christmastime

Low — Just Like Christmas

Rows and rows of trees, pine needles bristling with excitement, hard bark bending itself outwards, craning long branches poking the eyes of shoppers. Plastic loudspeakers are set up at regular intervals, playing festive music, wires adorned with white blinking fairy lights. In the centre of the yard stands the Christmas monolith, a pine tree stretching itself twenty feet into the air; thick green bushes of needles, lower branches billowing out like a petticoat, thick ropes of red and yellow lights.

The crowd is mostly couples. A few have brought their children, who weave in and out of the legs and stumps, gathering needles in their gloves, scarves and hats. There’s a low hubbub of chatter, men reach out to shake a branch and murmur to their partners, the salesmen sing the praises of each tree, the tinny music simmers above the low babbling voices. Alex and Jean are no different, taking their time to assess the quality of each specimen – too many needles on the floor, too thin branches, too sparse coverage – and they fail to notice the figure lurking behind them.

The Hunter stands out in this environment. His towering frame puts his shoulders at the height of the tips of many of the trees – he has to duck underneath the lights – and of all the people present, he is the only one that seems hemmed in, caged by the festivities. His black suit heightens this even further, a stark contrast to the puffy coats and casual knitwear of the crowd, and people hurry out of his path when they cross it. As he approaches, his shadow looms over Alex and Jean, obscuring the lights that line the path. He reaches out and grabs Alex’ shoulder.

“Hi the-”

Alex loses the words in his throat, his eyes widen in shock momentarily. Jean turns around and gasps.

“You! You’re… What are you doing here?”

The Hunter smiles.

 

tutti fruttttti

Dialogue 6 — Khotin

It’s probably too late to call. I put the receiver back in its cradle. From the next room the TV light flickers, I get up and the chair creaks. The baby starts to cry but I can’t face dealing with it.

I walk back into the room with the television. There are thin dotted lines blurring the screen, fuzzy colours reflect on the shiny mahogany floor. A female news reporter with a large bob mouths silent words, a headline ticks across the screen, another recycling accident happened today.

Jane is sat at the back in one of the seats the visitors usually take, her lumpy body melting into the hard plastic like yoghurt on a spoon. She’s got the remote and is pressing it against her top lip. I can’t see in this light but it looks like she’s licking the buttons. I want to check if any of the fluff and gunk that coats the rubber has got into her teeth but I don’t. The baby is still crying.

sunshine splatterstream moonrock brokengreen.

There’s a tap at the window. A crow is on the other side waving at me, smiling, his teeth are round and yellow. I raise my hand back and return his wave. He looks at me with tiny black eyes and I realise he was waving at Jane. I put my hand down so I don’t look like an idiot.

The baby won’t stop crying.

man on the moon

Bombscare — Touts

“SO WEIRD!”

Natasha practically shouted in my ear. Classic Tash – she loved to exaggerate her response to everything, ramp up the enthusiasm levels and really affirm everything she was told. It developed during her ‘my-parents-are-divorced’ phase; she’d come in to school pumped for registration, the ubiquitous American Beauty rip-off art projects suddenly became ‘inspirational’, and the canteen sticky rice and brown beef sludge was like her last frickin’ meal. These things ALL sucked, so I figured she was used to pepping up her mom when dad was out banging the chubby girl from the pizza place on Greenberg Ave, and eventually it just filtered into being part of her personality. After twelve years it still bugged me, but it was often cute as heck so I always let it slide.

“I mean it’s like he’s waving RIGHT AT YOU?!”

The man she was talking about wasn’t real. And there was no way he was waving at me. But she was right, it did look like he was. He had popped up in the middle of my macbook desktop four days ago; it was the autumn mountain range one, white-capped grey stone peppered with brown and dark green bushes that blended into yellow orange red flame fir trees, reflected in a glass mirror lake.

“How SPOOKY!!” Tash yelled.

“Alright Tash reign it in – I’m only showing you because I wanted to show someone before it went away again, and Miller isn’t picking up his cell.”

“No but seriously – that is FREAKY! How are you doing it?”

“I’m not!”

I sensed her fold her arms over my shoulder.

“Seriously!”

“Well… what did you do?”

“Nothing, I swear. I just booted it up the other day and then suddenly there was this tiny guy in the picture.”

“Did you google it?”

I held back the eye roll. She was a sweetheart but at times she could be a dumb blonde.

“Yes, Tash, it’s 2018. I googled it straight away but I can’t find anything. Here, look -” I pull up Google – “there’s nothing. See? I only found results on troubleshooting frozen desktops and shit.”

“Did you change it?”

“No – well not before – but I swapped it to a different one, and – here, let me show you -”

I went into System Preferences and changed the background to another of the pre-selected desktops – a close up of the moon surface. As soon as it changed I tapped the bottom left crater.

“WHAT! How is he in that one too?”

“Right? And – look -” I point my finger at the crater and with my other hand switch back to the mountain range. The man is back in the trees, almost an inch to the right of the crater.

“Oh my GOD he MOVES??”

“Yeah… and Tash, I swear it isn’t me – like, it’s not a trick, I just have a tiny man stuck in my laptop.”

I switch to a safari backdrop. The man was now in the far right, peering through the tall grass and reeds. I hadn’t actually clicked on this one before; it was light and airy, removing the shadows that obscured his features in the others. You could now tell he was wearing a black tracksuit top, zipped up to his neck. He looked thin – his face was particularly hollow and gaunt. He had a short black fringe and a spiky black moustache; the inky blacks made his skin look even more pale. His limbs seemed gangly and weird – something gleaned on the wrist of his waving hand – a watch?

Tash didn’t say anything. There was an awkward pause for a few seconds. I turned around and she was staring out the window.

“Well?”

“What do you mean ‘well?’ – I’m not an IT expert, maybe you got a virus or something.”

She seemed distracted, her tone was flat. Her body language had shifted; her arms were folded tightly across her chest, her legs were angled toward the door and her shoulders were hunched forward.

“No, I checked – no virus. But Tash I haven’t told you the weirdest thing yet.”

She looked back at me. Her face was kinda pale and her eyes were kinda wide. Her chest was rising and falling faster than before. She looked scared.

“OK – so don’t call me crazy – but, like – I swear he’s getting closer to the screen.”

Tash’s eyes widened.

masterchef 2k99

Mother Hen — Audiobooks

Across the kitchen, the red team is already hard at work. Four small men are gathered around a small sink, taking turns to fill a small pan with cold water. This is then carried to a large pot on the iron hob behind them and slowly poured in, save for a small puddle of grainy water in the bottom of the pan. Each man then raises the pan to his lips and slurps the murky liquid before handing it to the next. One after the other, they repeat the process. A pile of potato skin lies next to the sink and with each slurp of the water, they begin to grab handfuls of the skin, which are thrown into the pot.

All four men are short and fat. The first in line has thick black sideburns and a bald head; the second has short blonde hair and an auburn goatee; the third has a bushy grey moustache and a thin combover masking eight irregular sized liver spots on his scalp; the fourth and final man is wearing a top hat pulled down to the brow of his small eyes.

After six minutes, the blue team grow tired of watching their rivals. They begin to clean down their workstation; eighteen large knives are plunged into a sinkful of hot soapy water, six glass bowls flaked with crusty flour and melted chocolate are stacked adjacent, three red plastic chopping boards stained red-wine red from cherry juices, and two large copper pans caked with brown mousse.

The two women fight for dominance at the sink. The short brunette elbows her teammate sharply in the ribs, the teammate kicks her in the shin. They scowl and hiss at each other. The short woman gets the upper hand when she pulls the long blonde hair of her rival and is quick to plunge both hands into the sink. She screams as her hands come out streaked in cherry juice.

A siren shrieks through the kitchen. The teams have thirty seconds left.

Both red and blue leap into action; the men huddle close, interweaving chef’s whites and red aprons around a may pole barber pole; the women straddle the oven and face each other down with the whites of their teeth; each open their ovens and plumes of grey and brown smoke fizz out and fill the kitchen; the fourth man’s top hat slides perilously down his sweaty nose; the men use their bare hands in unison to grab the peeled and roasted potatoes one at a time, grimacing from the heat, blisters forming on their palms; the women wrap their hands in tea-towels and reach for their individual trays of cherry chocolate puff pastry molten mousse.

A frail, thin child enters the kitchen. The teams gasp and hurry to the black marble countertop in front of him. Neither have used a plate, the food sits directly on the dusty surface. The smell of singed damp fabric hangs in the air. The child, his gaunt face pale and hollow, leans in to inhale the aromas. His lank hair falls onto his forehead and his nose wrinkles up pulling his lips with it – there are dark red stains on his gums.

Silence falls in the kitchen.

skiing

Terrible Voices — Cream with a K

sun snow blue board ice powder foam plastic cloud coat orange grey red thick thick puffy and thick keeps warm as pine breeze needles sting fleshy cheeks lips nose withered forehead soggy hair only eyes shielded by yellow plastic tear in bottom left scratches out blurry vision white into grey fluff cotton candy cotton wool cotton gloves tiny globes buzz past fingers curled on rubber rudders flimsy brittle matchstick poles guide flimsy brittle matchstick legs heart racing heart pounding heart bumping pumping thrumping tongue heavy thin air difficult to swallow teeth cracking wooden splints flimsy brittle matchstick pearls chattering chattering chattering

Jason flew off the edge of the cliff. His ski instructor had warned him against taking the Black slope this early – it had only been three months since Les Arcs after all – but he had insisted, and now here he was, flying through the sky with no parachute and just a pair of skis on his feet. It was poetic justice really; the sort of irony that Alanis Morisette would sing about. If his stomach wasn’t freefalling through his cavernous body, he probably would have laughed.

It took almost twenty seconds before he collided with the mountain beneath him. The intensity of the breeze that had stung his lips had increased to feel like tiny knives slicing his pink skin, he gulped for air with tiny fish lips blowing hollow bubbles, his heart was beating at a thousand beats per minute. The skis had stopped him capsizing in the air and so his feet were the first to make contact – the bone of his heel crunched and folded up into his shin, which burst out through his kneecap. The back of his skis were shattered instantly and shards of plastic-coated-wood pierced his buttocks. His tailbone thudded into the snow and the impact compressed every disc in his spine, severing the nerve endings and wiring his jaw shut. His body, limp and crushed, fell forwards and the momentum of his flight rolled him down the snowy gravel into a thick redwood pine tree. The front of his left ski was lodged in his cheek and his left eye socket was filled with blood. Snow fell from the pine tree and birds fluttered into the sky.

Seconds later he woke up and the memory of the pain caused him to scream in agony, it came out as a childish gargle. His head was wet and sticky. He smelt antiseptic, sweat and urine. A bright light blinded his eyes as they opened for the first time. A latex hand grabbed his ankles and he felt the familiar pull of gravity as he was lifted into the air – at least this time he was in a hospital.

c’est l’été

Fred Nicolas — C’est la Vie

It’s different when the sun is shining. Everything feels easier – unfinished tasks seem finished, looming deadlines are blown away, smiling takes less effort and laughter pours out of people like sweat. Plans for the evening unravel and evolve and expand and collapse, but who needs plans when it’s a London summer (city in the sunner). You can walk across Blackfriars bridge and even cyclists don’t seem like pricks. Cigarette smoke hangs in the air like a mist and the streets smell of beer – just avoid the central line.

There’s no point looking good if there’s no-one around to appreciate it; people don’t wear tuxedos to have breakfast above the kitchen sink. There’s no point to a summer evening if you’re going to spend it indoors. And that’s exactly what our lucky couple have planned. Not even just indoors, but actually underground, in the basement of a Japanese restaurant near Saint Pauls, a time warp complete with faux-geishas and wall hanging scriptures and china saké cups and tiny booths to mask yakuza deals. Bowls of broth are carried on wicker trays and chopsticks arrive pre-split, halogen bulbs are masked behind crinkled paper sheathes.

She’s wearing a floral playsuit (navy burgundy pink violet blue) and the flowers make her breasts look full. He’s wearing a racing green shirt with a button down collar and chinos with cuffs rolled up like sleeves. They’ve both spent some time adding volume to their hair. He enters first and holds the door open for her – it’s glass framed in black metal with elliptical handles – to appear gentlemanly but mostly to avoid engaging with the maître d(‘hotel). A tiny Japanese woman hurries to a pine altar to take their name. The staircase swallows them whole.

Opposite the restaurant is a pub called The Viaduct Tavern. It’s an old fashioned pub with watercolours on the walls and unknown bitters on tap, in this heat the fat red lipstick doors have been pinned open and punters fill the mouth like teeth. A sweaty businessman in a thick suit struggles to weave through the crowd on the pavement and sends an empty pint glass flying into the road, a cyclist swerves to avoid it but the black cab is too late, glass crunches under rubber like treacle, thick shards splinter into the grooves of the tyre searching for a way to slit it open, the cabbie drives on oblivious and pint glass gravel rolls down the road. Gingerbreadcrumbs.

Distracted, I didn’t notice the chewing gum and stepped right in it. Brilliant.

A desk of bricks.

Mr. Tillman — Father John Misty

Steven had no real idea what he was doing here and he was starting to think that the impatient blinking of the cursor was taunting him. His situation was exacerbated by the cacophony of keystrokes that surrounded him; dull thuds of young men venting their aggression on their keyboards, click clacking rat-tat-tats of old women’s manicured fingernails. It was as if the sound was getting louder, the taunt of the cursor punctuating each increase in volume, the white empty space of his desktop emitting a high pitched hum; he was drowning under the noise of shuffling feet and murmuring voices and glugging water coolers and droning fans.

TRRRRRRRRRRRRING.

His phone rang.

TRRRRRRRRRRRRING.

It rang again. His phone never rang.

TRRRRRRRRRRRRING.

He was a back office worker. Nobody had his phone number. He didn’t even know what his number was.

TRRRRRRRRRRRRING.

Steven finally snapped out of the maelstrom of office boredom and reached out for the handset. It was an old phone, made of cheap charcoal plastic complete with fat number buttons, a faded blue display bordered by thin buttons that Steven had never figured out how to use, and light-up flashing glass boxes for each line. Line 1 flashed at twice the rate of the frequency of the rings. He picked up the receiver and the light fixed on.

“Hello?”

These were the first words he had spoken since greeting the security guard upon his arrival to the office at 8.25am that morning and his voice was thick and croaky.

“Mr Tillman, Good morning, my name is -”

Static interfered with the line for a few seconds. Steven was about to speak when the voice returned.

“- you’ll forgive the intrusion I’m sure. I thought it best to reach you right away given the circumstances.”

“Sorry – the line dropped out there. What did you say your name was? What circumstances?”

“Yes it’s a bad connection here I’m afraid. We are quite remote so the service is pretty unreliable. As I was saying, my name is Doctor -”

Static. Three, Two, One.

“-we tried you at home but managed to find this number in her next of kin information.”

“Doctor? Are you from a hospital?”

“Oh my it is bad today isn’t it? Not exactly Mr Tillman – we specialise in ongoing care for our residents, making them comfortable. Unfortunately there’s not much even hospitals can do for those that end up here.”

“And where is that?”

“As I said, -”

Static. The longest one yet, must have been five seconds this time. Steven was stammering politely into the receiver when the voice returned.

“-you are listed as her next of kin in her entry file. She was brought to us almost five years ago now and, to be honest, we were all amazed she made it through the first week the state she was in, but now here we are. So we thought you should know.”

“Sorry – doctor – the line keeps on cutting out. Who are you calling about? I don’t know anyone in…well, wherever you are. Where are you calling from?”

“Mr Tillman I’m afraid it’s not that simple to explain. Think of us less as a where, more of a-”

Thankfully this pause was brief.

“-as I said, it’s a bit complicated to explain over the phone. I think it’s best if you came in to see her yourself before we have to begin the next steps.”

Steven racked his brains. Even though the line was poor it was obvious this was a doctor calling from a hospice or similar facility, to inform him of the death of a female patient. This woman had spent five years in their care and when she arrived, in a poor condition, had listed him as her next of kin. Five years ago he was twenty-two and living in Clapham with his university housemates; the most traumatic thing that happened to him in that period was when he got barred from Inferno’s for being caught with a gram of coke in the gents’. He really had no idea what this doctor was calling about, and was sure it must have been a wrong number, only with the freak coincidence of having the right surname.

“Mr Tillman? Are you still there?”

“Yes – sorry. It’s a bad line. I’m afraid I don’t know who you are talking about. I really think you must have got the wrong number. I’m very sorry, but really, I really don’t know how I can help.”

“Oh. Oh I do apologise. This is Steven Tillman?”

First name too – can’t be.

“Well yes, but I think you must have logged the numbers incorrectly or something, because I don’t know a-”

The man on the other end hung up.