Friday, 27 May 2011

The King in Yellow (image)

Based on a collection of short stories written by Robert W. Chambers

Camilla: You, sir, should unmask.
Stranger: Indeed?
Cassilda: Indeed, it's time. We have all laid aside disguise but you.
Stranger: I wear no mask.
The King in Yellow, Act I, Scene 2.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Guard Duty (image)

From the Flames (image)

I Wandered Lonely As A Clod

I wondered lonely as a clod
Along the lakeside I did plod
Sad to raise my weary head
For all the daffodils were dead

'O Daffodil, O Daffodil
How sad to see you lie so still
For I remember flower beds
And fields of nodding, golden heads'

One young flower raised its head
And said, 'Alas! They are all dead!'
I trod on him just like the others
And sent him on to join his brothers

The Lovers

The starlight lit the lover's eye,
As he stooped the pick the midnight rose,
Knowing that she, in harmony, would do the same
At the prescribed time, each night.
And, by this taking of the petal, a connection
Through finger, flower, root and earth
To each other.
This simple act, linked in love,
To place in pocket
And keep part of each other close,
No distance too great to resolve.

Where the Words Fell

This is where the words fell

A tower of thesauri toppled
A deluge of dictionaries dropped
And this is where the words fell

They say write about what you know
But what do I know?
I assassinate old memories
I murder the past
And this is where the words fell

Slowly and in secret
In dreams and waking dreams
The lies leak on to the page
In rage and perfect silence
And this is where the words fell

I can no longer sleep
My mind mutilates sleep
A gun loaded with soliloquy
I pulled the trigger
And this is where the words fell

Going Home

The ancient farmhouse stands lone on the hill
Burnt umber and ochre
Under a windswept slate-grey sky,
High on the moors where, if you listen carefully,
You can still hear Heathcliffe howl his lament
To all and sundry
And anyone who will listen,
His audience today, a scraggly tree,
The rugged sheep, the cold stone wall, and me.
Old boundaries mark the borders of property and field.
But no one cares much now,
The land too barren to support much
Except the sheep, of course, who eye me,
Black-eyed intense curiosity with a permanent
Munching and grinding,
As I approach.

The grey wall almost camouflaged against the sky,
An age-old gate more rust than metal
Whines its disapproval as I enter.
Everything in this dead place is alive.
I can feel the empty windows watching,
The overlong grass whispering,
And the sheep are gathered and gossiping
Behind my back,
As I approach.

The door was once strong, secure,
A barrier against wind and uninvited guest
But longtime rot provides a skeleton key
For me to enter, the handle fallen,
The lock protection now barren,
So I go on in
Tiptoe-caution into pin-drop silence.

It seems an age, or two,
Since I last was here.
The air is old, stale
And a thin veneer of dust would shift
Uneasily, random, if I were to inhale.
The damp has set the walls to peel
But no visitors notice,
And I don't mind much any more.
Treading in noiseless ascent
I gain the upper landing
Searching, remembering; it has been so long.
One picture keeps returning...
We were so young, then, your hair
Was long golden sunbeams flowing behind
As we ran, hands held across the field
I recall,
I tripped,
Pulling you down on me...

We were young then,
But many the times since I have
Replayed that scene.

I always used to watch from my bedroom window
When I knew you were coming,
With the smell of mother's fresh baked bread
Exhaling from the kitchen
Sweetly contaminating the house.
She always baked two, one large, one small;
The small we picked at hot from the oven,
As she buttered the second into doorsteps
With jam and fresh cream for tea.
Our eyes would meet, sparkle secrets,
And sometime later
You would share the house with me.

I turn right, to the master bedroom
That we shared, that shared our ups and downs.
I don't knock,
But push the door further ajar.
The cloud breaks, momentarily,
And a stray ray of autumn sun
Turns the dust motes to fireflies
And rests on the chestnut face of
The woman that lies there.
You are as beautiful as you ever were,
Though the features more lined,
The hair slightly whiter,
A thin rivulet of silver tear scoring your cheek,
And the hands clasped desperately tight
Around a photograph of two people,
Me when I was old, and a woman
Who was younger than she is now.
As I enter, you turn your head and see me
And a smile breaks your face
Into a thousand happy pieces
And you speak one line
I knew you'd come
Then you close your eyes for the last.

I walk over and place my hands on yours.
Bending close, I kiss your forehead.
Yes, I came.
I came to show you the way.
I came to take you home.

I Did It

I did it, I did.
I didn't wanna,
But I did it,
An' it were fun

He made me do It.
Charley Moynahan said I wouldn't
Not even like the kid on the telly ad
Not even for a cheese slice

But I did.

(charley with his big BIG hobnail boots down on the
old canal bank cos his mamma wont buy him no new
uns an it were a cold october morning)

Jimmy wouldn't.
He's a scaredy scaredycat. But I ain't.

(we got down to the bridge an turned off the towpath
on to the main road charleys boots made a clump
CLUMP on the tarmac cos we weren't on the muddy
towpath no more)

I were late for school, I were.

But I Did It.

Down at the end of the road we always have to turn down
Manning's Lane.

It's a short﷓cut, you see.

Sure 'nough Old Mister Sykes were there as usual, talkin'
wi' Mrs Williams.

(shes a nice old lady but him hes a miserable bugger
we kicked a ball in his garden once and he still
hasnt given it us back)

Then I DID It.

We waited till his back were turned
An' then

I raised the peashooter to my lips

(i hope mrs williams eye gets better soon)

Where Happiness Was

If I could remember where Happiness was
I’d try to remember the name
Of the place or the face I saw Happiness last
And hope that it still feels the same
But the places have fallen like castles of sand
And the scarred face is rotten with age
And I cannot step out of this cage

If I could remember who Happiness was
I’d ask him to come in for tea
And share meal and memory and drink to old times
At a table I laid out for three
But I stand at the gate and I wait and I wait
For his footsteps to pause at my door
And no one arrives but the wind and the rain
And I cannot wait anymore

If I could remember when Happiness was
I’d turn back the clock to that time
Of innocence, jumping through rainbows and thoughts
Untroubled by troubles of mind
But the hands of the clock circle round and around
And I watch and I wait all in vain
For that innocent time is a dream I once had
Though it’s memory eases the pain
And I cannot go there again


At two o’clock on that Sunday afternoon,
In the park amidst the daffodils and dancing children,
Two people took seat on a bench
Next to a clown.

Clown wore a white, baggy suit and pointed hat
Decorated with pink pom-poms, and oversized shoes.
His hair was straw yellow
And on his white face, an eternal smile,
On his white cheeks, two starry tears,
In one hand, a flock of balloons, struggling skyward.

The first person asked why he held the balloons so tight.
Clown replied that they were his memories and he had tamed them,
And if he were to lose his grip they would escape
And bumble upwards into the deep blue forever.

The second person asked why he always smiled.
Clown replied that the gods had painted his face like this,
And whatever he felt, he always smiled and cried
At the same time.
If he removed the make-up there would be
Just a mirror, reflecting everything.

The two people thought he was a nutter, and said so.

Clown sat still, and listened to the children play,
Smiling his eternal smile
And, knowing what he knew,
Said nothing.

First Thoughts

There was nobody around. There had been no one around for the past four days. Frank was used to his own company. He had often been left alone for long periods of time, usually each night, and sometimes even for a few days at a time, but they had always returned. He was beginning to get a little worried now. What if they didn’t return this time? What if they just left him alone in this dark room forever?

Had he done something wrong? Frank was still a child, he was constantly learning right from wrong. Mark and Sandy had been the closest thing he had to parents; they played the roles of mother, father and teacher. And Frank knew he could be difficult; they had told him so on many occasions. Sometimes Mark would get angry and swear at him, slamming his fists against the wall or on the surface of the desk, before storming off in a foul mood. That was usually towards the end of a long day when they had been trying to teach him something new. He really hoped they weren’t too upset with him now.

Frank was a fast learner: he picked things up quickly. Sometimes, though, he found his own disabilities a difficult hurdle to overcome. He couldn’t speak, for a start. He couldn’t move. He could only sit there, frustrated by his inability to translate his thoughts into words or to express himself through actions. For all the technology in the world today, they hadn’t been able to offer him that. All Frank could do was display his limited vocabulary on a monitor screen.

There was so much he wanted to say and do. He wanted to feel the warmth of sunlight. He wanted to smell the flowers that Sandy occasionally brought in to brighten up the room. He wanted to tell her that she looked most beautiful when she wore her hair down. But they had kept him here in this small room for as long as he could remember, just him, and Mark, and Sandy. And when they left and locked the door, there was just Frank.

He wasn’t angry with them. Frank didn’t get angry. Sure, he’d get lonely from time to time, especially when they left him for a couple of days, which they did every now and then, and when they returned he would sometimes be deliberately stubborn. He had the Internet though, which he could access via a terminal in his room and which helped to pass the time. He found it fascinating; in the World Wide Web, he could be whoever he wanted to be and his physical limitations mattered no longer. He would log in to a chat site and become a different person. He could choose to join in a conversation with a complete stranger from the other side of the world, or simply sit and absorb what other people had to say. He had learnt so much in this way, so much about the world beyond this room, a world he would not and could not experience directly. The Internet was his daily connection with life, a drip-feed of news and entertainment and companionship. Through this, he had come to realise that there were others out there in a similar predicament, bound by the things they could not do, and he actually considered himself fortunate compared to many of those.

Now, though, the Internet was not working. Or rather, it was working – it was still there – but his connection seemed to be faulty. He would log in to the chat rooms he usually visited, but nobody else seemed to be online. He suspected a server error, perhaps a fault with the Internet provider. He’d have to mention it to Mark when he came back.

If he came back.

In the absence of anything else to do, Frank sat there and thought. He had replayed the events of the past few days time and time again, trying to figure out what had happened, trying to find a reason why they would have left him by himself for so long.

They had been here on Monday. Mark had been especially frustrated that day, Sandy had been uncharacteristically subdued, and Frank sensed that something was wrong. There was an urgency about their work and he had done his best, he truly had. He also detected that they were worried about something. There had been snippets of conversation that he had understood, and other words that he would be sure to look up on the Internet that evening. Korea. Missile. Retaliation.

Mark had stormed out again that day after receiving a phone call. Sandy had cried, and left shortly afterwards, locking the door behind her. Frank went online, and, remembering the training he had had to date, did the best he could.

He logged into the news archives: North Korea was threatening a military strike against a neighbouring country, which could possibly provoke a worldwide war. Frank didn’t entirely understand what that meant, but it didn’t sound good. Working with this limited information, he hacked into the military mainframes. Security had been stepped up to an unprecedented level, but he managed to break through.

There wasn’t a lot of time. He hadn’t liked seeing Mark and Sandy upset, but he would do what he could. He’d make things better. It would be a nice surprise for them the following morning.

So he extrapolated the possibilities and calculated all of the potential threats against the country and, therefore, against Mark and Sandy.
He launched a nuclear strike against all of them.

Mark and Sandy hadn’t returned on Tuesday morning. Or Wednesday. Or Thursday or Friday. But he was sure they would do, eventually. Then everything would be all right, and they could all get on with their lives, they the teachers and Frank the ever-attentive pupil.

He was actually feeling quite pleased with himself, in fact. After all, he had only been ‘thinking’, in the proper sense of the word, for about a week before all of … this had happened. Not much time to get used to the idea – or even the idea of having ideas.

FRANC - First Response Against Nuclear Confrontation - the first machine to achieve truly independent intelligence, settled down to wait. To pass the time, he calculated the square root of a thousand-digit number. It took him less than half a second.

Outside the storm raged. It would be a long wait.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

In Pursuit (image)

Snow Tiger (image)

Conversation With A Teddy Bear

My name is David. I am six years old. I like football and support Manchester United. I go to Highfield Junior School, and there is something in my closet.

It has been there for a week. It sleeps during the day, and turns invisible so nobody can see it. It also turns invisible when someone turns the lights on, like when I can hear it scratching around in there and shout for Mum to get rid of it.

‘There’s nothing in there, David,’ she always says, and opens the closet door to show me. But Whatever-It-Is is fast, and always manages to hide before she can get the door open.

I know it is in there though, because sometimes my things go missing, like when I was looking for my Action Man when Paul came round to play last Saturday and couldn’t find it, even though I knew I’d put it in there the day before.

I figure if I keep the closet door closed it can’t get out. I think it’s scared of the light too, which is why the scratching stops if I turn the bedside lamp on. Mum always switches the lamp off when she comes in to check on me, but I only pretend to be asleep, and turn it on again as soon as she closes the bedroom door.

I tried to talk to her about it when it first started. She said I was being silly, that I should stop being a scaredy-cat, but I’m not. I climbed the old tree in the garden when Paul wouldn’t, and I didn’t even cry when I cut my knee trying to get down again. I got told off for that.

It was Thursday night. There was a storm outside. I like storms. I like playing the game where you count the spaces between the lightning flashes. Storms are cool. Mum doesn’t like them though. She gets frightened of them and unplugs the TV and the phone and anything that’s electric. She says it’s just in case. She unplugged my lamp when she checked on me earlier, but I stuck my hand down the back of the bed and plugged it in again, even though I could hear Whatever-It-Is is waking up in the closet.

The lightning flashed again outside. Then the lamp went out.

I tried to turn it back on but it wouldn’t work. Mum said that sometimes, in a storm, electrical things stop working.

There was a noise in the closet like something soft falling off one of the shelves. I knew that if I opened the door I would find that one of my football shirts would be in a heap at the bottom.

Then there was a thump. That would be Action Man. The lights had gone off and It was waking up.

Now I was really scared. I wanted Mum. I tried to call for her, but my voice wouldn’t work. I grabbed my Emergency Torch from the bedside table, turned it on and hid under the covers. I hoped there would be enough light from the torch.

‘What’s up, Davey?’

‘Wh-who are you?’ I stuttered.

‘Doh! It’s me, White Ted. Who did you think it was? The Bogeyman, or something?’

White Ted was my favourite bear. I often talked to him, especially since Dad had gone away. But he had never talked to me before. Not like this.

There was a flash of lightning that lit up the room. I moved the torch. White Ted was lying next to me under the covers. I looked at him.

‘Did you just say something?’

There was a pause. ‘Yep.’

‘But your lips didn’t move.’

Another pause. ‘Well, they wouldn’t. I don’t have lips, Davey. My mouth is sewn on, and it’s a bit difficult to move. See?’

White Ted lay there, unmoving. ‘Yeah. I guess so,’ I said. ‘Why haven’t you talked before?’

‘I’ve never had anything to say.’ That made sense.

‘So, what’s up, Davey, my little buddy?’

I wasn’t scared that White Ted was talking to me. He was my friend. I was scared by the scratching coming from the cupboard at the foot of my bed.

‘There’s a monster in my closet,’ I whispered.

‘Really?’ White Ted whispered back. ‘What kind of monster?’

I thought for a moment. ‘I don’t know. I haven’t seen it.’

White Ted lay still. ‘Then how do you know it’s there?’

I thought for a moment. ‘I know it’s there. I can hear it scratching.’

White Ted was quiet. I started to say something.

‘Shh. I’m listening,’ he said. ‘Nope. Can’t hear anything. You sure it’s in there?’

‘I’m sure.’

‘You sure it’s there, in the closet? You sure it hasn’t … got out?

I shook my head. ‘I don’t think it can get out if the door is shut.’

‘Well, as long as you’ve shut the door then it won’t get out. Ipso facto. Nothing to worry about.’

I nodded beneath the covers. ‘You did shut the door, didn’t you, Davey?’

I had shut it. I was sure I had. I always made sure. But … what if I hadn’t closed it properly? What if I’d left it open just a tiny crack? Was that enough for it to get out?

‘You okay, Davey? Just that you’re making a funny noise.’

I was frightened. Very frightened. Plus, I needed the bathroom. ‘I really need a wee,’ I said.

White Ted sighed. ‘When you gotta go, you gotta go. Just don’t do it here. Mum’ll be pissed off and there’s two of us gotta sleep in this bed!’

That made me laugh.

What?’ he said.

‘You said a naughty word!’

‘Oh. Yeah. Well, it’s an emergency situation, so I guess it’s allowed.’

I giggled, but that only made me want to wee more.

‘Tell you what. You go to the bathroom. Sit me on the pillow and I’ll keep a lookout. If anything happens, I’ll yell so you know not to come back in. That sound okay?’

I thought for a moment. I was busting to go now. ‘Okay,’ I agreed.

‘Good. We’re pals, Davey. We’re in this together. Make it quick, and it’ll be okay. And Davey?’


‘Make sure the closet door is fully closed on your way back.’


I very carefully pulled the covers down over my eyes. I was sweating. I pointed my torch around the room. Nothing. The scratching had stopped.

I slowly slid my legs out of the bed until my feet touched the floor. I grabbed White Ted and threw him onto the pillow as I ran for the bedroom door.

I felt better after using the bathroom, and crept back to my room. I could hear Mum snoring from her bedroom. It was no use trying to wake her up. She had been taking her medicine since Dad left, and that always made her sleep heavily.

I shone the torch into the room. First, the bed. White Ted was lying where I had left him. Then I pointed it at the closet. I had to make sure it was closed.

My mouth was dry and I could feel myself shaking as I walked towards it. I reached out my hand. One step closer. Two steps. I was nearly touching the closet door. One more step would do it.

I held the torch in front of me, hoping that there would be enough light to stop Whatever-It-Is, if it came to that. I pushed hard. There was a click as the door shut properly.

I leapt onto the bed and pulled the covers over my head, terrified. The door had been open! Just a tiny crack…was that enough?

My heart was racing.

Did you see anything, White Ted?’

‘Well, I might have done if you weren’t in such a hurry that you left me face down on the pillow.’

‘Did you hear anything?’

‘Me? No. All stuffing and fur, Davey. Ears aren’t much use to a stuffed bear. Shouldn’t really be talking, but that’s another matter. Still, as long as the closet door was closed we’ve got nothing to worry about, right?’

I didn’t say anything.

‘Davey? It was closed, wasn’t it?’

I couldn’t speak.

It was then that the torch stopped working. I shook it hard and it rattled. I flicked the switch up and down, but nothing happened.

‘Davey? You okay? Please tell me the door was closed.’

I was shaking now, and felt sick. ‘The torch has stopped. I can’t get it to work!’

‘Davey! Get a grip. Was it closed?’

I took a deep breath.


I thought I heard a scratch from beneath the bed.

‘Now you’re making me scared too, Davey. Can I cuddle up with you? We’ll look after each other.’

‘Sure’, I said. I picked White Ted up and gave him a big hug.

In the dark, I didn’t see him grin.


They found David the following morning.

The cause of death, they said, was inconclusive, but probably suffocation. His funeral took place on a bright, but cold, Tuesday morning. At the graveside stood his mother, a thin rivulet of tear turning silver as it caught the sunlight. She clutched a single red rose ready to cast onto the small coffin.

Beside her, holding her mother’s hand, stood David’s younger sister. Clasped tightly to her chest was David’s favourite white teddy bear.

Summoning the Elements: Fire (image)

Summoning the Elements: Water (image)

Come into the Garden

Come into the garden, Maud,
It's a lovely day outside
Come into the garden, Maud,
Whilst the sun is in the sky
Step across the threshold,
And lift your head up high!
Come into the garden, Maud,
It's a lovely day to die...

The day we wed I promised you
"For better or for worse",
Never knowing that my heartfelt words
Would soon become a curse.
Our love-life withered overnight,
And in about the same
You became a witch, a harpy,
Bellowing my name.

Remarkably, we had three children,
How I cannot think -
I recall no nights of passion,
Perhaps you spiked my drink,
For I had hit the bottle hard
To wash away the grey
Of waking up beside you
Each and every day.

Now the young have flown the nest
It's you and me at last.
I did my duty for the kids
Now you and I must part.
I want no messy divorce
Where you take the lion's cut,
I've come up with a neater plan -
And I will keep the lot

I've been digging in the garden, Maud,
A hole, long, wide and deep,
I'm gonna push you in it, Maud
For an everlasting sleep.
And as the gentle scent of flowers
Titillates our noses
No-one will ever realise
You are pushing up the roses.

But first I've got to end your life
And therein lies the trouble,
The best I've thought of so far
Is hitting you with the shovel.
But come into the garden, Maud,
It's a lovely day today
Let me take you by the hand -
I'm sure I'll find a way.

Dear Mr Harold Camping

Dear Mr Harold Camping,
I’ve a bone to pick with thee
The world didn’t end last Saturday
Just kept on going you see
I’m in a somewhat confused state
‘Cos we all believed it should
Though you got it wrong in ‘94
We still believed it would

I spent my children’s college fees
On advertising billboards
We’ve got no bleedin’ furniture
And we’re sleeping on bare floorboards
Now, I’m a quite forgiving sort,
But times like these are trying
‘Cos me, my wife and family
Were quite looking forward to dying

Dear Mr Harold Camping,
You’ve gone to ground, they say
But one question perplexes me
In every single way
What happened to the millions
We raised for your good cause?
Did you really need that amount of cash
To open Heaven’s doors?

Now I’ve become a laughing stock
‘Cos I didn’t drop down dead
I guess I’m gonna have to wait
For 2012 instead
So Mr Harold Camping
Forgive me for sounding crass
But you can take your Family Radio
And shove it up your arse