The Last Fiver!

The rain sounded like hundreds of fingers tapping the top-side of the thin plywood that sheltered him. The rhythm varied from infrequent heavy drops to a persistent deluge, then subsiding a little and raising his hope’s that it would soon end.

The dank alley smelled of rotting food, urine, and petroleum.

He liked the smell of petroleum; reminded him of happier times when he was a kid, looking in the window of the bicycle shop. He was looking at the racing bicycle he was saving up to buy. The old shop smelled of oil and diesel and was a veritable wonder world for his young eyes! The ancient man, who owned the shop, had agreed to hold the Raleigh Racer for him until he had paid the £50 at the rate of a fiver a week for it.

His lips gently parted and his eyes lit up as he recalled those wonderful afternoons, when he would visit the old man in the shop.

‘Ah Kevin’, the man would smile, ‘here to see if your Raleigh is still real?’

Embarrassed at appearing too anxious, the boy would casually reply,

‘No I just happen to be passing by, and I like watching you repairing all these things.’

He would look down at the ground and kick at bits of loose metal parts that were strewn about the concrete floor, while shrugging his shoulders and dragging his finger along the edge of the old mans workbench.

‘Of course Kevin’, the old man would play along, ‘I’m flattered that you find this old bag of bones of interest, but I was just going out to the front of the shop anyway – so you might as well come and have a peek while your at it! How’s your summer job coming along? I hope those vagabonds aren’t working you too hard?’

When he was twelve years old he got his first summer job. His mother had arranged it for him. It was in a small local factory that produced aluminium windows (they were the latest rage at the time, the ultimate solution for home insulation – double glazing!)

She had saved up and bought two double glazed units to be installed in the front of their tiny cottage. There were two other windows out the back, and the aluminium window men advised she should get them done as well; but for now she could only afford the two for the front. The rest would have to wait till next year.

She was a thrifty woman and insisted on paying for everything in advance. She never used credit, and if she needed to save for something she would pay the shop so much per week before she would collect it. Kevin was taught thus – this was the way to do business!

Hence the summer job! She asked the two aluminium window men if they could use the lad in the factory for the summer holidays. They obliged and agreed to pay the boy £5 a week for helping out. Kevin later found out that the wages were set on the advice of his mother. The two men didn’t know what a fair weeks wage was for a 12 year old, so they asked her what she thought. She suggested a fiver a week. When Kevin finally found out that it was his mother who was responsible for his first experience of being exploited in the workplace, he was enraged, but his mother said that he should be grateful for having the opportunity to buy his Raleigh Racer.

Kevin had only one dream – to own a Raleigh Racer and if it meant slaving in the excruciating and mind numbingly tedious aluminium window factory, then so be it. But he couldn’t forgive her for striking such a miserable deal on his behalf!

‘Why on Earth didn’t you let me negotiate, I would have gotten at least £7 a week!’ he complained to her.

By the time that summer was half way through, he despised aluminium. He hated the way his nails felt when he had the compulsion to scratch the metal. He could not understand why he had to do that, but he would repeatedly scratch the dull aluminium to check if the sensation was as bad as he imagined it to be. It was like the way he hated the feel of nylon. Every time he saw one of his mother’s nylon stockings he felt a compulsion to lick it. The sensation was horrible but he couldn’t resist doing it anyway. That was how he felt about aluminium, it was torture. When his boss would switch on that chop saw to cut a new batch of aluminium he would sink into the depths of despair. No sound on this Earth was a torturous as the sound of that screeching saw searing through that raw metal like a dentists drill excavating a loose filling without an anaesthetic. His mouth would scrunch up and salivate and his jaws would lock tight as the sound of that chop saw wreaked havoc on those lengths of aluminium!

But it was worth it in the end, after ten long weeks he was down to the last payment- the last fiver, and now the coveted Raleigh Racer was to be his property! He was so elated, so proud the day the old man said to him,

‘Kevin my boy today is your day. I suppose now that you finally can cycle off on your new Racer I won’t be seeing any more of you, except perhaps when you need a puncture repaired, or do you know how to do that yourself now? You should you know – god knows you have seen me do it often enough here while you came in to look at me repairing all these things!’

Thirty five years on Kevin looked out along the wet dank alley and wondered will this rain ever stop.

‘The fiver in my pocket has to last till tomorrow, dole day. A bus is out of the question. When this rain stops it’s a Big Mac at Mc Donald’s and maybe a coffee if I have enough change!’

Paruresis – The Bashful Bladder

Twilight in the city – he liked this time of the day. The bustling crowds and the beautiful girls released like whippets from their office kennels scurrying through the streets on their way to god knows where. It was winter and during those extended evenings he would plan his journey in a carefully co-ordinated route in order to maximise his enjoyment of this urban frenzy.

Total darkness was looming and the full moon presided over the freezing metropolis. He considered as he walked each evening, how promising the delights of his stomping ground were, even though in a few hours he would feel the onset of disappointment that something anticipated yet again did not transpire.

But now was the overture of the evening, and he would enjoy the symphony. The crisp sound of his leather soled shoes clapped on the icy pavement as he made his way passed the bookshop. He compared the sound of his footsteps to those of others around him. To the left he heard the clicking of high heels reminiscent of a young horse about to break into a canter; another young wench trying to catch a tram that had unforgivingly closed its doors. He smiled to himself taking secret delight in her distress. Behind him moving at a pace slightly brisker than his, came the soft patter of children’s sneakers interrupted by an occasional scrunch of one child sliding along the icy pavement.

The street was lined on both sides with bright and busy shops. Pedestrians were abundant meandering like termites following unseen chemical signals that led them in and out through shop entrances, up and down pavements, and wayward ones that seemed to wander aimlessly. The sweet aroma of commerce filled the air!

He turned the corner towards the river and momentarily altered his pace, synchronising his step to keep in tune with the music emanating from a fashion boutique. Crossing the street his pace changed yet again when he fell into step with a woman going before him. This was a game he played while walking – he would pick a pedestrian close by and try to match their pace exactly. Then he would follow someone else who was going in his direction and match their pace. The goal was to see how many people he could seamlessly synchronise himself with before reaching his first destination.

He turned another corner and made his way across the cobbled street, mindful of the fact that slipping on this surface with his leather soles was a hazard to be wary of. This would be the first stop in his itinerary, ‘The Silver Spoon’ coffee shop; even better, there were free tables outside. He could smoke a fag and enjoy the world walking by. Here he ordered an espresso – easy on the bladder, he thought; ‘I still have a lot of stops before I get to Mavericks Bistro!

His breath emerged like steam from a locomotive as he sat sipping his coffee. ‘Bladder still OK’ he mused. Mavericks Bistro was where he chose to have his meal this evening. The toilets were secure, strong cubicle doors ensuring maximum privacy – he needn’t worry about interruptions there.

Sitting there, he viewed the roofline above the bustle of the street and stared at the full moon. Misty clouds traversed its face with haste, like they had somewhere important to go to. In contrast the roof tops stood like battlements, rigid, timeless and oblivious to the transient world below. ‘Perhaps I should start my story with that image’ he wondered as he stubbed out his cigarette and rose to continue on his journey.

He joined the dense crowd of pedestrians and with them crossed the narrow bridge to the far side of the river. He followed them through the narrow walkways that were lit up like oriental bazaars. The symphony was now reaching its crescendo. Music, human voices, laughter, portable generators behind stalls, the din of traffic in nearby streets, distant sirens and a busker playing a didgeridoo, all added to the pleasure he felt by being an anonymous participant in this extravaganza!

He wandered into a new bookshop he hadn’t noticed before. The unpainted MDF shelves were stacked with bargain priced rejects, a kind of ‘straight to DVD bookstore’ he joked with himself. He was beginning to feel the dull discomfort of pressure on his bladder, as he leafed through a book entitled ‘Al Qaeda, Brotherhood of Terror’. It was only €2 so he decided to buy it; ‘Good reading material while I’m eating in Mavericks’ he thought. ‘Maybe there is material here that I can use in my story’.

In Mavericks Bistro he ordered his usual, penne carbonara with a large sparkling water followed by a large latté. It was safe now to fill his bladder to the maximum. In fact it was mandatory that he stressed the organ to its limits because he intended going to the cinema after, and a visit to the loo’s there was out of the question. The reason being, that the locks on the doors were missing! He knew the condition of almost every public toilet in town- he had to, after all he suffered from chronic Paruresis, a profound fear of voiding in public toilets.

As he confidently emptied the copious contents of his bladder carefully into the inner side if the ceramic toilets bowl, behind the solid bolted cubicle door the idea came to him. ‘That’s it, fantastic! My protagonist is an Al Qaeda operative suffering from Paruresis who kills anyone who accidentally witnesses him urinating. The cops will take ages to find a link between the victims and any probable motive for the crime!’

He left Mavericks Bistro and instead of going to the cinema headed for home to scribble down the first draft of his story.

THE END

 

The Importance of being a cloud!

When Julian was a small boy he wondered about clouds? They had no edges. His uncle insisted that they had lines around them if you examined them closely. Julian disagreed. For him clouds were formations without substance, living organisms that shape shifted in accordance with unseen intentions. They resided in the vast blue ether with total liberty, an ocean beyond the concrete and rigid world below.

Julian would often walk through his uncles fields on the hardened earth. The dry grass was stiff and flat on the barren ground. His oversized Wellington boots wobbled about his bare calves and clay grit found its way inside his socks. The days were long and monotonous. Every summer he was condemned to do penance on this desolate farm. He was sent off by his overworked mother so she could have some relief while he had to endure two long months of tedium.

Still it wasn’t all bad; some of it was enjoyable, like collecting the cows from the upper paddock in the pristine daybreak. He loved to command the all-purpose sheep dog to round up the cows in the early morning mist. Together they would make their way up the grass path past the narrow glen of tall pine trees that led to the upper paddock. Beyond that was the rusted gate, the entrance to a field of mystery; in there existed the void made manifest by the featureless fog. The silence gave way to the hoot of melodic wood pigeons, cooing their well-practiced song. Chilled grey vapor wet his face and hands and dew drops formed on his woolen pullover. The silence waited while shadows formed in the void, they shimmered quickly growing larger and distinct and then the silence was gently interrupted by the muffled rhythm of stampeding cattle. These were the beautiful moments of the day.

Later in the torrid afternoons his uncle would sleep on his car seat couch in the kitchen. The only other company on this lonely farm was the two sheep dogs. Julian would wander for the millionth time through the dilapidated barns that encircled the yard. Inside one- lived the broken tractor rusted and rheumatic. In another- long forgotten piles of straw, rotting molded and encrusted. Chains dangled from the stone walls like shackles in a gruesome secret dungeon. Piled in a far dark, cobwebbed, corner were old sickles machetes and pitch forks, adding to the chamber of horrors theme.

Sometimes the dogs would wander around with him. They would aimlessly patrol the bleak dusty yard and investigate unremarkable features. A pile of cow dung or plastic oil can. The drudgery was relentless. Out of boredom Julian would walk out on to the dirt track that passed for a road on this isolated mountain side. On the far side was a stone wall with a depression that served as a good seat. From here he could see the valley below, hundreds of patchwork fields, grilled under the baking sun. Each one was a slightly different color. The expansive scene was like flaking paint on a crackled old door. He could differentiate greens, yellows and the golden tones from the wheat fields below. As the afternoons advanced long shadows stretched from the ditches and trees that spread like a loose fishing net across the valley floor.

Warm breezes muffled their way around his head while he sat at this spot. His eyes would drift back upwards passing the motionless landscape below until they reached the horizon.

In the distance a torpid haze would give way to the blue ether. He would stare into the emptiness. If he stared long enough he could see tiny amoebas floating before his eyes. He had to concentrate hard for this to happen but the sight was worth the reward. Someone once told him that what he really was looking at were blemishes on the retinas of his eyes, but he preferred the floating amoeba’s explanation.

His attention would wander to the clouds. The best ones were on blustery days. They would sail by like vast armadas. They were armies of shape shifting mythical figures. One day he saw Unicorn transform itself into a Pegasus. It spread its great wings like a swan before him. It turned its head towards him just before it dissolved. Often he would return to his makeshift seat. Day after day he waited hoping it might return. If he concentrated hard enough he could will the clouds to assume the forms he desired.

One evening just before sun set he willed Pegasus to return. The distant horizon was washed with pink, turquoise and brilliant golden yellow. The clouds spread themselves like foam on the surface of the sea. “Return, return, return”, was the spell he chanted softly to the still evening. The dogs stared with him at the horizon yawning and licking their lips in anticipation of the creature’s apparition. The ruby sun descended beneath the horizon. The sky was ink blue and the first stars pierced this infinite void. Julian’s pale shadow stretched in front of him. He turned around to gaze at the full moon. When he looked up he smiled and shouted with joy “Pegasus I knew you would return”.

The wind had picked up to a stiff breeze and the mythic animals wings spread across the night sky just before it turned its head towards him again. It nodded with dignity as it drifted past the mountain peak above the silent farmyard.

REPORT:IN SEARCH OF DR> BROMIDE.

Unmistakably awkward yet cunning the device undulated as it squeezed through the narrow passage. The grease and grime posed little difficulty for it as its hundreds of delicate wire legs wriggled incessantly and silently through the sludge. Its body about ten inches long comprised of titanium disks that made up a spine which was extremely flexible. Burrowing through narrow passages presented no problem as it was designed for meeting challenges like this.

It had been deployed three weeks earlier and almost had reached its objective. In its Kevlar stomach it carried its deadly toxin which was to be administered to its target. The “creepers” as they were fondly nicknamed, were designed for various functions one of which was assassination. The idea was simple; locate the target, execute the order and retreat without a trace. For a task such as this a creeper was the perfect tool.

The target in this case was one Dr. Benjamin Bromide, notorious chemist who had connections all over the Middle East and was believed to be the chief researcher behind Al Hassid Hamman’s controversial chemical weapons program. Intelligence reports suggested that Dr. Bromide was working on a new formula capable of killing millions of people in a very selective manner. The formula infected only misfits! Through a highly innovative approach, Bromide had managed to discover a way of placing a chemical imprint onto any virus of his choosing. This meant that particular sections of the target population could be isolated by means of any biological factor they might have in common. For this purpose by way of a simplified example, sections of a population group could be selectively infected if they shared the same colour eyes, or were of a certain height etc. Furthermore the chemical stamp could be imprinted on virtually any virus; the flu virus for example. So an attack was hard to spot as casualties were hidden amongst much larger groups of subjects that presented normal symptoms of common non lethal diseases.  To make matters even more complicated, many different viruses with a variety of chemical stamps could be released simultaneously. The resulting massacre would go almost unnoticed. Diverse groups would only be affected, and in each of those groups only a percentage would die. Medical authorities could only conclude that it was a particularly virulent strain of a natural virus and would have no cause to be suspicious.

Recent reports from reliable sources, indicated that Dr. Bromide was about to make a breakthrough in the Factor C. Marker Research Project. If he were to succeed it would deliver a weapon of dooms day proportions into the hands of state sponsored terrorists. Several attempts to locate and apprehend the fugitive doctor had proven fruitless. After the hideous debacle where agents discovered his experimentation retreat in Mexico, the sordid findings had made their way onto the world’s headlines. It was revealed that the internationally respected Nobel Prise winning chemist had been conducting trials on human subjects. Apparently he had enlisted impoverished Mexican peasants to conduct his grotesque test’s on. Several of the unfortunate recruits had died in very unpleasant circumstances. Although most of his team and assistants were arrested the doctor himself escaped justice. The whole sordid affair had proven to be a great embarrassment to the government as it had appointed Dr. Bromide as head of the Federal Virological Research Laboratory. Secretly certain government agencies had commissioned the work that he was carrying out in Mexico. Of course officially none of this was accredited but in certain circles it was commonly known that Bromide was only months away from cracking the Factor C. Marker conundrum. Whoever made a breakthrough in this research could hold entire continents to ransom. Thus it was imperative that Bromide be stopped by any means.

The problem was that no one knew where he was. Sightings were popping up all over. Rumour had it that he was working for the Chinese but these were unconfirmed. A normally reliable source placed him in Istanbul in early march. Agents and mercenaries were sent in after him but it turned out to be false information; then news of a connection with Al Hassid Hamman! Hamman was the religious leader of an extreme fundamentalist state in the Eastern Block. Dr. Bromide’s brother was married to Hamman’s third cousin’s sister. Secret government sources concluded that evidence as damming as this could not be ignored.

Since his location within the rogue country could not be determined the government decided to commence operations against the entire country. This was done on the pretext that the rogue state was harbouring terrorists and was engaged in illegal chemical weapons stockpiling exercises. This was in contravention of all acceptable humanitarian standards of decency they argued. Consequently they bombed several hundred targets over a period of months. The operation was ineffective as Dr. Bromide issued a video tape condemning the government for their imperialist and unlawful actions. It was at this juncture that General Cooper ordered the use of a “creeper”.

The” Creeper” was the latest highly advanced self preserving A.I. system. Its programming was deceptively simple. Its artificial intelligence worked on the premise that if it was threatened it acted with fear and took evasive action. It was designed on the principal of “fight or flight”. Threaten it with a gun or hammer for example and it would scurry away to safety in the blink of an eye. If it was cornered it had no choice but to take offensive action, like a startled rattle snake. It located its target by following a D.N.A. trail; this it detected by analysing any organic matter like microscopic flakes of skin. When deployed it could follow targets by land, air, and sea. In some cases it followed its objective for years before eventually catching up with it to eventually inject its lethal poison. Once its mission was accomplished it returned to its base thus confirming a successful operation.

Creepers were highly effective at breaching secure buildings. The usual method of entrance was through the sewage pipes. It was 11.45pm, local time and the titanium device lay in wait under the rim of the toilet bowl. Its tapering tail wriggled and made delicate tapping sounds against the ceramic as its countless centipedes like legs rearranged themselves for better grip. A loud creek broke the silence as the bathroom door slowly swung open.  Footsteps then the ruffling of clothing, a zip unfastening, and the tinkle of a belt buckle followed by the passing of air as the buttocks descended on the toilet seat. At last Dr. Bromide in the flesh!