This is a love story
Not of a face, but a place
A feeling, an echo, a collection of space
It’s filled by all sorts of bodies,
That move in their own ways
Whether that’s students partying,
Or people drinking away days.
This is a love story
Not of a face, but a place
A feeling, an echo, a collection of space
It’s filled by all sorts of bodies,
That move in their own ways
Whether that’s students partying,
Or people drinking away days.
Vincent had killed thousands of men in his long life.
This one was no different.
The night had brought peace to the wasteland, disturbed only by the clumsy movements of his prey. Vincent kept his eyes on his target as he followed him, his own steps making no sound at all. Ahead, a man with a backpack slung over his shoulder and a flashlight clutched in his shaking hand was headed towards a building as old as time. Its crumbling walls promised long forgotten treasures and with them, potential rewards.
The man would find nothing but darkness inside.
I’m not much of a toilet brawler
Don’t like a taxi rank skirmish
I do like a drink
But I don’t get churlish
Don’t like aggro
Prefer to walk away from it all
Because nobody wants to end up like Paul.
Not what Paul’s been through
Knocked clean out
In a dirty nightclub loo
Paul’s head hit the cistern.
Coma for weeks
If only his friends had of listened
If they’d left it where it started
Way back at the bar
If they’d walked away and laughed
Joking about it from afar
But Paul’s mates liked a rumble
When the drink was inside
Everyone’s Mike Tyson
When the night comes alive
Things mistakenly overhead
Who backs down first?
Was never Paul’s mates
All alive with the thirst
Paul wasn’t like that.
A considerate young lad
Didn’t see the point in it
People acting mad
He was there for a laugh
Not for a scrap
Only fight he’d had
At 5 his sister gave him a slap
But boys will be boys
And mates are your group
So Paul was stood there
When it got thrown out of loop
When the testosterone boiled
And the aggravation bubbled
There it was
A whole lot of trouble
Bystander calmed it
Just a spilled drink they’d said
But Paul’s mates kept on shouting
And their opponents turned their heads
For now, at least.
And Paul felt relief
As he slid into a seat
Two drinks later
A bit of dancing
Bit of flirting
And Paul’s last worry
Was of any more trouble occurring
Into the toilet
To empty the bladder
As he unzipped
He heard the chatter
The lads from before
Not his friends, but the foes
Planning an attack
When the club came to close
Paul should have stayed quiet
But peacemaker kicked in
Lads came out the toilet
The story gets grim
A grin of realisation
Four versus one
In toilet isolation
Paul, innocent paul,
No idea of the trouble he was in
Kept talking them down
Should be saving his skin
The punch came from nowhere
Broke his jaw with the force
But Paul didn’t feel anything
Just the darkness of the fall
Head, the back of, colliding with ceramic
Paul’s consciousness, leaving the planet
Paul’s mother and father
Getting the call
Tears and terror
All because of a bathroom stall
The tendrils of influence
Stretched out that night
Lives changed forever
Because of meaningless fights
The guy who punched Paul
A promising grad
Lost control that night
And lost everything he had
Five years in jail
Guilt every day
All just because
Couldn’t keep anger at bay
And Paul’s friends got worse
Didn’t learn their lesson
Righting your wrongs
Beyond their comprehension
Even angrier nowadays
Don’t cross them on a night
But all of them cried
When they saw Paul after the fight
His head cracked open
Blood on the floor
But not here anymore
Eyes glazed over
Broken and fleeting
Confined to a wheelchair
A husk of what was
And all for nothing
A drunken encounter, just because
Just because some men
Justify their lives by their actions
And don’t feel like real men
If they’re not fighting or attracting
Females for fucking
Men to be battled
And bystanders like Paul
Just doe-eyed cattle
Paul’s story has a bright side
He’s not even real
But the stuff I’ve seen in my life
Tarnishes the grand reveal
Because what happened to Paul
I’ve seen more than once
I’ve watched punches thrown
Without slight remorse
All over nothing
Just beers and masculinity
Uncaring for reality
Let’s hope you’re not like Paul
And you’re aware of danger
Keep an eye out, for the anger of strangers
When fists start to fly
Or it’ll be your mother
Who’ll weep, when she hears that you’ve died.
Last but not least,
Don’t keep the company of beasts.
Make sure your friends
Don’t have anger to unleash.
Enjoy your drinks
But beware of past midnight.
One punch can end it
Stay away from the fights.
If you’d told the man sitting in a Newcastle pub that he’d save the life of one of the rarest creatures in England on an otherwise dingy weekend, he’d have laughed in your face. Then, he’d probably have had another pint. Maybe he’d have had a shot too, for good measure.
This pint, his third, went down as willingly as their predecessors. He sat in the corner of the bar, underneath the picture of the fat lady with her breasts out. This had been their favourite spot, but now Thomas sat alone – and he drank.
But the bar itself wasn’t empty. Far from it. His phone buzzed constantly, GPS and NFC notifications lighting up to let him know that there were non-humans nearby. But Tom didn’t need a phone to notice that. In the Town Wall, people looking to dull the pain of a recent breakup weren’t the only beings around.
Yilrah’s cocoon broke through the atmosphere of Earth in a blaze of red flame that lit up the night sky. Inside the vessel, the traveller was awoken by the force of the entry. Minutes later, the whole structure shook violently as it thudded into the ground.
The news crews and scientists were already waiting. Inside, wrapped in the warmth and comfort of her planet’s birthing liquid, Yilrah breathed a deep sigh of trepidation. Here was her destiny, the same each of her species faced. Launched out into the universe asleep, forever immortal until they found planets that showed signs of life.
The first question is where?
The second is why?
The third, and perhaps the hardest of all, is how?
The where is a maximum security prison called San Quentin. I’ve been put in here with some of the meanest, toughest human beings I’ve ever laid my eyes on. Tattoos on their throats, scars on their faces. Men who have killed and enjoyed it.
A stranger came from a forgotten land
He wore golden hair, carried gold in hand.
With a sweet and lashing tongue that spoke aloud
The stranger he stood there tall and proud.
The stranger he tells us right from wrong
He masks untruth with his golden song.
And the stranger he carries gold in hand
Promises it freely to each and every man.
The stranger he removes the weak from the strong
Protects us from those who mean us wrong
Cut them off from the sea, off from the shore!
The stranger he guards us more and more.
And then the gold pours, thick like blood.
The stranger he slowly removes his hood.
We see his horns and we see his claws,
But it matters not, because he aids our cause.
The river runs deep, red and dark.
The stranger’s teeth, sharp like a shark.
He consumed them all, and we were glad.
But his eyes turn on us, hungry and mad.
The stranger he feasts on the fervor we fed him,
The lies and the fear and the hate that we let in.
Once he’s done with the others, none left to challenge his rule,
His jaws close on his loyal followers, the blind land of fools.
2016 has been a horrific year for planet Earth. Regardless of your political views, personal position in life or your attitude towards others, we’ve all read some horrific storylines in the media – from the deaths of much loved actors to an unparalleled refugee crisis.
But wait, I hear you say, what about our own homeless? What about Kim Kardashian? When I first started writing, I always told myself I’d avoid putting my personal opinions out on a soapbox. Instead, I’d stick to sports journalism and fiction with some inspiration from our own reality. But sadly, it’s time I spoke some truth to anyone who reads the things I pen: It’s time to stop focusing on emptiness and start having some compassion.
We live in a world where more people care about themselves than they do others. This is understandable. We all want to go home to our families and see our own lives progress. We all want a nice, comfortable life. Unfortunately, the reality is so unbelievably far removed from that ideal that we must all now confront some of the crisis erupting around us.
But what is compassion, really? I’ve recently turned vegetarian after learning about the plight of animals in slaughterhouses, yet any time I tell people about it I get the same reaction: “I don’t want to know about the slaughterhouses. I just want to eat meat.” To me, that’s the symptom of our entire worldview and how we lack compassion. We watch the news, shake our heads, then we switch it off. But really, that’s not good enough. We need empathy.
This year has witnessed one of the greatest humanitarian crises of our time unfold on the news. The refugee and migrant situation across Europe has spiralled out of control. And yet, a quick glance at the comment section of any national newspaper and you’ll see people furiously attacking these so called ‘economic migrants’ for wanting, how dare they, the free healthcare and good standard of living we have in the UK. The same free healthcare we are all entitled too, and didn’t pay a penny towards until we were 18+
These people are human beings. They come from a country that is involved in a complex power struggle, but they themselves only want the same thing as all of us. Food, shelter, warmth and a chance to succeed at life. Whatever country they flee too, who are we to judge while we sit in our homes and sip tea and coffee. Have we lost our ability to empathise? Imagine you and your children suddenly had bombs falling on your home, a war on your doorstep and killers in your neighbourhood. What would you do?
It is not ‘Us vs Them’ – it doesn’t matter if they’re children, male or female. We are human beings. They are human beings. Nobody chooses where they are born – so why feel you’re entitled to more than they are?
I’m lucky. I’ve got a university education, thousands of pounds of debt and a rental flat that costs way more than it should because I can’t get anywhere near affording a mortgage. Despite this, I am healthy, happy and live in relative peace. The worst threat of violence in my life is getting chinned at the chip shop if I’m out drinking.
Some people are not so lucky – and the media is beginning to demonise the lower working class and those on benefits in a sickening fashion. Whether they’re immigrants, those who have fallen through the gaps or even voluntarily on benefits, the fault lies with the system. We live in a world where the 1% have more than the 99% – and yet somehow we focus on the poor? Open your eyes.
In this world, you’re branded a ‘leftie’ or a hippy if you preach compassion. However, even the most flagrant racists I’ve met have some good in them. I strongly believe that people are, against all media portrayals to the contrary, inherently good. Almost all of us have kindness in us, excluding a few complete bad eggs. Whether this kindness manifests as holding the door for someone, making someone a cup of tea or just being polite – it’s there.
This has all been spurred by watching Ken Loach’s incredible film: I, Daniel Blake. In it, a good man makes a big impact in a struggling family’s life – but finds himself a victim of our merciless benefit system. Despite that, the film for me was a strong reminder of the kindness of the human spirit. The sense that, if people try, we can really change things for people.
I’m writing this, unlike the stories and poetry I produce, for no real reason. I may be shouting into the darkness – preaching my ‘leftie’ views to people who won’t even consider this message. But, like a ship in a storm, I’m pressing on with it. Human beings, each and every one of us, has a story or a struggle. Whether it’s mental health, poverty, homelessness, seeking refuge or just feeling down – we all have our cross to bear. But it’s time to stop burying our heads in the sand, or placing our fingers in our ears. Each and every person can make an impact – whether it’s buying some food for a food bank, volunteering in some way or just being kinder to people.
If just one person reading this watches a news story about migrants, or beggars, or people on benefits and rather than instantly condemn them, thinks a little harder about the situation – then I’ve done a good job.
We are all human beings. We all come from our mothers. We all share this planet, for better or worse.
Think a little harder, care a little more, hate a lot less.
There wasn’t much chance for Derek Doyle. He’d never had much of one, anyway. Born a bit of a natural loser, his own mother had known he had a face only she’d love. Growing up, he’d been distinctly average at everything – but the kids had still picked on him for his awkwardness. In adulthood, this ended with poor Derek working in a car garage, doing manual labour for the more qualified engineers.
What it didn’t do was stop Derek Doyle from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. When the car fell off the jacks and came crashing down to the garage floor, distinctly average Derek was crushed.
His mother cried for a week.
But Derek didn’t. He was too busy being dead.
Or so he thought. Funny, but death wasn’t what he’d imagined it being. For all the talk of pearly gates and singing angels, Derek found the sterile whiteness of death to be a bit of a let-down. He’d woken in a new place – clothed in nothing but his own nakedness. This had surprised him too, as he wasn’t what you’d call body confident. If anything, he’d been body shy to the point of wearing coats to bed at night.
But here he was: dead, or what was supposed to be dead, but stark naked. And the body in front of him was nothing like poor Derek Doyle’s. No pockmarks on the belly, no stretch marks on the thighs. A far bigger appendage than he remembered.
But Derek Doyle wasn’t much of a thinker. Or so he thought. He wandered awhile through the infinite whiteness, wondering why heaven was so dull and what he was going to do here for eternity. Not that little Derek Doyle comprehended eternity.
“You have passed.” Came a voice.
“Passed?” Derek responded, swinging his head around to try and find the voice.
There was no visible source from the voice that called through the sky – so Derek stopped looking. He was practical, at least.
“What have I passed?”
“Simulation number 98,788,223,132.”
“Oh.” Said Derek. He’d never had a head for numbers.
“You are not Derek Doyle.” Said the voice. This confused Derek, so he scratched his head and shrugged.
“Pretty sure I am. Always have been.”
“No. You’re not. You are Alpha. You are Omega. You are my test subject. And when I sent you into simulation 1, millenia ago, you were just as reluctant. You didn’t want to be the first man on Earth. When I sent you into simulation 94,788,123,424 you didn’t want to become Adolf Hitler and enact those terrible crimes. When I sent you into the last one, you’d complained that you’d learned too much to live out the life of a simpleton.”
Derek Doyle scratched his head again. A bright light flashed. Suddenly, he was not Derek Doyle. He was Alpha – and Alpha remembered it all. Trillion of lives, lived throughout history and the future of the human race. A simulation ran by his creator and tested by himself. Each and every conciousness created in that world had to be trialled. A full life each time.
Alpha had been Atilla the Hun. He’d been Jesus of Nazereth. He’d been Julius Caesar. And just now, he’d been Derek Doyle.
“You lived his life well. You were shy, kind and loving despite your flaws. Derek Doyle’s mother – who you will one day play, cared for you with a love that burned brighter than the hate you had to deal out when you lived as Benito Mussolini. That means you passed.”
“And, if I remember correctly,” Alpha said to his creator, “I get to choose the next life because I passed?”
Alpha thought of the many great men he had lived as. Of the despots and the kings, of the thinkers and the poets. He thought of them all – and he felt the weight of millenia’s worth of work weigh heavy on him. He was tired. He thought long and hard – then he smiled.
“Can I be Derek Doyle one more time?” He asked.
A white light flashed in reply.
A simple boy was born once again.
I write this here in the hope someone will find it.
I know that the chances of someone – anyone, actually reading this note are not good. Dismal, in fact. I know that most likely, my own eyes will be the last pair to ever witness the words I’m hastily scribbling down.
But it matters not. I must warn someone. You must know.
If you have found this and you are reading these note, beware the men with the black eyes. Shun them. Fear them. Destroy them. They will do the same to you in a heartbeat.
My name is Dan Roberts. I am…was, a captain in the American army. During a bleak, dreary April that was devoid of activity aside from playing cards and wishing we were at home with our wives, my battalion received inexplicable orders to abandon the base we were currently stationed in. We had to leave the mainland U.S.A and head out into some shithole in the middle of nowhere, a tiny island in the pacific ocean.
Now, the men were far from stupid. They knew fine well that army units stationed on islands in the middle of the sea were apt to get gassed, nuked or have some other hideous weapon of war tested on them. Questions were raised, anger was rife.
I confronted the commanding officer about it, but was met with stern resolution and steely resolve. All he could tell me was that no questions should be asked. No testing was occurring, he reassured me. For my part, all I could do was nod and agree. After all, he outranked me.
“There’s a situation. We need men there. That’s all.” Said the man I’d followed for five years.
And so we were off. Multiple plane rides to reach guam and then a helicopter ride to the small island we were to be stationed. I was a fan of geography, so I knew we were heading near the Marianas trench – the deepest point of the ocean. The thought of the empty chasm of blackness descending deep into the Earth began to disturb me.
The island itself was small, no larger than two or three square miles of rock and tree and mud. We had to built our own encampment, with tents and fabric shelters alongside some pre-fab structures for pissing in.
We settled in for an uneasy first night. I slept under the canopy of my tent, but for some reason I kept dreaming of the top being torn off. All that I could see were the stars, with two impossibly dark eyes hiding among them.
The next morning came and none of us knew what the fuck we were doing here, so the guys began to treat it like a holiday. The sun shone hot and the sea looked inviting. I couldn’t blame them. Despite the dream, I was feeling somewhat relaxed too. What else could we do but wait for orders? There was no naval facility here, so I’d given up on my assumption we’d be assisting a science expedition in the trench.
Then one of the soldiers went missing.
Rico Mendez had been swimming with the others when he’d vanished. Everybody had rushed to help, sprinting to his last position. He’d disappeared without a sound beneath the waves. A strong, able-bodied man who could outsprint most of the unit had just slid below the ocean and vanished.
We slept worse that night. I’d called in the incident and warned the men to stay out of the ocean. I dreamt of the eyes again. This time they were more visible. Black against the black sky, but a far more solid, menacing darkness than the heavens above me. They stared hungrily.
The next morning I awoke to find a unit of grumpy, bitter men. They wanted explanations for Rico and they wanted to swim. It was the only way they could cool off in the sticky pacific heat. It wasn’t like there was much else to do.
Later that evening, another man vanished.
That night, another.
I banned the men from swimming. I called in the incidents. HQ just relayed the same message each time: “Stay tight. We’ll extract in a week.”
Each day got worse.
More men began to go missing. One by one, they slid below the rolling waves without a single sound. No gasps for help, no cries of exhaustion, no struggling.
The dreams were worse then. I couldn’t sleep without seeing the staring black eyes.
Then, on the fifth day, with fifteen men of forty missing, I went for a walk to escape the terrible atmosphere in camp. I heard the chanting before I saw them, and drew my side-arm cautiously as I approached.
Between some thorned trees, I could see a gathering of shapes. They were terrible, inhuman creatures that I can’t bring myself to describe. Cruel contortions of men that wore our skin but did not fit the shape. On each one, I could see the black eyes I had dreamed off, staring at each other intently as they chanted.
“Cthulhu r’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn”
I had no idea what ancient language they spoke, but it made no sense to my ears and the sound of it was stuff of nightmare.
Then, to my indescribable horror, one of the creatures turned to look at me. Through the bushes, I could see those terrible eyes. They mocked me with their very existence. Ancient, disgusting globes that bore into my soul. I tried to raise my pistol and faltered. I recognised the skin the creature seemed to wear, pulled over its hideous shape.
It was Rico Mendez.
I could only scream and run, deserting through the forest and screeching my way back to camp. I could hear the sound of gunfire, panic and the terrifying squelch of the creatures.
“What the fuck!? Shoot them! Shoot them!”
“Cthulhu r’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn!”
“Help us! Someone help us!”
The noise of the chant and the battle raged, but I slipped out of consciousness as the thought of their awful black eyes burned its way into my mind.
I awoke in a base in Washington D.C. I gave a tearful report to my commanding officer. Apparently I was the only one to survive the island, found alone by the extraction team. I had been curled into a ball, shaking and quivering.
I remember none of this. But what I do remember is my commanding officer. As I gave him the fragile details of what had happened, he stared at me.
Stared at me with empty, terribly black eyes.
They shone like the void.
I write this to you now from the hospital they’ve consigned me to. Beware the black eyed men. They worship someone…something…ancient. It stirs below us. It stirs in the deepest parts of our world. The parts we know less than we know outer space.
They are coming.