Death Cell Blues

…got… the death cell blues…

what do I do… what do I do…

waiting… wondering…

 

… I the smashed clock…

its dial I dare not watch…

 waiting… listening…

 

each tiny sound… every footstep…

waiting… wondering…

how long now?

 

… waiting for the darkness

for my shortest day…

…my racing mind

 

… heightened imagination

waiting… wondering…

how long now?

 

any sudden trip…

but in that brief moment…

 imagining that drop to obscurity

 

Time, Again.

Before we met, you showed me your diary.

I must confess that I am still confused by this sequence of events, as, I imagine, you must be confused by my decision to leave your life so suddenly. I’ve gone over everything in my head time and time again and I can’t shake the feeling that, somehow, everything got mixed up. Though this may seem a flimsy reason to you, it is reason enough for me. I don’t understand, so I’m going to leave.

Before we met, you showed me your diary and then we were having sex on the wooden floor of your living room. I still remember the way the plants filtered the sunlight and the sound of the tea kettle building up steam. Then our son was at the foot of the bed, asking me where you’d gone.

“I don’t know,” I told him, “I expect she’ll be back soon.”

Today I went into your study and found that you’d converted it into a gallery. The first photo of every roll of film we’d ever had developed was there, somewhere. I found that I could date every one, even the ones that hadn’t happened yet. They seemed to go on forever, a jumbled mess of happy memories, each one partially obscured by blinding white light. I knocked over a jar full of tacks but when I went to pick them up I was overcome with vertigo and I had to leave.

We were making desperate love in your basement when you told me about spacetime. You said that the future is just as real as the past. You told me that just because you aren’t there yet doesn’t mean it isn’t real. You said it was like Baghdad still being real when you’re in London. You talked about personal time and light cones and folding space and I didn’t understand anything except the way that your breasts moved and the way your breath misted in the cold. Then we were on a roller coaster and you were screaming and you said, “This is what it’s going to be like all the time.” A balloon seller lost hold of his wares and they floated majestically into the sky. It was beautiful.
After you introduced yourself, we resumed our date and I asked you again why you’d chosen a drive-in. You told me that you had a special soft spot in your heart for B-movies. You said that there was something endearing about the earnestness of it all. You said that they called out to our imaginations in a way that big budget films can no longer achieve. You said that all science fiction – no matter how dismal – was optimistic in that it assumed that there would be a future at all. We were in a board room and you were explaining to the assembled group of investors about the Machine. They were smiling and nodding. They didn’t really understand but experts had told them that your idea showed promise and, after all, a war was on. The coffee tasted terrible and I kept fidgeting in my seat. You were radiant. No one thought to ask what would happen if the Machine broke.

Today, I watched an egg assemble itself on the kitchen floor. It made a strange popping noise as the last bit of eggshell attached itself. It flew into the air up and up and then came to rest on the counter. A helicopter roared overhead and our son came in and told me he was scared. I didn’t know what to tell him. The war has begun and no one can say how or when it will end.

I remember your reaction when you read this letter. I remember how the last line, where I say “we weren’t meant to live like this,” brought a tear to your eye and you turned to our son and tried to explain to him that I was gone. But how could you explain? What does ‘gone’ mean to a child his age? Then we were lying together under the stars and when the first fireworks went off, you leaned over and kissed me for the first time. You tasted like popcorn. I can’t blame you for choosing a new husband.

When you finally came back, you were younger. That was the hardest for both of us, I think. We didn’t share the same memories anymore. You held me and told me that it would be alright, that you had hardly changed but I think that we both know now that that wasn’t true at all. Time changed people. That’s how it worked.

Today, I went down to the basement and stared at the Machine. I can still remember the day you turn it on. You’ll stand in front of a crowd of reporters with our son and your new husband at your side and you’ll give your speech about the tyranny of time and death and the triumph of science and about setting us free. But inside, you’ll be thinking, “I wish he had been here to see this.” I know this because, before we met, you showed me your diary and you wrote about this day. How could you not? It was the most important day of your life. You saved us from the enemy and ended the war. You asked me to stop it. There’s nothing I can do. The future is just as real as the past. There is no before or after anymore. Because of you, there never was.

We weren’t meant to live like this.

Death By Scrabble

It’s a hot day and I hate my wife.

We’re playing Scrabble. That’s how bad it is. I’m 42 years old, it’s a blistering hot Sunday afternoon and all I can think of to do with my life is to play Scrabble.

I should be out, doing exercise, spending money, meeting people. I don’t think I’ve spoken to anyone except my wife since Thursday morning. On Thursday morning I spoke to the milkman.

My letters are crap.

I play, appropriately, BEGIN. With the N on the little pink star. Twenty-two points.

I watch my wife’s smug expression as she rearranges her letters. Clack, clack, clack. I hate her. If she wasn’t around, I’d be doing something interesting right now. I’d be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. I’d be starring in the latest Hollywood blockbuster. I’d be sailing the Vendee Globe on a 60-foot clipper called the New Horizons – I don’t know, but I’d be doing something.

She plays JINXED, with the J on a double-letter score. 30 points. She’s beating me already. Maybe I should kill her.

If only I had a D, then I could play MURDER. That would be a sign. That would be permission.

I start chewing on my U. It’s a bad habit, I know. All the letters are frayed. I play WARMER for 22 points, mainly so I can keep chewing on my U.

As I’m picking new letters from the bag, I find myself thinking – the letters will tell me what to do. If they spell out KILL, or STAB, or her name, or anything, I’ll do it right now. I’ll finish her off.

My rack spells MIHZPA. Plus the U in my mouth. Damn.

The heat of the sun is pushing at me through the window. I can hear buzzing insects outside. I hope they’re not bees. My cousin Harold swallowed a bee when he was nine, his throat swelled up and he died. I hope that if they are bees, they fly into my wife’s throat.

She plays SWEATIER, using all her letters. 24 points plus a 50 point bonus. If it wasn’t too hot to move I would strangle her right now.

I am getting sweatier. It needs to rain, to clear the air. As soon as that thought crosses my mind, I find a good word. HUMID on a double-word score, using the D of JINXED. The U makes a little splash of saliva when I put it down. Another 22 points. I hope she has lousy letters.

She tells me she has lousy letters. For some reason, I hate her more.

She plays FAN, with the F on a double-letter, and gets up to fill the kettle and turn on the air conditioning.

It’s the hottest day for ten years and my wife is turning on the kettle. This is why I hate my wife. I play ZAPS, with the Z doubled, and she gets a static shock off the air conditioning unit. I find this remarkably satisfying.

She sits back down with a heavy sigh and starts fiddling with her letters again. Clack clack. Clack clack. I feel a terrible rage build up inside me. Some inner poison slowly spreading through my limbs, and when it gets to my fingertips I am going to jump out of my chair, spilling the Scrabble tiles over the floor, and I am going to start hitting her again and again and again.

The rage gets to my fingertips and passes. My heart is beating. I’m sweating. I think my face actually twitches. Then I sigh, deeply, and sit back into my chair. The kettle starts whistling. As the whistle builds it makes me feel hotter.

She plays READY on a double-word for 18 points, then goes to pour herself a cup of tea. No I do not want one.

I steal a blank tile from the letter bag when she’s not looking, and throw back a V from my rack. She gives me a suspicious look. She sits back down with her cup of tea, making a cup-ring on the table, as I play an 8-letter word: CHEATING, using the A of READY. 64 points, including the 50-point bonus, which means I’m beating her now.

She asks me if I cheated.

I really, really hate her.

She plays IGNORE on the triple-word for 21 points. The score is 153 to her, 155 to me.

The steam rising from her cup of tea makes me feel hotter. I try to make murderous words with the letters on my rack, but the best I can do is SLEEP.

My wife sleeps all the time. She slept through an argument our next-door neighbours had that resulted in a broken door, a smashed TV and a Teletubby Lala doll with all the stuffing coming out. And then she bitched at me for being moody the next day from lack of sleep.

If only there was some way for me to get rid of her.

I spot a chance to use all my letters. EXPLODES, using the X of JINXED. 72 points. That’ll show her.

As I put the last letter down, there is a deafening bang and the air conditioning unit fails.

My heart is racing, but not from the shock of the bang. I don’t believe it – but it can’t be a coincidence. The letters made it happen. I played the word EXPLODES, and it happened – the air conditioning unit exploded. And before, I played the word CHEATING when I cheated. And ZAP when my wife got the electric shock. The words are coming true. The letters are choosing their future. The whole game is – JINXED.

My wife plays SIGN, with the N on a triple-letter, for 10 points.

I have to test this.

I have to play something and see if it happens. Something unlikely, to prove that the letters are making it happen. My rack is ABQYFWE. That doesn’t leave me with a lot of options. I start frantically chewing on the B.

I play FLY, using the L of EXPLODES. I sit back in my chair and close my eyes, waiting for the sensation of rising up from my chair. Waiting to fly.

Stupid. I open my eyes, and there’s a fly. An insect, buzzing around above the Scrabble board, surfing the thermals from the tepid cup of tea. That proves nothing. The fly could have been there anyway.

I need to play something unambiguous. Something that cannot be misinterpreted. Something absolute and final. Something terminal. Something murderous.

My wife plays CAUTION, using a blank tile for the N. 18 points.

My rack is AQWEUK, plus the B in my mouth. I am awed by the power of the letters, and frustrated that I cannot wield it. Maybe I should cheat again, and pick out the letters I need to spell SLASH or SLAY.

Then it hits me. The perfect word. A powerful, dangerous, terrible word.

I play QUAKE for 19 points.

I wonder if the strength of the quake will be proportionate to how many points it scored. I can feel the trembling energy of potential in my veins. I am commanding fate. I am manipulating destiny.

My wife plays DEATH for 34 points, just as the room starts to shake.

I gasp with surprise and vindication – and the B that I was chewing on gets lodged in my throat. I try to cough. My face goes red, then blue. My throat swells. I draw blood clawing at my neck. The earthquake builds to a climax.

I fall to the floor. My wife just sits there, watching.

Pork

And now, dear reader I have for you a tale most cruel and treacherous, yet godly in its way. Giselle was young when she married, firm and tight and pure. The suppleness of her buttocks and the sweetness of her cleft served to ensure that her new husband was a much older man. Marcus was a wealthy man who had already demonstrated a profound ability to outlive his previous wives. That the union was beneficial for both of them is beyond doubt, the appropriate blending of money, prestige and beauty could only serve to enhance both, outwardly at least.

The difference in their respective ages was something that both could simply get used to, he of course more readily than her. He was already more than satisfied in his desires by the previously mentioned firmness and tightness of her flesh and inwardly counted her extreme youth to be an absolute boon. It meant that for him she was a blank canvas upon which he could leave his impression. To her it simply meant that the first man given the chance to touch her was old enough to have been her grandfather, though all would hope that no grandfather would ever touch his granddaughter in such a way.

The first night of their marriage was for her like being raped by a surly aging boar, which was after all barely a distance from the truth. His expectations from their union were limited and inconsiderate, so he found the experience to be eminently satisfying, but to her, while it was very enlightening, there was little of it that could really be considered pleasant.

For a time their new nuptials continued in a similar way. In the light of day they were appropriately civil to each other and even distant, both usually preoccupied with their own distractions, hers being chiefly born of her desire to avoid him as she could. In the nights when they were alone he would claim her in her own bed, forcing her to perform what he delicately referred to as her ‘duty’. She endured as the image of a rutting pig endured, overlain on his touches. He thought hardly of it at all, save that he was using her thusly simply because it was his right as her husband.

Eventually, something broke inside her. As they were coupling she drove the silver handle of a hairbrush repeatedly into the side of his neck, initially stunning and then with successive attacks wounding him. Such was the ferocity of her assault that in time it punctured his throat, causing bubbles of blood to push through the growing lesion. She hit him again on the same spot. Blood spat out of the opening she had created and she could see his life falling out of him as the red stain spread over the covers. It was over very quickly. She felt little guilt.

In her youth, before she had been taken to be the bride of the corpse that now lay before her, Giselle had lived on a farm. It was the place she had been born and the home of her parents. The slaughtering of animals had always been perfectly natural to her. She had been accustomed to seeing an animal before her in a field one day and then eating it the next. It had always been a simple fact of survival to her family. You had to treat an animal well, become familiar to it, close to it almost if it was to become strong and healthy and good to eat.

His meat was tender and well fed. Once she had removed the layer of greasy fat that had surrounded it she found it to be succulent. To begin with the meat was richer than her palate could enjoy, used as it was to much meaner fare. In time she grew accustomed to the flavour and for several days ate very little else. Eventually she found herself left with the scant remains of the carcass. Ever pragmatic and experienced in such matters she ground up the fleshy pieces and fed them slowly into lengths of the gut that she had kept and prepared for this purpose.

Her final meal of this meat seemed the most sweet and juicy of all. The mixture of the usually undesirable fragments of meat pulled from the bones and the sweetbreads and other pieces had become tasty and nourishing. Ever mindful of the bounty that fate had granted to her, and tinged with a slight regret that in life the man, her husband, had never understood her enough to please her, when she had made the last of the sausages she moulded it between her hands, shaping it to her satisfaction so that as a final remnant of the man that had defiled her it could enjoy a moment granting her pleasure more than the whole had ever managed to in that slender opening that it had so lusted after.

Prayer For Rain.

“There was a general panic, a great many excitable people declaring that the Evil One was revisiting the earth.”
– H.M., Anonymous East End Missionary, 1888

Thunder roared, threatening to crack the night sky like an egg. Rain lashed the deserted city streets, and clouds gathered overhead, glowing with the greyest of luminosity on the blackest of nights. Lightning froze the landscape around it for precious seconds, illuminating grimy streets and darkened towers, gothic arches and Victorian spires, and rain-drenched cobblestones, with not a soul in sight. An old church dominated the city square, its curving windows aglow with the yellow warmth of candles and prayers, the service already beginning to wind down on this desolate of nights, the pinched, frightened faces of the congregation momentarily lulled by the incense and the pictures of the saints adorning the walls. Soon, the congregation would be disgorged onto the wet streets, scrambling for cover beneath the chaotic fury of thunder and lightning and rain, their pallid, gaunt features illuminated by the struggling gas lamps that dotted the old streets and alleyways, as they disappeared into the darkness of the storm, past sagging shop fronts and faded brickwork, into the shadows and the fears that they concealed.

The rain would soon cease; in its place, creeping slowly from the dark, would be the early morning mist, rising up to clutch at the moon as the clouds parted like sluggish eyelids. The light from the gas lamps would become dirty yellow haloes suspended in the mist, dampening all sounds, the air thick with moisture and loneliness and slumber as the city slept on, before the stars gradually faded into the blueness of oblivion, as the sun floated back to the surface of the sky, bringing the waking world with it in its wake. The silent streets would soon be filled with the chatter and the curses of people, the clattering of horse hooves and carriage wheels, the shouts and screams of humanity, the darkness momentarily banished to the corners of the world for a day.

But something else would prowl the streets before sunrise, in the first few hours after midnight, amidst the gloom and silence of night, something that walked and moved and behaved like a man, something violent and unspeakable that would leave a trail of fear and darkness in its wake, as it had done for many nights now. It would leave its spindly shadow across the faded brickwork of grimy alleyways; it would sprinkle in its wake the tortured whispering of souls embedded in hell. Its unpleasant, rank breath conjured up foul, unclean images, its smile the thing of vile and poisonous longings. The red glint in its eye betrayed the murderous hunger it craved, its benign visage hid the soul of a monster. It was the shadows under the bed, the eyes in the cupboard, the darkness that bled across the night and infected every child’s dreams, souring them into nightmares. It was a very real entity, and its own murky dreams were filled with blood and bile, of butchered, bloodied limbs and rows of human skulls, of shuddering, bloodied disembodied hearts beating a hellish rhythm of their own. The thoughts of viscera and clotted gore caused it to drool, and the bodies of its victims were rotting in time with the remnants of its own humanity. Its world was a shadowy half-life that consisted of arsenic clouded blank hunger and instinct, mingling with a demonic hatred and vague heartache. Its shadow flitted over the cobblestones, across the weeds that sprung from betwixt the cracks, the strands of grass immediately shriveling and blackening as its awful presence moved further and further into history.

Before the night was over, it would pause before a vacant shop front, scrutinizing its reflection; a succession of vague images would filter back, passing through its muddled mind – an elderly Victorian gentleman with a long, gaunt face framed by flowing, silvery hair, his eyes cavernous pools of darkness in the gloom, his spindly form clad in the clothes of the Victorian era. A young man with sandy hair and a bushy moustache dressed in the refined taste of a businessman, out for a midnight walk. It was the gentleman walking down the street in the company of a young whore, his arm in hers. It was the disgruntled salesman who glared from the corners of an alleyway. It was a frantic artist working at his canvas in a frenzy, etching his unspeakable dreams upon its rough surface, before going out onto the streets to impose them upon the whole world. It was the flamboyant dandy prowling the streets, people succumbing to his shiny knife and his dark fantasies, as he carved them into the face of reality, forever scarring the history of the world. It was all of them. It was none of them.

Before long, the body of a woman would be found, her throat sliced open from ear to ear, the filthy ground sodden with blood, her abdomen cut open from her sternum to her genitals. Her intestines would be found flung over her right shoulder, her face gashed beyond recognition. Her uterus and left kidney would be reported missing, although in the days to follow, a half-eaten human kidney would be mailed to a private address in London, seizing the world in utter fright.

But for now, the streets were quiet, the gas lamps struggling to illuminate the dreary little streets and cobblestones, the deserted shops and sidewalks, the feverish yellow glow reflecting off silent houses there were filled with sleeping forms. Darkness licked at the edges of the old church with its warm yellow windows, where a frightened congregation huddled within the cosy confines and murmured prayers for rain amidst the flickering candles that made the shadows leap and dance upon portraits of Jesus and all the Saints. Prayers for rain, in the hopes that the maniac who prowled the streets was as vain as he was mad, and thus remain indoors, sparing someone’s life. The priest intoned sonorous prayer and reflection; his flock drinking in his words with upturned faces, for these were dark times. Only the love of the Lord and others would save the world. The key was to love one another.

And outside, something moved past the old church, disappearing into the night, its footsteps swallowed up by the smog, as it made its way through the melancholy fog to meet with a young lady, a lady with long black hair, a lady with a smile and a mischievous glint in her eye, standing shyly on the wet street. A woman who wouldn’t be missed so much, it mused to itself, an Unfortunate who had to work on such a night – maybe even a romantic at heart? It carried on through the night, whistling a little tune, the perfect woman in its thoughts. And finding her, it smiled a radiant smile to itself, a smile that swept across its seamless good looks, momentarily revealing the ruined, blackened creature that swam beneath its skin, a celestial thing of rage and murder, and its eyes darker than the universe. Moving toward her, it inclined its head at her offer of romance at short notice, and they both moved into the shadows. It led her down a narrow alleyway, its gloved hand on hers, a tune swirling within its mind, images of heaven and hell caught in its imagination, and, turning to her, it withdrew the knife from the folds of its cape.

And in that darkness, it loved her in its own way.