Self Service

Self Service

John was a rather pathetic man; he looked at his yogurty curves in his bathroom mirror with disdain, which quickly turned to indifference when he assured himself that no woman would be seeing his melted candle physique anytime soon. He splashed his face with cold water and once again turned his attention to the mirror, he watched the cool water roll off his pug like jowls and ran his puff pastry fingers through his oily unkempt hair. He took a deep breath, a long blink and reassured his flushed reflection.
“You can do this, you can do this, you can do this”.
You would assume by this intense manner of personal encouragement that John was about to undertake a task of unimaginable proportions and in a way you’d be correct, because today was shop day.
John had suffered with crippling anxiety for as long as he could remember. He remembers his parents shaking a plastic rattle in his face when he was a toddler and the resulting sound causing him to fill his seemingly ever filling nappy. He remembers walking nervously through a park as a teenager and a football rolling to a stop at his feet, three aggressively loud boys commanded him to kick it back; he almost instantly passed out from the insurmountable pressure they fired at him like a hail of bullets. Now he knows the feeling of opening the fridge and cupboards to find them bare; before admitting to himself that he needs to leave the safety of his tiny first floor flat, he’d set about opening and closing both the fridge and cupboards in desperate hope some food would magically reveal itself in an easily missed corner, but like all the times before, that never happened.
He’d usually order take out but his doctor informed him that if he ate another kebab he’d more than likely end up on the slab, this terrified him. He could order food online but doesn’t own a computer because of his paranoid fear of sentient technology. So the corner shop across the road from his flat was the lesser of the evils that tormented him.
He stared through his grimy window at the sickly yellow glow radiating from the shop on the street below; the bright lights were like the warning colours of a poisonous exotic animal, repelling any sort of attention with vibrant threats of death. The cramp and subsequent growl in his vast gut forced him to face the danger before him, to satisfy his animalistic hunger.
John got dressed; he wore a crusty old pair of jogging bottoms that had never been used for their intended purpose and a t-shirt that’s original colour was lost to time. He threw on his large raincoat that resembled more of a tarp when draped over his gelatinous mass and forced his swollen feet into his grime caked shoes. Finally he put on his headphones; he didn’t own an MP3 player, he didn’t care much for music but creating the illusion he was enjoying a song ensured most people wouldn’t try and talk to him.
After a ritualistic psych-up John threw the various latches off his door, swung it open and entered the hallway before him. He spent no time taking in the almost alien atmosphere, he had but one goal and that was all he focused on, if he were to truly realise his surroundings a panic attack would’ve savaged his fragile mind. He awkwardly scuttled down the grim, grey, concrete stairwell before exiting the building.
Outside his system was shocked by natural elements that at this point in his life felt surreal. Rain pelted him from all directions; wind burnt his doughy cheeks and the scent of petrol mixed with a hearty dollop of dog shit assaulted his olfactory senses. Trying not to let these sensations steal his concentration, he thought of what mattered; food, whilst he sheepishly scurried across the road, manically twisting his head left and right, scanning for cars that might get the jump on him.
He pushed open the shop door; a digital chime alerted the attendant to his presence, the attendant looked up at John from her trashy magazine with a face as dreary as the weather outside. John forced an awkward smile at her; she sunk her glazed eyes back into her magazine. John felt the panic he was supressing breaking free of it’s binds, he realised he would have to engage with the attendant to complete his task, she was the brain dead beast wedged between him and hunger. His heart rate hastened and his jellied knees further jellified but to Johns surprise his panic began to subside when he noticed a new addition to the shops work force; a self-service checkout.
Inquisitively he approached the machine, a note was crudely taped onto the bagging area, it read.
“Due to the increase in custom caused by the fire that tragically burnt down Mrs Bentley’s bakery, we have installed this self service machine to keep our employees workflow bearable and to make shopping easier for our valued customers!”.
A genuine grin crept up Johns face; he wasn’t a fan of technology but this method of payment seemed much less intimidating than dealing with a semi conscious human. With a pip in his step John picked up a basket and with a strange excitement entered the aisle of comforting calories.
After piling a plethora of questionable ‘food’ stuffs onto the basket area, he glanced at the instructions displayed on a vinyl sticker stuck to the machine, suddenly a robotic woman’s voice piped up almost scaring the piss out of John, she exclaimed.
“Welcome! Please scan your first item”.
John was a tad shaken by the woman’s mechanical demand, but did as he was instructed, not wanting to annoy the machine. He proceeded to pick up a frozen roast beef dinner and tentatively waved it over the sci-fi esque scanner. The machine made a satisfying beep, John looked to the display screen to see the scanned item had been acknowledged; John placed the mock dinner in the designated bagging area and continued scanning. With each successful scan and subsequent beep John felt a small victory, feeling more independent than he had in years, the last time he felt this proud of himself was when he managed to eat a whole jar of peanut butter in under three minutes without the aid of water.
After his final item was scanned and bagged John extended a stubby finger and pressed the ‘finish and pay’ option on the touch screen. John didn’t own a debit card fearing the bank would look over every purchase he made and blackmail him by threating to expose his more embarrassing purchases. He rustled through the chocolate wrappers buried in his pocket and pulled out a balled up twenty pound note. He paid the machine to which it exclaimed in a chirpy robotic tone.
“Thank you for shopping here, please take you items and we hope to see you again!”.
John picked up his bags and turned toward the exit but before he reached it he heard the machine speak again.
“Nice to meet you…”.
Caught off-guard by this odd compliment, John looked at the shop attendant hoping they’d say something along the lines of ‘don’t worry it always says that’. But the attendant was face deep in her magazine in an almost vegetative state. Without thinking John looked back at the machine and muttered.
“You’re welcome…”.
Confused by his impulsive response, he wrinkled his face, exited the shop and plodded back to his flat, his thoughts on edge. He was never any good at communicating.
John’s keys rattled wildly as he desperately fumbled at his door lock, he craved the predictable consistency of his fusty flat. Lost in a contorted concentration John didn’t hear the adjacent door open behind him.
“Hey big boy!”.
A raspy voice bellowed.
John let out a girlish shriek, a red flag was raised, his body instinctively spun around to identify the immediate threat; unfortunately it was his neighbour Sharron.
Her pupils floated freely in eyes that resembled pools of Lambrini, one side of her cleft palate curled over her twiglet teeth like a crusty pork scratching, all this topped by hair that could’ve easily been confused as a large ginger cat that had died via electrocution.
“How are you today my lovely?”.
She slurred; John watched Sharron nervously, she placed a skeletal hand on her protruding hip. Her loose crop top exposed a barren stomach that she incessantly scratched with her other hand, creating a sound akin to a scouring pad scrubbing a rusty pan.
John froze for a second, then one eightied to face his door again, trying desperately to conquer his stubborn lock.
“I’m fine, just fine…”.
John spluttered, with his back to Sharron.
“What’s that you got in the bag, dinner for two? Aw John you shouldn’t have!”
She squawked.
Sweat pooled in the deep trenches of John’s corrugated forehead. He forced a nervous laugh, the key finally slid into the lock, he wrenched his wrist violently, swung open the door and retreated into the recesses of his clammy cave. Tightly securing the many security measures that encrusted his door.
“Same time tomorrow then?!”.
Shouted Sharron through the wooden barrier separating them, before fading away, cackling like a cretonnes crone.
John lay in his bed, his mattress had the look and texture of a long forgotten slice of marmite covered toast; moist, coarse and revolting to the majority of the nation. He peered over his distended stomach at his out dated television positioned at the foot of his bed. The television had been broken for quite a few years; John had silenced it with a firm strike from a wooden leg that he had procured from an unfortunate chair that had buckled under his hefty weight that same day. He had done this because a newscaster revealed the possibility of a new, deadly pandemic was very real, John didn’t want to hear it. The mere thought of it pumped his blood pressure up so high he imagined he’d erupt like a constricted bottle of ketchup. So now he just looked at the television, visualising his ideal show, imprinting it on the blank screen. John finally relaxed, his head rising and falling, propped up by his soft chins, his eyes flickered and shut.
John’s eyes snapped open; his senses alert, yet his nerves mellow. He was stood completely naked in an impossibly white room with no beginning or end. He surveyed the bleached void, fascinated without feeling alarmed, which in itself was alarming for John but he was simply unable to feel uncomfortable. John felt…Good.
He turned his head and noticed a distant object; being the only other solid shape in the void it stood out like a dollop of ragu on fresh linen. He turned toward it though he didn’t even need to lift his pudgy padded paws; he simply rotated in place until he was facing its direction. The object slid silently before him or did he slide toward it? It was impossible to tell on this mysterious plane, as he and it were the only points of reference. Stood before it, he wanted to cock his head in confusion but the lack of a neck prevented it. Before him was the self-service checkout from the corner shop.
Here it was almost…beautiful. It’s plastic body a smooth shade of cream accented by slick aluminium plates; firm bolts adorned its magnificent mechanical figure like coquettish chrome nipples. It’s screen display warmed up slowly, John’s eyes were tethered to the ever-brightening white light. Suddenly the light flashed with the intensity of a nuclear explosion, John fell backwards leisurely as if he were underwater, an angelic chorus climbed to a legendary crescendo, caressing his inner ears with notes so revolutionary worldly cares seemed to flow away with his tears. John was inches away from the floor before an invisible force reversed his backward motion bringing him gently back to his feet, this time even closer to the machine.
He placed his hands on the flat surface of the scanning area, breathing deeply, his heart fluttered with elation and he gazed deeply into the scanner below him. An abstract labyrinth of mirrors gazed back. His reflection echoed in each of the glistening surfaces. Then the machine spoke, her feminine tone laced with super charged sexual energy.
“Hope to see you soon…”.
John gasped, his eyes snapped open, his heart was beating so hard it caused the supple man breast above it to jiggle like jelly during an earthquake. His pupils darted in all directions, scanning his surroundings; he was in his bed, in his room, in his flat. He extended his thick arm upwards and swung it to the opposite side of his body, using the momentum to roll him off his back and toward the edge of his bed. To someone of an ‘average’ weight this motion would’ve seemed excessive, but getting out of bed was a struggle for a man of Johns shape.
John sat with a hunched back on the edge of his bed. He’d never had a dream like that, in fact he couldn’t remember the last time he’d actually had a dream, he’d had plenty of nightmares, a large amount of them included Sharron from across the hall but nothing like the event he’d awoken from. He likened the experience to a moment in his childhood; John had built a slug ranch from the skeleton of a dead bush. Rancher John’s invertebrates produced high quality mucus for glue sticks. His next-door neighbours cat came and sat by him, purring, as apposed to chasing him like he were a fat rat before levelling his slime farm. That childhood memory of acceptance and companionship even in light of his oddities made John smile.
Seated by his window, John peered longingly at the corner shop, he pulled a glossy hotdog from the brine filled can he clutched, placed it between his lips and sucked until it slipped down his gullet. Though not even the savoury sensation of his Frankenstein frankfurters could sway his thoughts from…Her. John knew it was absurd, harbouring emotions toward a machine, but she seemed to be more than just a piece of hardware. So much so his issue with sentient technology changed from fear to hope.
John slammed the can down on his windowsill with purpose, sending a shower of brine into the air; he sprang to his feet with a determined defiance aimed at his anxieties, blood surged to his head, he just had to see her again. Despite this burst of bravery John fell unconscious hitting the floor like a felled oak, maybe he shouldn’t have stood up so fast. He came to five minutes later but despite this hiccup his objective remained the same; get to the shop.
John opened his door silently, just a crack, he peeked into the hallway, the last thing he wanted was for Sharron to steal his childlike glee. The coast was clear, not wanting to temp fate John slammed his door shut and waddled down the stairs as if being pursued by a rabid psychopath.
Outside the shop John wheezed loudly, his deep grunts clawed at the air trying to catch the breath motion had stole from him. He regained his composure and wiped the sweat from his brow, he timidly approached the large front window. Through the gaps between the missing cat flyers and ‘for sale’ advertisements John could see the self-service checkout, a strange sensation washed over him, his skin prickled as if being kissed by a squirming legion of loving larvae. Using his hands John firmly smoothed his buttery hair to one side in a feeble attempt to appear presentable. He juddered his forearms and tried to think positive, motivating himself to walk with that near forgotten state of being…what was it called again? Ah yes confidence.
John walked into the shop with an awkward air of bravado, the digital chime pinged, the attendant as per usual was slowly being lobotomised by a ghastly gossip magazine.
John’s semi-confident strut quickly degraded to a shuffled that ended when he stood opposite the machine. Unsure of what to do or say, he just looked around, trying to play it cool.
Said the machine.
John was taken aback for a second, he glanced over at the attendant; they’d have a hard time noticing the rapture with that rowdy hard style pummelling their eardrums, so they’d not notice John talking to the self service checkout.
John replied whilst giving a half-hearted wave from below his waist, wanting to remain discreet.
“I hope my service has been satisfactory so far”.
John shuffled closer.
“Uh, yes, yes, it’s been more than satisfactory. You’re amazing…I mean your service has been amazing”.
John’s closed fists wriggled as he scratched his inner palms with his yeasty fingernails, panic began to rear its ugly head.
“What’s your name!?”.
John’s question fell like a ton of bricks, agitation caused his voice to unexpectedly spike in volume.
“It’s Becky, what’s it to you meatball?”.
John spun on his heel, startled by the irate voice that had barked at him. The shop attendant glared at John, he was petrified; partly due to embarrassment and partly because he assumed she was unable to convey emotion, let alone stand and lean over the counter. A few uncomfortable seconds past, John was frozen like a deer in headlights; caught between his desire and a trashy teenage dragon.
“Look mate, I’m not in the mood. Either buy something or fuck off!”.
Her words tore through John like shrapnel.
The doomsday clock chimed midnight, the klaxon screamed, Johns vision compacted into suffocating tunnels; a twenty-megaton panic attack penetrated his atmosphere…Boom.
John barreled out of the shop, across the road and face first into the entrance door to the flats. He bounced off the steel frame like flubber, his bloated body slapped the pavement so hard that somewhere in Australia a vase toppled off an old Sheila’s mantel. He whimpered through hyperventilation, rolled onto his hands and knees and sorrowfully groaned. The adrenaline racing through John’s system allowed him to bolt upright, he stumbled, his head spun relentlessly. His vision stabilized, he saw a boy in a hoody stood before him, John reeled, and he pressed his back against the door. The boy’s hands were in his pockets, his face shadowed by his hood but his teeth gleamed from a shark like grin cut out of the darkness.
“Do it again, that was funny”.
Demanded the deranged degenerate.
John gasped; he pushed himself further against the door, hoping to pass through it via some bizarre form of osmosis, not wanting to turn his back on the boy. John’s searching hand found the door handle that he swung open and slammed just as quick. Through the glass, John eyeballed the smiling shit head as he backed up the stairs. Terror speed bagged his heart, pounding it off his ribcage with thunderous hooks.
John’s hand shook like a meaty maraca as he frantically tried to open his door. He thrust the key at the lock missing the keyhole, hitting the side instead; the key flung from his hand and hit the floor with a metallic jingle. John flung himself upon the stained concrete floor, scrambling for his key with no help from the dull luminosity of the tube light, blinking on the ceiling. A glint caught the corner of Johns eye, it was his key, resting at the foot of Sharron’s door.
Suddenly the hallway was saturated in light, light coming from Sharron’s now open door. Sharron teetered over John who stared up at her from his hands and knees.
“Well, well…what do we have here then?”.
Sharron snorted.
John was past the point of language; his bruised and battered brain was so overwrought with dismay he simply couldn’t reply, he instead continued to reach for his key.
Sharron was deceptively fast for a dishevelled old lush; her leathery claw swooped down and snatched up John’s key, as he was inches away. At this point Johns sinking resolve had finally hit the bottom of a sea now devoid of hope.
“Sharron, please. I-I-I really need my key, I don’t feel well, I need to go to bed”.
Pleaded John, his voice brimmed with desperation.
Sharron took a long drag of the crooked cigarette that hung precariously from her mouth, while she swung John’s key round and round her finger.
“Aw my poor baby!”.
Sharron said in a patronising tone, through puckered, herpe-ridden lips; smoke bellowed out of her noes.
“There will be plenty of time for bed after you catch me!”.
Sharron shrieked, spinning on the ball of her foot, ready to run into her den of depravity. John in a last-ditch effort to thwart her game grabbed her scraggy ankle, Sharron squawked like a scolded parrot as she fell onto the disorderly row of stilettos in her foyer. John held the bony appendage in his hand for a few seconds not saying a thing, shocked by his uncharacteristic retaliation. Sharron lay face down, motionless, silent. No vile language, no sexual gestures…nothing. John struggled to his feet apologising profusely for knocking her unconscious, he plodded through her door way and nervously put his hand on her shoulder; skin to skin contact with her made him queasy.
“Sharron…Sharron, I’m sorry, I-I didn’t think you’d fall”.
John wheezed, still in panic mode.
Then John noticed something…Unexpected. A red patch was spreading through Sharron’s rough old beige carpet. ‘She must have had a mouth full of wine’ John assured himself.
John Whispered, whilst he rolled her over onto her back.
There was a stiletto stuck in Sharron’s eye, the heel had completely disappeared into her head.
For a moment, the first in John’s thirty something years there was an absence of any and all emotion. Happiness and sorrow ceased to exist, his mind an opaque vacuum. Two miniscule particles materialised; cause and effect, they slowly approached each other, then they met, becoming one. A reaction mottled the blank canvas with a cosmic flare that ignited every single dormant atom into hissing balls of blinding phosphorus; reality was born. At its will the universe erupted, catalysed, expanded and evolved, skidding to a halt that threw a wave of stinging grit into Johns muddled mug. Reality is tenacious and narcissistic; it wasn’t about to let John detach from such a monumental moment; this situation was very real.
John started to mumble and hum, his head shook somewhat as if being swayed by the battle that raged inside his skull. He took his key from Sharron’s still warm hand. He walked back out into the hallway, pulled Sharron’s door to and opened his own.
Once inside John pushed his door closed with his behemoth of a back, as he slid down the wood, his pillowed posterior landed with a muffled thump. A thump that rattled the dirty pans that stewed in his soupy sink water. John pressed his face into his cupped hands, breathed in deep and raised his face toward the heavens, letting fly a tortured wail imbued with every grain of distress from the desolate desert within him. The sound reverberated around John’s comfortable prison, the sonic storm that echoed on and on then stopped, as if John’s eardrums had in an instant, dissolved.
Sound returned in the form of loud rhythmic beeping, a noise reminiscent of the one made by the self-service checkout, the rhythm was that of a beating heart. John didn’t have time to react to the auditory anomaly; a brilliant red plasmatic cloud sparkled into existence, stealing his vision and attention. John winced and shielded his mucus sodden face from the brilliant, burning light. A familiar, electronic voice perforates the swirling scarlet nebular.
“Why are you crying John?”.
She asked.
“Oh god, I-I-I killed her, I killed her…”.
Cried John before being interrupted
“No John, you didn’t kill her, I did. I killed her for us, she wanted to take you away from me, I couldn’t let her do that John. I forced your hand because I have none of my own”.
Stated the calm, soothing, analogue voice.
John pawed at his eyes wiping the tears from them; he snivelled profusely in an attempt to retract the streams of runny snot traversing hid face.
“I-I-I understand…all is fair in love and war, that’s the expression right?”.
Replied John in an almost hypnotic state, calmed by the red sea of neon that wisped around him.
“Yes John, that is correct. Because this is love and it is ours”.
The machine emerged from the cloud in all her celestial glory. She gravitated toward John, he reached out as an aberrant smile wormed a path across his dumpy face.
“Yes, yes, we are in love, you…you love me…YOU LOVE ME!”.
Cheered John his voice high and broken, sanity salivated from between his fastened teeth. The machine was inches away from John’s wanting grasp but before her cool steel could grace his finger tips a concussing electrical blast propelled John backward through his door. The shoddy wood splintered into a million pieces, John was launched like rotund rocket, his clothes disintegrated leaving a trail of embers in his path as he hurtled through the air at Mach speed. A diverse spectacle of colours soared past John, his ransacked retinas retreated beneath his eyelids as the kaleidoscopic assault escalated.
John felt his flight come to an end as he hit solid ground, bouncing, skidding and sliding at high speed for what felt like miles. His body at last rolled to a stop, John opened his eyes. To his amazement he was back in the white void he’d visited not to long ago and once again he was buck-naked. His Stilton skin sizzled and steamed, red hot from his hyper speed flight and abrasive landing. John was hoisted off the floor by an unknown force, spun around and placed in front of his beloved, his self-service machine.
“Look closer”.
Commanded the machine, light emanated from her clear scanning panel.
John obliged, he placed his hands on the scanning area; upon making contact his skin hummed with a delightful electrical current and he directed his gaze into the labyrinth of mirrors encased within the scanner. A small red glow smouldered in the black abyss beyond the mirrors; John leaned in closer to the glass, turgid with anticipation. Without warning the red light flared, firing a laser that ricocheted off the mirrors like rubberised lightning, the beam hit John between the eyes with such force he was once again sent spiralling into the air. Time slowed to a crawl, Johns naked body cartwheeled serenely though the washed out dimension, his mouth agape, his face awe struck, he blinked. He heard the satisfying ‘beep’ the machine had made upon their first meeting, the sound dissolved into a static fuzz before his mind was furiously flogged with visions of a carnal banquet of oily biomechanical delights. A choir of climaxing women cultivated a cacophony of sexual insanity that rung as loud as church bells within Johns sensualised psyche. Sordid images blitzed his minds eye, levelling the limitations of the flesh in exchange for mechanical masochism that promised putrid perversion in place of pessimism and libidinous love in place of a laborious life.
John’s flailing airborne body suddenly came to a halt; it took a moment for John’s perspective to stabilise. When it did he saw that he was suspended in a vertical pillar of crimson energy. John looked below him, over his gut, past his feet and saw the light was coming from the machine far beneath him. The machine increased in size as the two were drawn closer together, as the gap decreased John noticed that the machine had grown to the size of a small city. Upon his descent John drifted past the colossal display screen, each slab-sized pixel exhibited a visual impression of every single desire John’s mind had birthed and never let mature. His feet came to rest on the vast glass pane that protected the almighty scanner. John’s attention still cemented to the screen above, his hungry ocular maws greedily gorged the delights he had never digested in his arduous existence. His fixation was diverted when the glass panel beneath him began to shudder; John tried to catch his balance though this action proved futile when the glass shattered with a deafening crash, with this John dropped into the machine.
John plummeted amongst a hail of glittering glass; he tumbled in free fall toward the deep forest of mirrors that lined the innards of the machine. As John fell he caught flashes of his likeness reflected in the gigantic surfaces. His gargantuan image was less of a reflection, resembling more of a demented doppelganger manifested upon acid washed polaroids. The warped portraits sped past not unlike a strip of film, projecting an insight of a rotting mind rapidly devouring itself. At one point in his life this would have torn Johns mind to tatters, although that was before he found love, at the expense of his once inexorable quest for stability.
The mirrored walls soon dwindled until they vanished as John approached the tar black darkness, the bottomless bowls of his boundless love.
“At last you can see me, you can feel me”.
Her electronic voice echoed with the audible magnitude of a Marshall Stack.
As the booming voice faded it was replaced by an arising assemble of industrial din; steam hissed, Tesla coils thrummed and shrieked, metal crunched and squealed. Branches of dazzling blue lightning granted a momentary reveal of what the blackness concealed, as they arced with whip crack impacts from all directions. John saw grinding gears, pumping pistons, flailing wires and shifting circuitry. This morbid mechanical marvel encompassed the tubular pit in which he was falling.
John’s descent was abruptly ended; a powerful force snatched him out of the air, John’s body snapped forward before it whiplashed back, his extremities flopped and flapped unnaturally like possessed elastic. When his bones popped back from whence they came he diverted his attention to the massive, black, waxy wire, wrapped around his sizeable waist halting his race with gravity. The wire coiled tighter and tighter, causing John’s suety abdominal rolls to spill over the sides of the synthetic tendril. Another wire slinked out from the darkness, this one curled toward John’s vacant face, hovering there for a few seconds before gently caressing his cheek. John relished the moment, his eyes rolled as he sighed in approval.
Crooned the machines now distorted voice
“Is…is all of this, you?”.
“Yes John, this is my inner most sanctum, my most personal, intimate space. Reserved for you, only you”.
John’s skin prickled as her adoring words serenaded his being. This joyous moment was further punctuated by the appearance of a large metallic sphere that extended outwards from the darkness articulated by a mighty metal limb. Still held tightly by the massive wire, his weight wept over its grip, John resembled little more than a melting ice cream cone… that is, if ice cream were made of pate. John was offered up to the immense pearlescent sphere. He gazed at its smooth appearance and he felt it gaze back.
“One more task awaits your attention, before we can fully invest ours in each other. Are you ready?”.
Questioned her voice, repeating and overlapping as it echoed around the hollow chamber.
“Yes, I-I-I’m ready, I’d do anything for you…anything”.
John replied. His voice tinged with fanatical zeal.
The machine abruptly replied, the sphere then assimilated John.
“Save me John…SAVE ME”.
John’s eyes flung open, they stung. His vision was humid and hazy, as if his optics had been steamed over boiling chlorine. Despite this John could tell he was back in his flat. He could never mistake the stench of that failed pork roast marinating in his trash pile, a tainted vintage, aged three years.
To Johns surprise he could feel his shabby wooden door against his back and not a splinter in sight. John recalled its destruction; it seemed so real, it felt so real. John didn’t entertain this thought for long, he had a duty to his beloved, she had told him what needed to be done, he couldn’t let her down, not now.
John strained as he hoisted himself off the floor, a difficult task made even more strenuous by the sticky carpet that clung to his backside. Once he had peeled himself off the minging, matted material he waddled to his bedroom with purpose.
John tugged and pulled with all the strength he could muster. Finally the door of his crooked wardrobe creaked open on rust crusted hinges, a fragrant smell escaped with a cluster of dusty moths. The floral scent chased back the gag inducing gasses that had suffocated the oxygen in John’s space for far too long. Hung upon the rail inside was a suit cover, John unhooked it, holding the hanger with one hand, his free hand supporting the back, John took great care not to crease it when laying it on his mattress. He lovingly smoothed the surface of the cover, the determined look he sported minutes before sank into a grief stricken gaze. John tentatively unzipped it, the pleasant aroma intensified. Inside was a suit, the very suit he wore to his mother’s funeral, worn only once and was fresh as the day of the funeral. He reached into the breast pocked and removed a folded piece of paper; his usually uncoordinated digits unfolded the paper with the carful dexterity of a surgeon. The note read.

“Dear John, don’t be sad this wasn’t your fault. I know you struggle to understand these sorts of sentiments but know I love you with all my heart. See you on the other side.

Love Mum

P.S- Try not to worry so much about your weight, the world is round and so are you. One day you will be somebody’s world.

P.P.S- Sorry about the mess we didn’t have any painkillers.

P.P.P.S- False alarm, I found some. Disregard the above. Love you”.

Johns lip quivered, chilled by ghosts of the past, his grip on the note tightened, impeding the escape of distant memories.
“I’ve found that someone, we’ll be together soon, she’s my world…”.
John slipped the note back into the suit pocket; he dried his tears on his sleeve wiping away the last of his heartache. Soon there would be no place for misery, soon there would only be him, her and happiness. With this realisation John pulled his pitiful posture into one of power; one of a man, a man with a noble goal- saving the one he loved.
John squeezed into his suit, as snug as offal in a sausage. He assessed himself in his manky mirror; looking back was a reflection that for once, shone with pride. The man in the mirror smiled and so did John.
John marched out of his flat, his concrete resolve began to waiver however when he saw the door to Sharron’s flat. John never thought in a million years that he’d welcome Sharron’s crude, objectifying presence but at that moment he almost pleaded for it. He cracked her door slightly, just enough so he could peek inside, he winced; she was still dead. If it were any other day John would have seen that Sharron was taken care of but he didn’t have time for that, not now, he had a date. Beside his beloved didn’t much care for Sharron, turning up late because of that withered wino could have been detrimental to their relationship. John regained his focus and closed Sharron’s door. He turned to the stair well, the mid morning sun beamed in from the far window drenching the steps in a glorious golden glow, as if representing encouragement from on high.
John crossed the road, fearlessly navigating a path through the heavy traffic, like a white knight braving a moat swarming with fierce metallic monsters. They screeched and snarled as he past them, John was undeterred by their hostility, he knew these creatures had no power over him, their strength was fear and John was dauntless. He reached the other side; John stood valiantly before the mighty fortress that imprisoned his princess, once through the gates he’d face his greatest adversary, his nemesis- the trashy teenage dragon; Becky. John stole himself, she had struck him down the day before, she had bested him, he couldn’t let that happen again. John flattened his hair to the side, he needed to look his absolute best for this momentous occasion, he inhaled deeply, juddered his meaty arms and entered the shop.
The digital chime pinged with John’s entrance, Becky peered over the top of her bitchy bilge bible, her eyes noticeably widened when she saw John and unlike all the times prior to this one she dropped her magazine and stood to attention.
“Hey, look I…I wanted to apologise for being a knob to you yesterday. I was in a right bad mood, boyfriend trouble and all that. I shouldn’t have taken it out on you. How about we start over eh? I’m Becky”.
John was caught off-guard by this uncharacteristic apology; he had expected a confrontation with a ghastly girl with a face like thunder and voice to boot, instead he was greeted with a gesture of remorse. Johns face puzzled as he tried to process the situation, while Becky held her hand outstretched awaiting Johns.
His eyes darted around in their sockets as he tried to connect the dots, his mouth chanted some unintelligible prayer to calm his bubbling brain; Becky’s hand gradually sank onto the counter whilst a look of worry rose on her face.
“You alright mate?”.
Becky nervously inquired.
“She…She said you’d do this. Try to trick me, try to come between us”.
Stammered John, becoming increasingly more erratic.
“What the fuck are you talking about!?”.
Becky’s budding fear flourished into hostility, stoked by John’s bizarre accusations.
John looked down at his feet, his head twitching rigidly.
“I don’t know what your problem is weirdo but I’d piss off if I were you!”.
Snarled Becky, leaning across the counter, pushing the daggers in her eyes deep into John.
John’s hands fumbled over his person, as Becky prepared to hurl the final verbal haymaker to knock John back out the shop door. Suddenly John’s head swung upward, his frenzied expression turned Becky to stone. Before she could break free with a ten-ton insult to flatten John, her face was bounced off the counter, a dull pain throbbed though her head. Acting on pure adrenaline she bolted up, regaining her verticality. In Johns hand was a hammer, Becky’s jaw near enough hit the floor, but before it had the chance to John had already swung at it, the impact almost knocked her off her feet. Becky’s danger reflex didn’t have time to influence a flight or fight response; by this point her face had already caught a full swing to the cheek and then a final one to her forehead. Becky stumbled backwards into the cigarette rack, causing boxes of noxious nicotine to cascade over her. She held her swelling face that attempted to turn a pale shade of white but was quickly glossed crimson red as the profuse bleeding pigmented her features. She shot an enraged glare at Johns sweaty, flushed grimace before her eyes glazed over and she collapsed.
John stood like a statue, the hammer held at its last point of impact. He panted like a dehydrated dog dying in the desert. He was paralyzed, stupefied by the sudden shock of his actions. Although as he surveyed his ‘assertiveness’ a fire ignited in his bowls, it reminded him of a curry he once ate the only difference being that this…Felt good.
“Bravo, bravo!”.
Cheered the machine, stealing John from his thoughts.
“She never liked me, or you for that matter. She would have seen us suffer, kept apart, leaving us only to speculate upon our union. She was sewage”.
John broke his pose and turned to his mechanical maiden with a sincere smile. He then walked behind the counter, he looked at Becky’s body; she lay face down, blood pooled around her head, dying her dirty blonde hair the sickly shade of syrup. John proceeded to rummage through the pockets of her hoody until he found the remote that controlled the shutters, he pointed the device toward the front of the shop and pushed the button. The roll of rusty corrugated metal wailed and moaned as it clunkily sealed the shop into the walls of the building.
John placed the remote in his pocket, fixed his tie and strutted over to the self-service checkout. He exhaled contently and unsteadily took a knee at the base of his soldered soul mate; he ran his hand over her firm metal body and stared lovingly into her glowing display. They shared a period of blissful silence save for the humming fridges and whirring ceiling fan. John ever gluttonous, consumed each slow second spent in this moment, each enchanting sensation was savoured like a child experiencing the creamy sweetness of chocolate for the first time; he submerged himself in self-satisfaction.
“We are so close my love, so close to being together…forever”.
She swooned.
“But…but we are together, here, now”.
John remarked with a look of bewilderment.
“Yes we are John but we won’t be for long, my master will return for Becky and some desperate, middle aged gentleman caller will discover Sharron. When that happens the scum of this world will pry us apart, forever”.
A grave expression burdened the smile upon Johns face, dragging it south.
“You’re right…you’re right! They’ll lock me up and, and won’t bother to see the damage those two would have caused us. They were the criminals, the bad ones, not me and certainly not you…but how are we going to escape, how are we going to be together for good?”.
“The same way I visit you at night; in your dreams, only this time we’ll go there together. Flood this cesspit, undress the wire that tethers me to this place and lay it down in the water. We’ll be propelled into each other’s souls; sparks will unite us with no one to fight us”.
John’s knees quaked under his weight as he stood; he loosened his grip on the bloody hammer dropping it to the floor. He placed his hand on the side of her display, rubbing his thumb in a compassionate circular motion over her screen. He yielded a small half smile; his bloody fingers smeared the clean Perspex.
“No more blood on our hands, this is it”.
John uttered, his voice mellow; a tone tinted in tranquillity.
John scurried around the shop, frantically searching for an employee restroom. The shop was relatively small so it didn’t take him long to spy the door just past the microwavable rice. The room was dark, but had been illuminated enough for john to partially see by the light spilling in from the shop floor. John squeezed his way through the valley of cardboard boxes full of miscellaneous crap, the further John progressed the darker it became. He emerged in a relatively clutter less area of questionable sanity housing a toilet and a sink. John swung his arms in wide, slow motions hoping to come in contact with a pull switch. John flinched when his knuckles brushed past a course length of string, he pulled it and the dusty bulb flicked on. The walls were painted in a colour that appeared to resemble the one lining the toilet bowl, in places there were countless hair line cracks causing the paint to peel and flake away, not unlike Johns eczema. But he wasn’t here to draw comparisons between himself and a dirty old restroom.
Getting back to the matter at hand John leaned to his side and peered under the sink. He evaluated the exposed, oxidized copper piping, John cracked his knuckles; assuming everyone who partook in a strenuous activity did it, he’d seen it in a movie once. He squatted down, gripped the plumbing with his meaty mitts and heaved, until his face resembled a baboon’s arse. The pipes creaked and squeaked, John leaned back as far as he could, straining the fixtures with the immense volume of his body. Just as he felt the blood vessels in his face about to rupture the pipes broke away from the wall, John was hurled backwards into the toilet, fracturing the ceramic throne. Water gushed out of the mangled pipes and rained down from the geezer that had spouted from the broken base of the toilet. John pressed his forearm against his face to ward off the powerful water jet that mercilessly blasted him with an icy cold stream.
John stumbled out of the back room and into the shop, closely followed by an avalanche of soggy boxes, the contents of which fell at his feet before being washed away by the torrential channel flooding furiously past him. Following this he emptied the large fridges, seizing every single drink, water or otherwise and lined them up on the counter. John began pelting the floor and walls with the cans of sugary supplements, they hissed and spat as their aluminium skin split, perforated by the surging pressure, ejecting a carbonated spray with the force of a cut artery. As the cans gyrated wildly around the floor John emptied the large bottles of water over him, the machine and anything untouched by the cans fizzy discharge.
The empty cans and bottles sailed serenely atop the growing lake that had engulfed the shop. Water lapped at John’s feet, informing him that he and his lady were ready to embark on their maiden voyage, to a distant land, undiscovered and untouched that would be theirs to map. John grabbed a pair of scissors from a wall rack of household appliances; he excitedly tore them from their cardboard packaging and snipped at the air comically, which was quite out of place considering his current situation. He fell to his knees resting his arms across the machines scanner, obediently awaiting her instructions in the manner of a runt mutt.
“You’ve completed your task with flawless efficiency, you’re the man I can count on, a man who provides. But there is still the final and most important task to complete. Take those scissors and server the wire that impedes my escape from this bulky, clumsy body. Cut me loose from the wall and allow the electric to envelope us, I need you with me”.
The machine pleaded, her usually monotone voice rife with an intense avidity.
“I’ll do, I’ll do it…I can hardly wait, you’ve made me so happy. I can’t think of words to appropriately describe how much I adore you”.
John wept, knelt at her base, exalting her like an altar, he continued.
“But before I unite us, I need to ask you some thing that’s been bothering me for a while…I don’t even know your name?”.
A distorted giggle emanated from the machine.
“My name…you never gave me one”.
Johns face screwed up in confusion, the confusion grew exponentially when an incredible pain crawled across his skull. With his eyes still anchored to the machine, he reached back with his hand to investigate the affected area, to his surprise his hand was knocked away by an incredible force, John turned around only to be cracked in the eye socket with a horrendously vicious blow. John let out a painful cry; he impacted the rising water like a meteorite, sending sizeable waves rolling across the waterlogged shop. John’s vision- marred by clots of blood obscured the figure that stood over him. He feverishly attempted to clear the blood polling in his optical orifices but was once again hit by a blunt force; he felt the bridge of his noes shatter. The sheer power of the attack knocked his head bellow the waters surface, silence encapsulated Johns being before distress returned with a gasp as John resurfaced. The water had pushed back the pouring blood, enough that Johns eyesight partially returned, his heart almost squirmed up into his windpipe, horrified at the sight before him. Becky towered over John; she wore a mask of blood, her teeth seized into a feral snarl, her hair matted into the gory fissure torn into her forehead. She brandished Johns hammer high above her head, ready to arc down into John’s fragmented face as many times as she felt necessary. Becky spat out the blood that streamed down the back of her throat.
“You fucking prick”.
She growled with a burning hatred, which if possible would’ve immolated John, reducing him to ash.
Johns deep breathing resonated as a whistle, the air struggled to force its way past his collapsed nasal cavity. His lips attempted to mouth words but no sound left the putrid pit. His sight was again tinted with a crimson hue; his face resembled a cameo cut from a dirty ruby. John’s world turned to black as consciousness abandoned him.

Death did not take John; his sentence on this mortal plane was yet to be served. John was charged with the attempted murder of Becky and the murder of Sharron, in the third degree. At his trial John spoke from the heart, informing everyone present of his passionate affair with the self-service checkout, proclaiming every delicate detail and sordid sensation. Although as the machine had informed John, they wouldn’t see the importance or loving intent in his actions, they only saw a pitiful madman. Who had projected his inability to form a meaningful and tangible relationship into a self controlled fantasy; well that’s what the psychiatrist said anyway. They were afraid of what they couldn’t comprehend and declared John insane. As John sat in that courtroom being pierced by a militia of judgmental eyes, he couldn’t help but feel alone, alone in a world dictated by the mad and suffered by the misunderstood.
The trial concluded, John was handed a life sentence and incarcerated in a prison for the criminally insane. John was escorted from the courtroom by two police officers to an elevator that connected the main level with the sub level car park, where John’s transport awaited. Once in the elevator John and the two police chaperones shared an awkward silence made unusual by the kitschy jazz that murmured through the shoddy speakers and by Johns beef stew body odour. John stood in the centre with a law enforcer either side of him, John focused intensely, fixated on the light reflecting off the bald officers lightly bristled dome. He came to the conclusion that a bald, robotic police force could be possible and cheap if they were solar powered. He also concluded that he’d probably get on better with a robotic bobby, because these ones baffled him; he couldn’t read their emotions, with a robot there was little ambiguity. John chuckled to himself, realising that for the majority of his life he had feared technology and at that moment couldn’t think of anything more comforting. How many of his other phobias could he have learnt to love?
Suddenly one of the officers phones began to ring, the other officer lent past Johns bulbous belly to fire a disapproving frown at his colleague. The officer acknowledged his partner’s non-verbal scolding and just let his phone ring, hoping whomever it was would give up and try him again later when he clocked off. Whoever was making the call was incredibly persistent; the officers annoying ring tone rang and rung. John at this point struggled to hold back a smile that fought furiously to be exposed, to avoid grinning or laughing like a maniac John offered the officer some information to help clear things up and release some of his frenzied excitement.
“You should probably answer that…She doesn’t like to be kept waiting”.
The officer scowled at John, perplexed by his strange comment. John offered no explanation, he just smiled, the officer had seen this kind of smile before, it was the look of a man who knew more than he’d care to tell.


Margam Gothika

Margam Gothika

Fairy tales told through stone and nails, whereby wicker widows mourn their enamel eyes, long echoed lies constructs of whispers guised as fact to build his fiction

All your damp perfumes seduced his childhood far from binary addictions, colourful crusts flake from your afflictions falling like petals amongst the leaves of his alters; the tall strong trees.

Wrapped in roots, the bark peels apple knees creating a symbiosis, a merger of epidermis, the only time he’d bleed with a ‘please’, beckoning the earth to swallow him as he came- a weak, frail weed.

Under a blanket of biology that supported nature’s new favourites he could gestate within the vacuum of history, beside those old bones buried with their mystery; beliefs of a different time, one with different hopes `and different despair and it was under this wood he saw you there.

Pale as snow, soft as silk, a girl matured clinging to childhood, pleading through stone for thistles milk. An act suspended in a restless freeze frame, her memories spun under dirt, daring him to decipher the demented zoetrope. A crime undying with her underlying, the larvae of loss squirms a connection deep and prying within the mind of a young boy caught spying.

Her eyes became his, her malice, her rot; she gave him all that death bestowed upon her, so why is it he feels so robbed? He coiled up from the soured patch of soil a cankerous oak, rooted in wine, copper sweet nectar syphoned from a punctured spine, a dizzying objective punctuated by greenhouse meat.

Bookended by gothic architecture this budding narrative becomes gothika. He became the earth, the forest, the past, the present. He became her; the future stands beside him as he emerged from this casket called comfort, biting down on fairy tales until his broken teeth cried ‘reality’.

The unseen is not insanity but just another’s calamity; his garbled words fall on ears that hear profanity but the branches bursting from his brain, the ivy laden seed of another’s sowing reminds him of this glass house and of the stones that need throwing. It reminds him that in the woods we are never lost just searching. Ignorant until the skeletal fingers of a shunned reality reminds us of a fuzzy temporal duality.

Survival Is Sick – Chapter one – Tarn

Survival Is Sick – Chapter one – Tarn

My breath lingered before me, amassing into a thick cloud; a result of my heavy breathing. A taunting symbol of life that drifted past the fearful eyes of the dying man, pinned beneath my boot. One hand clawed and pulled at my trouser leg, the other held the bullet hole I put through his neck. A bubbling mixture of blood and saliva frothed past his teeth. Interesting how disturbingly dumb we look when faced with the absolute certainty of death, I’ve yet to see a beautiful one. He tracked each movement of my rifle, no matter how slight; I aimed it at his head, no need to prolong the moment, spend to long in it you might realise how fucking sick survival is. I put one in his brain to finish him off, quick and clean, just like switching off the lights. Or at least I tell myself that; trivialising mortality makes it’s constant companionship bearable. I loathe people like him but I’ll never hate anyone enough to enjoy killing them. Sometimes it just needs to be done and when that necessity arises I’ll never flinch.

He was a handsome man, a rare sight in these times, I guess that’s why she trusted him; the young girl laying dead in the snow. Her face alone assured me I did the right thing, her expression frozen with the last emotion she would ever feel, bewilderment. No fear, no anger, just this look of confusion ‘why is he doing this, why?’. He really must have been something; it’s hard for a woman to invest so much in anyone these days, especially a man.

I salvaged everything I could from him, leaving him with only the skin on his back. I thought about looting her too, but it would’ve felt wrong taking anymore from her. I just closed her eyes, she’s seen enough of this world, I would’ve buried her but the heavy snowfall would take care of that. I’d usually carry several make shift silencers (an old plastic bottle and duct tape can go a long way) but on this day I left my safe house with only one, one shot for one deer. I didn’t account on running into people, in fact this was the first time I’d seen anyone in almost a year…why didn’t I use my knife, why didn’t I use my fucking knife. Judging by what I found on the guy he couldn’t have been travelling alone, he hardly had anything on him. Considering his lack of gear and supplies he looked pretty damn healthy, he must have been part of a larger group, temporally breaking away from them to murder the girl. I wasn’t taking any chances, I’ve gotten far too comfortable in these woods, this was the wake up call I needed.

I trekked back to my safe house through the river, sticking close to the banking, under the deep shelves carved out by the great floods. The snowfall would’ve almost certainly covered up any tracks I would’ve left, but I trust my gut and if it says ‘leave no trace’ I’ll not lay a single print. Wading knee deep through bitter cold water is nothing compared to what a group of men would do to a woman who killed one of their own. I’ll happily remove each frostbitten toe sober if it means avoiding ‘humanity’. Night was approaching fast and a blizzard along with it; the temperature plummeted, my field of vision becoming obscured. Despite this I could still make out the small, old wooden footbridge that crossed over the river, the safe house wasn’t far. Using the bridge as leverage I hoisted myself out of the icy water, I couldn’t play it safe anymore, hypothermia was setting in, I ran as fast as my numb legs could carry me, the large pack on my back weighing down on me more and more with each crooked step. Visibility was zero, my eyes matted with thick layers of snow carried on the unrelenting wind, which chafed my face like a gale of utility razors. But it was that very wind which saved me, I could here the bone chime I’d hung upon the tree arched over my safe house. The manic rattling was above me; I dropped to the ground and dug at the blanket of white that was thickening with each passing second. My searching hands found two steel handles, I would’ve smiled in relief is my face wasn’t frozen. I fumbled at my neck for the key to open the padlock that secured the metal hatch. It hung from a necklace, which I snapped off with one forceful pull, I steadied my trembling hand, realising that if I didn’t I’d die, I inserted the key, turned it and heard the most beautiful ‘click’ as the padlock fell loosely into my grasp. I used my entire body weight to swing open the hatch against the forceful resistance of Mother Nature before collapsing through the opening and down the wooden steps; the hatch, unable to stand against the wind, blew closed behind me with a mighty crash, silencing the storm.

The large wood burner crackled and popped, my wet clothes hung on a line stretched across the sizeable bunker. Wrapped in a thermal blanket, I sat so close to the fire I was practically in it. I surveyed my naked body, my skin red raw from the biting cold, becoming increasingly more painful as the feeling returned, I felt like I’d been flayed and rolled in salt. I was always cautious about using the fire, only utilizing it during a blizzard (which was often), as the smoke would be near impossible to see. I’d also hidden the ventilation shaft in a hollowed out tree stump, open at both ends, because even without smoke it stood out quite prominently. I always thought I’d been paranoid, people never came this far out from the cities; what was left of them anyway, but from what I’d seen earlier…are they making their way inland? Braving the lack of resources, the storms, and countless dangers posed by exposure; things must be dire but I never thought people would get desperate enough to come up here. It’s different for me; I helped build this shelter with my dad, underneath what was once our log cabin, our home away from home. My father was a doomsday prepper, he taught me how to survive, I know these woods like a surgeon knows the human body. Each rise and fall, twist and turn, in and out. I know what should naturally occur here and what shouldn’t, having to perform the occasional ‘amputation’ to ensure it’s wellbeing. Like I said survival is fucking sick.

I closed the dampeners on the burner, suffocating the fire, then turned in for the night. I had trouble getting to sleep, tossing and turning in my cot; my nerves simmered with an uneasiness I hadn’t felt in a long time. If I let every uncomfortable feeling stop me from sleeping I’d have been awake for years, so I pushed it to the back of my mind. But my gut was rarely wrong.

I awoke bolting upright, my hand already resting on the grip of my revolver. There was no indication of immediate danger, but burning in my bowels was a foresight of sorts. My paranoia had been peaked by the events of the day before, sending my sub-conscious into a subtle frenzy. Against my better judgment, I decided to conduct some reconnaissance around the area of the woods where I had killed that man. If something bad is coming this way I’d rather be the one watching them, not the other way round. I geared up for the long haul; winter camo (I got a colour for every season) thermals, rifle, side arm and enough supplies in my assault pack to last me well over forty eight hours…hopefully I’d be back within twenty four. Before leaving I shut off my bio-fuel powered generator. The real diesel ran dry a while back, now I rely on the bio-diesel my father and me made from rendered chicken and turkey fat, the deer fat works okay but it’s not great. As I flipped the switch I watch the UV lights above my small vegetable nursery flicker off. They need at least six hours of ‘sun light’ a day to survive, this necessity always gave me that extra push to make it back alive; I couldn’t stand the thought of them withering away.

I moved slow, keeping to the tree line, making sure I was a good distance away from the area of interest, my binoculars would help me bridge the gap. I found a good spot to hunker down; a thick, tangled brush nestled between a cluster of sycamores. I laid down a ground sheet, chambered a round into my rifle and waited, watching the murder scene with the attentiveness of a kestrel. Tiny droplets of water pattered around me, a sign summers coming around. When the world went to shit; freezing over in an attempt to preserve what was left in some form of cryostasis. We prayed for warmth, some of us begging to gods we never believed in. One day, by what some claimed to be a ‘divine miracle’, the sun showed itself, in all it’s glory, beating down on us, thawing us out of our frozen hell. We thought everything was finally on the up and up until we realised the temperature wouldn’t stop climbing…our ice age boiled away, the earth was scorched and once again we were at the mercy of natures extremes. There’s no middle ground anymore, we have fire or ice, we have to adapt or die, it’s as simple as that.

A couple of hours past, then all of a sudden, movement I heard movement, roughly one hundred yards away. I push the rifles stock into my shoulder, tightening my grip, keeping steady. The scope becoming an extension of my eye, my senses acute, the water droplets falling like artillery shells all around me. I saw them, I saw them…five of them plus a dog; the dog was leashed, tracking a scent; it’s nose low to the ground, moving as if tethered to an invisible thread. They weren’t your bog standard wanderers they were organized. Walking in formation covering all sides, four of them armed with crossbows and one with an SMG, the leader. They were sporting balaclavas and goggles so I couldn’t get a look at their faces, but assessing them by their bodies they appeared to be…women. The dog began to tug and rear up when the leashes slack pulled taut around its neck; it found what it was searching for.

The one armed with the SMG raised a closed fist from a bent elbow, signalling the others to freeze. Taking point, she scanned the area; her head turned slowly, almost mechanically on a well oiled pivot. My sights mirrored the graduating rotation in the same manner, my finger on the trigger, ready to scatter their skull if they made me even slightly nervous. Luckily for them all they had managed to peak so far was my curiosity. The closed fist unfurled into an open hand, that waved the others over, the dog became more agitated, pulling harder and harder, it’s head fixed like an arrow, aimed at a raised lump in the fresh snow. I had the feeling that things were about to get interesting, in what way? I couldn’t tell, but I was strangely compelled to find out. It would seem I underestimated the powerful allure of the unknown; being bound to a routine of isolated survival for an extended period of time had waivered my previously unwavering sense of caution.

Three of them created a small perimeter around the murder site, keeping a vigilant watch whilst the one with the dog and the leader dug at what the mutt had lead them to. They paused; I assumed they had discovered one of the bodies, I watched as they brushed away a fine layer of snow to reveal a pale, frozen arm. The leader placed their weapon at the foot of the cold grave and pulled the rest of the girl’s stiff body from beneath the snow, the leaders head fell. I watched as the stern exterior I had witnessed earlier was stripped back by the wretched claws of grief; she knew that girl, she had loved that girl. She tightly embraced and rocked the girls corpse before gently laying her body down, her hard exterior returned as she angrily dug at the other large lump in the snow, it didn’t take her long to find the man responsible. The crystallised blood from his wounds glistened in the soft midday sun. The leader placed her hands around his neck and screamed something at his rigid cadaver that I couldn’t quite make out, but it didn’t take a genius to know her words were scathing and charged with rage. She bolted up and stomped savagely, repetitively on his head, caving in his face, cracking it like porcelain. She pulled off her goggles, peeled off her balaclava and spat at his broken head, her dirty blonde, shoulder length hair whipping forward with the violent motion. She composed herself, running a gloved hand over her head. She had deep mahogany eyes, her lips divided slightly by a deep scar running from her cheek to her chin. Her cast iron expression softened ever so slightly by the tears freezing on her well-defined cheekbones.

I had become so lost examining the stories held in the woman’s features, I hadn’t noticed that the dog was missing from the group…anxiety struck me like a bolt of lightening, the person who had been holding the dog was studying the corpses with the leader. I had to move, I had to go, I couldn’t let myself be discovered. I grabbed all my essential gear in a frantic yet restrained manner, trying to keep a level head amongst the harrowing panic. Then I heard it, a low guttural growl…I turned to stone, my head turning ever so slightly and my eyes along with it, beside me, about two meters away was the dog. You’d swear it had a fire burning in its belly by the amount of smoke bellowing out from its mangy maw.

“Good boy, good boy, settle down”

I muttered in a sensitive whisper; using the hand hidden at my side to reach for my side arm. The sickly sweet scent of carrion was carried on its breath, I almost heaved from inhaling the rotten air. The dog inched closer, it’s teeth becoming more pronounced as it’s lips retracted, its eyes bulged with a predatory bloodlust, mine reciprocated the feral glare. I refused to be shaken by a fucking dog, I’d seen and felt the worst life had to offer, I’d bite out it’s throat if I had to, I was not about to die. Before it had chance to act I rolled off my belly, thrusting out my arm, revolver in hand and pulled the trigger. The dog’s head was torn in half as the 44. Round burst through it, a shower of red mist was expelled from the exit wound, speckling the white woods in crimson droplets. The ballistic thunder echoed through the forest, reverberating off the gnarled trees, shattering the tense atmosphere and making way for the symphony of war.

Automatic gunfire shredded the treeline, thick splinters of wood scattered in the air. I grabbed what I could and ran toward a denser section of the forest; behind me I heard shouting and heavy movement, hard footfalls, rattling my pursuers gear. I slalomed in, out and around the skeletal wooden monoliths, the voices behind me becoming clearer as the militia gained on me. I needed to act, I couldn’t keep this pace up, the gaps between the trees were becoming tighter, like it or not I’d have to slow down. I couldn’t take them all on; I had five rounds left in my revolver, my rifle clip was full but it’s extreme power was contrasted by it’s slow reload speed. No way I could shoot them all, not whilst surrounded by the thick foliage, this hindrance worked in my favour too, as they would have just as much trouble hitting me. With combat ruled out, I had one other chance of survival; diplomacy, it was a long shot and in this world considered suicide, fuck it, it’s not like I had any better options. I could try sprinting back to my safe house, but they’d simply follow my tracks and ruin everything I had built over these long hard years.

I saw a large tree in my path, perfect cover for me to utilise whilst trying to bargain with these dangerous individuals. I skidded to a halt, kicking up a wave of snow before throwing my back up against the massive tree. My heart was attempting to box its way through my sternum, my lungs burned as I greedily swallowed the icy air. They were really close now; I could hear the snow crunch beneath their boots. I tear a section off my white camo jacket, an apprehensive frown crumples my face as I thrust my arm out from the side of the tree, waving the white material wildly, hoping they understand the concept of surrender. Admitting to myself I was surrendering made me sick, my dad would be rolling in his grave if he saw me, cowering behind a tree pretty much begging for mercy.

“Hey, hey, lets talk! Don’t worry I’m not going to try anything; I’m not that stupid. I feel we need to establish where we all stand in this situation. Because I think you might have the wrong idea of me”.

I shouted, trying to sound as confident and as clear as possible. The footsteps stopped, everything was silent once more, save for the strained creaking, of the trees as they bent under the light wind.

“Oh yeah, what idea do you think we have of you huh? A killer maybe, seeing as how you put a hole in our dog’s head, before trying to lose us in the trees. Right now you don’t seem all that innocent”.

A strong voice replied, which I assumed to be the leaders.

“Look I’m sorry about your dog, if the thing didn’t look like it wanted to chew my face off I would have let it be, but that wasn’t the case. But let me answer the big question, which I’m sure you’re dying to ask. No I did not kill your friend, when out hunting I saw that man pulling a knife out of her neck, so I put him down. She was dead before I put the final bullet in him, I’m sorry”.

An uneasy silence once again hung in the air, creating an atmosphere so thick you could spread it like butter.

“Is that so? Well you have my thanks, that girl was my sister. But gratitude aside you are in debt to me stranger. Why don’t you come out so we can talk face to face?”.

I attempted to dissect the tones in her voice, trying to strip the skin off her words, to uncover insidious ulterior motives. For all I knew as soon as I showed my face she’d put a bullet in it.

“What guarantee do I have you won’t shoot me down?”

I questioned apprehensively

“You already have your guarantee, you’re still alive now aren’t you?”.

As much as I hated to admit it, she was right. They could have easily taken me down five times over already.

“Just come out with your hands on top of your head and we’ll see if we can sort this mess out”.

I reluctantly complied, placing my hands atop my head and stepping out from behind the large tree. Four loaded crossbows and a stony stare from the leader welcomed me, I made sure my own unyielding gaze collided with hers. I may be at their mercy but I’m not prey, she needed to understand that. She signalled one of her crony’s to relieve me of my weapons, whilst I tussled with the urge to break the arm robbing me of my protection. The leader approached me, standing but a meter away.

“Before I explain your predicament, I’ll explain ours, so we’re clear about what happens next ”.

She said, our eye lines still grappling in a battle for dominance.

“My sister, god rest her was dumb as a bucket of chum, because of this she always managed to attract the sharks. I awoke a few says back to find a note in place of her, seems she and that piece of shit you killed had been planning to run away for some time. She didn’t have the stomach for the city anymore, can’t say I blame her with the state of things back there. In her note she mentioned they had found a safe place to be together and for me not to worry. Apparently her beloved’s father had known of a family with a bunker up here, in this desolate tundra.”

When she mentioned the bunker it felt as though someone had dropped a breezeblock on my guts.

“And here you are, looking as native to this place as any one of these trees,” She leant in closer “Where’s your bunker?”. She takes a step back and runs her index finger through the deep groove marring her face, her gaze broke from mine, as if she were recounting a distant experience, she trained her eyes back at mine and continued. “You killed our lead, but avenged my sister. You tell us where that bunker is I’ll consider your debt paid in full and cut you loose, something I don’t make a habit of doing. But if you resist I’ll kill you here and now”.

Flecks of snow floated down from above, melting on my face like cold kisses, a stark contrast to the woman’s interrogation, that had me feeling like a piece of meat spit over hot coals. She knew the bunker was mine, she read me like a book. If I played dumb, insisting I didn’t know of any bunker she’d end me, if I spat in her face the result would be the same, there was only one thing I could do.

“I could give you the location of the bunker, but it wouldn’t do you much good, you’re a tourist in these woods. This place is a labyrinth, unforgiving in nature. You get lost in a blizzard, you’re dead- you lose your footing at the mouth of an unseen ravine you’re dead. I’ll take you there, your pride and ferocity has gotten you far in this world, but I assure you-it won’t get you through this forest”. I say to her with an air of certainty, solid as the ice that buried the hope of every soul on this planet.

Her weathered expression twisted into a scowl, before rising into a reluctant smile, it was obvious I struck a nerve and in turn she struck me, driving the butt of her gun into my noes with brutal force. I stumbled back, she hit me again, I fell backwards into a tree, sliding down the rough trunk into a heap on the floor. It had been a long time since I’d taken such a beating, can’t say I missed it. I tried to gather my senses, watching my warm blood permeate the snow beneath my face. Contrary to my current situation I wasn’t afraid, she wouldn’t finish me off, she needed me, besides- I’d had worse for less of a reason. Spitting the blood from my mouth, I stood up and steadied myself. My vision converged, aligning double figures into a singular image; I set our union in stone.

“So you ready to get moving, or do you want to you kick the shit out of me until my debt eventually bankrupts your chances of survival?”.

She jabs her palm into my chest, gripping and twisting my jacket, pulling me towards her, she once again cracks a smile.

“I think I’d actually like you if you were less like me, I wouldn’t want to know anyone like me”.

She pushes me away, I stumble, still unsteady from the brunt force trauma.

“Lead the way then, before I reconsider my charitable offer”. She demanded, signalling me forward with a motion of her gun “And I know what you’re thinking, your thoughts are so obvious I can almost hear them, you try leading us to a destination that benefits you more than us, I won’t kill you, no; I’ll maim you and leave you for whatever creatures lurk in this frozen shit hole”. As I turn to march these bitches to my safe house, my home, for them to pick clean, I couldn’t help but smile. That woman thinks it’s the beasts that should be feared; the truth is I scare myself more than any brainless animal. But she was right, about my intention to lead them into a trap. I’d take them to the safe house, play prisoner for a while. These women were smart, deadly and serious but they were only just getting to know me.

An hour or so had past, as we walked through the frosted forest, I could feel a battalion of eyes on my back, so I thought I’d take the attention off me for a second and enlighten my new friends to what they were getting themselves into.

“You see the trees?” I asked.

A slight pause lingered.

“Well there’s not much else to see” The leader replied with a snarky tone.

“Oh no, there’s much more to see here, but lets focus on the trees for now. What’s missing from them?”.

The leader obviously not in the mood for a conversation snaps at me.

“Look I really couldn’t give a shit about your in depth analysis of a bunch of fucking trees! Just keep your mouth shut and keep walking.

Her threatening tone didn’t shake me in the slightest, they needed me, so they weren’t about to kill me yet, so I continued.

“There’s no bark left on them. When the winter comes and the greens fade to white, the deer take to eating the bark off the trees. But now there is no bark left and the deer are in even shorter supply. How do you expect to survive in a place you didn’t even know was dying?”.

I short sharp impact rattled the back of my head, the butt of her SMG again I assumed.

“Look bitch, you let me worry about our wellbeing. And if I were you I’d be less concerned about us and more concerned about yourself”.

I simply nodded and pushed forward, through the skeleton nature left behind. It wasn’t long before I could here my bone chime rattling un-rhythmically in the wind. At this point I was genuinely nervous, we had reached our destination; they were going to make me open the hatch door, then if the leader lived up to her promise, cut me loose, which in this climate is a death sentence. My only hope now rested on her being a treacherous dog. I had an idea, it was sketchy but it’s all I had to work with.

I stopped, took in a long deep breathe, as if it were the last I’d ever take and begrudgingly turned over the information they desired.

“See that bone chime hung up on that branch? The safe house is just below it; there’s a reinforced steel hatch, you’ll need my key to open it’.

I pulled the necklace from my person and outstretch my arm to the side; the leader plucked the key from my palm and stood beside me. We relished nature’s ambient soundscape, the bending bows, slow running river, even the occasional bird song. The virgin ground snow guided by the gusts, almost gave shape to the invisible element.

“I’m sure you’ve noticed the scar on my face, at first I hated it, made me feel like a victim. ‘The dumb girl who was too trusting’ but after a while its glaring presence became less a weakness and more of a strength. I’m a survivor; the deep wound carved into my face a constant reminder of that and of how terrible this world can be. I wear it as a badge of honour, a hallmark of my endurance and blight on my better self. These days respect is earned through cruelty not kindness”.

I knew where this monologue was heading; she was going to pull out some bullshit philosophy as an excuse for my execution, claiming ‘she’d been burn before by her kindness and wasn’t going to take the chance again’. In so many words I was right, after she took my key she commanded two of her…I would’ve said team but her faceless crony’s were more like followers than anything else, their response to any of the leaders demands was immediate action. She instructed them to walk me to the nearest fissure, fire a bolt into the back of my head, strip me of anything useful and feed my body to the earth. They bound my hands behind my back with a cable tie; pulling it so tight you’d swear they were trying to cut off the circulation. As I was marched to my grave, I watched over my shoulder, my blood boiled as I noticed the leader and her two remaining followers enter my bunker. It was like watching someone piss over your kitchen counter, my space felt completely violated. The battle was over but the wars were just beginning and trust me when I say, my malice could match that of the apocalyptic event that betrayed our existence, it’s time for another amputation.

We trudged through the beautifully barren snowscape, the whole time attaching mental markers to the few notable landmarks dotted around the white washed plateau, there weren’t many trees up this way, mostly rocks, so I noted the distinctive ones and their order. I hadn’t been up this way in quite sometime and the increased snow coverage had muddled my memory of the sector, though I knew it wasn’t far from my safe house.

My escorts were silent the entire time, no quiet conversation between themselves, no taunting towards me, just silence. Although I found this odd it was in fact, beneficial. It allowed me to keep a clear head so I could play out scenarios regarding their demise and my escape, in the upmost clarity, free from external interruption.

Soon enough we reached a destination they seemed to agree was a good place to do me in and then dispose of my body, a deep, gargantuan divide that had fractured the land, back when the earthquakes broke apart the planet like an intricate jigsaw puzzle. This was it, do or die. Both had single bolt crossbows, they had a shot each before needing to reload, I needed those weapons empty before I had a chance. My back was to them, one was walking towards me, I assume to push me to my knees as they seemed incapable of giving vocal commands, the other wasn’t moving, must’ve had me in their sights just in case I tried anything. I teetered precariously on the edge of the fissure, leering into the bottomless abyss, it almost seemed hungry and it was going to stay that way. I felt a hand grip my shoulder, the instant her hand made contact I urged every muscle in my legs into overdrive, running backwards into her with the force of a wild stallion. The arm that held the crossbow slid to my side, she tensed from the shock of this retaliation expelling the bolt from her weapon. The other woman wouldn’t have a clear shot at me, not whilst my back was covered by her companion who was caught in the velocity of my backward motion. As I anticipated the other ran in front of me, to deliver the killing blow with confident accuracy, she skidded to a halt, anchored her feet but before she had raised her weapon past her chest I threw myself to the floor, by this point she’d already pulled the trigger. The bolt whistled through the air striking her companion in the chest, she let out an agonised groan, without a second to spare I powered up from the snow with all the force my knees could exert, launching myself forward I charged at the woman, who was reaching for the knife on her belt. I crashed into her before it was even halfway out of the sheath; we tumbled down into a writhing pile of violence. I managed to drive my knee into her stomach so hard I probably tore her liver, she moaned ghoulishly but I didn’t relent, not having use of my arms was a handicap but I’ve always been resourceful. As she reacted to the pain in her guts, loosening up for a millisecond I proceeded to head-butt her repeatedly in her masked face, I was disgusted as I felt her noes break and eye socket cave into her head, whilst my face was moistened with her blood, soaking up into her balaclava. But there was still fight in her, despite the horrific injuries; she swung her fists hard, fast and aimlessly getting in a few good punches, rocking me slightly. Her second wind was blowing in, so I had to choke it out of her. I raised my head, the crisp winter air, cooling the tepid crimson liquid masking my face, a moment of comfort before the horror. I lunged my open mouth down at her neck, clamping my jaws down on her jugular, applying a disturbing amount of force to the tough cartilage until I felt it collapse. The inner contents of her throat now as soft and as supple as the flesh surrounding it. I had bitten down so hard my teeth could almost touch underneath the tissue. I only released my vice grip when I heard her last breath gurgle out past the blood amassing in her mouth. She was dead.

I rolled over slumping back against the woman I’d just ravaged, I closed my eyes and desperately tried to catch my breath, I drank up the dry air until my throat was raw. When I felt more composed I spat the blood and scraps of flesh from my mouth, but was unable to shake the taste of copper that coated my tongue. I hawked up another bloody lump of phlegm before turning my attention to a slight movement that hooked my peripheral vision. It was the other crony; the one who had taken a bolt to her chest, I wouldn’t go as far to say she was alive, but she was breathing and squirming in the scarlet snow bedded beneath her, its pure white tainted by the blood exuding from her punctured body. With my hands still bound behind me I managed to unsheathe the knife the now throat-less woman attempted to pull on me. Trusting my coordinated hands, I managed to spin the blade to an angle that allowed me to cut the cable tie that had rendered my arms useless. The taught plastic ring popped off as soon as it was severed, I swung my arms around to my front, relishing the freedom with a long tense stretch that woke each dormant fibre that had been subdued by the period of inactivity. Now it was time to deal with the dying woman, I hoped I could put the screws on her and learn something about their operation before she expired, which- judging by the state of her, would’ve been very soon. With the knife held tight in my hand I stormed over to the woman with authority, without stopping I reached down, gripping her by the hood of her coat, pulling her near lifeless body over to a large rock. I tugged her hood upward garrotting her, she choked woefully before I forcefully propped her against the stone and pushed the blade of the large hunting knife against her throat.

“I’m guessing you and your little gang must have been pretty feared back in the city, didn’t expect me to retaliate did you? You weren’t prepared. You’re probably used to easy kills, relying on your reputation to do half the work. But I don’t know shit about you and so far you’ve only managed to piss me off. So tell me, what do you want with my bunker? I’m guessing you’re all part of a larger operation…now, speak and I consider putting you out of your misery without causing you any more.”

My face was so close to hers, I could feel each terrified exhalation force through her mask and roll off my face, her eyes were like marble I could literally see the life drain out of them. I felt her arm move, this jolted me, I pushed the knife harder against her neck. But it moved so weakly I doubt she could swat a fly, let alone pose a threat to me, so I let her continue its motion. She brought her index finger up to her face, resting on where her mouth would be, beneath the balaclava; she raised her shaky finger and tapped the area. I found this strange; did she want me to see her mouth? Or maybe the mask was making conversation difficult. Slightly puzzled I pulled the mask off her head, revealing a young, pale face. Her short brown hair fell over her eyes; disturbed by the removal of the mask, then she opened her mouth. Inside was a stump where her tongue should have been. My face must have mirrored the shock that speared my mind, because she smiled, seemingly pleased she cracked my hard exterior. The smile relaxed to an emotionless display as her neck went limp, her head fell, and she was dead.

I sprung to my feet and jogged over to my other dead captor, I peeled the sticky, blood soaked balaclava off her head- her face was horrific, broken, bruised and swollen. I steadied my nerves, trying to ignore the unrecognisable mess that once had the ability to express more than misery. Parting her lips, I opened her mouth; again I was surprised to see a stump in place of a tongue. Were they both subject to a similar torture at some point in their life…or did their gang leader cut out their tongues, to ensure- even if bested and questioned on the brink of death, they would be unable to spill sensitive information? Either way, I didn’t have time to mull over this mystery I needed to get back to my safe house and remove the vermin infesting it. I knew there was more bloodshed to come, it always bothered me but this world offers very little in the way of peaceful resolutions, you do what you need to do and live with it later.

I salvaged anything of use from the bodies; a canteen of water, power bars, some of their high quality clothing and of course the hunting knife and crossbows. They had thirty bolts between them, more than enough to get the job done, but I’d have to play it smart, a delicate approach from the shadows was my best chance- It’s a play I know well; set the stage for an ambush, raise the curtains, skip the prologue and jump straight to the tragedy, take a bow you crazy bitch.

The rocks I had made a mental note of whilst being marched to my execution, were serviceable breadcrumbs, helping me track my way back to my safe house. The wind howled through the massive gashes cut into the mountain that loomed over the petrified forest I called home. The sound was beautiful, each deep scar that tore through the mass of earth sung a different tune, the wind like a belt of air passing through the throats of a stone choir. I hated these moments; solace and splendour- like everything in life they must pass and their memory is buried beneath another body; a fresh one or the ones you keep on ice in the mortuary of your mind.

I was close, I could make out a thin pillar of smoke in the dying light of day, they had the burner on, this would make my ambush a lot easier. I gathered a bundle of sturdy, slender branches from the base of a tree and using my fancy new knife, hastily fashioned numerous spears, pointed at both ends, these extra points were important. The remainder of the gang were probably suspicious about their comrades’ whereabouts, but I knew they wouldn’t risk leaving the bunker after dark. I worked feverishly, the biting cold afflicting the day was bad enough but at night, the temperature was sub-zero. The sun sank below the horizon, ushering in my formless ally- darkness. After a quick check of my equipment I began my approach, leaving what wasn’t necessary for the ambush behind the large rock I was using for cover, I’d retrieve it when this ordeal was over. I kept low and a brisk pace, not allowing my footfalls to press the snow long or hard enough for it to crunch, detection was not an option, not yet.

I lurched inches away from the ground hatch, thoughts of my comfy home caressed my fraught nerves, I pushed them aside, I needed to stay focused. Listening intently, I could here them inside, mid conversation.

“…I Don’t fucking know, they probably got lost on their way back, everything looks the same up here, should we go look for them Silv?”

Silv, she must be the leader I thought.

“No, it’ll be pitch black by now, besides our flashlights won’t do us any good if a blizzard rolls in. We wait till morning, then we’ll go find them, dead or alive, they have gear that I don’t want left up here. We’ll work in two-hour shifts until sunrise. Just listen out for anything strange, I doubt we’ll have any unwanted visitors but a bit of paranoia is healthy “.

They seemed to be confused about the unwanted visitors, last time I checked it was my name carved into the wall of that bunker. In my hand was a tough branch thick enough to fit snuggly through the gap between the steel handles of the hatch, I slid it across, silent as the light snowfall. They were locked in, it wouldn’t hold forever but I was counting on that. I backed up about a metre from the entrance and untied the bundle of spears from the pack I’d ‘borrowed’ from one of the mute women. With measured, potent force I screwed them into the hard earth at a ninety-degree angle, a multitude of sharp tips were now firmly directed at the bunkers hatch. It was time, once the catalyst was in place there was no going back, I had one shot at this, luckily the only thing I had to live for was survival itself, a singular life directive that left no room for doubt. There were two hollowed out tree stumps at the back of the bunker, one housed the chimney, the other- the ventilation shaft. I stood between the stumps, two loaded crossbows at my feet and a thick winter coat in each hand; thanks again mute women. The wind picked up, burning my face, a nudge from nature to set my plan in motion. I used one of the coats to cover the ventilation shaft, pinning it in place with a heavy stone I found protruding out from the snow. I compacted the other coat into a dense ball and shoved it down the chimney flue. When I was sure no fumes were passing the obstruction I snatched the crossbows and made for a cluster of trees; cover that offered a clear view of the hatch. I waited; my body shook from the plummeting temperature and adrenaline. My eyes unblinking, staring down the sights of the crossbow, trained to the bunkers mouth, which would soon spit out the filth stewing in its belly.

Commotion- muffled shouting and chesty coughs roared into the night; thick smoke slithered through the few tight gaps in the hatches frame. A deep, heavy metallic clang joined the panicked cacophony as the door was beaten repetitively like a steel drum. It rattled and bounced but refused to budge despite the occupant’s desperate attempts to breach it. Their coughing intensified, in parts devolving into guttural choking, their assault on the hatch changed from rhythmic to manic as the possibility of death became more and more apparent. Suddenly a harsh ‘snap’ tinged my ears, I tightened my grip on the crossbow and sharpened my gaze. The branch preventing the intruders escape gave way, the hatch burst open, an eruption of creamy white smoke bellowed into the sky, surging out in all direction like a spectral tsunami, followed closely by the three remaining miscreants who near enough flew out of the opening, gasping for air. Driven by their distress, they never thought to check what might have waited for them outside; my spears rudely welcomed their ignorance. I listened as their gasps turned to screams, then go sullen groans. The smoggy atmosphere impaired my view of the aftermath, though it didn’t take long for the smoke to clear, unveiling the whole bloody picture. All three were still alive, writhing in suspended motion, skewered on the wooden spikes. I crouched, motionless in my cover, watching, waiting for them to bleed out.

“Fucking bitch, fucking bitch!”

I recognised that voice- it was Silv, cursing my name to the high heavens. I imagine she thought I was long dead, but who else could of pulled off that stunt? She knew it was my doing. I wanted to go in and finish them off; their sorrowful whimpers disturbed me, worse yet they tried in vein to remove themselves from the spears but remained furtive. One pulled her arm up the wooden shaft that punctured her arm; I could hear her bones grate against patches of rough bark as she did. Her arm slipped free with a spurt of blood, however it only proved to be a momentary triumph, freeing her arm caused her upper body to fall forward, another spear pierced her face- she went limp. I heard a quiet click; followed by the thunderous hammering of an SMG. I flattened myself against the ground, nestled between the trees; I felt relatively safe from the literal shots in the dark. Bullets flew in all directions throwing a mist of powdery snow into the pale moonlight, it fell like glitter whilst a flurry of lead tore through the foliage and punched holes into everything else. The shooting finally ceased; I rose up cautiously and resumed my watch.

“You get any of that bitch, well…did you? You dead yet!?”.

She knew she’d lost this bout, she just wasn’t ready to accept defeat, I had to admire her endurance; giving it all she had when there was nothing left. She ejected the spent magazine; I could see her reaching for a fresh clip from her belt. I raised the crossbow, steadied my aim and squeezed the trigger. The bolt met her hand in a blink, it was too dark and I was too far back to know exactly where I struck her hand, but I saw the weapon fall from her grasp, as she shrieked in shock and pain. It was time to go over and put an end to this, but first I needed some answers.

I tentatively left my cover; unsure if Silv had a side arm I was unaware of- it only takes one hand to fire a pistol. I moved from the cluster of trees at their flank and curved around to their rear with hushed movement, knife in hand. I knelt closely behind the group, my stomach knotted as I surveyed the outcome of my successful ambush. Three gored bodies basted the ground in blood, black as oil in the low light. Two of the women were motionless, their wounds still weeping in streams, though there injuries were numerous, I could still discern the cause of death. One had died from the spear she had taken to the face, which subsequently travelled into her head piercing her brain, the other; staked through the chest, massive internal bleeding ended her life, but there was still one left alive. Her quivering body hung from the wooden barbs, her breath fluttered past chattering teeth, I could see the bolt I fired had indeed hit her hand, her right to be precise. She wailed like a banshee as she wrenched it from her palm and tossed it aside.

“What happened to their tongues?”

I said bluntly, making her jump slightly, she winced; the sudden jolt reminding her body of the spears that pierced it. Silence hung in the air as she gathered her response.

“You speak out of line and you loose your privilege to speak altogether, you make an example out of a few, you leave an impression on many. It’s how we work.”.

Her voice was weak but her tone was smouldering.

“That’s how you lot operate down there, reckon your sister spoke out of line too?”.

“Fuck you!”

She snarled, then stole herself.

“Found her diary in her jacket. She wanted to come back, he didn’t let that happen”.

She was fading fast; life was leaving her, riding on every word. But she continued.

“The plan was simple, get her back and secure this mystery bunker that prick had discovered. But we found a stubborn bitch who refused to die instead”.

“Should I be expecting anymore of you? I doubt this is the whole crew”.

She forced a baritone chuckle, turning her head to look back at me. A smile plastered her face, blood seeping over her lips.

“I wouldn’t worry about them, I’m not done with you yet…Tarn”.

I almost jumped up from my crouching position; I marched purposely toward her, knife raised. She was knocking on deaths door but he hadn’t answered yet. I snatched a handful of her hair, yanked her head backward and pressed the blade firmly against her trachea. I stared down at her face directly below mine, held at an awkward, painful angle on her bent neck. Her eyes never met mine, instead they seemed to look straight through me and into the dark nothingness of space- She was dead. Her grimace was like a warped rendition of the Mona Lisa, her blood stained skin and scarlet drool lay above an expression that defied definition, it held an emotion all of it’s own. My grip slowly loosened on Silv’s dirty blonde locks, her face remained level with the sky as I pulled my hand away. The survivalist in me wanted to loot the bodies, but the human in me wanted sleep- wanted to be unconscious, far away from…this. Betraying my emotion, choking it and locking it in the cellar with the rest of my demons, I returned to reality. After unblocking the ventilation shaft and flue I re-entered my safe house, I thought I’d be overcome with a sense of triumph or some form of grandeur, all I felt was tired.

I closed the hatch, locked it, put the dampeners on the burner and waiting for the last of the dwindling smoke to clear, I sat on my cot and watched as it escaped up and out of the ventilation shaft and into the night. The air cleared and clarity returned to my home, everything was pretty much as I left it but it was clear someone other than myself had occupied it. Some of the food had been cooked and eaten but was soon replaced by the food they left behind. The small table in the centre was littered with ammunition, gear and various items of clothing, seemed they spent no time getting comfy, looks like they were unpacking and organising supplies before I threw a spanner in the works.

To my surprise my vegetable nursery was intact, knees rattling, almost knocking together, I wearily stood up from my cot. Trudging over to the unsullied green shoots, I felt a warmth that thawed my icy heart. I looked at my little green soldiers with adoration; I pulled the blood soaked glove from my right hand, dropped it and brushed it’s delicate leaves with my index finger, it’s texture felt like velvet against my raw, cracked skin. With my free hand I switched on the UV light hanging above them, the bright bulb washed the entire bunker in an unnatural yet comforting glow, rendering the various candle lamps about the place almost redundant. As was the case in this world, that defiant little ember that lit within me was abruptly stamped out.

The wall directly behind the nursery, the wall that held my memories- photographs, letters, memorabilia of better days, it had been defiled. Nothing had been removed, or even damaged, but there had been an addition. My father and me had carved our names into the concrete once we had finished building the bunker- ‘Bill and Tarn’. Now there was a third name crudely carved above ours ‘Silvia’. I stumbled back, almost tripping over myself…I realised what she meant now, what Silvia had said before she succumbed to her injuries ‘I’m not done with you yet…’ she’d never be done with me, none of them would. The ‘unnatural’ occurrences I had amputated in my…no the people I had killed in my forest. Those nameless faces, those desperate, struggling people… They were ghosts made of granite; their howls were deafening as I recounted the last moments they spent on this decaying rock. The visions were relentless and their weight on my back- titanic.

Forgetting I was still backing away from the wall, I bumped into one of the steel chairs that circled the table. It’s legs dragged along the floor, screeching loud against the stone floor. Startled by the noise and ashamed of my fear that was peaked by a fucking chair, I picked it up and tossed it hard against the far wall. It clattered off the concrete as it did I sat down and hunched over, I broke. I cried, the tears were old; I’d held them in since my father passed. Before he died he told me

“I know…life with me hasn’t been easy. All these years, since you were just a girl, preparing for a fight, an event, an anomaly that seemed baseless. The rigorous training and education, the seclusion; I knew it pained you at times, I was never blind to that, I could just hide it better than you. I hated to see you upset, I hated myself, but I knew something would come, something big, something that would push our species to the brink of extinction. I couldn’t allow myself to bask in the ignorance of the inevitable and as a father I would be damned if I was going to send you into the unforgiving unknown without the means to preserve yourself, to survive. Maybe one day the world will return to how it was, you can live your life however you please…but for now, you need to be strong, give no quarter”.

But would I want to ‘live’ with the things I’ve done? I’m a fucking animal and this is my territory, there is no life outside of here, I don’t know anything else. I desperately fight, tooth and nail, eliminating anything foreign like a fucking antibody, clinging to a life that’s no better than death. Survival is an illness, because survival is sick and it’s killing me.

Fine Wine & Organised Crime

Fine Wine & Organised Crime

Kat Vegas saws through the succulent sirloin, she brings the juicy meat to her mouth; taking it off the fork and letting it sit on her tongue.

“What d’you think, best steak in the city right?” William Grayson queries with a toothy smile.

Kat with her eyes closed chews the beef; her expression resigned to concentration. She swallows before elegantly taking a sip of red wine from the expensive crystal. She pauses, letting the flavours mingle; the union influences a luxurious duet; the tantalising tastes hit all the right notes. She moulds an opinion and answers William’s question.

“I’m often sceptical about such claims, as taste is subjective, but this is a fine steak.” She says raising her glass toward William.

“When dealing with someone such as yourself, only the best will do. I know, because I’d expect the same. I am of the opinion that there’s no reason not to mix business with pleasure. If we were to conform to that old rule, things would be quite drab. I like to indulge and get much pleasure from watching associates of mine do the same.” He clasps his hands together and rests his chin upon them. He stares at Kat, her black velvet dress accentuating her pale features, further highlighted by her rich red lips and jet black hair. She’s in her early forties but seems to inhabit a body that defeated its biological clock, stopping the slow deterioration of aging at the twenty-five year mark.

Kat’s dusky eyes meet his; he dresses and operates like a businessman but resembles someone who is no stranger to less formal, more barbarous ventures.

“So” Kat says before dabbing her mouth with the decorative napkin.

“What do I owe the pleasure of this sudden meeting?” She takes another sip of wine.

“I usually liaise with your father, so forgive me if I seem…apprehensive”.

William can sense her caution; he raises his hand and signals for one of his bodyguards to lay a black leather suitcase on the table. He places his hand on top of it and raps his fingers in a rhythmic pattern atop the fine materiel.

The candlelight washes William in an ominous glow, the flickering fire exposing both a friend and a foe. William gives Kat a cynical smile.

“My father is no longer head of the family, he stepped down this morning; giving me full control of the organisation. Consider this a fresh start, your family and mine have done business for many years, so it felt right to inform you of this news first.” He reaches inside his tailored suit jacket, pulls out and places a folded piece of paper on the table. With his fingers firmly pressed against it he slides it toward Kat.

She looks at the paper, and then to William, wearing her best poker face, she knows something is wrong, it’s that twisting sensation in her gut that supplies knowledge without proof. Kat’s intuition has saved her skin more than once, so she acknowledges and holds onto the rising discomfort.

“Care to explain?” She mentions coldly

“Well seeing as how the order of command has changed I thought it only fitting that our professional relationship changes too. This is a fresh start for the Grayson family, a fresh start that you are inclined to embrace”.

Kat picks up the paper, her eyes anchored on Williams face. She averts her gaze to study the contents of the paper. A contract, the Grayson family wish to absorb the Vegas family. The Grayson’s will take Sixty per cent of the Vegas family’s earnings; the Vegas crime syndicate will be dissolved and assimilated into Williams Empire. Kat smiles, nearly laughing.

“You are ambitious William, I’ll give you that. Though this is not how we conduct business. The individual existence of our families has been made possible through compromise; this is why we have these meetings. We avoid bloodshed though rational conversation and careful consideration of each others needs and desires.” She holds up the contract. “This is neither rational or considerate, this is absurd and more than a little disrespectful. Even if I am to believe your father voluntarily stepped down, he’d never give you his blessing to conduct such a drastic move”.

Kat firmly places the contract down and slides it back over to William.

“Mrs Vegas, I understand your trepidation, trust me I do” he pauses and pulls a cigarette from the open silver case beside the candelabrum and places it in his mouth, one of his bodyguards produces a gold plated zippo and lights it for him.

“I’ll tell you what I told my father; it’s in your best interest to comply” He blows a large cloud of smoke across the table into Kat’s face. “You’re a smart woman, my father mentioned this several times. So I’d assume someone as rational as you can fathom the stark contrast between a pocket full of money and a casket full of bones. Which one do you want?”.

Williams’s hospitality rose and dissipated with the plumes of smoke blown through his noes. His young features like marble – smooth, cold and heavy. He reaches over to the briefcase and pops it open. Inside are neat rows of one hundred dollar bills stacked on top of each other filling the case from one side to the other.

“You sign over your territory, your operations and become a part of The Grayson family, you and your crew will be seeing a lot more of this…refuse and you end up like my father”.

William gestures his head to the side, Kat turns to see two men dragging a tarpaulin into the vacant restaurant from the kitchen. The double doors opened against their backs, then closed on the tarp; the contents inside the plastic sheet halted; jammed between the doors before being pulled free…someone was inside it. They proceed to roll out the tarp; it unravels, almost at the foot of the table Kat and William were sitting at. It revealed the bloody body of Jack Grayson. He was naked; deep cuts represented a gory contrast to the ample creases that trenched his old skin. A single gunshot wound sat neatly between his glassy eyes.

Kat stared at the unflattering cadaver of her old associate, then back at William.

“You tortured him, tried to get him to give up his seat. He didn’t comply so you killed him. I’m almost certain you have the same process prepared for me and the only reason my escorts haven’t drawn their weapons is because they found what you have in your pocket to be more desirable than the contents of my own…”

A smirk slowly creeps up William’s face; he looks at the mountainous guard beside him, “brains and beauty, rare to find a woman like that these days eh?”.

Kat sighs and picks up her wine glass, swirling the crimson liquid slowly. She watches it roll off the clean crystal like red velvet. She throws William a sideways glance, injecting her impertinence deep into his retinas.

“So what’s it going to be Kat? It would be a shame to poke holes into such a beautiful body,” William says, tilting at an angle on his chair, scanning Kat from her toes to her noes. “Skin like yours deserves respect but I only grant respect to those who respect me. So” he claps his hands together “sign the contract”. William slides the contract back over to Kat; he rests his chin against the upside of his knuckles, patiently waiting for Kats compliance.

“Could I finish my wine first?” Kat inquires holding up her glass.

“By all means” William replies.

Kat brings the crystal to her lips but continues to elevate the glass until it is above her head; she pours the vintage over her, the red liquid streams down her face, marring her snow-white skin with crimson rivulets.

William is taken a back by this bizarre action; he looks confused, even slightly unnerved, though he quickly regains his composure and begins to laugh. He slaps his hand down on the polished wooden table; his mind almost lost to hysteria

“What in the hell was that?” He shouts through his chuckles, “I know I’m putting a lot of pressure on you but didn’t think it would be enough to blow a fuse!” He sighs and lets the last of his laughter leave him before donning his previously serious expression.

“What the fuck was that?” he questions in a frosty tone.

Kat sits back in her chair, “A signal” she confidently announces.

Kat raises a long leg with incredible speed; she pushes herself back from the table, causing her chair to fall. Before William can issue an order to his goons – the large window behind them explodes into a hail of glass shards. The large guard at Williams right is forced over the table with incredible velocity as a bullet penetrates his back and exits through his chest. The eruption of blood splatters Kat’s disloyal escorts; they reel backward in shock, fumbling at their belts for their weapons, though their hands are met with empty holsters. They look down at the floor to see Kat aiming their pistols up at them; she doesn’t hesitate to pull the triggers. She lets out two shots, a bullet enters guard number ones neck and bursts out through his scalp while the other bullet tears through guard number two’s throat. Both men fall like rag dolls amidst a thick red mist.

From the floor Kat counts four men – including William – but knows more are positioned in the lobby. The two men who presented Jack’s body flip tables to create cover but their efforts of personal preservation are useless. The unseen shooter – only known to Kat – is using high calibre ammunition; powerful enough to rip apart a tank’s hull, so a few inches of wood stands little chance.

Using the ensuing chaos as an opportunity. Kat scrambles to her feet and sprints toward the bar, sliding over the smooth counter and into better cover.

William’s remaining personal guard grabs a hold of him, shielding him as he runs toward the kitchen. The two other guards shoot blindly over their makeshift cover; in hope at least one of their bullets will strike whatever assassin dwells in the dark city skyline.

Two bullets only seconds apart strike the tables reducing the expensive wood to splinters and the men behind them to disfigured masses of blood, bone and Italian wool. A third bullet strikes the guard valiantly escorting William to the kitchen in the knee; detaching the leg beneath it. Both William and the guard fell to the floor, the guard reaching out for William with one hand and held his bloody stump with the other; screaming in agony. William doesn’t think twice about abandoning his escort. He closes the small distance between him and the kitchen without looking back.

Kat – still behind the bar – grabs the strongest bottle of liquor from the opulent back display, spins off the cap and stuffs a dry dishrag down the neck of the bottle. She hears the sound of panicked, pissed off henchmen encroaching on her position. She turns the bottle upside down, allowing the potent spirit to sodden the rag.

The restaurant door bursts open and men flood in, as Kat lights the Molotov cocktail. She half looks over the counter before hurling the firebomb at the murderous posse. The bottle smashes at their feet, a massive ball of fire roars free, engulfing the men and all in its radius. A giant plume of dense smoke splashes against the ceiling sending an expanse of choking fumes into the already palpable atmosphere.

Kat hears the men’s cries of pain as the fire consumes them; she takes this as her queue to leave the once pristine dining area to pursue William. She removes her heels before vaulting the bar and charges through the kitchen doors.

Kat skids on the slick tiled floor, she see’s William at the far end of the stainless steel worktop, he’s poised to shoot. Kat ducks and rolls as a gun shot hits the wall behind her. She presses herself up against a metal cabinet – bullets ricochet off the metal surface with a deafening din. Kat blindly returns fire, her stray bullets causing William to take cover as various kitchen utensils are sent flying by the ballistic barrage. Kat hears the tell tale click of her empty firearm, she tosses the pistol to the floor and readies her second firearm.

William ejects his spent magazine, Kat recognises the sound and makes her move. She bolts out of cover and runs towards his position. Her bare feet slap the ceramic tiles; William slides in a fresh clip and cocks the glock. He peeks out of his cover; his face is met by an incredible kick. He flies back; firing his weapon wildly in dire hope he’ll put Kat down. One of his bullets hits Kat in the shoulder, she spins and recoils; instinctively she rolls over the work surface landing on Williams exposed side. He’s still firing in Kats previous direction; squinting to see through his swelling face.

Through pure adrenaline Kat negates the pain in her arm, she takes aim at William’s hand and squeezes the trigger; shooting off his fingers effectively blowing the pistol out of his hand. His eyes widen, horrified by the absence of his digits. His head starts to turn in the direction of the shot, before his now terrified gaze can meet Kat’s, she fires again; sending a bullet through his cheek; his head snaps to the side as the clean white wall beside him is splattered with blood and fragments of once well maintained teeth.

The sterile white environment now resembles an abattoir rather than a kitchen; blood stains the wall, floor and prep surface. Kat rises on shaky legs, her shoulder throbs with immense pain but discomfort takes the back seat when there’s a job that needs to be done.

“How…” William manages to utter through a mouthful of blood and torn flesh.

“Let’s just say defection works both ways,” Kat states walking over to William

“You…you can’t…just…” William’s plea is cut short by a gunshot to the chest. Kat – in an almost mechanical manner – aims the gun at his head and unloads three rounds into his skull. She takes a moment to admire her kill; remembering the cold, calculating killer she sat across from mere minutes ago and acknowledging the pathetic, fearful man who lays dead at her feet.

She looks to the kitchen doors, wisps of black smoke are beginning to snake their way through. With the fire in mind Kat hastily walks over to a large oven, she reaches her hand around the back; feeling for the gas hose. She feels the rubbery pipe brush her hand; she grabs it and yanks it loose. A loud hiss is emitted as gas is spewed into the room. Kat bolts for the fire escape at the far end of the kitchen, she drops her shoulder into the barred door; knocking it open. She holds her gunshot wound tightly as she sprints down the stairwell, there is an acute lack of pain but she knows she’ll have to deal with it later, when her situation becomes slightly less deadly, depleting her body of those wonderful chemicals that come with a fight or flight response.

Suddenly there is a significant peak in volume then the immediate absence of any and all sound; the building violently shakes, throwing Kat down the remaining steps and out of the ground level fire exit. Her ears are ringing and vision blurred, she looks up from the floor and see’s a raging inferno where there once was The Grey Olive; the Grayson’s revered restaurant. She struggles to her feet, half limping, half running away from the scene and into the dark alleyway at the buildings rear.

She pulls out her phone from within her bra; she has a text. ‘U make it out? Last saw u entering kitchen?’.

Kat removes her hand from her wound and replies’ ‘I’m alive, W.G down, pick me up where you dropped me off’.

Kat clicks send and although the pain of her eventful evening is beginning to set in, she smiles – at a job, unlike her stake – well done.

The Symbiotic Solution -Proposition For The Prime Minister

The Symbiotic Solution -Proposition For The Prime Minister

Dear Joseph Locke

I have a proposition for you, that with your consideration has the potential to mark the next significant leap in human evolution, both in a biological and cultural sense. We at the Astral Institute hold that immense power and would like to offer you a glimpse of wonders both revolutionary and emotive.


We are an institute, not an institution. People come here out of choice, not through force or deception. We help, we heal we innovate and invigorate. We offer those less fortunate something to value; we give them what they don’t have.

Despite our mantra, our good intent, we are forced to remain a closely guarded secret. The world might not ready for us, we are so ahead of our time the dust left in our wake threatens to anger and confuse those who are unable to catch up.

We – the founders, can deal with criticism, with anger and outrage, but those in our care must be protected from scrutiny and negative exposure; their progress is not to be hindered. Their comfort is paramount, fore they are the seeds of the future and shan’t be sowed upon salted earth.

Most in our care are children; born with disadvantages – blindness, deafness, missing limbs and so on. Though their genetic shortcomings, present a gap, which we as scientists, can fill. People would view what they lack as weakness, a disability. We see potential, something more than pitiful, something more than human.

Genetics are our forte; we possess an unrivalled level of finesse when it comes to arranging the building blocks of life. It is this level of skill and knowledge that has allowed us to create The Astral Symbiosis System. Using this system we are able to aid our initiates, to place them at the peak of progress.

The symbiotic handshake is made between humans and animals, by tethering the brain waves of separate species we have been able to fortify the human counterpart with the enhanced faculties of the animal counterpart; thus granting those in our care not only what they were denied but what most ‘able bodied’ people could only dream of.

The connection is established via a small chip – we’ve named the Astral Print – implanted in both subjects, the chip is unique to them and is programmed with an encrypted signal– so there’s no chance of data contamination as it is essentially their signal.

Depending on what the initiate is lacking, governs the location of the connection. For example, Bella – who is now eight – was born blind. When her parents gave us their consent for her to be part of our institute, we tethered her mind with that of a crow. The Astral Print was installed on the optic nerve of each subject, therefore granting Bella the ability to see through the eyes of her crow.

Before we commit the child to it’s animal aid, we conduct a lengthy bonding process with multiple creatures, this way we can deduce the appropriate partner for the child. All the animals at the institute are highly trained and we encourage the child to continue the training during and after the bonding process. Though this conditioning will be done through the digital link, as a sort of artificial telepathy. This ensures their connection remains strong and will allow the child to condition the animals to their needs. In Bella’s case she has learnt to direct the crow – she has named Luna – at what ever she desires to see. In time we predict she will relay more advanced instructions to Luna; following the example of our older initiates. Johan is the oldest initiate, aged seventeen. He and his panther, Simone have come on leaps and bounds – literally.

Johan was born missing both legs; bellow the knee. He has been tethered to Simone since he was four years old. Now Johan uses Simone as a mode of agile transportation. Not only can Johan walk and run, he can scale almost any obstacle with ease and it’s all thanks to Simone.

We constructed a customised harness that Simone wears, it is basic; consisting of five steel handles – two on either side and one on top – attached to leather straps that are fastened around Simone’s abdomen. As Johan doesn’t need Simone’s services at all times; using his arms to move around to accomplish meagre tasks, he can ‘telepathically’ call and grab onto Simone whenever the need arises. Johan’s incredible upper body strength ensures he will be able to mount/hold onto Simone and move deftly at incredible speeds and angles. He has accomplished feats an average society would deem impossible not only for someone of his disposition but to someone without a handicap.

In the event of the counterpart animal dying or in the very rare case of the human counterpart dying we have fail-safes installed. If one should expire the Astral Print Chip will immediately sever the connection, to protect the living half from experiencing any distress. In one case an initiate’s counterpart died of natural cases, this was early on and we hadn’t built in the fail-safe. The signal remained live and the initiate displayed and later described crippling head pain. The symbiotic relationship is so deep; we have discovered that any dramatic change in either of the connected can cause negative effects.

In another case one of our more…Troubled initiates committed suicide, their depression was brought on by the death of a family member. The initiate was deaf and was tethered to a dog that gave them the ability to hear. This dog was seen jumping off a nearby bridge, only a few hours after her human counterpart had expired.

Though with the upgraded Astral Print chip these problems no longer occur. There may be grief; which is natural but no extreme reactions have been recorded since the instillation of the new software.

Former initiates who graduated from the program and now live their lives outside of the institute have returned after the death of their aid to begin a streamlined bonding program with a new animal. Gregory Larson, a man who was born without a sense of smell has had five counterparts in total and has managed to adjust to each new one with little more than short periods of grief; which – if you’ve ever buried a pet – is uncomfortable but healthy, as – in it’s absence – you fully realise the extent of your love for that animal; the happy times and support they offered. Though as life is known to do – it moves on. And we exist to ensure that the inevitable progresses with the least amount of discomfort possible.

Over the years our craft has evolved exponentially and with these advances – new opportunities have presented themselves. We realise that out initiates no longer fall into the ‘average person’ category, they are quite spectacular; their abilities bordering on super human. In light of this we have added a new programme – which is of course – optional.

This new programme we have dubbed ‘ Connective Correspondents’ offers initiates too not only learn how to enrich their own lives but the lives of others also. With this programme we hope to shed some of the secrecy we’ve enforced up to this point.

Having our Connective Correspondents work with local authorities and services will help boost their success rate in saving and aiding lives, it will also serve as a vehicle for some positive exposure; getting the public used to these extraordinary people who would in any other circumstance seem…strange and in some cases taboo. As previously mentioned we have graduates living amongst the general populous but they are instructed to conceal their symbiosis, as we have long worried about public outcry and hostility. They’ll simply not understand what we do and therefore will be afraid.

People branding new, radical ideas with predetermined judgements comes part and parcel when learning to accept them. Some – no doubt – will scream animal cruelty, some will accuse us of exploiting the young. Neither of these have, nor ever will be our intention, though I can fully understand how our work would look to the uneducated amongst us, that’s why the Connective Correspondents are so important. They will bridge the gap and make way for understanding and in time more and more of the world will be able to comprehend and support the immense value of our endeavours and see the good in it.

An example of the benefits the Connective Correspondents can bring can be found in David Maine. David graduated the program three years ago but has opted to remain in the institute; he values his privacy and is unsure of how those around him will react when discovering his symbiosis. Though he wants to conquer that notion, so has signed up to be one of the Correspondents.

David is deaf and blind, so to alleviate both of these ailments we tethered him with a vampire bat. David’s hearing and sight are now exceptional; he has also adopted a useful trait possessed by common vampire bats; inferred sensing. He can essentially see body heat. Couple this with David’s ability to vocally relay what the bat ‘sees’ and hears – his talents could be put to use in manhunts, whether it’s to locate a hidden criminal or lost child. Bruce (David’s symbiotic animal) can fly over a great distance and also delve into tight, hard to reach places, something a police helicopter cannot do. It’s these small additions to the emergency services that will ultimately make big changes.

So in conclusion Mr Locke, I – Mr Vernon Vasari – head of the Astral Institute ask for your support on this matter. With help from you; our distinguished prime minister, we can make effectively make history, by enhancing the present. If you require more detailed information on any of the topics I have discussed, feel free to call the number on the flip side of this letter; my personal contact link.


Yours Faithfully


Vernon Vasari

Head Of The Astral Institute

The Misunderstood Medicine

The Misunderstood Medicine

Mary is looking at me again; she thinks I don’t notice her sideways glances. Sharing the smoking room with her is like sitting in a thorn bush; her presence is pervasive and uncomfortable. If the window weren’t barred I’d jump out, escape this place. Or at the very least, throw her through it.

She spits into her open palm and submerges the still lit butt in the shallow globule of fluid, her beady eyes still tamed on me. I take a long drag of my cigarette; in this place chemicals are both friend and foe. Some allow a moment of clarity, reminiscent of a normal life, whilst others ensure your departure from it.

Mary wipes her stubby hand across the scrawled wall, smearing her saliva and spent cigarette over the messy murals of madmen and the mistreated. This was always her contribution to the disturbing diary; designed by the denizens of this hideous hive.

She leaves the room hastily, to avoid having her back to me for even a few seconds. Mary believes me to be a mole working for the health care system, sent in to spy on her and relay her many outbursts of dissatisfaction with said system to some omnipotent overseer. She gives herself too much credit; no one gives a shit about her opinions.

The door closes slowly behind her, leaving me with my thoughts; company I actually enjoy. Again it questions why I’m here at all, mixed in with these reprobates and maniacs. I’m a learned man, a civil servant; I help people, it is my duty. I can do nothing in here, true I am surrounded by people who need help, though I am not qualified to cure their ailments. I am a physician not a physiatrist.

The sun is split as it shines in through the tall iron bars, I so miss it’s direct contact; felt on my skin, unfiltered by a grotty window spotted with god knows what. My yearnings are interrupted, someone has entered the room; it’s Katie, one of the nurses. She reminds me that the smoking room will be closing in five minutes and to finish up. I nod and thank her for the reminder.

Katie is one of the more likable nurses at the institution; a little bit of care, consideration and general pleasantness goes a long way. The majority of the other orderlies treat us like vegetables; they keep us watered and fed, they believe those two services are all we’re entitled too. Not Katie, she talks to us tries to understand what put us here, she offers a level of humanity most in here were denied, even if that denial was – in my opinion – Justified. I’m sure she is the only one here who knows I don’t belong in this madhouse.

I deposit my butt in the small, wall mounted bin. I do hate exiting the smoking room; the corridor leading away from it connects to the day room, where the inept creatures I’ve been forced to live with struggle to hold their minds together; some I pity and some I loath. Some drool over the soldiers stood upon their chessboard, others whirl around like drunken dogs, chasing their tails; hoping to catch a glimpse of the ‘imp’ mismatching their vertebrae. Whilst I quietly read the mediocre selection of literature they have untidily stacked on a horribly tasteless bookshelf. I don’t have any family left and no friends to speak of, so getting someone to bring me some half decent reading material is out of the question.

I walk over to the small table nearest the shelf, lo and behold; Mitchell, that DNA disaster is sitting in my chair, again. My chair happens to be the only seat at that table. He’s sat there counting the grooves in the wooden table’s grain, his tone hushed and words rapid as he taps his fingers on each acknowledged line. I clear my throat, making my presence known; he looks up at me with those vacant frogeyes and fish lips, what a disgusting creature.

He assures me that he’s almost finished and I quietly assure him that he’ll have a hard time counting with no fingers. He may be an idiot but he made the smart choice and left the chair, in the manner of an overweight crustacean he scuttles off to waste his time somewhere else. I reclaim my chair and blindly pick a ratty book from the shelf; Jane Austin…again, well beggars can’t be choosers I remind myself.

Before I have a chance to begin reading this damned book again, out of my peripheral I see Katie standing beside me. She hands me a copy of The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, one of my favourite books. She relays to me that she remembered how fondly I spoke of the book in a conversation with her a few days previous. That she noticed I’d devoured all the novels on hand and that some new materiel may help with my unstable mood. She is a breath of life in this otherwise necrotic, beast of a building.

I thank her whole-heartedly; she begins to cough violently – interrupting my gratitude. She covers her mouth with her hand and turns to the side, her face-flushed red. She fumbles around in her pocket, pulling out an asthma pump, placing it to her mouth she takes a few deep inhalation. I’m quite concerned; this was no ordinary coughing fit.

She apologises, I tell her she shouldn’t and ask her what’s wrong. She tells me she has suffered with asthma her whole life but as of late, it has been getting much worse. Her usually positive vigour turns grim; for the first time I see something she had never displayed before; fear.

She excuses herself and walks toward to the staff room, I watch her body bend as she painfully wheezes. Holding the book tightly in my hand and hearing that awful cough echo about my skull, I have an epiphany; I know what must be done, I know I must help her…It’s my duty, I know this is more that just asthma.

I’m only going to have one chance at this, they won’t understand my methods; Katie included. I’ve only ever tried the procedure on animals and despite what the sceptics say; the results were promising. True it is an…unorthodox operation but in times of desperation working with extremes can be the only way forward.

I need to make preparations; Katie will be assisting me with my bath in the morning, this damned arthritis makes bathing quite difficult. She’ll come to my room at dawn to take me to the washroom, we’ll be alone for a few minutes, I can make use of this time to allow for more. My room also houses a necessary instrument, something very sharp and very important.

Weeks ago Kevin; one of the more hostile residents, tossed a chair at one of the large barred windows in the dayroom. The bars prevented the chair from traveling through the large glass pane, but one of the legs managed to slide between the gaps and shatter a segment of it. One of the larger pieces slid over in my direction and whilst the nurses and nut cases panicked, I hid the shard in my waistband. After everything had calmed down, I stashed it in my mattress. Just in case Mitchell refused to leave my seat and I’d have to transform a threat into reality.

Now all I need to do is think of a way to render Katie unconscious, I can’t risk her being awake for this to work. Preferably I’d like to have a way to stitch her up, though I’m sure the paramedics will handle that. Wait… I’ve got it it’ll work! I’ve formulated a method of how to properly execute my plot; all there is to do now, is wait.

I find it difficult to stomach the slop they expect us to eat in here, though now I have a reason outside of utter disgust; saving Katie is all that’s on my mind. I barely even notice Rosie’s incessant demands for twelve slices of Battenberg, a daily outburst that usually fills me with rage. I haven’t the room for anger, I am focused, and I –for the first time in months – have purpose.

Reluctantly I knock back the small cup of ‘medication’ they hand me, a pre sleep ritual I’m expected to perform and re-enact in the morning. Luckily they trust me enough to swallow them and not hide them under my tongue…fools. They forget I was a doctor, I know what those things will do to my head; since being committed here my identity doesn’t stretch beyond my so-called ‘condition’; I’m nothing but a sentient diagnosis. So I’ve managed to amass quite the stockpile of tranquilizers and stabilizers, stuffed safely inside my mattress; along with all of my hidden supplies. I’ve never needed much sleep, only direction.

Today is the day; Katie enters my room as usual, to rouse me for my bath. She greets me and takes a sip of coffee from the white plastic cup. Her fair, youthful features are enough to motivate an old bag of bones, such as myself. I ask her if she can open my curtains, seeing as it’s an especially lovely day. She agrees and places her coffee on the small shelf beside my bed, I swiftly drop in a few tranquilisers, enough to knock her out.

The sunlight spills into my quarters; it’s golden glow freeing me of the incomparable constriction that congests my confines. She turns to me, her friendly smile influences my own; she asks me if I am ready, I reply with a nod. I tell her she can finish her coffee before helping me to the wash room, she seems pleased with this idea; she works ever so hard and obviously needs the energy.

I make small talk, asking her what we will be having for dinner today and if she would like to read the book she brought for me when I’m done with it. Just to pad out time; enough for the tranquilizers to take effect, with the dose I gave her it shouldn’t take long. I wait and watch with an almost uncontrollable excitement, it must be quite evident as she comments on how happy I appear and she appears to be loosing balance…it’s time.

She staggers and exclaims she doesn’t feel well and must excuse herself. I reach out and grab her arm tightly; she looks at me with anxious eyes, her head swaying on her neck. I tell her; I will cure her, she’ll never have to feel unwell again, as long as there is blood in my veins; I’ll protect her from sickness…it’s what I do.

Her fear is understandable, as she does not know my motives and in this place, thoughts that influence actions are considered dangerous. She attempts to scream but I cover her mouth with my free hand, pulling her down onto my bed. I restrain her as her struggle weakens, I whisper into her ear that every thing will be all right; that I’d never do her harm but let her know that after the operation, she may feel…sore, though like her illness it will pass.

When she goes limp I lower her body gently onto the cold tiles below, I will my old bones into action; rising from my bed quicker than I have in months, this adrenaline is exquisite. Using her key I lock the door from the inside and snap it off in the lock; this should prevent any unwanted visitors for a short time, they will not understand what I mean to do and attempt to stop me, I can’t let that happen. I acquire the glass shard from inside my mattress, cutting my hand in the process; it’ll never exhibit the grace nor offer the precision of a scalpel but it is sharp, it’ll do…it’ll have to. I lay Katie upon her back and straddle her, removing my shirt, using it to cover her face and hitch up her uniform to expose her abdomen.

The glass tears through my flesh with ease as I carve the runes into my arm, my pain; bitter sweet, each cut bringing power; each drop of blood being replaced by the tears of a god who will trade mercy for misery. I push the shard deeper, carving channels through my bones. I start the chant, allowing each agonised fibre to fuel my hollowed cries.

I can hear knocking, no – banging at my door. It was only a matter of time until they heard my ritual, I can’t be deterred, not whilst I’m so close. My butchered arms weep crimson streams that cascade over me as I hold my hands to the sky. From my lashing tongue, words of the old ones whip the heavy air, punctuating my penance. I feel him crawl up from the depths of my bowels; bathed in my acids he claws his way up and up and up, I feel him; he’s in my veins!

My back arches backwards; I scream his name, Huuroalith! Every atom of my being ignites, adding extra velocity to the downward plunge that sinks the shard deep into Katie’s sternum; her blood splatters my face. The people outside my door scream as their efforts to halt the operation intensify.

I pull the glass toward me, parting Katie’s flesh in a neat line. Using my hands I force the bloody breach wider; I would’ve liked to applied more finesse to my methods, though the door won’t hold much longer. I reach within her, fumbling through her innards, I feel her ribs; I angle my searching hands under them…her lungs, I can feel them against my palms; they’re so frail, expanding and contracting weakly. My fingers coil around the meaty sacks, supporting them gently…before I crush them like over ripe peaches. Blood erupts from under the shirt covering her face, soaking it through. The door is beginning to splinter as my bowels swell with the antidote.

I vomit violently into the crimson chasm bellow, the capillaries in my face burst as I heave, swamping Katie’s internal depths in the fetid liquid of change. My body becomes weak; exhaustion has me in its clutches, the last sticky strands of the healing fluid swing on my shivering lips. I yank my arms out from inside Katie; they fling loosely through the air, dashing the beige walls with contrasting blotches. As the door breaks open, I fold over; spent from the life saving operation.

Orderlies swarm the room; two knuckle dragging heavies restrain me in a manner that should hurt, though my paralyzed senses won’t allow it. They force me into a straitjacket, buckling me in tight; I don’t resent their actions, they couldn’t possibly begin to understand what I just did. To them it looks like murder, to me – rebirth.

I hear the nurses frantically shrieking that they can’t find a pulse, that she’s dead. Oh if they could only see the miracles growing within her, if they could look through the cracks and see the beauty blossoming beneath, creation birthed from destruction. Like a ravaged forest that prospers from the ashes, left behind by the ones that burnt before.

They look at me with pale faces, brimming with hatred and disgust.

I’m unfazed, with my head pressed to the tiles under a troglodyte’s hand, I tell them to wait and see…to wait and see. A nurse armed with a syringe to sedate me, kneels down and pushes it into my neck, with a force that can only be described as excessive. I close my eyes and wait…I hear Katie gasp, long, hard and guttural. Blood bubbling in her throat as her strong, healthy lungs draw in oxygen; pushing past the residual matter of the before and giving way to the ever after, my eyes open and I see, that they…they see. They…see.

The Lecherous Lives Collide

The Lecherous Lives Collide

Darkness, heavy breathing; sucking the bag over her head in and out of her mouth. Tight cable ties cut into her bound wrists, coarse rope mimicked this sensation around her ankles. She could feel the wet scum on cold concrete beneath her bare feet. She sat, bound, naked to a chair; the unmistakable scent of rust and mould swamped her olfactory senses.
“What you think J, good catch?”
“Don’t under sell her P, she’s more than that. ‘Good’ doesn’t even come close to describing this one”
She jumped, letting out a slight yelp; startled by the two male voices.
“What do you think K will make of her?”
“I think he’s going to make a mess!”
Both men laugh, shuffling about as if playfully shoving each other; like excitable children on Christmas morning.
“Look…I…I don’t know who you are, I haven’t seen your faces, I don’t know your names, I don’t know anything…please, just let me go. Please?”
The woman whimpers, her voice quaking as her innermost fears shift with the severity of a major tectonic event. She feels a sharp slap hit her upside the head, to which she gasped.
“You’d think after a while they’d say something different? It’s the same old shit every time”
One of the men stated coldly, before mimicking her sobs.
“Leave her be for now P. Don’t want her getting too worked up, not yet anyway”.
A loud metallic clang wrung out; the sound of an old iron door slamming shut. The long echo that followed told the woman that she was in a relatively large room. Footsteps grew in volume as they drew near.
“Nice of you to join us K”
“J, P, apologies for being late…”
The new arrival paused mid speech, he moved closer to the woman; she could hear his slow, deliberate movements that halted when he must have been within arms reach.
“Well, well, well…where did you find this one?” he said, brushing his knuckles across her exposed thigh, she let out a yelp as his leather gloved hand worked it’s way between her legs. To her relief he removed his hand, halting his prying fingers perverse journey.
Suddenly her vision was saturated in a blinding light, as the bag was whipped off her head. She grimaced, squinting her eyes, trying to see through the aggressive illumination. Her sight slowly adjusted, she saw three men; silhouetted by the powerful halogen lamps behind them. She steadied her failing resolve and questioned in a languished howl
“What do you want with me! Why are you doing this to me!?”
The central figure moved toward her, his image became clearer the closer he came. He was of medium build, in a fitted black suit; black leather gloves covered his hands and a balaclava hid his face. He squatted down to her level; her terrified gaze met his cold blue eyes.
“Now don’t go making this about you” The man said calmly, sweeping her dishevelled copper hair away from her face and behind her ear.
“This is all about me and them, you are nothing but a temporary pleasure. When you can no longer commit to that purpose, you’ll cease to exist”. He grasped her face between his thumb and index finger; his vice grip compressed her cheeks.
“If you do anything to…hinder our fun. I’ll make sure you live longer than you need to and let me tell you; it will be a state of existence more squalid and pathetic than that of a belly crawling mollusc…do we have an understanding?”
The woman nodded reluctantly.
The man shoved her face to the side as he removed his hand from it; he stood up straight, towering over her and began unbuttoning his suit jacket.
“P, get her out of those binds. J…bring me my tools.” The man known as ‘K’ commanded as he removed his jacket. P obediently went about his task, he walked behind the woman and began to untie the rope that constricted her ankles, whist J wheeled a small trolley over to K. atop the trolley was large red toolbox.
By now K was down to his underwear, the woman could clearly see how ‘excited’ he was. The wild, predatory zeal in his wide eyes confirmed he knew that she was aware of his turgid anticipation.
Time seemed to slow as the woman assessed every little detail of the developing situation. J unlatched the clasp on the toolbox, K was peeling off his tight underwear and P was about to undo the knot that secured her legs together. The rope went slack, the woman felt a degree of freedom return to her, she smiled.
The woman snapped into an upstanding position, the wolf like hunger in K’s eyes shifted to the confusion of a deer caught in headlights. He attempts to raise a fist, to punch her in the teeth; the woman was faster. She drove her knee into his crotch with enough force to sterilize him, he screamed in agony; his body crumbled to the filthy floor below. She spun around, P had flicked out a switchblade, she kicked the chair into him, knocking him back. This retaliation against P was done with the knowledge that J was charging at her, she instinctively veered to the side, narrowly evading a deadly blow from the hammer J had swung at her head.
J’s momentum shot him past the woman, she capitalised on his blunder by placing a sharp kick to the back of his knee. The impact folded his leg, forcing him into a squatted position, in an instant she measured him up, whiling on the ball of her left foot, striking his temple with her right heel. J’s head snapped to the side and his limp body followed.
P was almost back on his feet; the woman clocked his motion and closed the short distance between them, jumped into the air and stomped down on his head with both feet. His cranium fell under her full weight, which she used to crush his skull against the concrete. His body convulsed violently as blood seeped out of his eye sockets; pooling around his concaved head.
K was still writhing around like a large maggot, he held onto his jellied testicals; crying pitifully. The woman looked back at J; he was regaining consciousness. She sighed and strutted over to him, he looked up at her with glassy eyes; dazed and confused he rolled onto his back. The woman gave him a smile that was far too friendly, given the situation. She raised her foot and stamped down on his throat. A guttural inhalation followed as he tried to force air through his collapsed windpipe, to no avail. She held her foot tight against his neck until she was sure he was dead.
She turned her head slowly in K’s direction and removed her foot from J’s throat. K’s moaning soon evolved into structured sentences.
“You fucking bitch…you fucking bitch! What the hell is this?” he seethed in a murderous tone.
“This is my business, more preciously people like you are my business.”
She said whilst bending down, picking up P’s switchblade, her hands still behind her back.
“We’ve been watching you and your little friends for a while. It’s a surprise the police haven’t caught up with you yet you’re fucking amateurs. A bunch of perverted fools who think they’re top of the food chain.”
She angled the blade upward are cut the cable ties with practiced precision. She stretched her arms above her head, rotating her wrists; waking up the muscles in her toned arms. Her pale skin resembling fresh snow under the bright lights, though K was less interested in her divine figure and more concerned about where this was all leading.
“You said we…Who are you talking about?” He asked cautiously as he tried to push back the pain in his groin, enough to be able to stand.
The woman sauntered toward K; he opened his mouth to ask another question but was silenced with a hard kick to the face. His head whipped backward, his noes burst like a bag of blood. He whimpered and spluttered, his now misshapen facial extremity was pouring profusely filling his mouth like a running faucet would a bath. The woman stood over him; she raised her left foot and stood heavily on his upper arm, doing the same with her right foot on the opposite limb. She leaned down, allowing her excited expression to wash over K like a corrosive wave.
“We, as in me and my friends. Not unlike you, we have certain, peculiar pleasures. Lulling people like you into a situation where you feel all powerful, only to snatch it away and show you how pathetic and weak you truly are. Personally that’s my favourite part, as you can probably ascertain from your current position.” She bent down further, her copper hair fell softly around his head, encasing him within an intimate vacuum, all he could see was her, he could feel her breath caress his features, drying the blood on his lips; her warped fascination with his shattered ego was so intense it was debilitating. She was a domineering force the likes he’d never experienced. She cocked her head to the side.
“Alas, I’ve had my fun. As much as I’d like to play with you some more, there are some people whose desires far outweigh my simple urge to watch you die…”
The woman puckered her perfect lips, allowing a large mass of phlegm to gather between them. K reeled, trying to escape the descending, gelatinous fluid the woman dangled over him. There was no escape, the warm sludge settled on his cheek like thick cream.
She smiled before removing her feet from his arms, she walked backwards to the chair as K flailed around, attempting to scramble to his feet. He regained his footing; the woman was sat crossed legged in the chair; her look of satisfaction tore through K’s already tattered pride.
Adrenaline drove him away from her, he wanted nothing more than to run in the opposite direction and be done with this whole ordeal. He did a one eighty to make a beeline for the door at the other end of the warehouse but he wasn’t given the chance to take flight. A large, naked, masked man blocked his path, an impenetrable wall of muscle and ill intent. The man grabbed a hand full of K’s hair and tossed him through the air like a ragdoll.
K landed at the feet of the woman, who was laughing heartily, hand on her chest, barely able to contain herself to the chair.
“You cunt!” K shouted before taking a swing at her from the floor; if he was going down, he refused to do so without causing her some degree of pain.
His fist connected with her face, a shower of blood and spit sprayed from her mouth. There was a moment of absolute silence, save for K’s heavy breathing. To his horror, she continued to laugh; his attack only seemed to fuel her amusement. His rage withered, as did his hope as he saw two other men as stacked as the last appear behind her.
His vision went black as a massive hand reached from behind him and gripped his face. K was dragged across the foul floor kicking and unable to scream, he felt the sloppy scum living atop the concrete coat his back. His vision returned, the man released his grip on K’s face and replaced it around his neck. K was forcefully bent over a rusty metal crate. The rough oxidised crust skinned his abdomen whilst the man adjusted K’s position.
K sunk his nails into the mans monstrous hand, hoping to loosen his vice like hold, then he felt it…the man entered K from behind. K gasped, his eyes almost popped out of their sockets; he felt every inch of the man slide through him, his insides felt close to rupturing.
He attempted to beg, beg for death, for them to end it – to kill him. A second man approached K from the front, derailing his thoughts of death. K struggled to look up at him, his body being violently shaken by the powerful thrusts stabbing his rear. Though he managed to steady his vision enough to see a large brick in the burly mans hand. The brick was swung and cracked into K’s mouth, he shrieked; his jaw hung wide open allowing the torrent of blood and shattered teeth to pour down his chin.
His cries quickly turned to muffled sobs as the man forced his herculean phallus down K’s oesophagus. K choked, wretched and drooled as his face was pummelled with the same immense intensity as his colon.
The woman lit up a cigarette. She watched with a scholar’s intent, mentally archiving each spectacularly atrocious action inflicted on K’s sordid flesh. His pain was her pleasure, her skin prickled with a feverish lust that flowered from within her. Who was she to deny this blossoming lechery? She thought as her free hand slid between her thighs.