road searching the telegraph wires for shoes slung over them by the laces. His worst fears were confirmed. He comforted himself with the thought that at least for once he was armed. He wasn’t sure which shop would be best to sell the sword, but figured the one with a small dagger in the window was probably a safer bet than the ones he’d just passed with their china dolls and lace bullshittery on display.

He went in and was surprised by the large bell which rang with his entrance. He felt like a greyhound out of a trap and ran forward with the sword pointing out toward the equally startled owner.

‘You may put your lance down, son. I’m not jousting today’ the owner quipped, the unease clearly heard beneath the sarcasm.

Quinton lowered his weapon and took a deep breath. This shop smelled old. Old like his grandma’s coats at the back of her wardrobe. Old like money. He felt sure he’d come to the right place.

‘You buy swords and shit, innit?’

The man had regained his composure and leant across a large oak desk playing with a clay pipe, the burned gray tobacco in the bowl matching his own hair.

‘I deal in metallurgy if that’s your question, although I’m not sure you’d be interested in any weapon pre nineteen eighties?’

‘Whatever. I’m selling not buying… So how much for this..?’

Feeling like he had the biggest dick in the world Quinton produced the sword in one elegant swoop.

The man’s eyes lit up in disbelief.

‘Jesus Christ! Let me look at that would you.’ All traces of sarcasm had drained from his voice.

Quinton handed him the sword expectantly, blade first.

‘It’s just an old sword though, hey?’

‘No it most certainly isn’t. You’re not old enough to appreciate beauty yet. You haven’t had the life-experiences to know shit from Shinola, son.‘

‘You don’t know me.’

‘True, true. But you don’t know this…’ He cupped his hand at the tip of the blade and carefully, gently, allowed his palm to run down the edge of the blade to the hilt, where he twisted it in his palm, reading the inscription.

‘Old English most certainly. The metal in the blade has clearly been folded more than the date would warrant… Ah, here we have a crest, Arthurian. Platinum! Solid bloody platinum…’

The sword began to throb and the green glow now familiar to Quinton grew from somewhere inside the blade. The shop owner dropped it fearfully onto the oak desk.

‘Jesus Christ. Where did you get this?’

Quinton shrugged his shoulders, ‘I don’t know, round the…’

‘WHERE?’ the man’s voice came impatient and strong, the clay pipe shaking in his mouth.

‘Fuck you prick. What’s it worth? Gimme two hundred and you can have it.’

The man’s jaw became slack and a bubble of hot snot began to build out of his left nostril.

‘What’s it worth…? It’s priceless.’

Quinton kicked the bottom of the oak desk in frustration, once more leaving a grubby indent on the soft wood. He quickly stepped back hoping the man hadn’t noticed, but he was lost in a reverie.

‘Shit though. Priceless? Not even worth a fiver? Come on man. That’s bullshit. You know it and I know it. There’s got to be a price we can agree on. It ain’t priceless you’re just trying to stiff me.’

Quinton went to grab the sword but the shop keeper brought to his senses defensively pulled the sword in close to his chest.

‘No! No, It’s too important. There’s no way this is yours. No. No way.’

With a convincing left hook, Quinton caught the man on the corner of his jaw sending the clay pipe splintering to the ground. The effect was impressive and immediate. The man let go the sword to instinctively protect his face, leaving Quinton free to run from the shop and back along the cobbled alley, charging with the sword as if running to some epic battle. The lunchtime shoppers parted around him like the Red Sea as he made his charge. Once clear of the antiques alley he leaned against a lamp post to catch his breath, the sword hanging from his side. Quinton looked up straight into the window of a passing police car. The officer in the passenger seat couldn’t believe what he was seeing. The squad car burst into life with sirens and flashing lights, turning viciously in the road, almost hitting an approaching cyclist. The officer in the passenger seat jumped out brandishing his night-stick but Quinton was already ducking into the nearby shopping arcade.

The officer launched himself through the glass doors and quickly gained on Quinton disadvantaged by the heavy sword. He caught the back of the boys legs with his long black truncheon causing Quinton to barrel into a popcorn stand, the ready-made bags cushioning his fall. The policeman was upon him about to rain blows, instinctively Quinton pulled the sword from his coat and deflected the first of them. The huge broadsword connected with the truncheon and split the vulcanized rubber down to the metal. This gave the officer pause for thought. Quinton got to his feet and began a running sword-fight through the shopping centre. The policeman was relentless in his pursuit and seemed oblivious to the distress of the shoppers caught up in his swashbuckling. With each parry and thrust Quinton played back in his mind how he’d got himself into this situation, what had he actually done wrong? One thing was now for certain, things had gone too deep. There was no turning back now, he was committed to getting away. He ducked into a supermarket and with a huge sweep of the sword he quickly took out an aisle of wine bottles, the glass shattering around the chasing officer and hopefully slowing him down. Without looking back to see how much, Quinton ran for the store-room and through to the loading bay sneaking out towards the high street.

Quinton continued running, he tore down the smallest alleyways he could find, zigzagging through the borough like a rat in a maze, the sound of sirens now all around him and shutting him down. Risking the main high street he caught his reflection in the large glass-fronted Camelot National Lottery offices, he liked how he looked with the sword at his side. Running round the side of the building he found himself in front of Hackney Town Hall, the steep stone steps leading up to the main entrance and a smaller side alley off to the side of the vast building. Behind him the sirens grew louder. Daring a look behind him Quinton saw the police car mounting the pavement, bathing the first few steps in a revolving blue light.

They came from the left and the right. Quinton knew he was cornered. His only chance of salvation was the side-alley at the top of the steps. He bolted for it taking the steps two at a time, trying to keep the sword up in front of him, but the tip of the blade dipped down and caught the final step acting like a pole-vault and sending him over the hilt and crashing against the wall. His left hand refused to let go of the blade and it arced over his rolling body embedding itself in the Town Hall wall. The sword shuddered through the concrete in a burst of unnatural green light, brighter than any soldering iron. A sound like the crying of a thousand souls in pain shattered the night air causing all those in the immediate vicinity to hold their ears. The sword tore into the wall like a knife through butter right up to the hilt where it stopped and remained firmly lodged.

Quinton rocked on his spine in agony, he was sure he’d broken his left arm. He twisted round to look back down the steps and saw three policemen, their nightsticks drawn, lurching up the steps towards him, their faces as eager as ravenous pigs. Clutching his broken arm to his chest, Quinton headed for the side alley and out of sight, his pain driving him on to impossible speeds. The policemen stopped their short chase and returned to inspect the sword. They were dumbfounded. Each took it in turns to yank on the ornate handle but it was clear it wasn’t budging. The fattest officer lifted up his helmet to wipe the sweat from his brow, his matted hair stuck to his forehead.

‘That’s not going anywhere, is it?’

‘Ok, best call it in then,’ replied the second.

The third officer scrunched up his neck and began speaking into the microphone attached to his dark blue jumper.

‘Two Seven to base. We’re going to need a drill down here… Yes, that’s right… drill.’

The voice squawked back harshly, seeming to bounce off the metallic hilt. ‘That’s a negative Two Seven. Be advised not possible till morning. Secure area.’

The officer released the intercom button and turned to the other two men who were now sitting down on the top step of the town hall, sweating from all the exertion.

‘Fuck it, I’m giving it one more try…’

With a base anger not befitting his uniform the officer pulled on the sword. He put his foot to the wall to get better leverage and yanked until he felt his eyes would pop out of his head. He groaned, he wailed, he cursed at the sword, but it would not move an inch. The seated officers began to laugh but quickly fell silent when they noticed an eerie green glow emitting from the hilt and travel up the policeman’s arms.

‘Shitting hell. Get away from that mate. Look…’

The officer saw his hands illuminating and quickly let go in fear.

‘Fuck that. It’s electrified or something, I ain’t touching that. It probably hit a junction box or live cable as it went in.’

The other officers got up and moved towards the squad car.

‘Well I guess it isn’t going anywhere, so balls to it. Just call it in and let the morning shift deal with it in the morning.’

Quinton had run a huge circle around the building and had taken to crouching unseen by some bike racks across the road behind the officers. He watched them return empty-handed to the squad car and drive off into the night. He felt an overwhelming desire to have the sword. He knew it was meant to be his and despite the risk he was damned if he’d leave it to be stolen by the council. Looking left and right he made a run at the steps, taking them three at a time. With a last power leap of four steps he found himself face to face with the hilt of the sword. With his right hand he reached out, closing his fingers around the cold steel and feeling the bevelled uneven surface of the ancient hilt. Quinton took a deep breath and pulled hard expecting no movement, but to his amazement the blade retracted from the concrete as smoothly as pulling out a birthday candle and the excess energy caused him to stagger back violently almost spilling down the steps.

Now free, the sword continued its wide arc, swinging into a low mounted CCTV camera and neatly chopping off the lens. Quinton heard them before he saw them: the unmistakable whining siren like a massive and dangerous baby. He spun round just in time to see the blue light of the police car. The two officers were already on the bottom step but their over-weight bodies allowed them only one step at a time in their ascent towards him. Quinton raised the sword above his head and shouted at the sky. His cry rang out across the borough as if amplified by the sword. A brilliant green light burst from the blade bathing the whole area in a supernatural glow. The officers threw themselves down on the steps, fearing an explosion, leaving them prostrate and kneeling a few metres down from Quinton who pointed Excalibur to each in turn as if knighting them.

‘Right, you fuckers. There’s gonna be some changes around here…’ he said.