Week Two. One ink drawing by Laura Morgans, one piece of writing by Tom Spooner, every day in October.
There was nothing left of his voice. It had deserted him along with most of the other things that he cared about in his life.
He no longer had his thick head of hair or a flat stomach. The sparkle in his eye had faded along with his general energy levels, tolerance and good nature.
She had left him, twice. The second time was final. And here he was, typing drink orders into his phone to show the bemused barman. ‘Corona please’ he wrote in an unsent text message to his one time brother-in-law, holding up the phone screen. He watched the barman put a slice of lime into the bottle and placed the phone back in his pocket. In doing so, his thumb slid carelessly across the send button.
Moments later, the phone started to ring. It was his former brother-in-law. He put the phone to his ear and tried to explain his mistakes, but no words came out.
New York, 1981. Beneath the metal lattices of the Williamsburg bridge, Brooklyn-side, a kid kickflips off the curb and collides with a bum picking butts from the gutter. This was no ordinary bum either – this is some Moondog-looking hairy ass Viking bum.
Anyway, the kid gets up quick, agile and springy like a puppy, and he gets back on his board. He turns though and gives the homeless schmuck the finger – a skinny boney defiant teenage finger – before speeding off towards the east river. The bum’s still scrabbling around on the floor, trying to get to his feet, but he stops for a moment and shouts after the kid: “Aye-Aye-Aye-Aye.”
The kid is long gone, but he hears it sure enough. It sounds like a curse; some southern voodoo shit. He skates on, laughing to himself.
The kid grows up and becomes a man. He does business around the world – with Chinamen and Nigerians, Texans and Tahitians. He gets pretty rich truth be told, and he’s not too gracious with it either. Anyway, one day, this guy’s over in Europe on a business trip. It’s raining and he’s pissed because he hasn’t got a mac. He runs for cover and ends up in the entrance way of the Natural History Museum of Vienna. He’s wearing his suit and he’s feeling pretty sure of himself, so he thinks why not. He’s got an hour to kill between meetings, it’s raining outside, why the hell not go into a museum, get dry, look around, and then freshen up in the restroom.
Inside the museum, on the second floor, he finds himself amongst all the stuffed animals. It is a room full of weird taxidermy; primates gutted, pickled and then fixed with these creepy glass eyes. He’s about to get the hell out of there when he sees this one evil-looking creature alone in a glass case in the far corner – an Aye-Aye so the sign tells him.
He walks over, saying the word out loud, practising forming the sharp sounds. On the third time of saying it, he suddenly remembers the old tramp under the Williamsburg bridge. So, that was what the drunk was shouting about. The man remembers flipping him the bird and takes a moment to look down at his middle finger – it is longer than the others, but that’s normal, right?
He holds out his hand and inspects each finger in turn. The middle finger is longer, much longer than the others. In fact it’s growing even longer with each second he looks at it. He clenches his fist to try and stop it from growing, but after 10 seconds his knuckle pops, dislocated. The finger keeps on growing, longer and skinnier, until it’s three times the length of the others. It reaches as far as the glass of the cabinet and, with a will of its own, starts to tap at the glass, louder and louder and louder.
Flying the Coop
The area was so posh that even the bonfires smelt nice. It was if they kept a small log of sandalwood to put on just to sweeten the smoke. The men wore brightly coloured trousers and freshly pressed shirts; the women layer upon layer of floaty fabric, each one capturing a subtle layer of perfume. Shiny black Land Rovers lined the streets like tanks.
The front doors of each house had stained glass panels that, when the sun shone through them, painted expensively tiled hallways the colour of Jolly Ranchers.
The man of the house cashed a handsome pension cheque and sat in a room that was referred to quite accurately as ‘his study’. He played golf every other day and fantasised about younger women objectively more attractive than his wife.
The lady of the house had her own credit cards and liked to throw dinner parties. Smarter than her husband, she would nod and say, ‘yes, dear’ when he argued with her for the sake of it, all the while looking forward to her parties where she could place her ideas under greater scrutiny, and more often than not, see them shine in a brighter light. She read literature and fantasised about running off with her hairdresser.
It’s a fresh October afternoon and the two of them are drinking loose-leaf tea in the conservatory. They watch three birds in the garden as they dance lightly around the feeder.
“You know something, Seb? I’m so painfully bored, I think I might just leave you rather than spend another minute here.”
“What’s that dear?” he replied absently, turning a page of the Times.
“I said that I was considering leaving you. Going off somewhere. Learning how to actually live again.”
“You can tell Gary’s at it again – burning shit again in the garden. Can you smell it?”
“You never listen, do you? Not a single word.”
“I wish he’d just go ahead and set himself on fire – put us all out of our misery.”
“I’m leaving you, Seb.”
They both watched as a single magpie landed on the patio and sent the three birds flying.
There was something about seagulls that she disliked intensely. There was a savagery to them; a vicious, predatory desperation that reminded her of the basest of human instincts.
A sparrow fallen from the air was being disembowelled with the rapidity of an eating competition on a Japanese TV game show.
She couldn’t decide if it would be more or less sinister if they didn’t squawk all the way through the act. Silence was indicative of repressed emotions or, at the very least, the holding in of sound – respectful. Like eating cat in a famine, you did it because it meant you lived another day, but you didn’t shout about it, and you never talked during it.
She coughed and one of the larger seagulls turned its head round to see what had dared to disturb it. It’s cold dinosaur eyes examined her and she felt a chill pass through her body.
If she slipped and fell, then she knew they’d be upon her. They’d tear her clothes and then her flesh, exposing the tasty steaming innards. They’d shout delightedly, call out to their friends as they did so, blood and guts flying everywhere.
She threw a crust of her sandwich at the largest seagull. It bounced off its back and landed on the concrete. It had been a gesture designed to get on their good side, an offering. Ignoring the crust, the seagull strutted towards her. The others followed. There was silence now, apart from the faint scratching of their webbed feet on the ground.
She shooed them, but they simply flew up and landed behind her, closer. They marched on. She was shouting now, telling them to leave her alone. They continued to make their way towards her. Several had even hopped up onto the bench where she sat. Panicking, she stood up. The gulls started to fly up at her face. She waved her arms around her but they kept on coming, more of them now. She started to run. After a few strides, her front foot landed on something slippery, she fell hopelessly to the ground.
We were both different versions of the same man and we clung to each other as if our lives depended on it. In this moment, perhaps they did.
The escarpment was precipitous and the loose shingle-like surface made it impossible to gain purchase. We could neither climb nor descend to safety without risking further injury.
We’d been stranded for 14 hours now; the last three of which had become fraught and desperate. There was something inside us both that kept us going, and, despite all the misfortune that had blighted the expedition, it seemed a force in the universe willed it too.
The truth of it was that neither of us wanted to die. We had unfinished business to take care of, and besides, we were young. I could feel his heartbeat in my chest, slow and regular, as we pressed against each other for warmth as the wind bared its teeth once more.
We had expected the weather to turn, the charts had predicted it, What we hadn’t accounted for was the speed and ferocity with which the change had come.
The route we had so carefully plotted had been cut off by a landslide and the alternative course was ugly and unforgiving. By the time the deluge had swept away what was left of the path, we were already hopelessly lost.
We had taken shelter from the horizontal rain and wind behind a great hunk of metamorphic rock. It was here, soaked through to the bone, that we started to talk. As pragmatists, we both knew that this was a way to keep morale up and take our minds off the crippling cold, but something else was going on. We revealed ourselves to each other with our words, stripping away layers of pretence, exposing truths that were unfamiliar even to ourselves. It went on like this for several hours, but the conditions failed to improve. It was decided that our best bet was to head up to the ridge off to the west and see what we could make out from this new vantage.
I stood shakily to my feet and held out my hand. He took it and I pulled him up. We stood for a moment, gathering ourselves, before starting the scramble up towards the ridge.
Half an hour or so into our ascent, the mist rolled in. Thick and disorientating, it was impossible to make out your own hand in front of your face. We should have stopped then, but we carried on regardless, calling out to each other every thirty seconds, so that we didn’t get separated.
The sound of him falling was truly awful; a gutteral churning like a cement mixer, and then his anguished cry ringing out, confirming my worst fears. I made my way towards his screams and soon found myself sliding uncontrollably down, sharp rocks cutting into my flesh.
The pain coursed through my body, but a quick check confirmed that nothing was broken. I called out his name and followed a distant mewing that I hoped was him. After an hour of blind fumbling, we were reunited. And that is where you find us.
I can feel his heartbeat, but it is faster now. I turn my head to check that he is okay and his lips meet mine. We both know now the reason we have to live.
When you find yourself in the woods late at night, remember there’s always a bear, and he’s closer than you think.
When you hear the snap of a twig or the rustle of leaves or even a faint tapping at your window, it’s means bear.
Don’t listen to anyone that says…
“You don’t get bears in England. Bears only live in faraway countries like Canada and Russia.”
Nonsense. They’re talking rubbish.
Wherever there are woods, there are bears. Whenever you’re in a wood, you’re near a bear.
If you hear the hoot of an owl in the middle of the night, it means bear.
If a dog starts to bark, it means bear.
If a cat arches its back or hisses at the door, it means bear.
If you’re walking in the trees and see a branch on the ground, it means bear.
If you get a shiver up your spine for no reason at all, it means bear.
If you see a big brown creature, 7ft tall with paws the size of dinner plates and teeth as sharp as pick axes, eyes as black as night and a roar as loud as thunder, it means run.
Off the cruise at Southampton docks
Comfortable shoes dance light upon solid ground
Friendships formed in the froth of the channel,
In the bottom of tall glasses and empty breakfast buffet trays,
Find their feet now as they clamber as one
Into a carriage on the 10:10 train to Cardiff
A herd, a gaggle, an alliance, a troupe
Embracing the Hen party hens
that sing Dirty Dancing ballads to a plastic man,
naked except for a beard
Did you miss week one? Here is Inktober 2017 Part One