We All Carry Ghouls

All the world rumbles past at speed, but I live at different pace. While you rush up and down flicking through your phone whenever you have a moment’s pause, I see the slow world, always shuffling beneath your perception. Because I’m slow, because sickness has dragged me to a slug’s pace as the world speeds around me, I miss a lot: I don’t get how the latest crazes work and it’s years since I chatted celebrity gossip with a stranger at the bus stop, but I see the seasons. Not as you do, not the sudden blazing heat or the rain. I see the first bud break and the very last gasp of summer. I don’t see you when you’re running for the bus, that’s too fast, but when you’re waiting at the bus stop, I hear the gentle click of your brain as boredom sets in.

And most of all, I see the ghouls. I see them oozing through the streets looking for lunch, dripping in slow motion from the lamppost. I see them sliding their liquid fingers around the shoulders of that boy who has paused at the side of the road, waiting for the cars to pass, clamping their mouths around his neck while they masticate with painful slowness on his will. Sucking on his marrow at such a speed it will take decades before his bones are sucked dry.

Horror films always show monsters as fast-moving things, but ghouls aren’t like that, their disguise is their interminability. They surround you, but they move so slowly you can’t perceive them.

It wasn’t until I got sick that I saw them. When you’re ill you slow down. I don’t mean flu ill, a few weeks won’t teach you anything. I mean when the months stretch into years, when your voice fades and you adapt to the fact that moving your limbs is like wading through syrup. When my thoughts finally emptied out and there was space in my head, that is when I saw them. And I realised the ghouls were everywhere.

Some people carry more than others. The man with the frizzy beard who smells of pee, the ghouls crowd and shuffle at his shoulders, they like him because he can glimpse them sometimes. They whisper to him, they suckle and chew on his ears. That young girl with the face too tired for a child, they cling to her, weighing her down as she staggers along. I watch them out of my window, a street filled with slow-moving ghoul parasites, feasting on their hosts with the same messy abandon that children have when eating crisps at a party.

We all have them, you have them. Once I slowed enough to see, I could feel their greedy, destructive chomping as they guzzled on a vein, or scooped out my innards with a stick. I wondered how I could stay alive with so much damage, how any of us could.

I tried batting them away, but their liquid bodies just slid around the attack. I tried burning them with a lighter, but the flame fizzled and went out. I saw the doctor, and he listened patiently, then wrote me a prescription for anti-psychotics, but all the while a ghoul had its finger sunk into his eye socket and it looked at me and winked.

As I trudged my slow way home, the ghouls chewed on my hair and giggled, they knew I had no way to stop them, I couldn’t make them leave. Opening the door to my flat, I made my slow way to the fridge and cut off a hunk of cheese, too tired to make a sandwich. I sat on the sofa while a ghoul gnawed at my knee. Without really thinking I reached out and patted him on the head and he looked up, surprised.

“We get lonely sometimes,” I said, “us slow ones.” Another ghoul that was sitting on my shoulder also stopped, so I reached up and stroked his back, tickled him behind the ear. I don’t think anyone had ever been nice to them before.

That was three weeks ago, and everything and nothing has changed. I’m still ill, still slow, still carry ghouls, but they’ve stopped their gnawing and destruction, instead thy keep me warm. When I’m alone, which is mostly, I chat to them,

“You’re beautiful,” I say and scratch one on his nose. “Aren’t you a silly little pookums,” I say, as one nuzzles at my neck and purrs. We all carry ghouls.

Stenny Johanssen

Living in a house converted to three flats, Jacky was only slightly surprised to see on the hall table, post for a name she didn’t recognise. It was a package the size of a bag of sugar, and the name on the front said Stenny Johansson. She checked beneath it for her own post, found none, and went on her way.

The package had been there for three days when the doorbell rang early on Sunday morning. A cheerful blonde-haired, ruddy-faced Swedish man stood on the doorstep, and Jacky peered at him through her hangover,

“Hello! Hello! I am so pleased to see you here. I was hoping that you had a parcel for me, Stenny Johansson?”

“You’re Stenny Johansson?”

“Yes, I’m over here from Sweden and my wife sent my parcel to the wrong house. Do you have it?”

“Oh, sure,” said Jackie, blurrily and confused, she handed over the package.

“Oh what a relief. It is parts for my vacuum cleaner and I’m leaving in a few days, so I need those parts before I leave the country.”

“Ah,” said Jacky, wondering vaguely why anyone would have vacuum cleaner parts sent over from Sweden if they were about to leave the country, but instead she nodded sagely.

“Oh you are a doll! You’re a lifesaver!” said Stenny, exuberantly, in a noisy way that hurt her head, and Jacky was relived to shut the door.

Three days later, on Wednesday morning when Jacky was still on her first coffee,the door bell rang and Jacky trudged down the stairs to open it. In the doorway stood another blonde, cheerful man.

“Ah yes! Hello! My name is Stenny Johansson, I’m hoping that you have a package for me,” said the man.

“No, someone called Stenny Johansson picked it up a few days ago,” said Jacky, feeling befuddlement flush her face red.

“No, no. I am Stenny Johansson, that is my package. Do you have it?”

“No, I just told you, someone picked it up.”

“But it’s mine,” said the man, sweaty indignation furrowing his face. “It’s vacuum cleaner parts, I need them to fix my vacuum cleaner. Did you check he was the real Stenny Johansson?”

“No, why would I check that?” asked Jackie, she was feeling indignant now. The second Johansson stormed off, shouting,

“Well you shouldn’t have given my post away! That’s illegal, you know?”

When the third Stenny Johansson appeared at the door, Jacky knew instantly. He had the same ruddy face, tousled blonde hair and look of optimism. Before she could speak, he tried to force his way in. Jacky put her foot against the door, but it took all her strength to keep the new Stenny outside.

“But those are the parts for my vacuum cleaner!” he shouted through the letterbox. “How will I clean my house now?”

The fourth Stenny Johansson didn’t bother announcing his name as he shoved the door aside with such force that Jacky went flying against the wall and knocked her head. With her thoughts still spinning, she was only dimly aware of Stenny Johansson stomping up the stairs to her flat, and then stomping back down a few minutes later. She didn’t really register the bright red object in his hands, and it was only later when she found her Henry hoover missing that she understood that he’d taken it.

Not his Wife

Stanley was sitting in his favourite chair wishing he’d learned how to smoke a pipe so he could really enjoy not moving, when the woman who wasn’t his wife came home. She was wearing the right face to be his wife, and the clothes looked familiar, but without doubt, she was someone else. If he was asked, he’d have been hard pushed to explain exactly how he knew it wasn’t his wife, but it was a sense as fundamental as gravity, and the more she moved about the house chattering about the queue at the Post Office in a way that was similar, but not the same, as his wife, the more he knew.

Stanley was a polite man, and the woman who wasn’t his wife seemed so certain of who she was, that after some quizzing that got him nowhere, he decided to let it go. Still as the days passed, a resentment grew. She kept moving the furniture round, and she cancelled his subscription to his model aeroplane magazine. She even bought broccoli and expected him to eat it. With each new and inappropriate behaviour, he felt lied to and manipulated, it just wasn’t on, but then she made lasagne.

He’d always liked lasagne before he got married, but his real wife’s cooking was dubious at best, and she made a watery, insipid dish; but his new not-wife made her lasagne crisp and tasty, so he decided, on reflection to just let it go. Aren’t we all imposters of one kind or another, he thought, philosophically, before wondering where the sofa had gone.

Short story: Nearing the End

I’ve been wary about posting this story because it’s on a pretty dark subject, and I don’t want to make anyone sad. On the other hand, I think it’s good to talk about (and think about) subjects like suicide, it’s a way of facing the darkness and being ready for it. Anyway, it’s a story, I hope you like it…

Kai carefully packed her handbag: bottle of water, lipstick, mirror, notebook and pen, and three months’ worth of anti-depressants; everything she would need. She didn’t take her phone, she didn’t want to be interrupted, she needed silence to help her keep resolve. She headed out to the park where she could find a few moments of peace to soothe the cacophony in her head. She edged her way around the grass, ducking her eyes from joggers as she walked to her favourite bench, the one dedicated to ‘Bert, who liked to sit here and dream’. When she’d had another long, depressing day at work, she’d come to sit here, and imagine this stranger called Bert. She tried to guess what dreams he’d had, were they hopes for the future that never came true? Or did he let his imagination drift from one world to another while the leaves rustled above him? Kai so desperately needed a vacation of the mind, she wished she could spend a long weekend in the meandering thoughts of Bert.

The bench creaked when she sat down. Fat old cow, she muttered to herself, disgusted with how her body had sagged and bloated away from who she wanted to be. She opened her bag and rested her hand inside, she would do this in stages, each stage slow, so she didn’t have to think. It wouldn’t be a dramatic death, just as it hadn’t been a dramatic life. Just as I deserve, she thought, I’ll slump over into sleep, lazy cow. She took out the bottle of water and put it on her lap, then pulled out the first blister pack of pills.

She didn’t notice the old man walking up, but she heard the creak as he sat next to her. His bony hands resting on his corduroy coated knees.

“Nice day for it,” he said, looking up at her shyly with red-rimmed eyes. “I like it when there’s a bit of a breeze.”

Not now, she thought; wishing the man away and then hating herself for it. She gave him a polite, empty smile, hoping this would put him off. It didn’t.

“A bit of rain can be nice too, but I don’t like it when you’ve got grey skies all the time, a good thunderstorm to clear the air, that’s the way it should be.”

As he carried on working through his opinions on each type of weather, Kai didn’t understand how someone could have so much to say about something so trivial. But as his fingers plucked at imaginary lint on his trousers, she thought she understood: he didn’t care about the weather, he just needed to talk to someone, to connect for a while. Slipping the blister pack back into her bag, she tried to force out some chatter.

“There’s supposed to be a good thunderstorm at the weekend, there’s a yellow warning of wind.” Her voice sounded hollow and strained to her own ears, but the old man clapped his hands with delight, his face rumpled up with joy,

“Yellow warning eh? We’d all better get our mountaineering gear out. I’ve got to go out on Saturday, and I’m not a big fella, I’d better get some heavy shoes!” He laughed uproariously, and Kai didn’t see why this was funny, but his delight was infectious and she found herself smiling. The man patted her knee, but she could barely feel it, as if his hand was no more than the wind.

“Now you, you’re a good one,” he said. “Sitting here patiently while some old boy rattles his chops about nothing. You need to take care of yourself, girl. There aren’t so many good-hearted people in the world.”

She looked away, suddenly wanting to cry.

“Thank you,” she whispered. They didn’t speak again, Kai didn’t feel the need to speak.

When she finally walked away, wishing him a lovely evening, Bert smiled to himself, “You’ll get through, you just need to give the blues time to pass, I’ll be keeping an eye out,” he whispered, then leaned back on his bench to sit and dream.

Short Story: Insidious Demands

– Hey there pretty lady, are you sitting all alone? A beautiful lady like you shouldn’t be alone.

– Oh, erm, hello, I’m just waiting for my friends, they’ll be here soon. Any minute now.

– Why don’t I keep you company then, hmm? You look like you could do with some company, just until they get here.

– Well, um, I’m not sure… it’s a bit of a school reunion, you see? Not an official one, just the old gang getting together again. I’m really quite nervous, it’s been so long.

– That’s why you need me to talk to, make a new friend while you’re waiting for the old ones.

– Well maybe, I mean. Maybe they’ll think it’s rude if I’m talking to someone else…

– Hey now, you shouldn’t be worrying about that, when we’ve got this chance to get to know each other, hmm?

– Well, I suppose. And it’s the kind of thing that we used to do back then, just start chatting to some random stranger. Kirsty especially, I could tell you some crazy stories. Whenever we took the train we’d end up talking to some boys or making friends with an old tramp.

– Well that’s great, I think you and me already have a real connection, don’t you? How about I buy you a drink?

–  Oh I don’t want to start drinking yet. Once the others get here, then I imagine it will be a free-for-all. More alcohol than you can shake a stick at, you know? Not that we were alcoholics, but we did like a drink.

– You don’t need to be so uptight about it, just have a drink with me.

– Oh Kirsty would love you. She did like a pushy fella who’d buy her a drink, she liked to play with them, she wanted the risk. Oh, I can’t wait to see the old gang, I haven’t seen them in years, not that it should matter, I mean when you’re friends with someone, that’s it for life, isn’t it? They say your teenage friends are your greatest friends, right? Didn’t they say that in a film once? But we were all very different back then though, and there were reasons we stopped being friends…

– Right, well that’s interesting…

– Kirsty especially got out of hand, not violent exactly, but, well there were incidents. Not that it was her fault, if I’d had that man as my father I’d have done a lot more than throw bottles at a car. Of course it would be all different if we were kids now, we’d spend our whole lives on the phone chatting to paedophiles. And you know kids today, the only time they actually look at one another is when they need to take a selfie, or a we-lie, or is it an us-y? I don’t know why they need to keep making up new words, like there aren’t enough words to deal with already. I mean there’s a whole dictionary full of the things.

– How about I get us that drink..?

– Anyway, I was telling you about Kirsty, you’ll like her, all the boys did at school. It’s odd because she was never that fastidious about personal hygiene, but then they say attraction is all about pheromones, so maybe she just didn’t wash hers off as much. You’d think the feet smell would mask the pheromones though wouldn’t you?

– Mmm.

– Fastidious, now there’s an interesting word that kids today never use. They’re too busy with their OMGs and YOLOs. But anyway, Kirsty, apparently she’s a big shot consultant now, earning a fortune in the city. Well it’s not really surprising, she was always clever. Clever and bored, that was her problem, school just wasn’t enough to occupy her, she could pass exams without even studying, lucky cow.

– Well that’s great, but maybe…

– Anyway, we all found each other on Facebook, it’s amazing isn’t it? Modern technology? Fifteen years, all five of us scattered across the globe. All going about our business never expecting to see each other again. Then a few clicks of the mouse and there you are, the whole gang together. Kirsty, Jennifer, Archisha, little Sarah and big Sarah. Of course big Sarah is not so big now. She actually looks fantastic. Not that she didn’t when she was a teenager, but, well, you know what it’s like for larger girls, it’s tough. Except it’s probably fine now, now that obesity is so common. Big Sarah would probably be considered quite svelte. Quite svelte Sarah we’d have to call her. Although I expect we’d be arrested under the Political-Correctness-Gone-Mad Act for it. You know at my son’s school they actually have a points system for bullying? Like with driving, you get too many points for picking on other kids and you have to take an anti-bullying test. Well, I said to the teacher, that’s just another form of bullying isn’t it? You’re bullying my son now, how about you take a test? How about I set that damn test? And yes, I did swear, but you can’t let these teachers push you around, can you?

– Ok, um, I really need to go now…

– Oh sorry, sorry, I got totally side-tracked, I was telling you about the gang, wasn’t I? Well there was Jennifer, sweet, mousy Jennifer. All the boys who didn’t go for smelly Kirsty, went for Jen. I never really understood why, I mean, she was pretty in a bland, unthreatening way, but there was no spark to her. Maybe that’s what they liked, someone who’d make them feel sparky by comparison. Boys don’t like to try too hard do they?

– Lady, let go of my arm…

– But I haven’t told you about Archisha and she’ll be here any minute. And hers is such a lovely story. When she joined the gang she was much like Jennifer, mousy. She followed us around with those big eyes, trying to make jokes, but she wasn’t funny, just awful. Then one of the boys took a shine to her and then she started to take a shine to herself, you know? I mean, we helped her out with make-up, lent her clothes and so on, but it was a total transformation, she blossomed. Became a bit full of herself to be honest, and she didn’t stop cracking those awful jokes, but the boys would just laugh and laugh, trying to impress her. I suppose they thought she was exotic, or is that impolitically correct now too?

– I need to go, please let me go…

– Yes, that’s right, you run along now. Run right along.

 

Originally posted March 19th 2016

Look At This! It’s A Thing!

I am the shill, hear me roar!

IMG_6907
An orangutan unimpressed with my roar

So here again is a small excerpt from my book which got published, and you can even buy it right here. It’s all about magic, love, drugs and the pursuit of something, anything, beyond the humdrum. It’s about how imagination is a powerful force for both creation and destruction.

Vurt is raging now, preaching about the evils of cocaine, of billy, the evils of all drugs.

“It’s all just sloppy! Sloppy and messy. Look at yourselves choking and gacking and sweating.   Don’t you get it? There’s nothing cool about this. This is too easy, too obvious. Anybody can take cocaine!” His podgy face is patched with red and he is lurching about the kitchen in a frenzy of belief. I shimmy over to the breakfast counter, lick my finger and dip it into the powder sack. Cant makes his way over and is looking at me all cute-eyed and squirmy. I hold out my white-coated finger to him.

“Suck on it rich boy.”

He narrows his eyes, takes my hand in his and my finger into his mouth. His tongue is rough like a cat’s. He starts gagging, flailing around for something to take away the taste. I jive away across the kitchen. Vurt is still preaching, so I put my hands on his shoulders and dance in time to his words.

edging 2

Or if spending money seems a bit drastic, then there’s the easier way of getting more of my writing and hearing about my new project as it happens, by signing up here.  This is perfectly safe, and I won’t spam you with lots of emails, I’ll only write when I’m doing something interesting.

 

Shameless Self-Promotion

I am a shill. I will continue my campaign of pestering, but I will keep these posts brief and just post a little from my just published novel Riddled with Senses. It’s the story of what happens when the lives of two teenage girls collide; one a drug addled cynic, the other a bizarre loner whose imagination has taken over her life.

If you are intrigued by the style and ideas in these small snippets, then you will probably like the book, so if you fancy something to read…

Nobody mentions it, but there are two types of insanity. One is the unstable mind, that’s the one they make films about, the romantic insanity, a person out of control and capable of almost anything. But the other is the madness of the stable mind, where behaviour is illogical and damaging but every day it is exactly the same. This is the life of my parents, irrational and distressing, crazy as a flock of loons trapped in a plastic bag, but never changing.

A Hole Where Her Soul Should Be

As soon as I met Narinda I could see she was missing something. She was friendly, funny obviously very smart; but there was a hardness to her, a lack of concern for anyone. Art college was a fluffy, hysterical place and we all wailed our way from one drama to another while Narinda stayed back, calm and quietly scathing.

We lived three doors down from each other in halls, and spent polite time together, but she wasn’t someone I could go to with howls of indignation that my latest project had only got 54%, even though I’d poured my soul into it, or tell her the sexy dream I’d had about Brennan from our pottery class. She made me feel childish and emotionally messy; and to be fair I was. Anyway, I didn’t know what set Narinda apart until one drunken night when the truth spilled out of her. I say ‘spilled’, it was more of a controlled release. We were talking about our families. I said how mine was like a zoo: you know, everybody trapped and pacing. Narinda replied,

“My upbringing was like a psychological experiment. In fact, I think that’s what it was. My parents never hugged me or gave me praise. They didn’t like playing with me, never took my photograph even. I thought that was just how they were, and then my sister was born. You should have seen how they were with her: constant kisses and affection. Little gifts that they’d buy her, they’d tie ribbons in her hair. And we had photo albums filled with pictures of her stupid smiling face.”

“Why?” I asked, aghast.

“I said earlier, it was an experiment. It took me a while to work it out, but it’s how they deal with everything. They experiment with food, trying out new recipes and putting odd ingredients together; they buy from different shops and compare prices and quality, writing it all down a notebook. They experiment with TV programs and technology. Once my dad wired a Furby up to the vacuum cleaner. They want to play with things, see how they turn out. My dad wanted to be a chemist, but he couldn’t pass the exams.” She shrugged as if she didn’t care, her voice even and with the slight sneer that accompanied all her words.

We never talked about it properly again. I think with all the other emotions flying around our classes, her measured sadness wasn’t loud enough to be heard. And I didn’t forget what she’d said, but I didn’t think about it either.

The night Narinda vanished, it took until midnight to notice. From there the situation quickly escalated. There was the neatly written note explaining that she’d decided art college wasn’t for her, the measured request for no one to come looking for her. Within a few hours her parents had arrived from Stockport: two nervous, wide-eyed people who held on to each other and fretted. I’m not sure how I ended up looking after Narinda’s father, feeding him tea and awkward sympathy. There just isn’t much to do when someone goes missing, mostly you sit and wait. So he sat on my scabby armchair that I’d found in the street, huddled over a chipped mug and unable to stop talking. I think guilt had caused his mouth to spring a leak.

“We tried to be good parents, we really did. I expect she told you we didn’t care, but we cared, we tried,” he paused, looked at me pleadingly, then shook his head and looked at the floor. He let the words spill again,  “We knew we weren’t giving her what she wanted, but we didn’t know how. We never understood her. She acted as if she didn’t want to be our daughter, right from a baby she was bored with us. It was as if we couldn’t connect. She wouldn’t hug us, didn’t want dolls. I remember I tried to tie a ribbon in her hair once, she pulled it out and threw it in a puddle and stamped on it. She found everything we did an irritation. In her high chair she’d sit and scowl at us, as if we were wasting her time. I thought it was us, but then her sister came along, and well, she was a delight, we could make her happy. But Narinda, it was as if she had something missing. You know?” He looked up at me, his face a cacophony of guilt, sadness, bewilderment and loss. I nodded, because I did.

Goodreads

This is a general post about Goodreads, plus a small plug and a few questions for all you smart internet-sters out there.

What is Goodreads?

I suspect most of you already know what this website is, I’m always last to be a newbie, but in case you don’t know:

Goodreads is a massive hub for both writers and readers. It has many forums, discussing fiction and the ideas in factual books, as well as authors sharing information about the art of writing and how to self publish. It also allows authors to put up their books and information about themselves, so that readers can find them.

I am now on there!

My just-published book Riddled with Senses is now up, right here, in fact.

And now the questions…

  • So do you use Goodreads?
  • If so is it for learning about new books to read? Or promoting your own writing? (or both?)
  • Are there any good books you have found through it?
  • Do you write on the forums?
  • Which groups have you found interesting/useful?

And, if you’re interested in connecting up with other bloggers on here, then please say your username – I’m on there as Petra Jacob, and currently friendless, so if anyone wants to add me, that would be great.