The Caged Type

A home for Craig Thomas Boyle's writing and life.

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A man searches a cupboard (Short Story)

He opened the cupboard door and sighed at the barren landscape that confronted him. His hand pawed inside the emptiness, searching. The man strained with the effort, stood on his toes as he stretched up into the overhead cupboard and tried to grasp what he was looking for.

Finally, he gave up and pulled his hand out. Cemented on his leathery old hand was a fine layer of dust, which he shook off with a frown of absent irritation. He knelt down in the kitchen and opened another cupboard, this one below the worktop. He nodded to himself now.

“It’s got to be here.” He said aloud. He felt anger rise in him as he rifled through the barren cupboards, eager to find it.

His reflection caught in the dusty glass of the oven. For a moment, the man saw himself as he was – an old, tired face with lines of stress and age creasing his features.

Then, he saw himself as he had been. A young man, with a perpetual smile. He saw his wife and him in the kitchen he was in now, but the cupboards had been full. The oven had been gleaming. He saw her cooking noodles on the hob, his body wrapped around her from behind. How she’d laughed softly and fended him off with a wooden spoon as the smell of the chicken noodles had wafted through their new home.

With the weight of memory hanging heavy on him, he paused his search. The man’s shoulders slumped and he looked around the dusty, disused remnants of his kitchen. Of their kitchen. He looked up at the counter-tops and the kettle. He remembered the terrible agony on their faces as they’d poured steaming mugs of tea for one another the night she had miscarried. The steaming hot drink had done little to stir the coldness that had settled in both of them that day.

The man laid his hand on a circular object in the cupboard and he drew it out quickly, as though relieved to have found it. Then his face crumpled in disappointment. It was a bottle of Mexican spices. He didn’t remember her ever cooking with those. He threw the bottle away and resumed his search, more slowly now. The weight of time was upon him and it was like an anchor dragging him down.

After they’d drank tea that night, they’d lived like robots. They’d stopped laughing so often. Stopped holding one another. She still cooked for him, but the distance between them had grown into something physical. Like it could be touched, if only he reached out to grab it. But he didn’t. Neither of them did.

And now, here they were. He almost laughed at the bitterness of it. Forty years of unhappiness together, where they should have separated but couldn’t. And now she was gone, asleep in some mortuary a few streets away. Eternally at peace, perhaps with their infant son from all those years ago.

The old man’s search ended. He found the circular grip of the revolver in the back of yet another cupboard. With tears of remembrance, he closed his eyes and thought of her at the hob, cooking noodles for them in their brand new home, with the swell of their child on her belly. The promise of their future.

The old man pulled the trigger.

 

Short story: Future past? My entry to Reddit’s upvoted contest

He came back to town in an old, beat-up bus. The cold outside seeped through the thin windows and chilled him to the bone. He watched the familiar scenery roll by with a feeling of utter dislocation, as if what he was seeing was something long dead.

“Hello George, been awhile.” Said a guy at the bus station. Jerry? The passenger on the bus hopped off and shrugged.

“Yeah, Jerry. It has.”

“You staying long?”

“I doubt it.” George said. He shrugged sadly at the man, who looked at him with a sombre understanding and then waved at him as he crossed the street with his bags.

George looked around at the snowy town. It had always seemed cold. Long ago, however, he remembered the warmth here.

“George!?” A girl’s voice cut through his brooding walk through the town. He looked up to see Annabelle smiling awkwardly at him.

“Oh.” He said. “Hey.”

Snow fell gently in the street, meeting tarmac to become slush churned by the infrequent trucks that drove through the town. In the dull light of winter daytime, Annabelle’s face looked just as lovely as ever.

“How is he?” She asked. He remembered the touch of her. The smell of her.

“I don’t know. I just got back.” He replied. She sighed then, a sad noise that reminded him of the sadness between them. It became a gulf that he couldn’t avoid. He felt like he could say nothing.

Mercifully, she broke the silence. “Tell him I said hello. I saw him down the store a week back and told him you’d be coming…but.” He could see the tears beginning to well up in her eyes.

“It’s okay Anna. Thanks.”

He turned and left the woman he’d loved. Still loved. He felt her eyes following him as he walked the same path he’d walked many times before.

“Merry Christmas, George.” he heard her say.

The house looked the same as ever, minus a few repairs he noted he’d have to perform this season. It was as if the crumbling architecture was imitating the life within.

He took out his key and headed inside. Recollection flooded him as the warmth from the central heating hit. He noticed that all the lights were turned on – despite it still being daytime. He walked past old coats and clothing hung up on rails – pieces from his late teens that hadn’t been touched in a decade.

George found the man from the past in the living room, staring out of the window at the cold. He sat in an armchair that looked as foul as the clothing on the old man’s thin frame. A pair of rimmed spectacles looked up at him – through him.

“Hello dad.” George said. He felt tears choking him up.

“Who are you?” His father asked. He looked afraid.

George had learned long ago that he was fighting a losing battle. He’d given up trying to remind his father that he was his son. He’d given up on staying in the town. He’d even given up on Annabelle. But he wasn’t cruel enough to stay away.

He sat down next to his father, the man who had raised him in what had once seemed to George a beautiful, small town. The old man smiled at him, as if remembering.

“Oh, Thomas! How are you? It’s been awhile!” Said his father. George sighed ever so slightly, steeling himself to perform the act he managed every Christmas. Pretending he was an old friend of his father’s, vaguely remembered despite the grip of Dementia. He put on the role of Thomas, a friend his dad had known in his teens. A man remembered better than his own son.

“Hello Michael.” George said, “I’ve come with a vision of the future.”

“The future?” His father asked.

“Your future. I’m going to tell you about the wife you’ll have. The son you’ll have…”

“A son?” His father laughed. The old lines on his face receded. “I’m not going to have a son!”

George could hardly talk as the weight of sadness crushed his chest. He reached out and took his father’s hand. Together they looked out into the cold.

“You will.” He said.

Mental health awareness week – When you can’t “man up”

It’s another one of those days. Sat with my head in my hands, worrying constantly about what my future holds. Scratching my fingers through my hair, biting my nails to the point of bleeding. Feeling like I’m drowning in an ocean of self-doubt, unsure what the hell I can do to dig myself out of my hopeless situation. The cause? Someone has said one bad thing to me. 

There is an alarming habit among males in the North East of England and probably the whole world: the idea of “manning up” and getting on with life whenever you’re down. Unfortunately, this attitude masks the real pain that many people in this region feel inside their minds. It is Mental Health Awareness week, and I feel compelled to spill a little bit of truth about depression and anxiety to hopefully encourage anyone suffering in silence to find help.

I know that my blog is public, so I’m prepared to bare my soul a little bit to try to explain what suffering from anxiety and bouts of depression is really like. I have a lot of friends who have heard me out in the past but haven’t been able to understand, which is totally fine. But I feel like if I can get through to anyone reading this who also suffers, it’ll be worth it.

Anxiety for me started in school. I was bullied verbally every day, and made to feel insecure and inferior by girls and other boys alike. I was never the real victim of the school, there were other kids who had it far worse. However, the foundation of constant unease that this daily abuse caused has lived with me ever since. If someone says something negative to me, I think about it relentlessly. I expand on the situation in my head, going over and over until it reaches a scenario where the imagined version of me has to kill himself to escape. Over and over again, day after day, I think like this. Every scenario becomes a doomsday situation.

Depression is the natural result of this anxiety. When your worry reaches critical mass, your mood dips. You begin to sink. For a long time, depression was the constant for me. I spent my younger teenage years buried in video games to escape the sheer apathy for life I felt. Nothing anyone can say will lift you out of depression. “There’s always someone worse off.” “Cheer up it’s not that bad.” “You’ve got it good compared to others.” All of these phrases fall on deaf ears. I felt like I was drowning and I couldn’t get my head above water.  Another problem is that you almost welcome it. You stop going to see friends, you stop attending events, you withdraw into your own misery.

Thankfully, forcing myself into activity helped. Parkour and then Mixed Martial Arts let me distract me from myself. Diving into these physical pursuits helped lift my spirits and give me the tools to fight back from depression. I’d recommend anyone who suffers to take up a sport, even if it’s a bit of gentle exercise in the home.

Unfortunately, during my last job I reached what I felt was my lowest point. I was living away from home, in a job that felt like it was going nowhere and worrying about everything possible. Was I going to lose my job at any point because they could ‘tell’ I was so worried? Would my girlfriend leave me because of my anxiety? Would I harm myself? These are all the sort of questions that fly through your brain when you’re anxious. Even when you’re out in public, you’re constantly guessing what others think of you or what they might do.

Thankfully, I sought help. I’ve recently completed a course of Cognitive behaviour therapy and couldn’t feel happier. I’ve found a new job full of great people, with great prospects. I’m the best I’ve ever been – but I know fine well it could strike again. So I continue to exercise, spend time socialising and generally do what I can to recognise any negative thoughts I might be having and stop them in my track. Positive thinking has never worked for me, but thankfully CBT helps you recognise your own thoughts and combat them. It’s practical, even for a sceptic like myself.

If you struggle in silence, find help. There is a silent pain that rages in your mind and it will never go away unless you deal with it head-on. It’s easier to hide from it, or to wallow in your own pity – but it won’t get you anywhere. Mental health is a battle and you have to fight it. Even when fighting is the hardest thing to do – don’t let anyone tell you that your problems aren’t huge because they can’t see the wound in your soul like they could see a broken arm or leg.

Remember: we all have a right to be happy.  Life is too beautiful to waste.

The Yearbook Prophecies – Short Story

When I first pulled it out of the box in my attic, I had to do a double take. I hadn’t seen it in years, but it seemed so familiar. It was an object of such fondness to me that even though I’d just found it again, I felt I’d had it by my side all of these years.

But I hadn’t. Not really. It’d been up here, in the box of memories like the rest of my aging junk. Nestled there, amongst the skateboard and roller blades, between the paintings I’d done when I was 15. The pages still felt crisp, despite all the times I’d read the book through the years when I’d missed those formative years.

Here it was, my school yearbook. Chock full to the brim with pictures of people I’d called friends. Some who I’d called my enemies, too. A tome that I’d taken with me to college and even now remained. Even with me moving to a new house with my second wife, it was still stored in the attic instead of discarded in the trash like most people’s memories.

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Losing A Fight: Is it so bad?

“All my life, I’ve been fearful of defeat. But now that is has come…it’s not near as terrible as I’d expected. The sun still shines. Water still tastes good. Glory is…all well and good but…life is enough, nay?”  – Mark Antony, Rome, (c)HBO.

I spent the first two years of my competitive amateur MMA career undefeated. Every fight went more or less the same way, with me shooting takedowns and securing chokes to finish my opponents in the first round. I never had to pummel anyone, never knocked someone down or finished them with ground and pound. In fact, I never even got hit cleanly in any of those bouts.

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Pre-Fight Jitters: The Nerves and The Fury

A Month To Go.

I’m currently one month out from an amateur four man tournament for a title belt. My life has become a mixture of emotion, effort and exercise as I float between my day job and training hard in the gym as well as cleaning up my diet. I’m already starting to daydream about my opponents at work, wondering what tools they might have or how my game plan and strategy will go. I’m starting to visualise it all positively – but I can’t stop the creeping sensation of nerves that blister across the back of my neck when I think of the day.

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Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

You can grab a copy of Station Eleven by clicking the link below. None of my reviews are prompted or endorsed, I just like to promote things I’ve enjoyed. 

Station Eleven is a dystopian, post-apocalyptic novel from Emily St. John Mandel, a Canadian author who I’d never heard of until I picked up this book on the strength of a friend’s recommendation. I’m glad that I did. The story follows a travelling band of actors, a paramedic, an ex-wife and a famous actor as it weaves its way through pre and post ‘Georgia Flu’ – a terrible virus that wipes out 99% of the Earth’s inhabitants. The flu leaves people stranded and grasping for survival, but gradually shows us them grasping for what it means to be human. The story is told through various character viewpoints that all center around an actor named Arthur Leander, who dies the night before the flu really kills off the planet. The comic book produced by his ex-wife serves as a recurring motif that ties the story together. From this focal point, we see the ambitions, dreams and losses of different characters and try to understand what makes them keep going through such a miserable existence.

“Survival is insufficient” – This is the phrase inscribed on the side of the travelling symphony’s lead caravan. It’s a quote stolen from Star Trek, but applies so perfectly to the world the characters live in that it couldn’t be any more perfect. The main character from the symphony is Kirsten, who plays Titania in Shakespeare but has two knives tattooed on her wrist to signify the people she has had to kill to get by. As with all the other characters, survival is a grim and bitter business – so it’s up to the symphony to enhance the lives of people they encounter with theatre and music. They bring life to a wasteland.

The story follows the symphony after an encounter with a maddened prophet, but traces back to Arthur Leander’s death and the story of his life. We see offshoots of other characters lives, particularly Jeevan Choudary – a paparazzi turned paramedic who tries to save Arthur but instead saves himself as the flu hits.  We also see Miranda, Arthur’s first wife and author of Station Eleven, a comic book about a Doctor who escapes Earth on a space station, but is opposed by people who live below the ocean of the station – the Undersea. This comic is basically an allegory of the plot and the themes contained within – a struggle for survival and a constant reminder of the old world.

“I stood over my damaged home and tried to forget the sweetness of life on Earth” – so says the fictional Dr. Eleven. This statement is true of almost every character in the book. Whether it’s Kirsten, Jeevan or Arthur’s friend Clark – they are all battling this new world while trying to take away the sting of losing so much.

For a book about loss, Station Eleven is a spectacularly beautiful work. There are moments served by images that really capture your attention and make you imagine the situation. There are moments of genuine terror and of happiness and relief. I’ve never read a post-apocalyptic book that has been so hewn with imagery and a sprinkling of hope.

Without giving anything away, the story leaves you with a feeling of optimism. It’s a journey through emotions and scenes, through timelines and people’s lives. It’s a fantastic read that won’t take too long at 300-ish pages and will stay with you long after you’ve finished it.

 

Buy the Hitman and the Rose for $2.99

I’d like to thank each and every one of you who has read the series. I’ll always keep it here for free, but I know how annoying/inconvenient reading chapters from a blog can be. Many of you have suggested I turned this into a book, many of you have asked if I have a ‘donation’ link. In the end, I decided I don’t have enough time to dedicate a full book to the Hitman. I can, however, compile the story into a handy kindle format so you can carry it on your way. (I will add smashwords and B&N in time.)

You can click this link to head over to the book’s amazon page and buy it there

Even if you don’t buy the book please do me a favour and leave a review. I want to thank you all for the encouragement and kind words. I hope you’ve enjoyed the series and that you continue to check back here for future writing. I’m sure we will see Daniel and Melissa again in the near future. For those who think I’m selling out, I’d like to repeat: the series you can buy remains free on my blog, always. Buying the book is just a way to help me out a little bit, which people have inboxed me asking to do.

Thanks again,

Craig

 

The Edge.

The man had always been afraid. For as long as he could remember he’d been scared of the dark. Scared of loud noises. Scared of other people. Scared of himself. Now he stood in the darkness and let it hold him in its cold embrace. He let the wind whip up under his jacket and bite through to the bone. His jaw clenched against the urge to shiver but he held it in. He wondered if in another life he’d have been less of wimp. He looked down over the street below. It ran in zig-zags like a children’s toy, with the tiny glow of car headlamps and street lights casting thin spheres of light through the night. Another gust of wind blew and he pulled back from the edge of the building. He felt himself shiver. This time he couldn’t suppress it.

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[Halloween Short Story] They live amongst us.

 

I’ve never been a big believer in fairy tales. I’ve never enjoyed flights of fancy. I’m not a fan of horror films, ghost stories or urban legends. Hell, I don’t even like the wizard of Oz. I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty grounded guy. It’s why I decided to take Biology at university. Science is the study of reason, so believe me when I tell you that what is happening…defies reason.

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