Monday, January 25, 2010

Delayed in Arrivals

I looked up from my newspaper and looked over at the arrivals board. I scanned down the list and found the line for flight BA2134. The red lettering on the right made my heart sink: DELAYED.

An involuntary sigh escaped my lungs as I glanced around the arrivals lounge. I don't know what I was looking for, just for something to do. I'd already flicked through the Guardian paper on my lap in the last half hour of waiting. I'd managed to select all the interesting stories and articles on my first look through it and now all I was left with were dull editorial pieces about finance, business and council funding in the South West.

It's not that I dislike the South West of England, or even that I don't care about them; it's just that my semi-detached house in Dorking is a few hundred miles from Penzance and so it's hardly relevant to me. I racked my brain to think of something to do other than read editorials with weren't interesting nor important to me. I decided that a wander around might help alleviate my boredom. If nothing else, the walk would help get some blood circulating around my legs again.

So I folded my newspaper, stood up and started to wander aimlessly. After drifting past the shops and through the car rental company stands, I ended up standing by the metal barrier where passengers emerged from customs. I leaned on the barrier and watched the people streaming out of the no-entry doors. As they went past I caught snippets of their conversations and realised that I'd found a great new way of passing the time.

First it was two men in suits walking past, oblivious to the world around them. "Just got an email from head office," said green tie and white shirt as he looked at his mobile phone, "you're not going to like this."

"What do they want us to do now?" asked dark blue tie and cornflower blue shirt.

"They don't want to go ahead with Project Thor."

"Urrgg," sighed dark blue tie, "we've just spent two weeks getting approval from the ministry, don't they realise how hard that was?"

Green tie shook his head. "Yeah I know," he said, "Officially it's because of funding reasons, unofficially it's..."

Their conversation faded into the crowd as they headed towards the taxi rank on the other side of the lounge.

I looked back to the stream of people to see a blond and a brunette woman embracing.

"It's so good to see you Kate, but I thought I was going to meet you at the flat?" said the blond while still in mid-hug with Kate.

"I just had to see you soon, I couldn't wait another couple of hours to tell you the good news," replied Kate.

They ended their hug and looked into each other's eyes, "What good news?" asked the blond.

"Well you know how I applied for that job at the bank a few months ago but didn't get?"

"Yes," the two of them started walking as they continued their conversation.

Kate started to grin from ear to ear as she told the rest of her story, "I was out in the pub on Friday night when I bumped into Steve; he was one of the people who interviewed me. He said that he had just started working at that new place on the high street."

My attention on their conversation was broken by a shout of "David, come back here right now. Don't go running off like that." A small child who had been running through the crowd of legs and suitcases stopped and looked back at the middle aged woman who had shouted the command.

"But mum," whined David, "we're almost home."

The woman looked over at the man loaded down with suitcases at her side, "You'd never guess that he'd never wanted to leave the beach villa this morning would you?"

The man chuckled before replying, "Yeah, but it's nice to be heading home after two weeks away."

"It's just a shame that we've still got that little matter to sort out though," said the woman, slightly disheartened.

"Oh, it'll be fine," he said with a forced smile on his face, "I'll just explain what happened and why we weren't around. I'm sure they'll understand."

As they turned the corner and left my sight, I decided that I'd had enough mystery and intrigue for now and walked off to find a coffee.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Stormy Hills

Cloud and water beaten grass,
rock and rain soaked sky,
split by horizon.
A long spark brings the world to life.
Trees silhouetted,
puddles reflecting.
A deep thunder slowly rises,
suffocating the patter of rain.
Faster and faster the drums are beaten,
then, the sky satisfied, recession.
leaving only clouds and rain,
rivers and hills.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Consuming Soul

"I want a burger and some chips," slurred the drunk voice in front of Steve.
"One burger and chips, that'll be three ninety," chirped the man behind the till as he punched the numbers up on it.
"No," shouted back the drunk man, "I want a burger and some chips."
Steve raised his eyes to heaven in exasperation at the inebriate's behaviour. The man in the kebab van, however, replied in a patient voice that had clearly done this many times before, "You want a burger and some chips separately then?"
The drunkard nodded and enthusiastically agreed, "Yes. Yes."
"That'll be three ninety then."
Steve cast his eyes around the street as the drunk man dug around in his pockets for the correct change. The pavements were full of the typical small groups of post-pub patrons on their way home. It was an unusually warm evening for a Friday in April and so it was a bit busier than when Steve has been out the previous evening. As Steve thought about the groups moving in their various directions he wondered about where he should go after his hunger had been satisfied.
"Yes mate?"
The question from the man in the kebab van drew Steve's attention back to the present. He glanced at the menu on the board to remind him of what he wanted and then replied, "Just falafel in pita please." Being a vegetarian, there wasn't generally much choice at kebab vans for Steve and this particular van was a favourite of his as it had more to offer than the usual vegetarian options of chips and, if lucky, a vegetable burger.
"Right you are, that'll be two fifty."
Steve handed over the five pound note he had in his hand over to the man and uttered a quiet thanks as he pocketed the change in his khaki trousers.
As the man put falafel into an open pita with tongs he went through the questions which he must have asked many hundreds of times before, "Any salad or sauces?"
"Erm," Steve paused as he considered his options, "Yes to salad, but no sauces please."
"There you go," said the man as he leaned forward and handed the pita covered in shredded lettuce over to Steve.
"Thanks, have a good evening," replied Steve.
"You too mate."
With dinner in hand, Steve then proceeded to turn away from the kebab van. He paused for a moment as he considered which way to go; he first looked left down the High Street and then right up the High Street. Something clicked in his head and he decided to go right.
He walked slowly up the High Street as he nibbled on his kebab. Groups of people ranging from sober to heavily under the influence moved past him in both directions. Taxis streamed past him, whisking people home up the hill and over the cobbles of the one-way high-street .
Through his slow meandering pace Steve had only just reached the top of the High Street when he carefully placed the scrunched up waxed paper wrapper of his devoured kebab into a bin. He looked down at his blue and white checkered shirt and casually brush off the few crumbs of bread and chickpea that had ended up on it. Satisfied that he had managed to tidy his shirt up sufficiently, he looked up and examined the situation.
For the second time this evening he paused in his journey and considered the T-junction in front of him. The High Street met the Upper High Street and North Street here, with North Street descending down the hill to the left and the Upper High Street snaking into the distance to the right.
Steve sniffed the air in a vain attempt to get some guidance on which way he should go. While he considered his situation he realised that he was really quite thirsty. He knew that this shouldn't have come as a surprise to him, he always got thirsty after eating, but he'd managed to avoid thinking about it entirely until now. However his thoughts of how he might fulfil his thirst were interrupted by the clip-clopping sound of someone in high heels walking past him.
He glanced over to see a blond woman in a black pleated skirt and dark blue patterned strap top turning to walk along the Upper High Street. Without a moments further hesitation, Steve decided that he would go in the same direction. He didn't start moving immediately though, he didn't want to look like he was following the woman. After a slow count to ten he glanced over his shoulder and started walking along the Upper High Street.
After walking about two hundred meters along the road, the blond lady suddenly turned right into a pedestrian side alley. The sound of her shoes quickly faded. Steve didn't change his pace and just carried on walking slowly along the street and towards the alley. Just before reaching the entrance to the alley Steve had one last look up and down to street for other people. There was a man walking away from him about fifty meters up the road and a young couple walking towards him. Steve decided that the young couple seemed engaged enough in each other and far enough away that they wouldn't have noticed him and so he turned into the alleyway.
As soon as he had turned, he realised that he'd made it mistake. The alleyway was well lit with sodium lights placed high along the walls of the buildings all along it. The largest shadows were cast by a couple of wheelie bins and were barely large enough to hide a black tomcat in. However it wasn't the lack of shadows that drew Steve's attention the most, it was that the blond haired woman was about halfway down the alley and standing directly facing him.
The passive expression on her face didn't betray any fear and Steve felt an uneasy feeling in the depths of his stomach. It was only when the woman wobbled a bit on her heels that he realised the reason for his uneasy feeling. Her movement had caused the yellow light which bathed the alleyway to glimmer on the silver cross that hung from her neck. Steve weighed up his options for a moment before quickly deciding that a crucifix bearing Christian, no matter how lax a Christian they were, was too much potential trouble to be worth it.
Steve spun on the spot and walked straight out of the alley. He continued his journey along the Upper High Street and with each foot fall that took him further away from the entrance he grew calmer. His ears couldn't detect the sound of her heels, so the chances were that she'd done the sensible thing and carried on along the alleyway. He was already slightly shaken and really did not want a confrontation in the middle of a main road, regardless of how empty it was at the moment. A handful of people paying attention to him was always too many.
Steve's pace quickened as he moved along the street. His pounding heart was fuelling his thirst and he'd already decided on his next target: the man in the distance. As he moved closer and closer to the man he realised that the shops of the Upper High Street had gone and were now replaced with tall houses with grand hedges lining their front gardens and big gates across their driveways. Steve thought to himself that the road must have changed name somewhere along here, but couldn't quite remember where or what to.
As he moved closer he examined his prey with more precision this time. He was a reasonably tall man, although Steve wouldn't have liked to guess on an exact height though as the thick but neat dreadlocks that fell from his head made judging where flesh ended and hair started difficult. The most important factor was that the man was distracted; a blue glow on the right side of his head came from a mobile phone that his right hand held there. The man was wearing well tailored dark trousers and a moleskin jacket that screamed 'rich professional' to Steve's mind. The contents of the phone conversation confirmed this as he got closer.
"So yeah, is it ok if we move squash to tomorrow? I've got to fly to China on Sunday afternoon for the meeting next week."
In the quiet that followed, while the person on the other end replied, Steve considered the path up-ahead and decided on the best spot to make his move. He sped up a little to ensure that he'd reach there just as the man he was stalking would. He felt the thrill of the hunter course through his veins and his skin tingled in anticipation.
The prey carried on his conversation, "Ok. Do you want to let me know when you've talked to Cathy and, assuming she's ok with it, I'll pick you up at noon?"
Steve stepped to his left as he moved into the road to overtake the man. As they drew level, Steve's legs powered him towards the man with almost super-human strength. At the same time, Steve brought his hands up to grab at the mans head and shoulder. His pounce was perfectly timed and totally unexpected and the two of them barrelled into the hedge that Steve had picked out earlier.
The two of them landed on the ground with a thud with Steve pinning the other man firmly to the ground with his right arm and body. His left hand was held over the mouth of his victim. He glanced back to ensure that the hedge really did afford him the privacy that he wanted and then tilted the victim's head to the side as his teeth descended towards the neck.
The man struggled a bit as the teeth sunk into his neck, but he was well pinned down so could accomplish little. The skin broke and with it the warmth of the salty blood flowed over Steve's tongue. He started to lap it up in thick slurps. Suddenly he thought he heard the sound of someone talking. He paused his consumption while he strained his ears.
"Hello? Ishmael, are you still there?" the tinny voice called out, "Stop messing around Ishmael. Hello?"
Glances towards the source of the sound, Steve saw the illuminated phone lying on the ground next to them. He slowly reached up with his right hand and carefully pressed the hang up button.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Dues to be paid

"See ya' tomorrow Roberts," was the call that followed me as I left the back door of the bar.

I glanced at the grey cloud covered sky, illuminated by the pale first light of dawn and replied, "Tonight Pete, Tonight."

There was still a cold nip in the air from the previous night, but the rum and beer inside me would keep me warm on my short stagger home. I stood still for a moment, straining my ear to try to hear anything of interest. After holding my breath to stop the sound of my breathing I could hear nothing but the distant sound of the fishermen unloading their cargo down at the wharf.

I reached into my jacket and removed my pistol. Holding my pistol in my left hand I patted my pockets with my right hand, looking for my shot and powder pouches. My powder pouch was in my right pocket, but I couldn't find my shot pouch anywhere on my person. As I thought about where I could have put it, I started to pour some powder into the end of my pistol.

In my drunken and slightly distracted state I managed to spill about half the powder over my hand and the floor of the alleyway, but I thought I'd managed to get about the right amount of powder into the pistol so I returned the pouch to my pocket and packed the powder down with the ram rod which attached to the underside of my pistol.

I tried to struggle through the rum haze to remember where I might have put my shot pouch while I patted my pockets with my right hand once again. My mind drew a blank but I did manage to feel the small hard sphere of a piece of shot in the bottom of my left pocket. I reached in, felt around with my fingers until I found it again and pinched the small piece of cold metal between my thumb and forefinger. I removed it with a great sense of accomplishment and inspected it in front of my eyes.

It wasn't the best piece of shot in the world, but it was good enough for me. I started to consider what I could use as wadding to hold it in the pistol. I did think about giving up on loading my pistol. It was almost day and soon the streets would start to fill with early market goers and other lawful citizens. Most of the ruffians and criminals would have gone home or at least to some bed somewhere by now; that is apart from some of the ones like myself who felt most at home in a bar with a sawdust covered floor.

I soon checked that thought though, even if it was a less risky time of the day, it was still dangerous; or at least it could be if I met the wrong person on the streets. So my mind returned to the thought of wadding for my last piece of shot. I then remember the handkerchief that, being a gentleman as I was, I had in my jacket's top pocket. I returned the shot to the pocket it had come from and removed my handkerchief from my jacket.

After attacking the small square of cloth with my teeth and remaining free hand I eventually managed to tear a small enough piece off it and wrapped it around the bit of shot. With a bit of fiddling I managed to push the pellet of shot into the end of the gun and pushed it down into the end of the barrel with the ramrod. The only thing left to do now was to half-cock the flint so that I could put a bit of gunpowder in the pan to prime it.

With this done I decided I was suitable prepared to wander home. I started talking towards the street from the alleyway. I'd not taken three or four steps before I wobbled on my unsteady feet and ended up clutching for something to steady me with my free hand. Luckily my grasp found the edge of a barrel which rocked with emptiness as I pulled myself straight on it.

I took a deep breath and waited while I composed myself and my legs. Just as I was about to set off towards the street again I heard a noise from behind me. I spun a little too quickly on my heels, swayed a bit and then looked into the darkness of the shadows of the crate and barrel lined alley.

"Pete, is that you?" I called out. After a pause of silence I continued in an uncertain tone, "Hello? Is there anyone there?"

Again I waited for a response, this time with pistol held high and plain to see. After a handful of seconds with nothing but stillness and silence I muttered to myself that it must have been a cat. No sooner had I started to turn back towards the street than something started to move in the shadows.

Quick as a spark I turned my pistol back to the shifting shadows and squeezed the trigger. The trigger resisted my squeeze as the hammer raised further back until it reached the zenith of it's arc and with a click it swung towards the powder tray. The flint sparked and in a flash and a cloud of acrid smoke fire leapt from the muzzle of my pistol.

The smoke and noise brought back memories of my old life, only a few months ago but feeling like a lifetime away. Thoughts of the day-to-day running of the farm filled my mind with feelings of lost security and safety. It had all been so very different, so much easier; even if working the fields in the toiling sun hadn't felt quite so easy at the time.

My mind wouldn't let me linger in the thoughts of a past paradise long and it soon brought me visions of the reason why I was standing in an alley fighting for my life at the moment with a figure in the shadows. It had all started with an argument over the ground rent for the land I was farming. My grandfather had purchased the lease from the lord of the land at the time and it had been worked by my family ever since.

The lord at the present time had been hit by hard times and was trying to squeeze as much gold as possible from his land. He had tried to bargain with me, and then moved to intimidation when I continued to stand my ground. First the intimidation had been verbal but then I started to notice crops and animals going missing at night. Of course I couldn't attribute it to him, it could have just been foxes, but I knew, deep down, that it could only have been him.

Eventually one night I awoke in my bed to hear some noise outside my cottage. I had loaded my pistol quickly that night and had burst quickly out the door, determined to catch the thieves in the act. However it was immediately obvious to me that the couple of cloaked figures I saw had not been thieving. Instead they were carrying flaming torches which they were trying to use to set the hay in my barn alight. In my anger and fury I raised my pistol at them and fired.

My shot struck true and had hit one of them square in the chest. He had fallen to the ground with a gurgling sound as his accomplice ran off into the dark. I walked over to the fallen man and lend down to pull his hood off, determined to confirm my suspicions of the hand of the lord being involved in this crime. However when I pulled the hood off all thoughts of achievement left my heart; I was greeted by the pale face of the lord's only son.

My mind was a blur with what to do. If I waited until morning I would be surely caught and taken to prison. There would be a trial and I'd surely not be believed as it would be my word against whoever the lord paid off to tell his version of the story. I realised that I really only had two choices, stay and face the noose or leave and have a chance to survive.

I quickly packed all I could carry, said silent goodbyes to my family as they sleft and left within an hour. It was a cloudless sky and the faint light of the waxing moon made my journey easier that it would have been in pitch blackness. I reached the nearest port in a couple of days of tiring travel and quickly signed up on the first navy boat leaving harbour.

After months at sea I'd ended up alone at a remote port with just a couple of bottles of rum to my name. A sailor had persuaded me to join his privateer vessel, I'd not been too picky as they offering food and money. It was only when we'd been at sea a few days that I realised that I'd managed to end up on a pirate ship.

I was hesitant at first, especially as the whole reason I was there was to escape the hangman; but if you leave a man with nothing he'll end up taking anything offered to him. I soon accepted the stealing and fighting. I even started to enjoy all the excitement and danger. The exciting way in which a four day long chase of a boat ended with a boarding, sword fights and the grabbing of gold.

I didn't get any of that rush tonight though. I'd left the ship when it'd arrived in this port. I had more than enough coin to keep me comfortable for a while so I'd decided to relax and enjoy some land-life. Standing alone in the cold shooting wildly into the dark is a far cry from leaping aboard another ship with twenty other blood thirsty pirates joining you.

The smell of cordite filling the air brought my mind fully back to the present. Smoke plumes curled all around me and the crack of the pistol had left my ears ringing. Over the ringing I could just about hear a shuffle of feet from the direction which I'd shot the pistol. The shadows stopped moving and a body fell forwards out of the darkness.

The body lay on it's back with it's dark robes hiding the identity. I faltered a bit while I tried to work out what I should do next. I stood staring at the body for a few moments until the maroon seeping over the stones awoke me from my trance. I realised that I needed to know who I'd just killed and why they were stalking me in an alley. I tentatively walked over and knelt down in front of the body.

As I pulled back the hood of the robe I saw a face sweetly familiar to me. In my horror all I could stutter out was, "Lauren, I... I didn't know."

She starred into my eyes without a hint of anger or fear on her face. "James, oh my Jim. Watch... I know. I know you didn't... watch out..." her voice fading into nothing but a slight wheezing at the end.

I leant closer over her as the despair of what I'd done welled up into tears. I tried to hear what she was saying and brought my ear closer to her mouth. My ear was so close that I could feel her hot breath flowing over my skin. Yet I heard nothing but her strained breathing, no more words passed her lips.

I pulled back and looked down into her face. I felt her hand grip and then tug at my waistcoat as a panicked and desperate look spread across her face. I looked down at her hands and as I did she stopped pulling and pointed with her hand. My eyes followed the direction of her finger across the cobbles of the floor and into the darkness of the shadows of where she had been standing.