by Ally Temple
Not an onion.
But a mushroom.
Your love springs up from the forest floor overnight
Yet your flesh so easily violated.
And if incorrectly chosen,
Ally Temple is a student.
Wednesday, January 30
by Ally Temple
Monday, January 28
by James Edwards-Smallbone
"Well, what was it like?"
The square shouldered speaker lounged in a musty leather armchair, its cushions grooved deeply by long years of relentless sitting.
"What was what like?"
The respondent, something like a rake given human form, leaned against an ancient oak bookcase idly thumbing a time stained copy of The First Men on the Moon.
"Oh come on Alan, don't play coy with me. We've known each other for far too long."
"Getting on for twelve years..."
"It's fifteen. And don't change the subject."
"Dan," Alan's voice was playfully reproachful "you really think I can put into words the wonder of what I've seen this past year? The sheer enormity of the universe laid before me to traverse as easily crossing the road! Planet after planet, galaxy after galaxy. It's so big out there, so utterly vast the mind can scarcely conceive the scale of it. If I had the lifetime of every living being there ever was I could explore but a tiny glorious fraction. I saw twin suns set over mountains that dwarf Everest, I swam in crystal seas so vast they would drown Africa. I lived among races so completely alien that I thought them a hallucination. And you want me to condense all that into a neat little postcard paragraph?!"
There was an awkward, dusty silence.
Alan laughed, his eyes twinkling like the distant stars and he clapped his hand on his friend's shoulder.
"It was pretty good."
Dan grinned along with his friend's melodious chuckle and both men were soon in near hysterics, the sound of jollity ringing around the old room and displacing cobwebs from the ancient oak paneling. So engrossed were they in the joke that they failed to hear the soft but officious knock that preceded the entry of a sharp-suited man. The fingers of one of his hands was pressed against a small earpiece and in the other he clutched a clipboard as if it were the only lifebelt in a sea of chaos. Given the expression of tense disapproval etched into his high, pale brow, either the instructions he was receiving through the headset were far from to his taste, or he saw no cause whatsoever for good humour.
"Ten minutes, Dr Chambers."
"Yes, yes," the thin man forced out between stifled giggles, ignoring the poorly disguised sigh the highly strung man uttered as he closed the door behind him.
"Typical of this government", Chambers said with a sarcastic eye roll. "I've only been back on the planet five minutes and they've already got me doing a press conference."
"Well you are the flavour of the month, Alan. 'Starsailor', that's what they're calling you. Some bright spark at the Mail coined that one."
"The Mail?! Well if all else fails at least I've got Middle England on my side." He chuckled again. "Starsailor though. I do like that. Lovely sort of ring to it. Dr Alan Chambers, Starsailor. Yes I do like that. And of course not forgetting Professor Daniel Axminster, celebrity sidekick."
The larger man made a sardonic face and collected two tumblers from a nearby cupboard, decanting a generous measure of single malt into each. He handed one to Chambers.
"Well Starsailor, this landlubber's pleased to have you back."
"It's good to be back, Dan." Chambers radiated genuine warmth of feeling. "In the words of Miss Dorothy Gale, there's no place like home."
The bright clink of glass heralded another appearance by the smart-suited man, now clearly in too much of a fluster to bother over the pleasantries of knocking.
"Dr. Chambers, makeup say you haven't been down yet!" It was as though he were announcing the Apocalypse.
"Indeed I haven't. I'm going to talk to the press, not put on a fashion show for them."
The man eyed Chambers' tweed and beige ensemble with something like complete alarm.
"Uh uh uh," Chambers tutted. "Just because I've been to the far reaches of the universe doesn't mean I've lost all sense of values. This is St. Matthew's College Oxford, and in Oxford makeup is reserved for women and actors. I am neither."
The man paled further, if that were possible, tapping his earpiece as though he willed it to give him some kind of release from the torment of dealing with academics. Alas the device was not so obliging and he winced away from what was clearly an even more exasperated voice on the other end of the line.
"Well this'll have to do Dr Chambers, we are live in seven minutes."
The man did his best to drag Alan out of the door whilst avoiding all physical contact, the Starsailor sauntering unconcernedly behind him.
"Best of luck Alan," Axminster called after him with a cheerful salute. "Stick to the script won't you."
Chambers looked back at him with his bright but unutterably deep eyes and winked. "Always."
James Edwards-Smallbone (and no, he did not make that name up) is somewhere between Baloo and Brian Blessed, and writes to get rid of ideas that are taking up valuable brain space.
Saturday, January 26
by Mel George
How could a fire that burned so bright and laughed and danced and sang with light be snuffed out by just one dark night? That fire which loved, and searched, and gave, and braved the hazy lands of mystery with such infectious energy, and shared with me a white-hot wonder – snuffed out with two careless fingers – just like that. Not possible. It couldn’t have been, and no wonder it seemed so untrue. It was impossible to quench you.
What happens on the earth to the threads you were holding? To the things still unfolding? To the awe we were learning; to the flames you kept burning in your yearning to know?
A grey morning dawned and it seemed we’d just dreamed the adventure. The onslaught of pain and then all things mundane damped us out like the rain. Wildfire defeated by drizzle.
Or so it appeared. But the one with the matches who first lit your spark has no fear of the dark and that fire was not finished. The great Arsonist who started the blaze has deeper, wiser and subtler ways than some old candlesnuffer. For I suddenly saw that, though one fire was dead, those same bright and dancing flames had spread and were living in me; and your mum; and our friends; and far from dwindling they leaped to new kindling, igniting hearts with a roar, burning cobwebs away.
I laughed the darkness to scorn that day, as I saw now beyond a scrap of doubt that your wildfire would never be put out.
For S.J.S.C. - a firestarter
Wednesday, January 23
One day I will move to the seaside and it will be good, and I will sit down by the shore and rest my head on something and feel peaceful...
... and go to sleep listening to the sound of the sea, and maybe never wake up.
by Chris Killen
I live inside an abandoned bicycle. No one would want to ride it, anyway. It has no saddle. I am incredibly sensitive. Sometimes things like the sound of rain or the feeling of rain touching my body feels very painful and I begin to cry. There is nothing I can do about this. If I want to look at myself, I use a mirror that I have made out of a crisp. Sometimes I think I look very handsome, and want to show my reflection to someone else.
I found the crisp inside the mouth of a cat. I stole the crisp out of the mouth of the cat. The cat chased me and tried to scratch me, but I scared it off by shouting things at it. I shouted rude things, cat-things, things I wouldn’t want to repeat.
When I get home I sometimes take off my suit and put on a dress that I have fashioned from an empty packet of hula hoops. I put the dress on and slink around like a lady and watch myself in the crisp. Sometimes I get an erection, but I am not sure what to do. It makes me feel confused.
Time goes very fast. I am like a dog or a cat in this respect (I think I read that once at work, on the internet, that dogs and cats live seven times faster than normal people).
In my spare time I read books from the library. I like reading novels by John Steinbeck the best. Even the small ones (Of Mice and Men, etc.) are very big for me to hold. Sometimes I crawl in between the pages and wrap them around me and go to sleep in them. Sometimes I wake up and find I have drooled a bit on the page and made a little window through to the next page, and sometimes I put my head through the window and say things to myself.
My days go very quickly.
I will probably die soon.
Don’t worry about me.
This story was written by Chris Killen and "bought" by Sara Crowley for the price of a packet of Hula Hoops. Sara, who decided to submit it, blogs at A Salted where you can read the bizarre tale behind this bizarre tale.
Monday, January 21
by Sammy Jay
Hey, wake up world!
Wake up and wipe that sleeping tear.
There’s a new kid here,
Seeing with the fresh eyes of a child.
He’s gazing West over the wandering sands,
Squinting to a point to point out Paradise and hold it in his hands.
He’ll never do the things that anyone with half a heart
Soldered after the painful operations of a life
To half a brain, churning the forces of their blood and lightning light of mind,
All know to be absurd.
Never fall under the post-post-post-post-modern hammer blows,
Blindly beating a cynic rune into every unborn throat.
Everything brave and delicate that cares, every heart that yearns to burn
For something, can find ease in knowing
That the new kids are making plans
To set out onto the streets,
To scan the headlines, eat peaches,
See the wars, comb the beaches,
To fly above the open wind of the open wilds
Fair skinned and precious as a child’s
Eyelid - to seek out the jokers of the pack
To take them, turn them true, and put them back.
There will be no time for an ironic smile
No time to laugh into your sleeve,
Let those that haven’t got the guts to actually believe,
Heaving through blue collar cotton apathetic human wastes
In the grey soup of a thousand average tastes,
Get out of the way and into the gutter,
We’re getting up and going for the stars,
Or somewhere - we’re going to count the universes by the sea -
So wake up world, I am the alarm!
Now is the time…this is it -
the absolutely vital
search for something to care about.
Sammy Jay is a first year English Student at Christ Church, Oxford, and is (wrongly) convinced that he is Shelley.
Saturday, January 19
by Kate Bousfield
In a few weeks, months, you will grow tired of your prize, discarding him for the piercings and tattoos that are age appropriate. He will look back then, realising that the bulge in his trousers has let him down badly and he will come for me. And there I will be. In the farthest corner of the darkness night he will find me waiting for him, ready to spit in his eye.
Kate Bousfield is the author of Coven of One. She blogs here.
Thursday, January 17
by Emily McPhillips
A room filled with people is reduced to just the corner
And only what you can see without turning your head is in view
There is no noise
This all feels like a song that has been written perfectly, just for this time, right now
Each part of you feels like it is being touched
Her laugh is impeccably timed
The eyes know when to look, and when to dip
Just like the mouth knows when to pout, and kiss you
The details that she lingers on
Like the rain that starts to pour, only noticing it as it stops
Then hands will be held
And she’ll whisper something nice in your earAnd you’ll think that she is the kind of girl that men fall in love with
Emily McPhillips was born in 1985. She lives in Manchester. Take a look at her fanzine 'Ministering to a Lunatic' here.
Monday, January 14
by Jenn Ashworth
This is beyond a joke. Something's got to give. I didn't plan my life to be like this. I need to make changes. I need a new job.
I need to get some new clothes. Professional kinds of clothes with pen holders in the pockets. The kind of clothes that require ironing, starching, whathaveyou. I'll have little metal tubs of shoe polish in all the colours of my shoes. A rainbow of shoes and polish - unless it is the kind of job where you are only allowed to wear black shoes. That's a thought. I hope it's not that kind of job. I feel at my most creative when I'm wearing green shoes and I know for a fact they make green shoe polish so I could still be professional.
I'll probably have to start having a session for ironing and shoe polishing on Sunday evenings. When people ask me what I'm doing at the weekend I'll have to start shrugging and looking regretful (but resigned to it – like a mother). Can't, I've got to get my shit together for work.
I'll probably get a shiny satchel or a briefcase. A fountain pen and a magnetic thing to have paperclips in and with me at all times. I'll need to stop eating crisps in public, drink latte and flick through paperwork on trains. Shit – I'll even get one of those mobile phones that texts you your email. I'll sit in the quiet carriage. Make it a policy from now on.
I wonder what kind of job it will be? I wonder what they'll have me doing? I'll have to be good at it. I will be good at it. I'm good at things. It'll be fine. I know about appraisals and professional development and promotion and disciplinary procedures. I know about gross misconduct.
It wasn't that gross. It was an accident. It was a mistake. I didn't think the not smoking thing applied everywhere. They were infringing my human rights, anyway. I can smoke if I like. They aren't the boss of me.
I won't get carried away. I need to make a list to remind myself. Things I cannot do anymore. Not with this new job coming up. No dramatic make-up. Do not cut your own hair even though it is free. Take a proper packed lunch, not cold toast and left over noodles. Do not name the photocopier. Don't have sex with anyone. Don't get bored and colour in your fingernails with highlighter pen. Do not draw pictures of the boss on the computer and forward them to everyone. Don't smoke. Don't write poems on your hands. Don't colour in your nipples with red biro. Do not masturbate in the toilets during your lunch break or otherwise.
I wouldn't mind a suit, like a proper suit with shoulder-pads in and everything. I'd feel better in one. I'd probably answer the phone more professionally. I'm never wearing high heels though. They can fuck off. They're sexist. They're bad for your back. They make me walk funny.
I'm going to do this, I can feel it. Here we go.
Jenn Ashworth is a compulsive liar and a collector of cacti. She writes a blog here.
Saturday, January 12
by Daniel Hill
It’s a feeling deep inside, so warm and true.
I stare into beauty of the purest form,
Daniel Hill is a writer from Bristol who is currently exploring the different types of writing that exist; including film, television, poetry and novels. He started writing poetry in 2004 after reading The Rose That Grew From Concrete and has won the only competition he has entered so far. Would probably be famous already if he weren't such a procrastinator...
Thursday, January 10
Nothing comes to mind. He looks at the blank piece of paper caught between the two rollers of the typewriter.
He closes his eyes. All he can see is the image of his father's grave, freshly filled, flowers placed carefully over the crisp, new earth.
The typewriter starts to shudder underneath his fingernails. Shoots of slowly sprouting weeds wrap around them. In his mind he starts typing, and that slowly connects to his fingers, but the weeds sprout faster, slowing him down. He tries to cough; and a honeysuckle flower lands on his lap.
He pulls out the sheet. Moss is starting to grow on it. He rolls in a fresh one. Then starts typing again.
'The day was a nor...'
A nettle starts to sting its way out of his nose. He pulls it out, cursing loudly; he looks at his hand; already small white bumps are starting to say hello.
He types and he types; more nonsense. He looks at it carefully. He then reaches for the sheet of paper he had typed three paragraphs on. A rose bush springs out of the page, ripping his palm. He shouts out in surprise, droplets of blood spilling from his hand and onto his desk. The droplets turn green, then form into lillies which bob gently on the wooden surface.
Flowers start growing from everywhere. From the roof, the floor, the walls, he looks down; his fucking sneakers?
He jerks his hands away from the desk and beadlets of blood caused by the rose splatter onto his new white jeans.
Ivy slowly slithers out of his left ear, creeps up the wall next to his typewriter and disappears into the small hole next to his James Dean poster. Wild garlic slowly starts to bud and find warmth in his groin. Then the bulbs start to crush under their own growth spurt and their heavy cloying smell fills the air.
He keeps on typing though. After a while when daisies float out from under his eyelids, he blinks, then manages to read what he has written.
'The day was a normal...ROSE... and the ROSE... was on the trail of the...LILLY... She was a nightclub owner at the...TULIP...the bar on... MORNING BLOSSOM street...'
He tries to clear his mind. Pulls out the paper from the typewriter where deadly nightshade has started to grow, puts in a fresh sheet and batters down on the keys.
'WINTER falls down hard, KILLING all of the FLOWERS, WEEDS, and PLANTS. Nothing survives. Mother Nature, is defeated. DEAD.'
Slowly, the plants around him start to shrivel, returning to their roots. He blinks more freely, the petals from the flowers sprouting from his eyes dropping onto the desk and crumbling into dust. He smiles, knowing that he has done the impossible, defeated Mother Nature herself. And that is when the winter blackberry shoots up his back, ripping out from his spine, and several tendrils wrap themselves around his neck, the thorns shredding his milky white flesh. Choking him... choking him....
Johnnyelvis is working on his first novel. He also runs All Things Horror.
Tuesday, January 8
by Bob Clay
Townsend prodded the file on his desk with his forefinger, the way you might prod a motionless cat to see if it was alive. The frown on his face was one of disgust and loathing. Clearly the file, whatever it was, was not dead.
“This whole business should have been over years ago,” he said. “The department has moved on. We do not do this sort of thing anymore.” He looked at me but I said nothing. I was beginning to feel like a man who realises he has walked into a minefield.
“The Director General seems to think you should handle this. He said it was more your style.” I remained silent, pondering on the idea that I had style.
“Well, say something…” Townsend said as he pushed the file toward me as if it were a Petri dish filled with deadly bacteria.
“I’m retired,” I replied. “Like the department, I don’t do this sort of thing anymore.”
Townsend frowned a frown that swept across his bald head like a series of tsunami waves. “The Director General was very keen that you take a look at this. He was most insistent.”
“He’s not my boss anymore,” I smiled at him thinly. “The only person who gives me orders these days is the landlord at my local.”
He prodded the file again so that it nearly fell off his desk onto my feet. “I’m authorised to make payment of six months' salary at grade ES2. That would buy a lot of orders at your public house.” Only Townsend could call a pub a public house. He’d probably never been in one.
“Six months' salary? Just for looking at a file?”
“Don’t be tiresome,” replied Townsend, leaning back on his chair so as to distance himself from the faded brown file envelope.
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” I said. “I’ll read the file, and offer my advice; a sort of consultant. One month’s salary as payment and then I’ll be on my way.”
With an expression of disgust on his face Townsend extended his hand and tapped the file in the corner. “You know what that symbol means. Top Secret Umbra. You’re not going to read this file and then just swan off to a bar with several thousand pounds in you pocket. Simply not going to happen, dear fellow.”
“You’re right,” I said, getting up out of the chair. “I’ll just have to spend my own money.”
Townsend shook his head then stood up angrily. “I really do not know why I have to deal with people like you. You are all dinosaurs, living in some long gone cold war fantasy. All right. I am authorised to let you read it and make payment. But you will have to read it here. That file cannot leave this room.”
Smiling, I picked up the file, noting the worn corners of the envelope. “I’ll read it here no problem. But I need quiet. So fuck off.”
If it’s possible for a man to pirouette and leave a room silently, but stating a message of pure disgust at the room and its contents, Townsend did it. I felt satisfied at upsetting the little prick. But I felt weary too. I will always be outnumbered by the Townsends of this world.
So I sat down and picked up the file. It was a blank file envelope, except for the little security classification in the top right corner. It looked old and worn, a bit like me perhaps. Its contents were probably dusty, devious, dangerous and dated. I wondered if that was like me too.
I also wondered who they wanted me to kill.
Still, a job is a job.
Bob Clay lives in Cornwall.
Monday, January 7
Friday, January 4
Tuesday, January 1
Love lived here, one side of this gaping bed,
Cat-like or fist-like curled up into this still-life,
And held her quiet question like a knife,
And placed a loving price upon my head.
A small indignant martyrdom in hope,
Each gift spinning the swinging rope
But how to love was one quiet gift she kept.
And reels of film I cannot understand -
How one could place such meaning on a hand
And hang their simple dreams upon word.
A spiteful simple nightmare dreamed.
Emma Ballantine is a third year English undergraduate who writes when she should be working.
Index by date
- ▼ 2008 (105)