– Short Stories and Excerpts
These Eyes of Mine
Xxxxx opened his eyes, and watched the spider build cities above his head. Since he had fallen asleep the enterprising creature had extended its dominion right across the ceiling, and he found himself admiring the dedication on display as the nocturnal efforts flickered above him.
Productivity. Yes, he did admire that. Today would be a productive day for him as well, but what he did not like was to get ahead of himself, so he extracted himself calmly from under the bedsheets and stepped onto floorboards that warped and crumbled beneath his feet.
He tore his gaze away, trying to ignore the feeling of insect legs – imaginary, these ones – scuttling up and down his spine. It happened whenever he looked at himself, and even after all this time he still hadn’t gotten used to the feeling.
‘All this time’. The beginnings of a grin, or perhaps a grimace, tugged at the corner of his mouth. That was the problem, alright.
There was a pile of clothes next to the bed which he raided, tugging on a pair of jeans and a grey t-shirt. As the shirt stretched over his shoulders, the material tore slightly and Xxxxx blew air through his lips, tutting to himself. Then he remembered how little it mattered – saw the blood spattered rags that the shirt would become before the day was over – and spat onto the floor.
There was just one thing he needed to get first. He shuffled into his shoes and left the room without bothering to wash.
In the hall outside, ‘Traintrack’ Jones was in the usual position, slumped outside his apartment by the stairway. Xxxxx drew a breath of preparation and stepped forward, ready for the habitual exchange.
‘Guardian of the fuckin’ Stairs,’ the reeking figure would mutter, one trembling hand slapping his own chest, ‘and Traintrack takes his dues straight up, understand?’
He would spout more shit for a minute or two, and then Xxxxx would tell him to get his skinny carcass back inside and look after his five year old. The natural progression was to get told to shove it, and that would be their daily shuffle concluded. It was a ritual, and Xxxxx understood those well. He, too, felt comforted by habit, and it was a small price to pay for being able to live in a building that was, besides the junkie and his daughter, entirely empty of other people.
And at any rate, today would be Traintrack’s last routine. End of the line. Xxxxx had always known this, and truth be told, had even looked forward to it a little. That needle shit had to catch up with people sooner or later.
Traintrack’s head rose slowly, the bones in his neck grinding, unused to autonomous movement. For a moment his eyes lingered on the syringe hanging out of the crook of his ring and index fingers, before swivelling slowly upwards. A feeble sound trickled out over the man’s quivering lips, and Xxxxx had to ask him to repeat himself.
“S’mornin,” Traintrack said, gesturing with the slightest inclination of his head through the door behind him. “I know that as a fact, ‘cos Jenny had to shut the curtains.”
Xxxxx rubbed his eyes. Morning… Of course it was.
“Right,” he acknowledged, and headed for the stairs, leaving his neighbour to what would be the fix that finally finished him.
Most people would have doubted that the staircase was still firm enough to hold a man’s weight – fewer would have been courageous enough to test out their disbelief. Xxxxx stomped down with venom, each step a dreadful groan of protest, the banister shaky under his palm. He ignored everything, didn’t look down, and kept his eyes straight ahead until he had left the dilapidated old hostel.
As he walked down the street, buildings rose and crumbled around him. A young woman, now in the thirty-first second, fifteenth minute, tenth hour, two hundredth day of the twenty-fifth year of her life rounded the corner at the end of the road, and he saw everything – a tiny, pink lump whose body swelled and softened, grew; limbs elongating, tightening and withering until there was nothing left but dust. All at once it was the past, present and future of the same woman. She was pushing a pram in front of her, and a glance at that made his chest tighten a little.
He crossed the road with his eyes closed. Sometimes he had to shut things out, however briefly.
He called it the ‘circle’ –an idea he stole from a film he’d seen as a kid – thought at the time it might help to give the unbearable a label, like normal people did. It hadn’t, but the name had stuck anyway – it at least made it quicker to think about. One short strand in the tangle of all things.
The rest of the populace didn’t know lucky they were. What would a life lacking the chaos of perpetual creation and decay really be like? But then, to not know the things he knew… he wouldn’t want that in a month of millennia either. So he was going to the hardware store.
As he stood in line at the counter, he wondered at the flickering human stories around him. How did they not see the floor falling away in front of them? Bubbling lava, gaping void, stars and silence? And when they looked in a mirror… Not to watch their skin unfolding, growing and sagging, dying… rotting… a sinister skull grin waggling lazily in the glass as the observer’s mouth twitches in horror , watching themselves crumble into dust.
Yes; they were lucky alright, but as Xxxxx walked back to his apartment, Stanley knife dangling from his hand in a plastic bag, he felt a pang of excitement. Soon, he’d be lucky too.
Back in his grimy, darkened room, he took the knife out of its bag and placed it on the table. It was ‘Reliable steel, made with the Thompson guarantee of longer lasting sharpness!’, according to the sticker slapped on one side of the blade. No worries there – for his own needs, that sharpness only had to last as long as a couple of strokes. The past, present and future of the actions played before his eyes, and he knew it was time to get on with it.
Then something unexpected happened – he reached down casually to pick up the knife, used to not having to look at what he was doing, but as he tightened his grip a sharp slice of pain shot through his fingers – he had grasped the wrong end. The knife dropped to the floor as a stab of pain shook his fingers loose and there was a clatter of metal upon the floorboards.
What the hell?
He gripped his hand tightly with the other to staunch the bleeding, and his eyes followed a stray drip of blood plummet onto the floor in bemusement. That should not have happened…
As the droplet hit the floor, he noticed something else strange: his resident spider, which had been scuttling across the room towards its corner, indifferent to the toils of the large fleshy lump high above, had met its end under the handle of the fallen blade.
His brain flared again in shock. What was going on? These things were not part of the circle.
He had known for certain that the spider would find itself a crack that led to the roof, where it would be picked off by some kind of pigeon. Stumbling, he snatched the knife up off the floor with his uninjured hand, and the soft, crushed body of the spider pressed between the knife handle and his flesh. He grinned, although he was not entirely sure why. He had to admit though, that it felt right, somehow. Maybe the circle knew what he was trying to do, and was trying to stop him, but that thought only strengthened his resolve, and he raised the knife up to eye level.
The left one first.
His first attempt failed. His hand, skin and knuckles taut, jerked back instinctively. No. He had to fight through that.
He tried to repeat the stabbing motion, but his muscles seemed no longer under his control. The human body’s inert sense of self-preservation, honed through five hundred and fifty-two thousand, three hundred and two years, one hundred and seventy days, twenty-one hours, five minutes and twenty-seven seconds’ fine tuning, was giving him a good fight, and it took a nauseatingly strained effort for
Xxxxx to raise his resisting hand once more, and finally plunge it into the corner of his eyeball.
An flower of pain blossomed through his head, and in the moments before he wrenched it out,
Xxxxx‘s eye watched the red-speckled blade forged anew alongside countless others in a crackling steelworks, then its testing strokes cutting lengths of twine, then lying on the shelf, until the stabbing motions caught up with themselves and – flashes of red now, and then blackness. Unbearable pain.
Half his vision now gone, his hand quivered erratically in the air as it poised for the third and final strike. The last thing he saw as he thrust was an arm – his arm – solid, firm, rushing towards him in his current, his immediate, his present… but nothing past that. The motion had no future! It existed – and in the split second of time it had to register this, his mind reeled at the possibility – in the present, and nothing more.
Then there was complete darkness.
Xxxxx also found, to his growing unease, that the feeling of the ‘rightness’ of his actions had been obliterated along with his sight. More and more he realised how weak he felt, and he sank to his knees to recover, the knife dropping along with him.
He had seen his body’s future, of course. Seen his skin sag and wrinkle before it became lifeless paper. So he couldn’t be dying now; he had been counting on it, had trusted the circle. But as he writhed upon the floor he felt strength leaving his body, and it was harder to get up so he could tear his shirt into bandages, as he had seen. As he had known. Or, thought he knew.
I can’t be dying now.
He sank deeper into the blackness, his mind steadily becoming as blind as his empty eye sockets, until he could no longer hold onto a single thought and his reeling, confused consciousness faded away…
* * *
Some time later, the door of
Xxxxx‘s room scraped open and Traintrack Jones stepped across the threshold. Skag-flecked fingers trembled only slightly as he took a syringe from his pocket and inserted it into the cavern of his left nostril. As he pressed down on the plunger he gargled for a moment, and then swallowed with a satisfied grimace.
A child’s voice squeezed out of his apartment from down the hall. “Paps, that you? That you, paps?”
“Be there in a moment, sweetie,” he called. His gaze turned to the two bloodied spheres in the middle of the floor, and the corner of his mouth twitched.
“Guardian of the Stairs, motherfucker,” he said quietly, and limped back into the hallway.
Flush And Fire [Extract]
Dragons had breached the city walls, and Geoff Plinkydink was occupied in his bathroom.
“Come – on – you – sumbitch…”
A bead of sweat gambolled joyfully down the slope of his nose and fell with a small splosh into the bowl of the toilet basin he was leaning over. Sadly, this triumphant dive went completely unnoticed by the skinny old man who had funded it, but then, the screams outside were rather loud.
Plinkydink thought he caught a brief note of his wife’s voice somewhere in the din, but he tried to push this to the back of his mind and focus on the only thoughts that really mattered. He had to, or else he would be finished. So; a soggy arse. Uncomfortable, buttock-clenchingly cold splashes of water upon his thighs. Countless pairs of trousers ruined, friends refusing to come round again for supper and endless redecorating bills. These were the important things now.
The wooden flooring around the base of the white ceramic had weakened considerably, partly as a result of the regular flooding they were subject to but also – and more immediately relevantly – because of the ground-trembling shakes that were becoming increasingly vigorous in the street outside. Plinkydink had tried before – Gods above, he had tried before – to remove the ceramic monstrosity from his bathroom, but had never met with any success. Now he was finding, to his chagrin, that the gradual destruction of his neighbourhood by giant lizards was all that he had ever needed. He wrapped his scrawny arms around the cistern as flakes of loose plaster fluttered down from the large damp patches on the ceiling.
“Careful does it, now…”
Contrary to his own words, he yanked upwards and was rewarded with a dull snapping sound as the floorboards gave way and the toilet slumped forward, coming to rest amongst the chips of roofing that now littered the floor. There were no pipes to worry about at least; for all its faults, the Plinkydinks’ toilet had never required any such mundane normalcy as plumbing.
Just then, an immense rumbling shook the windowpanes of the small bathroom, and Plinkydink saw a spurt of fire flicker across the other side of the street. He was out of time…
(All works © Alex Masterson 2009, All Rights Reserved.)