Eaten alive

I’ve been long absent and treacherously slack in my visits.  Work and study are so dastardly demanding. But hey, it’s a gloriously sunny day in the backwash that is February and The Perilous Reading Society has a rebrand pending.

During the meanwhile, and to stop the site rusting over, this is a re-post from 2016. Some stories don’t have happy endings. It’s not a metaphor for anything, I’m just a not happy ending sort of moody today.

 

EATEN ALIVE

Dark spells crawl simple into the world. A seed perhaps. A look. A word. To water. A laugh to sew and grow and come to mean that eating in a dream still counts as eating.

The door to the communal lounge is unkindly heavy and she’s caught running to keep up. Her anger slip-sliding on grey vinyl, boxed and peroxide, ‘Why don’t you ever listen to me!’

‘Fine.’ Mum spins, colliding the space between them, ‘Go on then, I’m listening.’

‘I hate that you’re made to feel like the enemy.  I hate the atonement for failing.  I hate that only spoiled food feels good enough. For me. I hate all of it. But unfortunately, hating isn’t the same as not needing…’ The girl backs down, stands down, eases herself down to shipwreck in the unfamiliarity of their containment. ‘If you could hear what I hear inside my head you’d understand.’

‘Don’t be so dramatic, Carla.  Everyone has that stupid little, critical voice sounding off inside their head. You just grit your teeth and choose not to listen that’s all.’

That’s all. Spell bites harder into flesh, deeper into mind. She tries to stand straight with it but the dizziness that rolls tidal won’t shift much anymore, ‘When it’s roaring inside your head 24 hours a day? When you’re too tired to fight anymore? When it’s so much easier just to listen…’

Mum softens, ‘They say that we have two fighting wolves inside of us, one good and one bad, and the one that wins is the one we feed.’

‘Wolves?’ her voice, fingers to mouth in secret, ‘The voices, they never leave me alone, Mum. They tell me that I don’t deserve food, that I never do enough, that my body is repulsive, that I take up too much room, that I don’t deserve a life… they tell me that I should never have been born.’

Mum turns to look out of the window.  A long stretch of grass down to trees, ‘Minnie sends her love, and Alex.’

‘Great.’ The girl curls her fingers around her arm, checking how much they overlap.

‘You hurt them too you know, doing this, being here.  Alex is too scared to ask how you are, he doesn’t even want to come home anymore because he says you’re still there, reminding us of how we failed.’

‘People think it’s about control, being in charge of your own death.’

Mum goes perching on the words, ‘Everyone has difficult stuff going on in their lives, what would happen to the world if we all went starving ourselves to death?’

Day scours through slatted windows, chopping the light to bars. Carla shifting smaller in her space, ‘You know, I remember the day I was born. I remember what I was wearing, where I was, who I was with. And most of all I remember what I was eating.’ She smiles but there’s not sunshine there, ‘Just three words, Mum. That’s all it took. Three words to kill me and bring me back to life as another person.’

Mum has to ask the question with her eyes. Voice snuck to tight to cry.

‘This girl, I’d seen her around school but nothing like saying hello. And she comes and sits down next to me and says she likes my lunch box. Calls her friends over. She talks about my shoes, asks where I got them. I said you’d bought them for me. It felt like I’d done something wrong when she smirked, and turned to her friends and said my words back. But then she talked about herself and, Mum,  it was okay. It was nice. We ate and talked and it was nice. Then she stood up, and she said, See ya, fatty. See ya, fatty. Just like that. And they all laughed. I guess tear is spelled the same as tear for a reason? Because I never cried but I sure got cut up that day.’

‘She was just a cruel, pathetic bully, she was only trying to hurt you because she feels bad about…’

‘Spare me the armchair psych, I know what she was doing. I know what she was. But you wanna know what the real pathetic in all this is? If she came and asked to be my friend right now, I’d feel happy, lucky to be in her company. I don’t even get to hate her for what she did, I just get to hate myself. Pretty messed up, eh?’

The tilt of her. Fingers. Uncurling, begging, ‘Tell me what to do, Carla, please tell me what to do.’

‘I wish I could tell you, Mum,’ she says, ‘because ever since the day I was born, everything tastes of  poison, and I’m sick to death of eating it.’

Dark Spells come crawling out small and black as tar. Made from mean and come to mean and all the things in-between. And bit by bit they eat their victims from the inside out until there is nothing left of them but skin and bone.

 

sn-fibrodysplasia

image – sciencemag.org

 

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Tangled

Rains come rattling after the snakes, and she shines all the more for the venom they left behind. Woke up tied to the railings of a disused town. All the glass broken and just the signs, with only one good screw left in them. She’d check out. But the music just won’t let her go.

Dead leaves bend and break over and over and still look the same. Vinyl shuffled in all the right places, sparking like an AI system. She sighs of famine through the red tablecloth; greed always had all the aces. Makes no matter who deals the hand after that.

Drums on the roof. A song can get closer. Easy enough to get by on remembering how to feel. And most of the time it’s like they come holding up a mirror, looking to find out if they scrub up okay. She keeps the door open. No need to say goodbye when there was never a hello. Just the ghosts of this town, dressed in sheets. And black spots where their eyes should be.

Storm shakes the tumbleweed. She twists the blind shut and asks god to refasten the chains when he’s done.

©2017 Jac Forsyth

Missing the Maelstrom

You know I’m dying, right? And you. Waiting patiently for the adverts to end. Eating the popcorn rituals of your indifference. To see what happens next. While I politely asked for help. Because I was already holding on by my fingertips.

I only saw the storm once. A distant silver light. Unbridged. Untamed. Unwanted. Turned back on me in all the shades of an unfamiliar sky. I knew then that I was breathing recycled air. And the oxygen I’d brought with me had to last a lifetime.

Perhaps the care you felt was always in the watching? Hell, I’m not sure which words are even mine anymore. Just that this is series end. My final subplot demise. Seen from the couch of your living. Changing channels for the sympathy credits. Adorable in your smiles and nods. And then you’ll move on. Like a swan. But no frantic paddling underneath. Just the river carrying you softly. Tenderly. To the next box set.

©2017 Jac Forsyth

800px-Blake_Dante_Hell_VFeatured image: The Lovers’ Whirlwind by William Blake.
Courtesy of: Wikipedia

HOURGLASS

9am.
A dustcart trails cherry blossom in bridal chaos. Traffic roulette spins on who’s gonna carry the scent bouquet. A guy asks strangers for money and his words rehearse legitimacy through an ice show of withdrawal. £21 for shelter, he says. I don’t ask what sort of shelter he means.

9.15am.
I sit in a cafe and mourn the loss of cold coffee and stale nicotine. Normality filters everything from this windowed street life and I wander too far into the sideshows and circus tents to remember what it was like.

9.20am.
There’s a snake oil cure splashed out across repose and the scream of surrender.  The sun shines but the shadows still fall flat no matter what they wanted to be. I run the tips of my fingers through the filigreed agony of a thousand nights and watch the debris burn off in fireflies. It seems like I can only see the freaks in mirrors these days.

9.30am.
A streetcleaner calls symphony in crisp packets and paper cups. There is a girl sat in an abandoned doorway, every part of her life is covered in filth. She watches the stumpy machine, like it’s on TV, like it could mean something in another life. The brushes sweep grey spirals around her but she is too much rubbish for even the dust collector to recognise. Some people are measured for a coffin the day all return tickets get cancelled. I buy her breakfast and it’s me has to do all the crying because there’s only survival left in her.

9.50am.
I go to the polling station. Seems like the people who deserve to vote the most don’t get one. A gymkhana of rosettes talk outside, one candidate asks for my card number and tells me the grass needs cutting in this town. I shut my eyes and pretend it’s the sun. I’ve already raked through the canker of promises to find the ones who will do the least amount of damage. He smiles and I know there are only pencils and bad choices on the inside.

10.am.
The bank is full of old people. I transfer money from one account to another as easy as remembering my address. The automatic door keeps opening even though no one comes in. Ghosts of past employees, we joke as the roar of contrition plays Bach in the corner and I search out deliverance on my iPod. When I try to leave the door twitches like it doesn’t want to let me go. I turn the music up to max and let oblivion take me.

 

©2017 Jac Forsyth

Spaceman

The skies bled dark. And First Contact was unfurled in monuments of intent, as unfathomable in their science as the cold silence that had preceded their arrival.

And even before the news broke, we knew they were here to kill us.

There was nothing they wanted, the politician said through a firework of light, and all we could do now was to offer our cooperation around the whole extinction process. It wasn’t personal. He said. It was just business.

Refusal wasn’t optional. He said.

And it’s funny, I can see now that life carries on clinging to the sides of the upturned bottle even when there is no hope left.

The sun came up the day after. And even though we knew we were all crawling through the final remnants of our lives, we still needed to breathe.  To pee.  To eat.  So we got up too, and went to work. Everyone did. It wasn’t like we wanted to, we just didn’t know what else to do.

Sam asked Jessica out. Finally. And Mr Doughan gave us all a massive pay rise and bought a Tesla. My parents drove their caravan all the way from Cornwall and parked outside my house. We had a barbecue when they arrived. In the street. They brought all the burgers from their freezer. The neighbours brought food and beer and paddling pools for the kids. I know their names. Now. We all leave our doors open. Now.

In Denmark, the farmers let all the cows go. No one needs to worry about buying milk anymore.

They say that routine can hold you when everything else falls apart. They took the cities first.  And some days I feel older than thought.

 

©2017 Jac Forsyth

 

image: fi.wikipedia.org

Midnight anatomy

The whisper coiled translucent in veins of opal fire, ‘You would walk alone into my dominion?’

‘And you would seek to threaten me with ghosts?’ Jacob fought back a wave of nomadic nausea, ‘Vapors of bad dreams and past imaginings?’

‘Words bring a hollow comfort,’ the form twisted abhorrent in its flesh, ‘when I would watch you write a rope and drown in tempests of binary quicksand?’

Jacob lent against the cold glass and drew the tips of his fingers into a mirrored arc, ‘Ah, but she calls to me with siren tongue, what am I to do?’

‘So you speak of grazing for water in an ocean of sand?’ the speaking bubbled laughter through septic gills, ‘when I am grown fat on the rations of famine?’

And the cool night air stole in from the east carrying the scent of rain and dust.

‘Give me a choice and I’ll take it,’ Jacob whispered.

The darkness swarmed charred flesh down to sullied meat ‘Then you are cursed to live among the bones and settlements of shame.’

‘So it is then,’ his sigh broke in ribbons.

And in the heart of darkness, the first bird called out to drag the sun from its slumber.

Jacob turned to face the demon, ‘War can come from want of peace and peace from want of war.  Tell me then of your desires, you who would keep my sweetheart from me?’

‘Death,’ said the fettered.

‘Death,’ said the fury.

‘Death,’ said the foul.

Jacob smiled then, ‘True enough she can seem as death to those who would chase her. But the fragrance of her song is sweet when all sweetness is gone. And if this is to be my death, then I would rather die than leave her.’

And the moon, bloated and grey, smudged across the clouds like a rubbed out mistake.

The anatomy of angels

When I was fourteen, I saw an angel. It was likely 8 feet tall. And looking at it was like looking at the sun.

I wake at 2.30am. Someone is shaking me, asking me about canons. I don’t remember. ‘What would it be like, to meet an angel?’ they say. Their voice jumps in soundbites.

‘Hell, that would be a wondrous thing,’ I breathe words into darkness, but all those years ago I just ran. All the way back across the fields without stopping. And I slammed the backdoor so hard the windows in the front room rattled. Even Mam looked at me long enough to ask if I was okay.

I said, ‘Yeah, just been runnin.’ Feels like I’ve been running ever since. I never said anything about the angel.

The voice calls again, dead leaves on the wind, ‘Hush little one, remember the canons.’ But when I think about anything, all I remember is the last time I thought about it.

I search through an anatomy of corrupted files. Looking for answers when the damn truth was lost in the first telling. When I was fourteen, I saw an angel. And everything since then has been a lie.

Canons shake me awake again, I don’t even know I’m sleeping.

 

© 2017 jac forsyth

canons

Snakes & Ropes

Dress my obsessions in poison. When the splintering came, it came quietly, and now I don’t give a damn about anything. I used to think it was compassion that burned in me, but turns out it was just a scaled up version of paradise. I ripped out the cellophane from envelopes and made a window but no matter what curtains I buy, it still stinks of anonymous mail.

You tell me I’ve figured out a thousand ways to filter the world, but I still can’t identify an assassin in the mirrored line-up. I’d stain them into glass perhaps? Bend them in flame, beat them into a shape I can use? The sickle drummers carve out the tune, but they don’t know shit about the melody. Empathy pretends to be about other people, but all it wants is control of the SatNav. Across the horizon, compassion raises an army, but I seem to be facing the wrong way. And I don’t see you anymore.

Wake up the band. Bring back the panic. In the darkness cellar, a snake waits to be a rope. It used to be the truth, now it’s just another altered reality. I light a match and try to remember what it was like to care if the whole damn world burnt to ash.

© 2017 jac forsyth

dsc04162

 

The death of dragons

The dragon was more than motionless, it was lifeless.  If he hadn’t known better the hunter would have sworn it was a statue.  He snapped his teeth, taunting the beast, ‘The time of your tyranny is finally over!’ he said, swishing his cape dramatically. He’d rehearsed this several times in front of a mirror and wasn’t going to let a bit of dragon glamour put him off.

In a small, lake encrusted clearing beyond the cave, a group of anxious looking people had gathered.  They’d heard tell of the traveller’s quest to kill the dragon and were desperately concerned for his welfare.  Some of the younger ones had also brought their phones, secretly hoping for an elicit #hellfire.

Back inside the cave, the dragon didn’t say anything.  Not even when the hunter flicked a rope over its great neck and pulled it tight.

‘To be honest, I expected more,’ the man hauled himself up onto a rough ledge, securing a chain to the binding before clamping the locks shut. ‘The fearful tales were pretty fearful.’ He jumped down, scooping up an elongated weapon from his rattling caravan, ‘But then I fear that the truth of dragons always gets lost in the… fear.’  He cursed his last minute choice not to pack a thesaurus.

The dragon didn’t answer him.  Not even when the Teflon clad hunter touched the tip of a surface to air missile to its sparkling belly.

‘I’m not going to lie, this will hurt you far more than it will hurt me.’

Outside in the clearing, the people were restless.  It didn’t normally take this long for a fry up and the apple core of their anxiety had sprouted several saplings of curiosity. A spectacularly moustached man peeped around the cave entrance, ‘Everything okay in here?’

‘Behold!’ the hunter gestured like a late night shopping channel host, ‘Your great foe is easily subdued by my manly skill.’

‘Right…’ the man twirled his moustache because it had its own Twitter page, ‘only some of the children are asking if they can have a photo.  When it’s all over… obs.’

The dragon didn’t interject with an amusing riddle.  Not even when several of the increasing number of innocent bystanders gave it an encouraging thumbs up.

‘Um, sure.’  The hunter had been growing a beard since 1993, he fumbled uneasily at the wispy outcrop occupying his chin, ‘I’ll just finish this Hellspawn off and the…little dudes can take as many Selfies,’ he quietly congratulated himself, ‘as they like.’

The dragon didn’t make a sound.  Not even when the tip of the rocket launcher rebounded off the cave wall and exploded like a disappointing advert for season 8 of NCIS Los Angeles.

The hunter didn’t make much noise either.  Although he did make a sort of squishy, hissy sound as what was left of his underpants hit the lake outside.

The people clapped.

‘Ah, hunters and their ego,’ the dragon said, shooing away a pale curtain of smoke with one of the man’s arms before beckoning the children inside, ‘they always think you’re talking to them.’

dragon

Something close to Bowie

something close to bowieOn the 10th of January 2017, Peter took the day off and made a pilgrimage to the little shop in Doncaster. Of course it was a coffee shop now. They were all bloody coffee shops now.

He sat in a high backed armchair by the window holding the cup tight against his mouth until he felt the skin burn away from his lip. It would blister later, but that was okay.

He’d forgotten what it felt like. To choose to hurt that much.

Outside, the northern sunlight had struggled its way through another rainy afternoon. The streets glistened hopefully, and a flurry of tribal shapes moved around the same spectrum that he had once worn. Fashion repeated in cycles, culture dictated boundaries of normality, sexuality searched for another unique identity. The 21st century was obsessed with change, but nothing had really changed at all.

The people at the next table were laughing too loudly. But even the chatter, the steam, the clinking of crockery, couldn’t hide the temperate ghosts of those Saturday afternoons. He’d found Bowie here, all those years ago, tucked under the arm of the only man he’d ever loved.

Peter smiled with the memory. He’d never seen anyone wear black like that, like it was a million different colours. From the shelter of the record racks, he’d allowed the patterns of it to unfold across his skin, a forlorn tragedy of longing that had nowhere to go. The man had glanced over at him as he left the store, and Peter had taken that look and made it last a lifetime.

He’d also bought a copy of Ziggy Stardust.

And now here he was, relishing the pain again. He blew a cobweb of thoughts out across the top of his coffee before biting deep into the burn, pulling the spike down to his chest. Too much time had passed and memory had a way of changing the facts to suit its own agenda.

He closed his eyes and allowed the sun to turn the darkness orange. Wherever that sweet nowhere man was, whatever, whoever he had become, Peter knew that they were feeling the same loss today. Seeking out something close to Bowie in a world forced to live without him.

In a run down record shop all those years ago, nothing had happened. Nothing. In a multiverse of choices, he had chosen nothing. A whole mess of nothing. And that’s what the pilgrimage was about.

Because on that day of nothing, that moment of nothing, all those years ago, the moth in him had flicked through the records, and chosen to buy the wings of a butterfly.