So peaceful. So quiet.

The oars break the water sending the boat limping across the lake. The creaking of old wood under stress and the lap of water are the only sounds.

‘I can’t believe we were here only last month,’ I whisper. ‘It wasn’t as quiet then, but it was peaceful. Relaxing. It was so good to get away from home for a bit. To clear our heads.’

I look about. Autumn reds and browns of soon-to-be-dead leaves just visible through wispy cotton-like air.

‘I didn’t want to go back to the city. I wanted to stay and just huddle up with you by the wood burner in that lovely little cabin you rented. I bet you paid a lot of money for that place. Lakeside. All the romantic trimmings.’

I give a small chuckle before snot fills my throat. I spit it over the side. Watch it dollop into the lake.

‘You shouldn’t have paid so much. We could barely afford our hole back in the city. But I loved it.’ The memory is sweet but it burns like acid after vomit. ‘But, back home we had to go. I’m surprised we made it to work the next day after those bloody train delays.

‘And what was the point? Why did we even try? Work was shit. Yawning in meetings. Not even taking part in the usual gossip in the canteen. Those bickering hens seem so far away now. Whispering all their secrets and theories over coffee and sandwiches. I know, I can’t lay blame. I used to do it too. We all used to go quiet when someone we were talking about entered the room, used to watch them from the corner of our eyes and the whole time make out as if we were talking about something completely different.’

I stop rowing, stick my hand in the canvas bag and pull out a bottle of water. I take a sip and it’s freezing. I savour the pang of cold hitting my teeth. I take a few more gulps and put the bottle back in the bag.

‘I bet it must have played on people’s minds. To have people talking about them, glancing in their direction. Come to think of it I don’t think anyone was free from gossip. I never noticed anyone talking about me though. I guess that’s the point. It doesn’t matter.

‘When I got home to you that night you were already asleep on the couch. I watched you for a while. And then we got Chinese. Ate in like fatties.’

I look to the shore and pull on the oars. My arms hurt. I’m getting pangs in my shoulders.

‘I noticed something was different that night. The man who dropped off the Chinese was shivering. He kept glancing over his shoulder as if he had been chased to our apartment. When he left I thought nothing of it. Probably had a bunch of deliveries to do. Just wanted to get on and get them done. And then the next day. We ate toast and watched the news. Break-ins and attacks across the city. A bunch of talk about a possible riot.

‘So, the next day, off we went to work. Parting at Clapham like we always did. Another thing I miss: you walking off with a paper under your arm and a coffee in your hand. I don’t think you knew I always watched you walk to the platform. I bet I pissed off a whole bunch of commuters when I did that, standing still and getting in their way.’

I look north. My eyes roam over the trees. The deep colours would be beautiful, in a different life.

‘That day…two people didn’t show for work. I needed Dennis there, something I never would have heard myself say, you know how much of a pain in the arse he is, but I needed him for the presentation. And Claire, three desks down, didn’t show up either.

‘At lunch time, people were looking over their shoulders or jumping at every little sound. Everyone was on edge as if expecting the world to explode under their feet at any moment. I called you. You said people hadn’t shown up either. I was worried then. Not because of the people…I heard something in your voice. You were always so strong…so sure. The only thing that scared you was that bloody great big spider on the kitchen counter the time you moved the bread bin.’

I laugh. A bark of weary muscles making a sound like a branch snapping under heavy snow. It spreads across the lake. Echoes and dies and suddenly I’m crying with the memory of Jake jumping around the kitchen like the floor was on fire, eyes wide and backpedalling toward the door.

I let down the oars with a splash and run my fingers through my hair. I take a moment to pull myself together and wipe cold tears from tepid cheeks. A twig snap. I turn to the north bank once more and watch a man walk from the woods. I make out a heavy knitted jumper and what I think are fishing trousers. Suspenders ‘n’ all. He’s missing a boot but he doesn’t seem to notice. He just stares out at the boat.

‘I hoped we would have this place to ourselves.’

I take a deep shuddering breath and pick up the oars. I feel the cold slipping into my limbs threatening to make me stiff. Movement is the only option. Just keep moving.

‘When I got home you called me over to the couch. You were watching T.V and you looked… well, I don’t know. You took my hand. Held it a little too tight. They were reporting on the rainfall that had hit London whilst we were here. Missed it by a few hours. And then people acting strange.

‘And then you showed me the video on Youtube. Some guy testing water samples in the sewers. Finding some unknown bacteria and the guy talking about rats going berserk. We barely slept at all that night. Woke up to the sound of screams twice and ran to the window. People leaving houses. A few of them were running. That one family… I remember the slaps of that kids feet on the road. You locked both deadbolts on the front door and wedged it with a chair under the handle like something out of an old movie. I always wondered if that worked. We never did find out.’

I look over to the man on the north shore. He is walking parallel to the boat. He just keeps looking out. I notice a shock of white hair. I can’t make out much of his face. His gaze feels like a weight on my neck.

‘They’re strange aren’t they? They disappear. Come back like that. Spreads even after the rain.’

I look about and wonder if it is in the air. In the mist. I don’t know. There is nothing I could do about it now anyway.

‘The next morning the video of the man in the sewers was taken down. Screams filled the street outside. Sirens went off every half a minute. In two days the entire city was at a standstill and there were talks on the news about it being widespread. They warned us not to drink the water. Since coming back all we had had was bottled water, teas and coffees at the office. So strange to think our shitty work schedule saved us.

‘So we left. Hit the road. Tried to go somewhere safe until it all blew over. Tried to come back here. You said there were fewer people up here. It would be better to go where there were fewer people. I agreed with you then. I agree with you now.’

The man on the bank stumbles. I watch as he pushes himself up, the whole time staring out at the boat. Like a leech when it smells blood. Just following the scent. I keep rowing. I want to stop. A lead weight is building between my shoulder blades but I can’t stop. I will never stop moving.

‘We made it most of the way here. And then we got to that fucking service station. All we wanted was a sandwich. Maybe a packet of crisps. We took our time didn’t we? Circled the car park three times and didn’t see anyone… Honked the horn. I thought that was good practise. A sure way of bringing them out… Why didn’t it work? The electricity was still running. The doors still worked. Maybe they waited. Do you think that was it? They waited? Maybe they are smarter than we thought Jake. Maybe that’s why no one knows how it’s spread. They wait and watch…’

I pull in a breath of frigid air. My arms pull and the oars break water, slap back down.

‘You wanted to use the toilet.’

I pull. Up, down, splash.

‘And when you came out of the toilets.’

Pull. Up. Down. Splash.

‘Ridiculous. Bloody, stupid…’

My body shakes once more with sobs but this time I let loose. I spit and shout and hope my words would shatter the day apart and wake me from this nightmare. The man on the bank has stopped. He watches, head cocked.

‘I hate you! I hate you! You took him from me! He was all I wanted! All I had and you had to take him from me! Why? Why? Why?’

I’m standing. The boat is rocking but I don’t care. Part of me wants to fall and succumb to the cold. Let the water slip into my nostrils and down my throat and fill me so that I don’t have to feel this burning hatred.

‘You made me do this! You made me do this to him!’ I scream, pointing into the hull of the boat where John lays dead and staring into oblivion.

The last time I had seen those eyes alive he had walked back out of the toilets. His mind lost. They had got to him in there. Something had got to him. I was crying when he ran at me. I was crying when I picked up a barrier post and swung it into his temple.

‘Please forgive me baby. I never wanted this. I never wanted this for you. I never wanted this for us. I thought we could make it out here. Where there is nothing. In the last place we were happy and free.’

I push my palms into my eyes and try to squeeze away tears.

‘This is the best I can do. I don’t want to bury you. It doesn’t seem right. You said you loved it here. ‘“I would love to see what’s under the waters here. They are so calm.”’ You remember saying that?’

His eyes stare at the grey sky.

‘I love you. Jake, I love you. I’m sorry.’ I move over and stick my hands under his armpits. I take a breath tinged with the smell of piss and shit from Jake’s death-voided bowels. I grunt as I lift Jake’s dead weight and try not to think of him walking away with a paper under his arm and a coffee in his hand. I try not to think of him holding me in bed. Pushing me against the wall as we make love. The thing that I am unceremoniously pushing over the lip of the boat is not Jake. I keep telling myself that but it doesn’t help.

His head and shoulders splash into the lake. With one last sob and a scream which ripped at my throat I push the rest of him over the side. He rolls in the freezing water. For one moment I think he would stay face up and staring at the sky, vacated blue eyes watching but he mercifully rolls over and stares into the depths.

I look up to the bank. At the spectator. He is leaning his head back as if beckoning me over.

‘No. No you are not getting me.’

I slump back and watch Jake float like a piece of trash. Arms and legs splayed. I watch for a long time until the weight of his clothes finally pulls him under. I watch white flesh disappear into black water and the whole time I cry and I want him back.

I look up to the man on the north shore still standing there. Still beckoning me over with his head back and staring.

The Job Hunt… with a few issues to consider

Above photo: waiting for an interview, Sutton.

Job hunting is ground zero for emotional turmoil.

First, you suffer the job loss. You ask yourself why? What went wrong?

This is often a sad time quickly replaced by anger, thoughts of walking back into your place of work armed with a stapler and a keyboard and slaying everyone inside except Suki in finance because she showed you the occasional smile whereas Nigel in H.R talked to you like he was disgusted by your smell and couldn’t get you out the building fast enough. Which is why you staple his face to his shirt.

Reality comes back and you realise you have a lot to do. You make a C.V and make sure it’s all up-to-date and then you scroll through pages and pages of jobs.

This is when you consider jobs that you have never done before. That you have never even thought about doing.

Sure, I could be a Detective Constable. I guess I could work behind a bar. Could I serve food at a school? I can throw luggage onto an airplane. I could do Forklift driving. I bet I could manage a logistics department. I can drive those kinds of vehicles so I could buy a van and become a self-employed courier driver. Nothing smacks of suspicion there.

You apply for roles and you are suddenly emotionally invested. You imagine yourself in that role which you know you have all the skills for and they pay good money (that will help us with the bills and we can save for that holiday) and a week later you receive the email telling you that “unfortunately you have been unsuccessful.”

So you shake off that image you had of yourself being happy and making a career and you pick yourself up and go again. Scroll. Apply. Scroll. Apply. Each application is different and sometimes the good ones take an hour or more.

And then you do the math.

One hundred applications and a 30% feedback rate. 10% of that is success. An invitation to an interview. The rest is telling you that you have been unsuccessful. They will never tell you how you did at the interview. That feedback is sacrosanct and takes people like Nigel too much keyboard finger power.

The interviews are fun. New places, new people, new prospects.

“Are there any adjustments that need to be made for you if you were to take this job?”

“Yes, I can do any days and any hours under the sun but I need Monday mornings off. I have sessions.”

“Oh. Okay. Well we’re not sure if we can accommodate for that.”

Apparently I need to be more flexible. The other days and nights that I can work don’t seem to be good enough. The other 166 hours don’t need to be counted for.

Two hours on a Monday… is a lot to ask.

So my dreams of working there go up in smoke. I go home. I scroll and I apply. I scroll and I apply.

Crawley Creeps, Vol.9

Diane ran as fast as she could. She wasn’t getting the kind of speed she got in her Nike’s. In her Nike’s she could sprint and pound pavement and dust, music pounding in her ears willing her to go faster. Or just keep going.

Instead her feet slipped around inside her wellies. Her running was gangly and awkward but she kept going, putting as much distance between herself and the man as possible.

Stanley ran by her side. He kept looking back. Diane couldn’t bring herself to do the same. The image of the man with the faraway gaze chasing her flooded her mind and kept her running instead. Time spent looking back was time he could gain another metre.

What was wrong with the man?

She couldn’t help but think of him stepping from the trees. Dark skin. Almond eyes. Slack mouth. That gaping mouth.

She felt the shiver run up her spine and she wanted to puke. Stanley barked and stopped. Diane took a few more steps before she looked back. Stanley was still. Diane glanced back the way they had come but the man wasn’t chasing her. There was no one back there. She slowed and stopped. Her body was slick with panic-sweat. Cold air stung her lungs and nostrils.

She took a few seconds to get her breath back. ‘Stanley, here.’

Stanley barked in defiance.

‘Stanley, come here.’

Stanley whined. Padded his feet. Barked. Why was he stopping?

Diane looked down the path and saw what Stanley had seen before her. What she had failed to see through fear-induced tunnel-vision.

A woman standing on the path ahead. She wore a green padded raincoat. Hood down. Her arms were hanging loose at her sides. Even at a distance of over a hundred metres, Diane could tell that the woman’s head was cocked, and her mouth hung open.

Diane tried to take a breath but it caught in her throat. Stanley barked. The sound came from some other place.

The cold rock of fear in Diane’s chest only shifted when another woman in a yellow jacket broke from the treeline to the side of the path. She ran over to the slack-jawed woman, grabbed her by the shoulders and screamed in her face. Diane couldn’t make out the words but the urgency was crystal clear.

The slack-jawed woman was unresponsive. She just looked straight on. At Diane. Through her. Diane felt like her body was being seen through. Bones, organs and mind laid out like an unravelled blueprint.

The slack-jawed woman made a jerking move forward. The other woman went sprawling.

Diane’s body spasmed in fear. The woman ran at her and she was gaining speed. Diane felt trapped. She looked behind her but the man in his underwear was nowhere to be seen. Stanley barked and slowly retreated into the ferns.

A warmth bloomed at the base of Diane’s skull. A strange tingling sensation. Unnatural but as welcome as sleep after a long, tiring day.

Stanley ran forward and sunk his teeth into Diane’s ankle. The tingle in her skull disappeared as a wave of pain shot up her leg. Stanley was small but he bucked back and pulled Diane with him. She screamed and toppled awkwardly onto her side. A moment later a boot collided with her face and everything went black.

Crawley Creeps, Vol.8

Hitesh stomped his feet and blew into his cupped hands. The wind was as fierce as it was the night before. He had checked the weather report and a chirpy middle-aged weather lady told him that tonight was going to be “another blustery one.”

It didn’t feel blustery. It felt like the wind was doing its best to pierce his clothes and reach through to his bones.

He had received the call only a few hours ago that they had been taken off the Gatwick track and were instead working the stretch just north of Balcombe Tunnel. They were also only working a 12-4 shift. Half the hours, same pay. If he got back at a decent time that he could snatch a few hours of sleep next to Denise, for once.

Lights danced over him and he looked up to see Troy bring the van to a stop on the side of the road, hazards pulsing. Marcus was in the back eyes closed and dozing. Hitesh was jealous at the mans ability to fall asleep almost anywhere on a whim.

Hitesh jumped in and Troy took them up through Broadfield and out toward Pease Pottage. Troy was in a good mood. He tapped the steering wheel to the beat of some awful dance compilation.

They reached the Pease Pottage roundabout and left on the exit toward Pease Pottage services.

‘Anyone need food?’ Troy called out.

‘Nah.’

Marcus opened his eyes long enough to snort before falling back asleep.

They passed the services. At the next roundabout they could go right to Pease Pottage village, straight to Handcross or left down Parish Lane toward the train tracks. They turned left.

Parish Lane ran between far land on both sides until half way down when the trees of Tilgate Forest became thicker and eventually turned into a wall on their left. The last building they passed was a large manor house to their right. There were no lights on.

The road changed from tarmac to rough aggregate. The van hit a pothole and Marcus woke with a growl. ‘Why have they not surfaced the damn road?’

Troy chuckled. They all held on as the van jumped and dropped. A minute or two passed before they reached the bottom of Parish Lane.

Ahead was a metal pedestrian bridge leading over the railway tracks and into the forest of Balcombe Woods on the far side. To the right was a large double gate leading to a track-side operating area. It was chained closed.

Troy passed Hitesh the keys for the padlock. ‘Your turn.’

Hitesh snatched the keys and got out the van. The breeze rippled his hair and bit at his ears. He stuffed his chin as far into his collar as it would go and jogged over to the gate. He fumbled the lock with cold hands and finally managed to work it free. The sound of chain slipping between metal bars rang out and set his teeth on edge.

Hitesh opened the gate and stood to the side as Troy brought the van through. Hitesh closed the gate and wove the chain back through the fence. He could barely see his own hands in the van’s rear lights.

He locked the gate and headed back to the van when a crunch made him turn back. Hitesh looked past the fence. He could only just make out the shapes of trees in the weak red glow.

‘Come on, Hitesh,’ Troy shouted. He was hanging out the driver-side window. ‘The sooner we get sorted the sooner we go home.’

Hitesh headed for the van but felt the sixth sense prickle of being watched spread across his neck.

They made their way down a small road that ran parallel to the train tracks, nothing separating them but dark, to a gaggle of buildings. A small green standby light glowed above one of the doors to a container canteen.

The trio exited the van and headed over to the hut. Marcus clicked on a torch and held out a hand to Hitesh.

‘What?’

‘Keys,’ Marcus said, groggily.

‘It’s a keypad.’

Marcus did a double take, shook his head and flicked open the key pad.

‘I looked up a bunch of trains this morning,’ Troy said. ‘Nothing comes close to the one we saw last night.’

‘It was just aggregate train,’ Marcus said. He caught his finger in the catch and hissed. Hitesh reached over Marcus’ shoulder, jabbed in the code and flicked the latch.

‘They stick sometimes,’ Hitesh said. Marcus shrugged and they all went inside. Troy moved straight across to the kitchenette and rummaged for tea.

‘It wasn’t an aggregate train. The one we saw last night was more like a double decker. They had pictures of double deckers online.’

‘Who gives a shit anyway?’ Marcus asked as he slumped into a seat at the small table. He pulled out his phone. ‘No signal.’

‘Well it’s weird,’ Troy went on. ‘All the lights go out and a train rolls past. That’s weird right?’

Hitesh shrugged. ‘Maybe. Or just a coincidence.’

Troy wondered on that for a moment. ‘Nah.’

The roar of the kettle drowned them out. It clicked off and Troy made them all drinks. They sat at the table cradling teas.

‘Wish we had biscuits,’ Hitesh said.

‘There was a photo of a military train from China that-‘

Marcus cut him off with a fake snore.

A Toast to The End of The World

The world is a pretty crazy place. Western politics has been turned on its head, the climate is changing faster than expected and broadcast technology has become so attainable that two people with no credentials can make a podcast.

So join the two of us, Will and Sam, on A Toast to The End of The World as we try to make sense of it all.

In Episode 1 we look at Brexit, the effects of leaving the European Union, and we even make a few guesses at why Leave won the vote.

Music: Waves (makaihbeats.net) by Makaih Beats
From Free Music Archive
BY NC SA

Also available on iTunes!

Crawley Creeps, Vol.5

Hitesh walked the brickwork passages that made up most of Broadfield. Cans and bottles were discarded here and there, blown into corners by the harsh wintry wind.

Denise was growing tired of living in such close quarters to other houses. Of always hearing so much of what their neighbours got up to. Hitesh liked the noise. After a night on the tracks he would go to bed with the window slightly open and sleep to the world moving outside.

For now he just wanted to get home and have something to eat.

Hitesh exited the mouth of a walkway and into a car park bleached in murky amber streetlight. A ginger and white cat slunk out from under a car and meowed.

Hitesh lowered himself onto his haunches and held out a hand. The cat wandered over. The breeze rippled across the long hair on its back. The cat tipped its head and pushed its ears between Hitesh’s fingers.

‘Surprised you’re still out. Didn’t you hear a storm’s coming?’

The cat did a circle, pushed it’s tails into his hand and walked off.

Hitesh walked across the car park and slipped into another walkway when his phone buzzed. He pulled it from his pocket and dimmed the stark blue display. It was Troy.

You think that was some government conspiracy stuff or something?

Hitesh chuckled and put his phone away knowing that to open up dialogue with Troy would only mean less sleep.

Hitesh was hoping to see Denise before she left for work when he felt something pass by. He looked up to see two cats perched on a high garden wall, a half foot above him to the right.

‘More of you out this morning.’ He raised a hand to them but they ignored him. He could just make out their shadows staring up to the left. What he knew to be west. He looked in the direction expecting to see a helicopter, a flock of early morning birds. There was nothing in the sky but low clouds.

A glimpse of the abyss

Mental health fucks up a lot of things. For instance, I just dropped the car off for an MOT that I can not afford. I have had to borrow money from my fiance. I feel like a low-life because of it.

Self-sufficiency has done a legger along with my mental health capabilities. There they go, running like old chums playing knock down ginger except the person never comes to the door.

I had to entertain myself during the MOT so I took a book to a nearby coffee shop. I was acutely, almost painfully aware, of the money that I was spending. I admit, as the barista turned to make the coffee, I eyed the tip jar. There was enough in there to pay for ten or more coffees. I wasn’t planning on stealing it or anything, but still.

I should feel lucky. I have more than a lot of people. But I am suddenly and starkly mindful that this is the path that many people have walked: that of people who have had everything, or at least something, and have lost it because of mental health or general health problems.

Because of mental health problems, I have seen myself lose one job only to suffer the loss of another because I was at the whim of an agency.

There are people out there who suffer so much worse. Who go from a partnership or marriage or a high paying job to scraping together what they can. And there I am, with more than most, wondering about the change in that damn tip jar.

And no one is immune.