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BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD

Rebecca was already running 5 minutes late. She hoped it wouldn’t be like the last time she was late for a date. This last time, her date was still waiting for her when she arrived and when Rebecca reached him, he told her he hated people who didn’t have respect for other people’s time before calling her selfish and walking off.

The new chap she was now in the hurried process of meeting was not that type. Or at the very least, he showed no visible signs of being a complete and utter dick. But the ease with which the previous experience came to mind motivated her to rev up the engines to get there at a reasonable time to avoid the possibility of a repeat performance. Her legs motored through the corridors of London’s labyrinthine underground tube network. She dodged, bobbed, ducked and weaved through zombified commuters either transfixed by their mobile phone screen or wearing the countenance of someone that had been beaten down by their day.

As she arrived, her date was there waiting at the station, his shoulder pressed up against the wall, staring into the bright light of his phone screen.

Waiting for someone prior to the mobile phone age must have been a god-awful experience’, Rebecca’s meandering mind thought as she tentatively approached him.

From a distance, she gladfully observed that he looked close-enough like his profile pictures for it not to be a profound disappointment. Close-enough was about the benchmark in her experience; it would be a nigh-on miracle if he looked just like his pictures. That is the stuff of Disney. She awkwardly approached him and muttered his name in the hope he would look up. A moment passed and he remained engrossed by whatever he was viewing on his phone screen. This only sought to heighten Rebecca’s anxiety. She followed it up with a cough and this time he thankfully responded. Rebecca really wanted to see what was absorbing his attention with such intensity, although she accepted that this was a mystery that was never to be revealed.

They caught each other’s eye and he smiled that slightly awkward smile which decorated every single photo on his dating profile. In the age of Covid-19, neither of them quite knew what to do, so there was a series of very small, but fumbled movements from the both of them, before Rebecca decided to break the awkwardness and said: ‘Right, where are we off to?’.

It had been agreed beforehand that Daniel was in charge of the venue. Daniel was instantly affable, immediately opening up the conversation and speaking very openly about his nervousness about this date.

To offer a little bit of background, they had been speaking for the last week or so – and the conversation had on the whole, been relatively breezy. They seemed to hit it off on the app, but as those who have experience on the myriad dating apps, there is a radical difference between interacting online and conversing in real life; or irl, as the kids say.

As the evening progressed and the drinks flowed, the conversation maintained its lively rhythm. There was not an single moment of awkward silence, which was refreshing. But Rebecca was not to be lured into a false sense of security. Oh, no. The game she was reluctantly playing was a minefield, and she knew a landmine could detonate and blow her legs off any second. And Rebecca definitely did not want to be without legs. Least of all on a Wednesday night in a pub in Putney.

Caution remained, with those moments of doubt only occurring when he sauntered to the toilet, which happened with increasing frequency the more alcohol he consumed. But outside of the toilet breaks, she was totally immersed in the conversation as they shared anecdotes of previous dating disasters, comedy shows they loved, food they craved; all the good stuff. Rebecca found him utterly hilarious and laughed frequently and heartily. Although sometimes she would ask herself quietly if her laugh was a little too over the top. She desperately did not want to appear too keen. The funny thing was her date was thinking the very same thing. He managed to shut out the intrusive thoughts with incessant chatter; it helped him to focus. And truth be told, he really liked her company, but he knew from the very first moment of meeting her that she was not the one.

The two of them were seeking someone they wanted to spend time with and were desperate to get out of the dating rat race, but Daniel had developed an immediate feel for compatibility. Or at least he had grown to trust this feeling.

The two of them were vibrating on a loquacious level, but the underlying motivation divided them. Daniel had become a serial dater and had learned how to make the most of each date without it getting awkward or weird. He knew how to strike a conversation and engage, even if he was not attracted to the person on the other side of the table. And Rebecca was being lured in by his engagement and apparent interest.

The moment had come. The barman made the call that the bar was about to close. Both Rebecca and Daniel had found the evening engaging, but little did each other know that their opinion of each other had radically differed and that social propriety had taken a hold, and an unwillingness to actually ask the hard questions, given the moment.

Rebecca asked herself as to whether she should in any way indicate that she’d like to him again. The internal back and forth commenced as he slowly sipped his beer. The rational part of her thinking guided her toward being direct, but the more cogent emotional part took hold and said no. It was this part that activated to preserve the illusion and prevent the potential pain of rejection. Once weighed up, it was a seemingly easy decision to make. They both reached for their coats and walked back to the station they had originally first met just a few hours ago. They embraced, each happy in the performance they had given on the evening. Daniel departed with the words, ‘I’ll message you’.

And for a few days she awaited the message, hoping that he would follow through. He didn’t. Ah well, she thought, back to the drawing board.

THE END

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THE QUIET MAN

Joe spoke, just not very much. He was a man born in the wrong time. The wrong era. Now is a time when the person who talks loudest, goes furthest. People think that if you talk, then you are clever. If you sit and just get on with your life quietly, you are considered stupid. Or rude. Or both. This perception did not bother Joe. Joe just kept himself to himself. He once had a job which required him to speak. Needless to say, he didn’t last long. People mistook him for an idiot and incapable of doing his job. This was not the case. He just didn’t feel the need to speak. There were various meetings that maybe he should have spoken at, but he would rather remain quiet and let others talk. It was a shame because his role did require him to express his opinion but that did not deter Joe. He remained obdurate to the end. Joe was a slim, rather unassuming man. He was good looking but not good looking enough to turn heads. I guess you’d describe him as inoffensive. He did not submit to pleasantries which he described as meaningless. He did not suffer bullshit in any way, shape or form. People would often greet him with a smile when he would walk into work but he would regularly ignore their gesture of kindness because he perceived this kind of behaviour as insincere. Perhaps he was right or perhaps he was wrong. Either way, there was no changing his mind. I remember I once brought it up. I very quickly learned my lesson. He stared into me. Not at me. Or beyond me. No, he stared into me. You know what it feels like if you have ever experienced such a thing. It was a penetrating stare. One that I will not forget and one that I will not like to see repeated. So I hope you appreciate, I do not intend for it to happen again. I knew Joe because I worked with him once. For some reason he took a shine to me. Maybe he saw something in me he already saw in himself. I don’t know what it was but I was the only person he would wish good morning to. I was the only person that he would talk to. He wouldn’t talk much, but when he did talk, he spoke very eloquently. He was a man that would never waste his words. There was never anything superfluous with Joe which is what I loved about him. I don’t use the word love in vain. I genuinely grew to love him. I thought he was a unique specimen of man and one that the world needs more of. There is too much talking around and to be quite frank, I am fed up of it. I very quickly understood exactly where Joe was coming from with his general approach to life. He was no idiot that was for sure, he just decided that he did not want to conform at all. He belonged in another time, in another era. Now was not his time. And it was both his stubbornness and his unwillingness to speak which eventually led to his unfortunate death. Some would think of his passing as something which could have been avoided and some would even find it rather funny. Not me. I feel there was a certain nobility in his death. A certain willingness to remain consistent and married to his beliefs, right until the end.

He died while swimming in the sea. He had wandered out into the water on a warm day. The beach was quiet, but not completely empty. I’m guessing people were absorbed by whatever it was they were doing. Eating sandwiches and whining presumably. Anyway, he wandered out way beyond his depth and was being pulled out further and further into sea. He knew that he was not a strong enough swimmer to make it back to shore on his own. Now, most people would shout for help but not Joe. No, Joe just decided to remain quiet and accept his fate. I don’t know why he made that decision. No one does. But my god, Joe was stubborn. Someone spotted him in the distance and made an effort to save him but by the time they reached him, it was too late. Joe was already dead. Some would say it was suicide brought on by a quiet sadness but I just think it was just a big middle finger to the world. He did not enjoy the experience of living, and the prospect of nothingness appealed far more greatly. But selfishly, I definitely will miss him. That is for sure.

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WRITER’S COCK

He sat there. Staring at the empty page. He wanted to fill it. But nothing would come. Words appeared in his head. These were words that he felt were prosaic. He had said them before. Felt them before. The feeling when he put pen to paper this time would not be authentic if he used these words. It needed some bravery this time. A willingness to travel into the depths and see what will come out.

His name is Craig and if you haven’t guessed already, he was a writer. A writer who had seen his best years. The brilliance and sheer incandescence of his penmanship spread far and wide, once upon a time. The life trajectory of those that had read his words would change the minute they committed time to reading his writing. He was that good. But Craig had suffered from a block that he could not penetrate. Something was stopping him from accessing the spring of creativity that once blossomed within him. You see, when Craig published some of his greatest works, he found fame. And with fame, came attention. Women would normally never have paid attention to a man like Craig. He was 5’7, thin and wiry. He had gone bald prematurely and hadn’t fully embraced it. He maintained an absurd looking tuft of hair that desperately tried in vain to hide the baldness, but alas it failed. Fucking miserably. Women would only look at him because they found him so curious to look at. But then the success of his second novel struck and people began to recognise him. His uncomfortable countenance and strange choice of hair arrangement became a symbol of his quirkiness and eccentricity. And a fragile man who suddenly had all of this attention foisted on him, inevitably became a victim to its allure. It was chiefly women that took up his time. Beautiful ideas would once burst out of him spontaneously. But that connection with language, with ideas and his wonderful imagination slowly eroded, to be overwhelmed by thoughts of sex. A carnal desire took possession of him. He was not prepared for how powerful it would be. Craig withstood the allure of other typical distractions that belonged to this sensory world. Cocaine was frequently offered to him, as was various other psychotropics and the like. He did not feel any kind of proclivity toward ‘poisoning his mind’ as he would so often say. But he did not see the insidious embrace of sex and intimacy. He became totally besotted with a plethora of beautiful women who were completely absorbed by his ideas. His second novel was a wonderful maelstrom of ideas, beautifully crystallised into a compelling story that caught the imagination of millions of people when it was first published. And later it was regarded as a classic, even before . But over time, his enraptured and verbose writing began to decline. He could not settle down with one woman, but instead would pursue any one who gave him the time of day. He hurt many with his sexual indiscretions, but the feeling and sensitivity that once raged within him petered out, and he became distant and uncaring. As is typical to these kind of decisions, his fame soon dwindled and people began to lose interest. The world is constantly in a state of flux, but for poor Craig, he did not foresee this. His later works were ridiculed by the literati and he soon became a parody of himself. Women showed no interest and the regular sexual encounters he was used to having no longer occurred. His disciplined nature declined and he soon became addicted to pornography. He was a sex addict. At the times when his mind would normally be filled with ideas, they were now absorbed by carnal thoughts. His talent shrivelled and with it, his reputation. A man known for his wonderful imagination and unique view of the world had become mediocre. He had failed to exercise his imagination, failing to realise that he needed to keep feeding it.

He continued to sit there. Staring at the empty screen. A modicum of an idea would emerge that in a previous life would have been the tinder he needed, but now these ideas were inconsequential. He spent a small amount of time trying until finally he decided that the only thing he could do was search for some porn. So he did.

THE END.

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NIHILISTIC FREE-WRITING

I feel tired today. I feel unskilled. I feel doubt, unhappiness. Inert. And I feel unfocused. My unhappiness manifests itself on my face. I feel a fair portion of discontent. My mind tends to wander. I feel increasingly more concerned that the skills I have just learned will whitter away and I will be left as a mere whisper. An afterthought. An important lesson I must keep top of mind is that none of this really matters. We are all but a blip. A burp. We are utter nothingness and yet we fill out lives and worlds with a story. A story we all tell ourselves. A story that makes all of this all the more bearable. And yet, if we were to truly free ourselves from the shackles of these destructive and insidious stories we tell ourselves, life would become easier. We are instead shackled by the trappings of modern-day society. A cage designed to keep us subjugated and subservient. These trappings appear appealing. And they attract, because those that are closest to them also fall for them. And like dominoes, we fall. One by one. We stare at each other, work, work and work; keeping ourselves busy. And we match ourselves up against each other. Always measuring. Seeing if our version of ourselves measures up against a person we deem to be on our level. And we cycle through this ad nauseum, for no reason other than to feel better about ourselves. We serve the ego, the sense of self. All decisions we make are designed to reinforce that sense of self. To confirm. To conform. And I write this as someone, not free. On the contrary, I am a victim of the very same maladies I speak of in this increasingly lengthy paragraph.

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THE SHRIEK

Charlotte awoke with an almighty shudder. She heard a shriek. A shriek that was filled with a terror that pulsated right the way through her. The last thing she wanted to do was to get out her bed to explore, although she knew it would be the right thing to do. She couldn’t forego the instincts that compelled her to, at least, check to see if she was not alone. The rational part of the brain told her that she was being ridiculous, but her imagination told her something rather different. The imagination almost always proved to be the most cogent in situations like this.

Charlotte breathed in deeply a few times to regain the composure that often served her so well. Her toes slowly met the floor. It was a little colder than usual. She creeped up to her bedroom door and slowly put her hand on the handle, holding it there for a brief second. During this momentary pause, the shaking began to pulsate throughout her body once again, taking complete possession of her.  Charlotte tried to subdue its unwavering desire to get hold of her. In her mind, there was absolutely no reason to be this fearful. It felt as if her body was betraying her. She opened the door slowly and was met with a pitch black passageway. She motioned toward the light switch and turned the light on. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary. Everything was in the very same place she left it. An immediate feeling of relaxation began to travel throughout her body, the fear washing away just as quickly as it had arrived. Charlotte immediately began to reflect, concluding that the shriek was likely a vivid dream. But even with this conclusion, she still had a tiny, niggling sensation at the back of her mind, which nudged her to look around the entire apartment. Just in case.

Each room was carefully combed as Charlotte delicately navigated her apartment, quietly and with care not to make any unnecessary sounds. Nothing seemed amiss, which only served to strengthen the thought that this was all because of a vivid dream. She then decided it was time to head back to sleep. But when she returned to her bedroom, she immediately noticed the sidelight had been turned on. A confusion began to infect her; was her mind playing tricks on her? The brief spell of calm was broken. This bout of fear had not yet set in. She stood on the precipice of the sensation, just before its unsettling grip was to take hold. Charlotte walked into her room with a little trepidation, turning to the tips of her toes so she could navigate quietly. She slowly entered her room. Everything remained unchanged from a few minutes ago. Everything except the fact her bed side lamp had been switched on.

She inspected the lamp to see if there was any evidence that it had been tampered with in any way. Nothing. She then did the one thing no one likes to do in these situations, she checked under the bed. At the moment the thought entered her head, her heart started to race. The fear she had been resisting had now started to better her. She lowered ever-so-slowly, in a way that showed a reluctance to want to see what was happening down there. Thankfully for Charlotte, there was nothing out of the ordinary. She now decided to get into bed as there was nothing more to investigate. The light confused her, but she could offer herself an explanation she felt happy with. The fear had begun to subside, and the tiredness grew stronger. She turned the light off. Quiet.

There was a momentary pause and then suddenly, an almighty shriek sounded deep into her ear. It rang throughout her body, disorientating and terrifying her in equal measure. She tried to turn the lamp back on but it no longer worked. Fear froze her. She knew she had to get out of her bedroom, but she couldn’t. Something kept her in bed. She stared with wild eyes at the expanse of darkness above her head. Silence filled her room. The shriek had dissipated, but the fear remained, consuming every other sensation. Suddenly, through the expanse of darkness, she could make out a shape moving toward her. As it moved closer, she could see it was a white malformed hand. Every part of her anatomy compelled her to move, but she couldn’t. She was trapped. Paralysed. The hand then covered her mouth, sealing it shut. Her eyes darted from left to right. Tears began to emerge. The hand that held her mouth closed started to gently caress her cheeks. She felt a presence move to the side of her, the presence delicately whispering shhh into her ears. Whatever this presence was, it was trying to calm her, but this did not work. The hand then slowly moved towards her neck and gripped her throat. She could not move to defend herself. The pale white hand gripped her throat, gradually tightening until the life in her eyes began to fade. There was one final almighty shriek and then Charlotte died with a fear that remained in her eyes. A fear that would infect even the most hardened of people. A fear she took to the grave, and beyond.

THE END.

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BRIEF CONTENTMENT

I want to depict a story of a no- one, not just any no- one, but a no- one who had a real story to tell. His outward life was perhaps not that extraordinary; he was a twenty-something, working in sales, single and relatively popular with the few friends that he actually had. It was his inner life that was the most interesting, and disturbing. It is disturbing in that it has so much in common with many people currently residing in this wonderful country of ours, which is an ominous indictment, given the nature of his psychological processes.

His problems stemmed from an insular neurosis and an incessant and seemingly, un- provoked propensity for worry. This internal melancholy initially drove our protagonist to thoughts of fleeing suddenly from those closest to him as if it was an act of rebellion to desert his friends. This motivation suggested that he felt comforted by the idea that there were people pining for him. This thought process was borne out of insecurity and a secret and desperate want to feel needed. The stream of thought then evolved, some would say naturally, into thoughts of removing himself from this world, permanently.

The focal character in this tragedy is named Peter, and we already know a small amount about him, but let me paint a vivid picture to bring him to life in your minds. Peter was 29 years old and stood at 5’10, which seemed to annoy him a great deal.  The main reason for his irritation at his supposed lack of height was that when he was 14 he had set himself a target of wanting to reach 6’0 but unfortunately stopped short of it by 2 inches. Setting a target to achieve a particular height may seem like a strange thing to aspire to, but a precocious 14 year old deemed it necessary for no other reason than an arbitrary and inbuilt desire for a challenge- if you could call it that! This greatly upset him and, to the average man, this was a fact that could soon be forgotten, but to Peter this was of paramount importance for no other reason aside from wanting to achieve his initial target to which he clearly failed; a failure that only existed through his eyes.

He had mousy brown hair and small eyes, the colour of which was hard to distinguish due to their size. He was of average build, a shape that he became content with after being quite unabashed at his comparatively meagre weight during his early 20’s. Peter was always concerned about how people perceived him. He was a hugely perplexing and complex character; reticent one minute, ostentatious the next. It was clear that generally speaking he did not like people looking at him and was content with being a peripheral figure; however, there was a side of him that showed itself in rare glimpses that craved the limelight and was always seeking validation and acceptance. Therein lay the contradiction that Peter embodied.

Peter’s story began on a Monday, quite fitting given the ominous connotations the day has with the average working person.

He awoke to the sound of the monotonous alarm buzzing over and over again, with its same monotonous tone; and, like every morning, Peter turned it off, safe in the knowledge that he had prepared another alarm to wake him up precisely 10 minutes later.

Sure enough, 10 minutes later the second alarm sounded to which he set about snoozing for the next 30 minutes until he absolutely had to get out of bed.

Monday began like every other day, with a set procedure of brushing his teeth, showering and having a bowl of cereal before embarking on his trip to work. Externally, Peter was an incredibly average man, some would say mediocre, and conducted himself in the same way as most other man first thing in the morning, with moderate attention to personal hygiene but just enough so it did not show, or smell.

Internally, he was extremely mercurial and would incessantly worry, and this day was no different. He would constantly look at himself in the mirror to make sure he looked presentable at the very least. Peter was obsessed with having a healthy complexion in his face because he thought it made him look more appealing to the opposite sex. He liked the notion but even if he did manage to rouse a reaction from a woman, he would not normally act accordingly, choosing rather to wallow in a state of egotistic indulgence that was only ever fleeting. He was considerably more content with the idea of things rather than the practical application of the ideas that filled his frequently plagued head.

Anyway, I digress and Peter’s story simply cannot wait.

Peter left his small, self-contained flat to embark on his journey to work. He knew how long it would take to get in to work, and had taken the time to formulate various possible routes in the event of excessive delays or cancellations. Today, there were no such cancellations and Peter reached Turnham Green station in good time. It was once he reached the platform that a peculiar feeling seemed to resonate within him.

Due to his modicum of preparation this particular morning, he felt a little tired and his propensity for disappearing in to his neurotic headspace seemed to have a stronger grip over him. As he stood on the station platform, surrounded by a colony of like-minded workers, he stared hypnotically at the track of the train. This strange feeling did not have a name, nor could he place the reason for it coming into fruition at this particular time. It began to spread across his entire body and then all of a sudden, he heard the distant echo of the train, furiously making its way towards him. Then this enigmatic and seemingly ominous feeling began to take a more vivid shape and all of a sudden, he had this strange urge to jump in front of the train. He pictured the reactions of those around him and considered whether the impact would kill him, or just injure him permanently. He then thought of the affect this incident could have on the driver and the commuters. As the train drew near and the light began to fill the tunnel, the feeling in him became stronger and stronger; his feet shuffled to the yellow line that commuters are reminded that you should not cross. To Peter, just standing past the line was normally an act of defiance but suddenly this new found feeling began to take hold and as the train approached, Peter’s thoughts intensified and moved in a montage of violent and bloodied sequences. As the train rushed by, he breathed a sigh of relief. Those around him who noticed his presence just saw a man eager to be on the train and en route to work. Inside however, Peter was a maelstrom of confusion bewildered by how capricious his mind seemed to be behaving. ‘Why was I so forcefully drawn to an act of suicide?’ he thought to himself as he boarded his train. Peter struggled to see where this desperate act came from and it concerned him. Peter got in to work, on time as usual and was thinking hard about the ‘incident’ on the station platform a matter of minutes earlier.

Even though Peter was a man with a propensity for dark thoughts, he had never even contemplated suicide and now not only had this feeling begun to pollute his thoughts, physically he was being drawn to this desperate act. Peter could not shake what had happened this morning such was his neurosis. Inevitably, he failed to make any sales and his distracted mind reached the point that he forgot customers’ names and he even addressed a woman he was speaking to as a Mister, much to the customer’s annoyance.

This is probably a good place to add that Peter worked in telesales, selling advertising space for a little known UK travel publication. It was a job he was not particularly enamoured with but he had been doing it for so long, he had gotten used to it as one gets used to watching mind numbing television after a long day at work.

Peter was in normal circumstances perfectly capable of carrying out his job to the standards required. He was in no way exceptional but he always met his targets and the customers he spoke to would always remark on his patience and cordiality. Today was different though and he simply could not concentrate his mind on a specific task. His mind rattled from one place to another, desperately searching his minds conduits, trying to place the source of the fatalistic feeling that now embodied him.

17.30 had arrived and Peter could finally escape and return to his home where he could continue to scrutinise his inner self in hope of some form of answer. At the back of his mind though, a curiosity arose as he tentatively approached the station. Would he have a similar feeling again or was his experience in the morning merely an anomaly. As he boarded the escalator for the dreaded descension, he decided to walk down as if some kind of impatience took over him and a feeling to get whatever lay in front of him over-and-done-with. Each step became heavier and as he reached the precipice, his stomach began to hurt and it felt as if it was devouring itself.

Peter had a weak stomach and this is what would happen whenever he suffered from bouts of anxiety. As he approached the platform, the loud thump of his heart started beating intensely into his ears, his breathing became a little stuttered and he could only breathe in short gasps. This was before he had reached the platform. Everything that was happening around him in the here and now was of no consequence; Peter was completely possessed by abstract and ominous projections of the future. As he turned the corner to the platform, he could not bear to look at the empty track and his sense of balance began to fail him. He then opened his eyes to see the train already at the platform. Peter could not believe that he had not heard its arrival and with surprise and relief, he boarded the train, quietly contented at not having to go through another potential emotional hijacking. The train was filled with commuters, each one in their own world; reflecting on the day, anxious about something, looking forward to a particular event. Peter remained in the corner, trying to remain inconspicuous. This was not difficult in such an impersonal and busy atmosphere.

Eventually, he arrived at Turnham Green station and edged past a man who refused to budge. This kind of ignorant and rude behaviour always seemed to irritate Peter and he would always carry this frustration around with him as if some parasitic part of him needed this pain as some kind of sadistic sustenance. He would never be able to communicate his anger though, always choosing to keep it to himself, and this instance was no different.

As soon as Peter got home, he collapsed onto his bed with his feet dangling from the end, staring blankly at the ceiling. He did not even turn on the light and rather chose to remain there, masked by the dark, in a state of perpetual bewilderment. The suddenness of his perceived appetite for suicide had struck him and he could not shake the inevitable sense of foreboding. It was time to take a logical step and look at his life closely. He asked himself questions that he had not yet answered himself; simple questions that very few people actually ask themselves. Am I happy, and if not, then why? Are there things in my life that I could do better? 

For Peter, he firmly believed in cause and effect and random, unexplainable occurrences simply did not enter in to his vocabulary. There was a reason for everything and he was determined to source what exactly it was that made him feel the way he did earlier that day.

The next morning, Peter awoke unusually without the monotonous sound of his multiple alarm system. His eyes shot open of their own accord and darted from left to right. A numbness filled him and because there was no alarm, he felt disorientated and confused as to where he was. ‘Could this be a dream?’ he thought to himself. He had only had a couple of hours sleep but tiredness was the last thing on Peter’s mind. He slowly rose up and sat at the end of the bed, completely still, staring outwards but focusing inwards.

Within seconds of his awakening, the analysis began and Peter began to scrutinise the conduits of his mind, searching for any traces of the feeling that blighted him just hours before. Upon initial analysis, there appeared to be nothing remotely self destructive or suicidal lurking there; well, nothing new anyway.

He checked the time. It was almost to the minute the time he would normally wake up. He remained where he was, transfixed and fearful of the unknown that lay in front of him. The night before was tumultuous, with Peter breaking out in tears for no apparent reason. He thought about his childhood, and the early promise that he exhibited. As a boy, he was a little more gregarious and his peers found him amiable, but as he ascended in to adulthood, a quiet bitterness and paranoia began to permeate his mind and it gradually became stronger. He became more and more comfortable living in isolation and by a particular regime. Initially it did him alot of good but then soon, the structure that he had built began to take control of him and and he became obsessed with maintaining his regime. This charting of his past in his mind filled him with pain and disappointment, and culminated in him crying. Even through this melancholic moment, he made sure he stifled his crying because he did not want anyone else to hear. As far as he was concerned, this was personal and it would remain so. This behaviour was symptomatic of the way Peter was constructed.

The cold light of winter spread across the room where Peter sat meditatively and the notion of pathetic fallacy began to creep in to his mind and he gave out an ironic and bitter laugh. It was in this moment that Peter made a decision and with that, a certain contentment began to show, and he set about getting prepared for work. This decision brought Peter to an ease he had possibly never felt- well, not a time he could recollect.

He swiftly carried out his morning routine but this time there seemed to be more of an enjoyment in doing it. There was certain fluidity and he felt as if he was doing it for the first time even though he had been undergoing the same procedure for a few years. Peter then departed his flat and walked down the road, becoming aware of the details of his journey; details that he always declined to notice due to being so absorbed with what was happening in his headspace.

He realised that he had never looked above the buildings he would pass every day. Just by looking up, he noticed a whole new undiscovered territory; some of it daubed with quite artistic graffiti that the usually snobbish and conservative Peter decided he quite liked. Peter felt a relaxation that he had not felt for a very long time and as he stepped over the horizon, he could now see Turnham Green Station, staring at him, awaiting his presence it seemed.

This sight did not trouble Peter and he stepped in to the station with a newfound energy and confidence although the source of the confidence seemed to have quite an ominous undercurrent. It seemed rather strange that someone could suddenly transform from a neurotic, socially awkward man to someone who is at one with all that is around him.

Today was a particularly busy day at the station due to there being severe delays and a plethora of people filled the platform. This did not faze Peter in the slightest and he nonchalantly negotiated his way through the swathes of commuters to the edge of the platform. He now stood there, awaiting the train with his eyes closed in a state of meditative exaltation. Peter had displayed such contentment on this morning because he had reached a state of mind where he had come to terms with the prospect of death and felt that these feelings within him reflected a deep desire to die. As far as he was concerned, he must not ignore this strong drive and he decided to obey it. As he stood there, his mind was empty and at peace and the echo of the train began to fill the tunnel he stood so close to.

Peter slowly shuffled his feet closer to the yellow line and slowly edged passed it, his heart then started to beat faster and adrenaline coursed through his body at an alarming rate. As the train grew closer and closer, everything around Peter seemed to slow down but his thoughts grew more and more lucid and suddenly, something completely unpredictable happened. Peter began to doubt. Through his quiet meditation and sheer lucidity, he began to think that owing to the newfound awareness that perhaps this could become a new chapter in his life. He felt he had undergone a positive transition and maybe this was not the time he should die. The echoes became louder and the light now began to fill the perimeter of the tunnel. Peter’s mind was racing but everything around him still maintained its slow, calculated pace. This was his chance to change for the greater good and become anything other than the lonely tele-sales agent he had become. He took a couple of steps back, opened up his eyes and a smile radiated his face, but this decision had reduced his spatial awareness. Peter did not realise that there was a commotion happening behind him and the platform was over pouring with people. There was a little nudge in his back and it pushed him a little further towards the track. By now, he was literally on the edge and there was no space for him to return. Due to the commotion, everyone was completely absorbed. The train then started to emerge through the tunnel and the eager, impatient commuters wanted to get on this train and due to this, a pulse of pushes and barges fed through the crowd. Peter was then pushed in to the space in front of him as the train was powering on to the platform. He did not scream but rather he closed his eyes and as before, everything slowed down around him. The train hit Peter, smashing into his head and it killed him instantly. Within the last few seconds of Peter’s life, he did not have his entire life flash before his eyes; nor did an ethereal light fill his imagination but his mind emptied and he thought of nothing as he met his end.

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PAUSE.

Jonathan lay there, staring emptily at the ceiling. The room that surrounded him was simple, lacking in any kind of distinctive decor. The usual stuff populated the room; a bed, a chest of drawers, a side table. The walls were white, pictures and colour were notable absentees from this rather sterile space. But the ceiling provided the perfect canvas for Jonathan’s imagination to play out. The loneliness encapsulated him as he played out short vignettes from a life well-trodden. Jonathan was a man that pursued escapism throughout his years. He rejected responsibility and scoffed at the prospect of work. He was mercurial; aggressive one minute, charming and serene the next. He fathered 3 children, all of which blossomed into capable, mature adults. His wife had died a few years earlier, leaving his existence fractured.

Given how he chose to live his life, he did not allow moments of pause, purely because he knew that within those quiet moments, the demons would emerge and reflect back at him the very attitude he had brought into the world. For years, he was able to distract himself. His inventiveness and sheer will to escape gave him the means to avoid the dreaded quiet. That was until he took a deep hit of a very vicious substance. This provided the catalyst. After this, there was only one thing for it: a quiet place. A place for him to get better. But this only served to bring to life those experiences that he had wished he had forgotten. The violence toward his deceased wife, the neglect toward his parents, the incessant drug taking, the needles, the pipes, the lying, the neglect, the manic episodes; all was laid bare. Each episode playing out over and over again, in his own personal asylum. These were not prolonged scenes, but brief glimmers. Flickers of terrifying and vivid colour. The more he reflected on these thoughts, the more powerful they became. He became disembodied. Flickering moments from a life well-lived was all that remained. The thoughts that would emerge came and went without invitation. The resistance he had relied upon throughout his life had abandoned him. The energy was no longer there. The running had stopped.

THE END

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MANIA

Johnny’s eyes opened. The colour was less intense. Less saturated, somehow. The high-pitched squeak of his mattress-springs chimed their morning chorus, and he negotiated the stained duvet that barely covered his thinning body. His initial impression was that everything seemed so flat, so lifeless. Mottled dreams of heroin-induced indulgence whirred away in the back of his mind and acted in stark contrast to the situation he found himself in. He limped out of bed, his legs baring the sores and scars of a life well-lived. The thick, heavy air danced around the dark room; the windows covered by makeshift curtains, emblazoned with colourful flowers. Reality had met Johnnie head-on.

He opened up the door to his bedroom, slowly. Silence filled the hallway. The numbness that filled him began to dissipate, and behind it was a trace of intense sadness. It struck him ever-so-suddenly. He didn’t know the reasons for its incarnation, he just felt it throughout his being. He slowly walked across the narrow hallway, passed the bathroom. The thick smell of urine emanated from the room, its potency hitting him immediately. The light reflected from the putrid liquid that streamed across the floor. This did not slow his movements. He continued around the bannister and reached the stairwell. Silence remained. He took each stair at a time, not knowing what he would see, struggling to parse memory from dream. The well-trodden brown carpet now caked in dirt, the smell of decay travelling throughout the house. He reached the door to the living room, opening it slowly. He was met with a barricade of bags. There were people splayed out all over the floor. Flickers of light spat out through the thick, chestnut brown curtains. People were snoring. The memories began to return. The mania had subsided and now reality had begun to kick in. In a moment, he processed the arguments with his children, the lies he had told and the needles that had entered his veins. He was met by a room full of people and yet he was all alone.

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A CHARADE

Callum opened his eyes in his new apartment for the first time. The curtains struggled to contain the streams of light that flecked across the room through the wall of windows that travelled right the way across one side of his home. He barrelled out of bed, enraptured by the new-found excitement he was now living in a place he could finally call his own. He hurtled over to the curtains and threw them open, finally granting permission for the light to enter. As the light finally penetrated his apartment, his eyes were drawn across at the building opposite; a similar building with a huge glass façade. Each apartment looked like a room in a doll’s house. Callum momentarily disappeared into a daydream before he returned to the present and caught eyes with a woman folding her clothes in the apartment opposite. He turned immediately; startled. What is the protocol in a situation like this? he pondered. He knew it wouldn’t be right to stare a second time. That would quite obviously be rude and impolite. He resisted the temptation to turn. The woman opposite had struck him immediately as being rather attractive, but he knew it would be improper to look again or attempt contact. Besides, he couldn’t, even in the very unlikely situation she reciprocated. The local inhabitants were all under strict instructions not to leave their apartments given the pandemic that was aggressively travelling across the world. So, he did what any self-respecting individual would do in this circumstance, and not indulge his base instincts. Instead, he turned toward his brand-new kitchen and set about making himself his first breakfast.

The large apartment he inhabited contained one large room. Think of it like a New York loft apartment but situated in Copenhagen, just outside of the city centre, in an area called Amager.

Callum indulged in a slow, meandering morning.  Once he had consumed his almighty breakfast, he sat on his sofa, which was located right next to the large, windowed wall. Within moments of sitting down, he turned toward the windows and there was that beautiful woman he had made eye contact with earlier. She turned as if she could sense someone looking at her. He immediately turned away. Even if it was an accident, his turning away definitely looked like a guilty act. There was no way he could look again. It was getting weird now. But he had to simply ignore the temptation, even if every fibre in his body wanted to indulge the instinct. The last thing he wanted was to upset his neighbours a matter of hours after moving in, even though the mischievous voice at the back of mind desperately tried to make him do otherwise. It then struck him; the thing he should do is simply to close the curtains. That would effectively signal to the obviously creeped-out neighbour that he was innocent, and he was not weird. So, he closed the curtain. This was the solution, he thought. The next few days continued without any real incident.

It did not take long before the novelty of being in a new apartment began to wear off, and the realization that he would be alone for the foreseeable future began to set in. Callum had always shared a home, and this was the first time he had lived alone.

He had a small door opening in the middle of the gigantic windows that spanned one side of his apartment. It struck him that he hadn’t actually experienced any fresh air for the past few days.  Given the strict measures in place, he concluded it would be best to open it and stick his head out the window instead of daring to venture beyond his door. And so, he did; completely occupied by his own thoughts, until suddenly he looked up and there she was again. His penchant for daydreaming did not seem to be serving him too well so far. She looked and this time there was nothing he could do. Every atom that made up Callum told him to run, the flight response was very strong, but then this very bizarre thought took hold and his hand moved in a shape which resembled a wave. He had no idea why; it was almost as if his brain and body had completely disconnected, and his hand decided to do its own thing. On another level, the great British discomfort kicked in and he did something disconnected from his conscious intention. He thought that this is the worst thing he could have done, until she waved back. Completely awestruck by this unexpected gesture, he smiled. She smiled back. What now, he thought. His mind started to meander through all of the possibilities, channeling through all of the good and bad things that could happen. And in a moment, he turned away. He tried to make it look as casual as he could, like it was no thing. But the impulse filled him to turn around and face her once again. He turned to the side, so if she was still staring, she would see his profile.  He pretended to look down at something on the floor, arching his head ever-so-slightly toward the window. His instincts were confused. He then looked out of this window, but not yet at the mysterious woman. He was slowly making his way round to the inevitable. He knew that eventually he would face her. And the eventuality he anticipated was a mere moment or two away. He turned and she was sat down on her sofa, reading. She had clearly lost interest. In his strange little mind, he fantasised she would be waiting for him to look again, but the truth was, as soon as he turned, so did she. She then jumped up out of the sofa and walked back toward the window, looking pensive. He sat down on his sofa, trying to look cool. He turned and caught eyes with her once again. There was a momentary pause between the two of them. If they were in the same room, this would be a tense silence, but now it was something much more. Something much more… awkward. He knew he had to do something but didn’t know what. She acted faster than he did. In a flash she put one hand to her eye and another hand to the side of her head. This meant one thing: a movie! She was playing charades. Callum loved charades. She then held up three fingers indicating that the movie title contained three words. He was immediately filled with a sense of relief – an awkward situation was now normalized. At least for the moment. GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, he wrote on a piece of paper in a marker and pressed it up against the window. She gave him a thumbs up. It was now his turn. There was no escape, he was now committed to playing charades with this woman, whom he didn’t know. And so, he did. Turns out, he began to discover that they had similar tastes as she seemed to get his suggestions regularly, and he both knew and often liked the ones she performed. Callum was now in a far more confident state of mind, but after a few rounds of charades, the novelty began to ware off, although he didn’t want to stop communicating with her. He then gestured toward a glass in his hand and moved it in the direction of his mouth. He was trying to suggest they share a drink together, in front of the window.

He then got the thumbs up from his window neighbour and they both disappeared into their respective spaces, poured their preferred tipple and placed themselves in front of their window. The woman opposite gestured cheers to him and pointed toward her eyes to indicate they should hold eye contact as they took their first sip, and they then enjoyed the peace and quiet from their respective rooms. This serene moment continued until the woman gestured that she was hungry with the universal sign of rubbing the belly in a circular motion. Callum had felt similar pangs but was reluctant to raise the point as he did not want to tamper with the moment, but the time indeed was right. And then it struck Callum, he didn’t even know her name. So, before she headed off to prepare food, he wrote his name in large capital letters and pressed it against the window. And she reciprocated. Pernille was her name. And she was his first friend from the area and his only real source of human contact. Over the next few days, their relationship flourished, until they decided it might be best they exchange numbers. Callum was aware of the fact that there were a multitude of other windows and people in the rooms, all of which could potentially get his number, but he didn’t much care. The prospect of speaking to this woman that lived a matter of meters away from him, appealed to him hugely. And so, he wrote the numbers as big as he could, and he waited. Within moments his phone lit up and he was met with the message: 3 words. TV show.

THE END.

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A PART OF ME

I either allow the echo of past experiences or an imagined future to overshadow my experience of the present. This over-thinking limits my ability to think clearly. I zero in on the problems and dwell on them, give them power. Instead of thinking up solutions or simply moving past any imagined concern, I disappear in thought. There are occasions when it isn’t even thought. Sometimes it’s just the sensation. The sensation lures me in, and I get immersed in it, allowing it to pervade. My mood changes. Everything that is outside, turns inward. The energy that can fill me is sapped. The bodily sensations mutate from the familiar to discomfort and chaos. This can completely overhaul my sense of self. The power of the unconscious can inhibit. I hurt. I hurt a lot. And when I hurt, I become vulnerable. And the vulnerability creates fear. Fear then means I am defensive, which can be infectious. I am difficult, moody, capricious. Giving a very unfortunate and melancholic perception of myself. People sense it. They don’t like it. Instead, they look elsewhere. For others. Not me. Anything but me. A shortness of breath causes the discomfort. And the discomfort is a biproduct of the pain I feel. My arse hurts, too. Mainly because of this damn sofa.

The story I tell myself is a sad one. I am the victim. And when I feel victimised or undermined, I can become deeply unhappy. I can lash out. I can become defensive. The openness that can characterise moments of happiness and joy fritter away. It starts with sensation. This sensation gives life to a thought. The thought then tries to attract my attention. The pain is temptation. I hold the thought without truly engaging with it. I keep it there. Instead of addressing it head on, I give in to the pervasive sensation. Giving it lasting power. Momentary reflection gives me a very solid understanding of the process, but when I am gripped by the feeling, clarity of thought is not present. Instead, I am cajoled by the sensation. The habit of sitting with it and exhausting myself is one that has for too long taken hold over me. The trick is triggering these meaningful reflections at the right time, which feels easy to do when the pressure is off, but as soon as the mind becomes noisy with thoughts, I find myself losing control. I become a slave to the sensation. A slave to the sadness. The quality of attention dissolves. I know there is a genetic component to this, but I am also aware that with the right application and habits, I can bring some of this under control. But it takes work. And consistency. With that, clarity does emerge. But the balance is delicate. Sometimes too delicate. And at points I do tend to slip over and fall foul to these sensations, and before I know it, I can become bereft. Overcome by a feeling of sadness. Of alienation. Of a world that no longer wants me. Of a world I no longer want to be a part of. I can see disappearing as a way out. Use it as a mental model for claiming back some semblance of control. I find peace in that thought. Peace in nothingness. Quietude. Suddenly the world does not seem as important, as pressing. An understanding and awareness that I am not very important, and I will be quickly forgotten is comforting somehow. It also helps mitigate against some of the ego that I am met with. I look at those who think they have some kind of power, some kind of dominion, and that is when the meaninglessness of this all becomes so much more palpable. I enjoy it. In a weird way. It’s hard to explain.

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THE SAME OLD DANCE

Her eyes stared at him intently from the other side of the table. This provoked Philip to run through the checklist in his head. Is she smiling incessantly when we talk? Tick. Is she making a lot of eye contact with me? Tick. Hair playing. Tick. All the behaviours Philip had read about on the subject of flirtatious signals seemed to be occurring.

But even with these signals, he still experienced a modicum of doubt. What if I move in for the kiss and she pulls away? he thought. Over and over again. He went through the scenario in detail. Vivid images of the rejection flashed before his eyes; this imagined future only serving to sharpen his anxiety. Thankfully, he found himself able to clamber out from these insidious thoughts as the conversation effortlessly flowed and Philip soon realised, he had absolutely no issue speaking to Beth. This was the first time in a very long time that Philip had met someone he felt connected with. The waiter wafted to the table and delivered the bill. It was time to pay, and leave, which meant one thing. The moment was pending. And he realised he had a decision to make. Would the imagined future dictate his actions, or would he throw caution to the wind? What’s the worst that could happen, he concluded to himself.

As they stood up, Philip felt that familiar twinge of anxiety in the pit of his stomach. The adrenaline then channelled through him; his breathing intensified. The fight or flight moment was drawing in. As the two departed the conversation continued to effortlessly flow between them. As they walked toward the station, he waited for a moment to move in. He hoped she would give him a sign he could interpret, but her body language was a little closed, and he couldn’t decipher what it meant. My anxiety is infecting her, he thought. He played out the attempt to kiss her over and over again in his head, each scenario playing out in a slightly different way. As has been intimated, Philip was a man that did not like to make a decision without being absolutely sure of the outcome.

The apparent desperation to kiss her filled him, and then the feeling finally took control. He put his arm on her waist, his hands absorbed her soft warmth. He felt Beth give a brief inhalation. She turned her head ever-so-slightly toward him, meeting his eyes; the both of them smiling under the gaze of the stars and the mellifluous sounds of the trains dancing across the tracks. Their lips then locked and the tension that had filled Philip had now dissipated. The feeling of relief then encapsulated him. Their lips parted and Beth smiled and said: Well, that surprised me. Philip replied by giving her a summary of his what he had just been through. A kind of alchemy had occurred and the anxiety that filled Phil had now diminished and was replaced by confidence. He took it upon himself to invite her back to his, to which she accepted.

The next morning Philip and Beth awoke, embracing each other. The feeling of the previous night had gone. Now the sexual tension had been broken, the illusion of a connection had withered away. The conversation in the morning was genial, but now it was two strangers talking. She soon left, and Philip lay there alone. An emptiness filled him. Just 24 hours ago, he thought he could be on the cusp of meeting a woman he could spend the rest of his life with, and his feelings had radically changed.   Within minutes of her departure, he reached for his phone and opened up one of the dating apps he liked to use. The emptiness scared him. Thankfully, Beth was not the only woman he was speaking to. He could see another of his matches had sent him a message. Her name was Sam. He liked speaking with Sam. She seemed interesting, funny; and he was attracted to her. Beth could still be a thing, he thought; but then he did really like Sam. Just as he was in the middle of messaging this new woman, his phone let out the bleep and it was Beth. He ignored it for the time being, continuing to focus on his conversation with Sam. It was clear to him that Beth wasn’t entirely what he was looking for, but this Sam could well be. He continued to message with a boyish eagerness, keen to make a positive impression with her and not lose the momentum that seemed to be taking him to yet another date. Within an hour of conversation they had agreed to meet. Philip was over the moon. She could be the one, he thought. As soon as the next date was confirmed, he checked out the message Beth had sent. She had clearly had a good time and expressed a desire to do it again. The cogs in Philip’s brain started whirring. He wasn’t sure whether to ignore the message altogether or to engage with her. She was nice, after all; and it may be worth continuing to speak with her. Something could of course happen. Once he had weighed up all of the possibilities, he decided to send her a genial message in return, designed to continue the conversation and offer the prospect of a catch up in the coming weeks. But deep-down he knew that he will not see Beth again. This was just the same old dance he liked to perform. A sad, melancholy dance destined to be repeated over and over again.

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Non-fiction: A NIGHT SPENT WITH PSYLOCYBIN

I was at university, in a period of my life where experimentation was the optimum word; a time of my ever-so brief journey where I wanted to build a broad experience base. 

A friend of mine, Russell, decided to visit for the weekend in my student hovel and I had absolutely no idea what was on the agenda. This was at a time where various species of psilocybin were legally available in shops. I must emphasise that you wouldn’t find them huddled next to the Mars Bars in the sweets section; you did have to go to a particular type of store. The kind of store that was owned by a one-eyed, tattooed ridden paraplegic called Crow.

Russell and I decided that instead of doing the typical thing of getting drunk and trying to charm a largely unimpressed woman that she should choose me to be the one regret in her life, we decided to pay Crow a visit.

We were recommended the Mexican caps and the shopkeeper was clearly a guy who knew his hallucinogens so we dutifully handed him over the cash and took our poison.

Upon returning to my hovel  my next door neighbour, Andy, popped through and had heard that we were going to have a night on the mushrooms. I was ecstatic to hear he was ready and willing. Andy is a truly unique man, always full of philosophical insights, trying to paint himself as some kind of paragon of moral virtue whilst at the same time being one of the most divisive, salacious, amoral men I know. He is, incidentally, now travelling around the world looking after people’s yachts and inevitably continuing his lubricious activities. Anyway, I digress.

We decided to dry the mushrooms out in true student fashion; by putting them in to the microwave. And to avoid the horrific taste of the fungus, we ingeniously prepared a bowl of melted chocolate to dip them in to.

My housemate at the time, Bobby-Jo, was in the kitchen when we started to devour our chocolate-covered hallucinogens and for some bizarre reason, she insisted on accompanying us on our adventures in a completely sober state.

Bobby-Jo was a curious girl; she behaved like a middle aged woman although I believe there was a deeply spiritual and sensitive layer that resided within her. She was about 4 foot tall (a little hyperbolic) and had a slight resemblance to a squashed orc or, better still, one of the witches in Macbeth.

We collectively concluded that she was to be our guide for the evening and she seemed quite jubilant at her new-found role.

We then put on our jackets and walked off in to the night. Russell, Bobby and I were dressed rather conventionally (whatever that means) but Andy had chosen to don a long black leather jacket and we couldn’t help but make the obvious comparison to Neo- he did also have share an uncanny facial likeness to Keanu Reeves.

Bobby led us away into a series of fields; the three of us quietly chuckling amongst ourselves, absorbing the sounds and the myriad scents as the moment gradually became more visceral.

We then hit the point where we were in fits of giggles and we had reached an impasse on our journey.  We could either carry on along a long, winding, sand track or deviate from the written path and disappear in to thick woodland. Bobby, by this point, was incredibly irritated at our apparent impudence and threatened to abandon us as she was becoming fed up. By now, the mushrooms had started to take effect and a quiet rush started thrusting through my body. Bobby’s protestations became a distant echo and she became so irritated by our insistence of entering in to the woodland and ignoring her, she stormed off- presumably to her coven.

We crawled through a small opening, in to the woodland, laughing to ourselves; our collective spirit keeping us strong. My sense of depth was completely warped. Objects that were in close proximity appeared afar and I became fascinated by the shapes and wild contortions of the trees. The trees vibrated with an energy I could now see and I was drawn to embrace them. Forgive the cliché, but I truly felt at one with everything. We divided from one another, each going on our own internal and external journey for a few moments and when the time was right, we collectively and with a quiet understanding, moved on.

We walked through the woods, at times laughing uncontrollably and retrospectively, if we encountered anyone at that moment, they probably would have done what any self-respecting person would do when faced by 3 tripping lunatics in the woods – run!

Eventually we came to an opening, and our surroundings seemed a little more built-up and populated. We had reached a small river and walked along a concurrent path until we spotted two people in the distance, sat around a fire.

In our drug-induced inquisitiveness, we approached, purposeful and yet serene. We were warmly greeted by the most extraordinary young woman. She wore a white fluffy hat and we instantly agreed that she was our white rabbit. She was loquacious, vivacious and understood completely what exactly we were on. Unlike Bobby-Jo, she was schooled in the art of managing and enhancing the experience of tripping students.

We sat around the fire and she introduced her friend. If she was the bright spark, her compatriot  and counter point was almost certainly the total embodiment of misery and melancholy. His face pale and gaunt; we tried to greet him with warmth but he offered little response, choosing to stare gormlessly in to his private oblivion. I started to feel rather alienated and this shadow of a being was a magnet of misery. The white rabbit then took control of the situation and led us on our way, taking an active interest in our thoughts and feelings, trying to keep our attitude on the incline. She led us to a fenced off area.

In the mood we were in, there were no boundaries, so we bade adieu to our white rabbit and temporary guide, a character in our very own Carroll-esque fairy tale; the embodiment of suffering, a kind of living death, stuck to the shadows, enveloped by the dark that coursed through his dying veins.

After jumping over the fence, we entered in to what seemed – excuse the exhaustion of the reference – a wonderland. There were a plethora of small streams as if forged out of magic, the grass was beautiful and soft and there was a truly mystical essence to this place.

We slowly explored, now without a designated leader- wandering as a collective in the direction that felt right. We soon realised that we were trespassing on someone’s property. We had managed to leap in to someone’s garden and before we knew it, there was the sound of dogs barking that, at first, seemed rather distant but very quickly, became louder. Adrenaline then took control and we ran towards the nearest fence, advancing away from the dogs, laughing as we strode towards safety.

We hurdled over a fence, burst through some bushes and before we knew it, we were safe and found ourselves in a large field. The barking dogs were in the distance, trapped by the fence, and now a fleeting memory.  O how we laughed.

We then strode on, without any particular aim, just content in our enjoyment of our journey and then the most extraordinary moment occurred on our capricious travels. We 3 came to a halt, stared downwards in sync and noticed a single mushroom growing out of the ground and suddenly we were completely overcome by a feeling of six-pack inducing hysterical laughter. We cried with pleasure at this seemingly innocuous event and then the laughter gradually began to subside. Maintaining our synchronicity, we stopped laughing at the very same moment, straightened ourselves and carried on walking.

That was the pinnacle of our evening and from thereon, we began so sober ourselves and the daunting sense of reality began to cloud over us.

After walking for around 4/5 hours and over an unfathomable distance, the drug-induced adventure was slowly coming to its climax. A return to the hovel and a cup of tea suddenly became the perfect conclusion to a night that will live long in my memory.

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ONE WAY STREET

Meet Peter. He lives in a large, one-room apartment. Everything is sparsely decorated. Think Scandinavian design blended with a modicum of apathy for home decor. It’s difficult to tell which way it skews the most. Peter lives alone. His appearance seems to suggest he has his shit together, as it were. His hair is always immaculately assembled. His clothes are ironed to perfection. And his modicum of facial hair is cultivated with satisfying precision.

But do not be fooled by this appearance. As soon as you scratch the surface of this façade, you soon realise that all is not as it seems. The clues, however, are only detectable when you look closely. It’s remarkable what you can learn by observing the tiniest of details, which at first glance, seem inconsequential. It is these very details that often give a doorway into a person’s soul and unveil a whole symphony of truth and insight.

To cite an example; Peter’s apartment is always tidy. Everything has its place and is organized as it should be. It is very pleasant to observe from the naked eye. Satisfying, even. But upon closer inspection, you realise that the space is not as well maintained as it initially appears. The home is organized in such a way that it hides creeping grime.  There is a secret sense of disarray, surreptitiously lurking under the books, which appear to be elegantly organized on the dressing table. There are mounds of dust and dirt under the bed, swept away. But to see this mess, you would have to venture into the depths of his bed He ensures this space maintains the illusion of being an ordered spectacle, but it stands on the precipice. And the interesting thing is that this is not organized for the benefit of anyone other than Peter. This appearance of order tells a much deeper story about him. The curious thing that makes Peter and his apartment interesting, beyond the secret dirt, is that he has a wall of glass over one side of his apartment. And opposite this window resides another apartment building, filled with little boxes populated by people living their lives. All appears normal, right?

The extraordinary component to this scene is the wall of glass is one-way. So, when Peter looks out, he can see into people’s lives, but when they look back at his building, all they see is a wall, with no indication of life on the other side of it.

Peter invested a huge amount of his hard-earned money to live in such a place, which might appear rather strange, but as you might have worked out, he is a curious chap. You might also be asking yourself the reason for this unique choice of living. Well, it is because he finds observing the mediocrity of the everyday extremely interesting. It relaxes him. Peter holds no pretentions over what he is and what he likes to do, he has come to fully expect the strangeness of his ways. Hence, this full commitment to this rather weird scenario. This a secret he cannot share with another human, for reasons that have now become clear.  

But it does not stop there. He has taken it upon himself to name every single person who lives in this building, and even drafts notes, building these characters over the days, weeks and months he observes them. Each note is meticulously captured and filed in a highly organized system, designed for swift citation if ever he needed context for the drama or comedy that was taking place before him.

He has studied the small habits of all of these characters, the habits we all secretly hope no one would discover. One habit Peter likes to laugh at incessantly is that Geoff on the third likes to caress his arsehole and smell his finger. Even when he is alone, he conducts this rather strange habit surreptitiously, like he is scared someone might catch him. And when he is entertaining company, he will do it, and clearly thinks people don’t realise. Although they most certainly do.

Or there’s Therese opposite him, who does 5 minutes of bad yoga in the morning. At some point she usually taking a photo of herself whilst mid-position. Sometimes, she’ll lie on the matt, move momentarily and then give up, clearly just passing out with the boredom she experiences when doing it. Peter imagines she goes to work and boasts about her habit of waking up at the crack of dawn to get in shape before a day of ‘getting after it’.

This is where we meet Peter. It’s a Monday. As usual, he has been observing a variety of scenes throughout the day, when something significant takes place. He spotted a light in one of the apartments. Roger on the fourth went away in the morning, carrying his travel bag as he often does at this point in the month. Knowing Roger as well as he did, there was no way he would return. The curtains were closed as usual, but Peter glimpsed what appeared to be a torch light darting around behind the curtain. This meant only one thing; old Roger had an unwanted visitor. Now the right thing to do would be to warn the police about this criminal act, but Peter observed this situation as a good wildlife documentarian would do. One of the key rules he established for himself was that he was not to actively participate in their lives. Meaning, he would not influence anything that would happen, and all he would allow himself to do is merely observe. The significance of this moment is that this was the first test of his rule, and he passed it with flying colours. The torch light eventually turned off and, like clockwork, Roger returned home to discover his home had been ransacked. Peter knew a moment like this would come along, and while he could speculate as to how it might end up; he could never know how he would respond. He was, therefore, pleased he passed his own test with flying colours, even if we was a little sad to see Roger weeping for days after that.

The biggest challenge to Peter’s extraordinary choice of living occurred one Thursday. He had returned home from work, fully expecting to see Harry from flat 3 kicking off his shoes as he normally did and spending the next two and a half hours staring mindlessly into the bright, alluring glow of his phone. And Emma was inevitably reading her book on the sofa, escaping from the argument she had with her boyfriend the night before. Geoff had picked his bum on three occasions already.

But beyond the repetition he was so used to seeing, something was to occur that he did not foresee.

A new woman had moved in on the top floor. He didn’t know anything about her. She would often close her curtains when arriving back. He knew the rough time she would come back as he was always keen to capture a glimpse of her as he found her rather attractive. On this Thursday evening, she had brought back a male friend. The light came on and he sat down on the sofa. She didn’t decide to close the curtains on this particular evening. They opened a bottle of wine, which inspired Peter to get comfortable in his viewing chair. He went to collect his little snack pots in his cupboard, reserved for viewing moments, and he decided that given this was such a rare opportunity, he would dismiss what was going on in all of the apartments aside from this one. A special occasion such as this required a special kind of focus. As the night progressed, their conversation seemed to become more expressive. The wine was clearly taking hold. The light then turned off and was replaced by the glow of the television. They were watching a movie together, it seemed. Peter was unperturbed by this as he could still see what was going on in the room. It did, however, become a touch uninteresting as very little weas happening, so he found himself drifting into some of the other rooms. The couple on the second floor were lying on their sofa, as they always did. Staring into their phones. Ashley on the third was outside on her balcony, smoking a ciggie. It was all clockwork, which drew Peter back to the mysterious lady on the third. He could see that they were now embracing. The film was serving no purpose other than providing a much-needed light for Peter to observe this scene. The man moved his hand to the woman’s neck, she reciprocated. His hand wandered down to her chest. She promptly moved it. He then moved it back. She held his wrist and tried to push it off, to no avail. The balance of the embrace then began to change. The man became quite dominant, leaning in on her. She kissed, but she began to turn a cheek a little to push him away, but he wasn’t moving. Peter had a good idea on what was to happen. And he was right. The man became more aggressive. Peter froze. He didn’t know what to do. He knew he had rules. He knew he didn’t want to deviate from them. But this was something different. This was not something banal. Something awful was about to happen, right before his eyes. And he had the power to prevent it. There was a variety of things he could do to prevent it. He started running through all of the possibilities, hoping a clear answer would appear. But in actual fact, the answer was perfectly clear, he was just trying to convince himself away from the very thing he knew he should do. And while he went through the scenarios, he witnessed something truly atrocious, and did nothing about it. He just stared. At first, his eyes darted around his skull, his mind alight with thoughts. He examined all the different scenarios but always reverted back to his first rule; he must never interfere. This story was the most compelling to him and he soon relaxed. His eyes dulled. He had made his decision. The creeping thought that occupied the back of his mind sat there, judging hm. But he ignored it. He had witnessed the rape of a woman and chose to do nothing about it. From this very moment, he was to be changed. He decided it was time for bed, so he closed the curtains, returned the unfinished snacks to their rightful place and headed for bed.

Tomorrow was another day, and he looked forward to the other stories this apartment block would bring him.

THE END.

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DON’T TALK TO STRANGERS

He stared at me, his eyes ablaze with incandescent rage. Beads of sweat emanated from the top of his head. His twitchy fingers tightened to create fists with the intent on turning my face in to what would soon resemble a drunk person’s vomit. What had I done to cause such ghastly rage, I hear you ask? Well, the answer to that question is I stepped on his foot. Yep, you read that right! I didn’t punch his sister. Or steal the Nazi gold from his Gran’s house.  No, all I did was step on his foot, which caused the rage of a genocidal warlord to spark into  life. And little old me stood there ready to receive a pummelling from a person not mentally fit enough to change himself in the morning let alone board a train unaccompanied.

The moment came. It was inevitable. He motioned toward me and I braced myself for his fist to be introduced to my face.
I was of course prepared for this and I swiftly reached for a small knife in my jacket pocket. He didn’t notice given his blind rage. I promptly stabbed him in the neck, which changed his state from rage to despair. You should have seen him. I found it hilarious. You see, this man may have had a history of intimidating people, and he clearly had anger management issues, but it was just unfortunate that on that very day, he decided to fuck with the wrong guy.

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BLISS

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She stared intently at the open window. The broken mechanism had come away from the dirtied frame, leaving a small opening. Entry required absolute precision; something she could do with little trouble. She crept in through the small space. The landing was clean. Pause. Her eyes darted around the room. There was a person curled up on the floor resting on a fur rug, the smell of urine danced off it. The person was unconscious, clutching some bloodied tissue. This was not a place to stay in for too much longer. Light crept in from the hallway. She just needed to get out of the room.

And in a couple of ever-so-light leaps, she made it. Now the stairwell. The light trickled down from the landing upstairs. The pitter patter of a child’s feet could be heard entering the bathroom. She waited. It was Tommy going for a wee. The bathroom door closed, and the lock clicked. Now was the time.

She sprang up the stairs and was met by a closed door. But she knew the door mechanism had broken. A small nudge would do it. It worked.

And there was Mummy, sound asleep. A small syringe lay on her bedside table. More bloodstained tissue. A plastic bottle which had been transformed into a pipe lay on the floor, next to a badly burned patch of carpet. She evaded all of the obstacles and jumped up to her favourite spot, curled up and closed her eyes. Bliss.