Muse

The world is cheering. Air parted by clapping hands and screams of joy. I stand in the middle of the field along with so many others and stare as Muse soars for the celestial heavens.

A handful curse the ascent. A preacher has materialised from the wood work and is running a sermon on heresy. She’s got a crowd and they cluster round her like iron filings caught in a magnets grasp. Anyone who turns their eyes to the sky would see this was mans pinnacle achievement. Disbelievers be damned.

The Muse vessel is pushed by a billowing snake of hydrogen surging the ship into the sky and through the atmosphere. It was as if mankind had awakened some elemental being, born from the baked earth but destined to transcend.

A local production company had erected a huge screen in the middle of the field. It shows the Chosen Ones. Sixteen hundred colonisers sitting in rows. Cheers and smiles can be made out through faceplates. Tears of happiness and fear. Some raise their hands treating it like the single biggest and most expensive roller coaster ride the world had ever seen. Which, of course, it is. And why not? They have a ticket into the history books, they are going to have statues erected in their honour in every country on earth.

The first colonisers.

Lucy clasps my hand. Her eyes are skyward, her face a mask of anxious hope. Her sister, Freiya, is a Chosen One. Her name had been chewed over by the Muse mission databanks and ejected at the lottery. She had the right “genetic qualifications”. No history of hereditary disease in the family, no psychiatric problems. Good blood. Her father a Ghanaian athlete, her mother a diplomat for the Australian government. Mixed. Strong. My wife could have be one of them but they didn’t allow more than one member of any family.

Good.

I can’t imagine watching Lucy being shot away from me. To experience the frightful nothingness of space and to start anew on Tierron whilst I died here on Earth.

Muse is in its final arch. I can’t make out the vessel from this far down so I watch the new image on the screen. A zoom shot of the outside of the vessel. Sun shattering against the external mounted solar panels, friction scorching the outer hull. A diamond in the blue sky. My wife squeezes harder, the breath catches in my throat and I feel tears stinging behind my eyes. A voice comes over the loudspeakers.

‘Ladies and gentlemen. The Muse Project has le-‘

Explosion. Highly volatile fuel burns white across miles of airspace as if a star has erupted into being within our atmosphere. Stunned silence. A hiss of static from the dead camera feeds. A thud in my finger. Broken. But the pain is distant, as if it had happened to someone else.

I turn to Lucy. Tears tumble down her cheeks. I can see the quick intake of breath fill her chest before she screams. The sound is pure agony. I move to hold her but she drops to her knees.

Above, debris shoots to all points of the compass.

The screen changes. A face. Everyone knows him. He’s crying. His voice is coarse with pain.

‘Ladies and gentlemen.’ People’s screams and pleas and sobs ebb away as they turn to the screen, wrenching their eyes from the flower of debris descending back to earth. Lucy doesn’t look. She stays on the floor and screams into the dust.

‘The Muse Project…has failed.’ A hush blankets the crowd, a few whimpers that sound like wounded animals. The preacher on the far side doesn’t miss a beat and fills the stunned silence with a screech of laughter. I glance over, someone is moving toward her, shoulders hunched. I don’t care. I don’t feel anything. I turn back to the screen.

‘It is with a heavy heart…that I tell you now that this project was humanity’s last hope at survival.’

A ripple of confusion, a few exchanged glances.

‘You were told this was to be the biggest colonial effort that mankind has ever attempted, the next big step as humanity reaches into the galaxy. You have been told a lie. The Muse Project was an arc mission. A mission to send survivors to Tierron. A last ditch attempt to save humanity’s future…away from earth.’

A woman screams. A man next to her plucks up a camping chair and hurls it at a bank of electrical equipment. Everyone ducks as gunshots fire out. Pockmarks pepper the crying man’s face. He keeps talking.

‘The Agriculture Initiative has failed. The last remaining stocks—‘

Another man kickd the generator and the screen goes blank. I wrap my arms around Lucy’s waist and pull her to her feet.

We run for the treeline.

The world is about to tear itself apart.

Crawley Creeps, Vol. 10

Nora chased after Melissa. Pins of rain stung her eyes and pricked at her face but she kept on.

Melissa had never been faster than Nora. Through school Nora had been the athlete. High jump, hundred metre dash, Nora was always grabbing gold or silver (even when no one was counting but her) and yet Melissa was outstripping her.

But Nora was sure that the woman she was chasing wasn’t Melissa.

A glimpse of movement up ahead caught Nora’s eye.

A woman was being attacked by a dog who was yanking at her leg. Second by second Nora’s day was getting stranger.

The woman tripped and went down. Nora watched horrified as Melissa kicked the woman clean in the face. Even from this far back Nora could see the ribbon of blood twist up into the air.

Melissa didn’t stop. Didn’t even skip a beat. Just kept on running.

As Nora reached the woman on the ground she saw the true mess of her face. The pleading look in her eyes. Almost childlike confusion. Nora stopped. She couldn’t catch up with Melissa anyway. Her sister was too far ahead and still gaining speed.

Nora watched her disappear around a bend in the path and she was gone.

‘What the fuck is going on?’ the woman on the floor whimpered.

The woman’s face was a mess. Her nose had been pushed to the left and was pissing blood across her mouth and chin. Her dog, a small terrier, was standing off to the side near a bunch of ferns, trembling and uncertain.

‘Are you okay?’ Nora asked.

The woman wiped at her face and seethed. Stared in shock at the blood smeared on her hand.

‘What the hell was that?’

‘My sister. I’m sorry. Something’s wrong with her.’

The woman pushed herself onto her backside. Spat blood onto the path. Nora knelt down. ‘Come on. Let me give you a hand.’ The woman looked at Nora uncertainly before letting holding out an arm.

Nora heaved the woman up.

‘You…you said something was wrong with her.’

‘Yeah. Look, are you okay?’

‘What’s wrong with her?’ the woman asked aggressively.

Nora didn’t know what to say. She gawped at the woman. The stranger she had tried to help and who was now bearing her teeth, eyes wild. In that stunned silence, the truth bubbled up from the depths of her subconscious and burbled out.

‘I…she felt something.’

The woman blinked. Scratched the back of her head. ‘She felt it too.’

Why has the mood shifted on immigration?

One of the leading factors in the Brexit debate was that of immigration.

Be it Nigel Farage standing in front of a poster showing a line of refugees or those elusive rumours that Turkey would join the European Union and that we would see more a heavy influx of migrants, the people were bombarded with the idea of outside forces influencing and blanketing the U.K.

Due to this kind of tabloid journalism many people believed that migrants were the cause of their woes and that immigration was causing a national identity crisis.

Since the Brexit vote, however, the mood toward immigration has rather quickly swung in the opposite direction. As Professor Rob Ford, researcher of immigration trends at the University of Manchester has mentioned, this trend may be down to three predominant factors.

1. The people believe that the immigration issue has been “dealt with”.

2. National debate drew attention to how much immigration contributes to the U.K.

3. The culture shock of immigration of Eastern Europe has dissipated.

With this in mind, how would the vote swing if another referendum were to take place?

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.

Action

Skeletal trees and ice cracked mud give me away. Ragged breaths pull frigid air into screaming lungs. All I can hope for is more speed.

I try not to think of the bare concrete room. Of D-Lock rings in the walls. Grey chains and bloodstains. A smile warped by insanity.

Calloused trunks slip from the darkness and rush at me. I sidestep branches. They look like claws with too many knuckles. I lift my legs like an infantryman to avoid gnarled roots. One wrong foot and I’m gone.

A scream from the darkness. A flash of hope. Maybe he’s fallen. No. Don’t think. Don’t dream. Dreams are stagnant. Action provides.

Stone bites into my heel and I go down. Merciless ground collides with emaciated flesh and my breath rushes away. The air is cold and I hate it but I want it back. I want to suck it in so it can fill me like a balloon and relieve me of pushing my deadweight body to its feet. I want to leave my mind. Slip into a small closet of subconscious where cobwebs hang and lock the door and forget where I am.

‘Action.’ I rasp. A vile sound spat from a dry mouth but it’s strong. I need it. I sound like my dad.

‘Action. Move!’

I scrabble from the cold, lunar surface of this haunted place. A fingernail bends backward and snaps and I use the pain and the flood of adrenaline. I pant and gasp and fear that the sounds will give me away.

Trees are thinning. I see light through the branches. I break the treeline and my feet slap against tarmac. Beams of light. I turn. Headlights sear my retinas. I cover my eyes. I yearn for the darkness of the forest. Screeching brakes.

‘Well, hello there.’ Laughter. I know that laughter so well.

I’m not going back. I can’t go back.

Action.

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.