short stories

~ Companions in the Darkness ~

~ Companions in the Darkness ~

At first, I didn’t really understand what it was about me that drew them all in. I was a person freefalling through my own insanity, and probably the last person in the world to give advice on life, yet they always found me. The messages arrived in my inbox one by one. Hurt people had read my blog online, and ended up in contact with me. This girl from the U.S, she poured out her pain; over two-thousand words of stream-of-consciousness, introspective confession. I didn’t know what to tell her. Her mind was a storm of noise like mine. Was I supposed to quell it? I wanted to help but I just didn’t know how. The thought hit me that perhaps she just needed someone to listen to and acknowledge her thoughts. I guess that’s what we all need from time to time. No doubt it was the reason I wrote away at the keyboard in the first place.

A few days later I was getting messages from a woman having a breakdown in Italy. She was on a bender and telling me she had just broken up with her boyfriend and that her life was in tatters. Usually she was the one giving me advice on life, but now here I was feeling like I should say something to support her. Her messages continued to trail off into drunken, incoherent statements of despair. I was in the middle of my own episode and tried to offer some condolences, but what else really could be done? Again, the basic acknowledgment of her pain from another seemed to help a little. 

A week later came some messages from a fellow writer. He sent me his stuff and asked for some direction and guidance. “I want to write from the heart like you do, but I just can’t seem to find my voice.” There is no great secret to it, I told him. My fingertips strike these keys because they have to. There’s nothing else for me to do out there in this world. I’ve been through all that. I’m not compatible with anything else and so I just pour out my mind to get this shit out of my system. He thanked me for my reply before disappearing to continue on his path.          

Again and again they seemed to find me. The hurt, the crazy, the lost, the lonely, the broken and the confused. The tortured souls lingered out there in great numbers, and the more of my own soul I shared with the world, the more they arrived at my doorstep. The reason for this eventually became clear to me. Deep down, we crave to connect with people whose hearts share the same pains, and when someone screams out a little with their own, the people who feel what you have felt will come to you like moths to a flame. Ultimately, it’s a cathartic experience to realise you aren’t alone with how you feel; something which alleviates your loneliness and reminds you that you aren’t totally crazy. They needed it from me, and I guess I needed them too. That’s why I devoted so much of my time to getting down my thought process on paper and sending it out into the world. As a great thinker had once realised: “No matter how isolated you are and how lonely you feel, if you do your work truly and conscientiously, unknown friends will come and seek you.” 

And it wasn’t just online that I came into contact with them. Even out there in real life, they crossed my path. In the bars. In the streets. On the park benches. They wandered into my life as if we were all connected by some sort of frequency. This frequency peaked one time when I cycled down to the south coast of the country to collect my thoughts after the failure of a romance. It was there in a random bar that I met a collection of characters who were also being beaten by the fists of life. First was the sad-eyed man in the bar – a young guy whose best friend had recently killed himself. Then was the heartbroken girl who had just split up with the father of her two kids. Then later on we met an ex-soldier with PTSD who was constantly on the verge of fighting someone. Next it was a homeless man, followed by a man with terminally ill cancer who had six months to live. All of us had been strangers before the day began, yet there we all sat together smoking and drinking beer in a rare moment of belonging for us broken ones. The misery of everyone’s lives subsided for a short while as the music filled the air and the good times flowed. 

I eventually concluded that there is some sort of universal force that bonds the damaged souls together. I look out on those streets and see the people who stroll through life easily come together. I watch them dine at classy bars and restaurants. I watch them congregate in crowds of sanity and stability. They are the ones who never know what it is to feel lost, isolated and hopeless. Meanwhile, those who do not know such a life must wander in the outside spaces to find the people who understand. Few things are more powerful than the human urge to be understood and to connect with others who know what you’ve felt, and this is why this universal force exists. It is a way to human connection; a way to remind you that no matter what pain you feel in your heart, there are others out there who feel it too, and if you offer yourself to this world, let the light of your truth shine bright, you will attract those who know and understand what you are feeling inside. Maybe their companionship will help you overcome your pain, or maybe it won’t, but god knows, we could all do with some company when we’re alone in the darkness.

short stories

~ In Between Places ~

~ In Between Places ~

Living in a hostel in my own country, I had become one of those strange ones who was a drifter in their own ‘home’. There was no way around it when people asked what I was doing; I was without a job, without a place to stay, without a woman, a car, and any real sort of life plan. I was floating in the existential breeze, a modern-day drifter, and no matter how clean my clothes were, people still stared at me like I was a bum when they found out my circumstance. I guess in reality that was the truth these days. After all, I had just spent the last couple of weeks drifting around the country on a bicycle – my few belongings crammed into a couple of flimsy pannier bags while staying in random hostels along the way. On top of that, I had quit two jobs and lived in three cities within the space of nine months. I was out living on the edge and it was a strange feeling because, although I had a decent amount of savings in my bank account, I still felt as though I wasn’t far from being completely in the gutter altogether. I guess that was just the anxiety speaking.

The time spent doing nothing allowed me to reflect a lot on what the next chapter of my life would entail. It seemed the coronavirus crisis had put an end to any international backpacking desires – that world was at least a year away from recovering to its former self. The best thing I decided for me was to get my own place and wait it all out, try and get some words down on paper and some miles down on the bike to maintain whatever sanity I had left. I began searching for a place and quickly found out I was no longer worthy to pay overpriced rent to landlords. Most house shares and apartments demanded ‘PROFESSIONALS ONLY’, as well as proof of income, three month’s bank statements and references – none of which I was duly able to provide. I quickly realised that, even with those savings in my account, I was not able to integrate myself so smoothly into human society. So in that hostel I dwelled, perpetually extending my stay every couple of days, telling people I was looking for a place and was just there temporarily whenever they enquired about my living circumstances. 

It seemed I wasn’t alone in being in between places. Another woman in her fifties was staying at the hostel in the week while working as a nurse, before going back to stay at her mum’s on the weekend. Then there was the Brazilian guy working there after leaving his family behind in Brazil. Then there were the people from the council who were put there temporarily while searching for housing. That’s not to forget the Chinese girl waiting to see if her visa was granted so she could stay in the country. All in all, it was a random collection of vagrant characters, and it made me feel slightly at home to be around people whose days and weeks were not scheduled or planned to any civilised degree. At night, we sat in the kitchen and chatted away while the world of society went on outside. The hostel was on top of a hill and I stared out the window and saw the lights of the city shimmer below: settled people in their settled lives, going through the roundabout of their routine existence’. Did I want to be like them? At the moment, for the first time in my life, I felt like I did, but I knew I’d also be feeling lost after a couple of weeks in that life too. No doubt the problem wasn’t my circumstance, but myself (as usual).

My days continued to meander on in the city of Sheffield. I took myself out hiking and cycling in the peak district. I saw some friends and drank some beer. I soon got to the point where I had no motivation to even look for a place to stay and entered into some sort of passive, detached state. I sat in parks and stared into space for hours. I aimlessly drifted down the city streets, deciding at the last second where to turn. One day that random route took me into a rundown bar in a rough neighbourhood. I sat down beside the bar and drank a beer when a guy I had met on a medical trial the year before walked in. We started catching up and I soon realised my situation wasn’t so bad. He confessed to me his drinking and gambling problems, and the fact he had spent a grand in the last five days, as well as his frequent visits to the local brothel. Maybe I had no direction, but at least I wasn’t that low, although the bottle was tempting me more and more. I tried to stay away from drinking heavily to help keep my mind clear, but pretty soon I was back at it with people in the hostel, stumbling to the pub with my comrades of the rootless life. I guess there was no way around it. I needed it there and then to help alleviate the anxiety of my situation.

I continued to look at the options I had and felt no desire toward any of them. A couple of years ago, I would have got on a plane to anywhere that I could afford. But now, something in me had seemingly changed. I was in between places physically and mentally. There was no clear thought process; everything was hazy and it was like reaching the peak of my entire existential journey through life. I was drifting in a smoky mist, expecting to see the sight of a lighthouse somewhere in the distance to help direct me towards the shores of belonging. But the reality was that the shoreline was never going to come. I was a lost sailor out on the ocean of human existence, and for now the fog was thicker than ever – my mind in a state of frozen helplessness. I think many people experience this in their lives at some point, but for me this seemed to be my eternal state. The state of being in between places. The state of feeling lost. The state of total non-belonging to the world around me.

Some more days drifted by and I eventually managed to get some viewings for places to live. I had decided Sheffield wasn’t the city for me and that it would be better to retreat back to Nottingham – the city I had lived in previously before the coronavirus had forced me to move back with my parents. I arrived at the viewing and was shown around the property by the landlady. It was an old Victorian house on a quiet street, occupied with two other tenants – a Spanish bartender and an old sound engineer who lived in a hut at the bottom of the garden. After introducing me to them, she showed me up to my room in the attic conversion. “The previous tenant was a woman who lived here for eleven years,” she said as we entered. “She was an alcoholic and didn’t look after the room too well, so I’ve cleaned it all out and redone it completely.” At that moment I looked around the room and imagined that woman being myself; someone who had stumbled in there one day while unsure what to do with her life, and had ended up dwelling there for over a decade while enslaved to the bottle. It was a grim thought and I looked at the bed in the corner. I looked at the old desk beside the window. The sight of it all made me feel uneasy. There was an aura of sadness and I imagined my months and years passing by between the walls of that small room. I imagined lying on the bed and staring at the ceiling as the fire inside me finally died out. I wanted to run far away from it, but there was nowhere to run to anymore. It was either this, or back to the hostel, or back home to live with my parents. Seemingly, I had been cornered by life.

After the viewing, I went to a park I knew and lay there in the grass. It was a hot September day and the park was full of groups of people, all relaxing and laughing; drinking and playing sports together. It was the same park I had visited frequently the last time I lived there. I walked through it and sat down in my usual spot – a patch of grass beside a tree on the back of the field. Deja vu struck as I beheld that familiar sight, and it seemed I had gotten absolutely nowhere since the last time I sat there. In fact, I had even gone backwards. I had even less direction than usual and I didn’t know whether to take the room. I didn’t know whether to book a flight to some far-off country. I didn’t know anything and I just sat there like a statue frozen in time. Perhaps the future would hold something better for me, I thought; something where I at least felt a connection to what I was doing, but for now I was directionless, passionless and devoid of any real zest for life. Questions about what I was doing with my life would have to be avoided and deflected. I was in survival mode; just holding on until the fog in my mind cleared and some basic way forward was revealed. This was it. There was no great wisdom or revelation like in past times. My guts had gone; my burning desire for life extinguished. There was nothing left to do and, with that, I laid down on the grass, looked up at the sky and closed my eyes – hoping my dreams at least could save me from the reality of life.

short stories

~ A Brush With Normality ~

a brush with normality

~ A Brush With Normality ~

It ended with a crash. The pieces finally fell down as I sat there reading her texts. “You need to sort your head out,” she told me. “I mean that in a caring way.” The previous couple of days had been a mess of emotions, arguments, excessive drinking and brushes with self-harm. Something had been brewing for a while, and it was the inevitable end to events we both knew was the fate of our short and sweet romance. With the realisation it was over, I left her dad’s flat covered in empty bottles of spirits and headed to the train station to retreat back home.

Alone once again, I reflected on a story that had started three months previously. It was a strange time to meet a girl, I guess. The world had just gone into lockdown due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. In most countries, people were restricted to leaving their homes except for food, medicine, exercise or essential work. Perhaps it was that surreal turn of events which led to a change in my character. I was never one to pay much mind to the settled life with a girl; in many ways, I had already resided myself to a life of solitude and isolation, but every now and again there was a moment of connection with another that caused me to imagine strange and foreign scenarios. Apparitions appeared in my mind: visions of a peaceful existence with a girl by my side, holding hands while walking in the park, lying in bed and caressing her cheek as the sunlight came through the window – that feeling of knowing that everything would be okay for that day just because I had her next to me. Like I said, it was something that I wasn’t really expecting for my life, but I was soon to find myself daydreaming about more and more.

At first, it was just a bit of virtual chit-chat via a dating app; just two people keeping themselves busy and wanting someone to talk to while undergoing lockdown of the virus. We chatted about movies and music. We chatted about poetry and philosophy. She told me about her pets and I told her about my backpacking adventures. It was nice. There wasn’t much to do in the world at that moment, so sitting around and chatting with a stranger kinda made sense. Plus, it was something I really needed at that time. It was soon to be the weirdest few months of my life, and she would be there to help lead me through it. With lockdown messing up my travel plans, I had to move back in with my parents and get a job at the local Amazon warehouse. My days there would be spent alongside a conveyor-belt while sorting packages for ten hours a day. It was a depressing reality, in all honesty, but having her to chat to allowed me to exist in an alternative world. It was a world of romantic escapism. A world of sharing your soul with a stranger. A world of exciting possibilities such as going camping together while the whole country was under quarantine. 

After talking some more, we finally arranged to break lockdown measures and meet up. We were living in different cities and she drove fifty miles down the highway to come and meet me for a walk. Normally, I would be nervous meeting a girl for the first time, but due to the connection we had already formed over a month of chatting online, I was strangely calm. I met her in a pub car-park near the entrance to the park where we got walking and talking. Within ten minutes, I knew this wasn’t just another date. Speaking to her was a surreal experience; it was like meeting someone I had already known for many years, two long-lost companions reconvening from another life. With that connection fueling our conversation, we strolled idly through the countryside; we petted horses and sheep; we lay in the grass and talked about our lives.

It soon became clear we were two people who had walked very different paths in our twenties. She had led the settled existence in one place with a long-term partner, and I had been out travelling the world on my own. Yet, although we were different on the surface, it seemed we were surprisingly similar at our core. I already knew we shared similar interests in nature, fantasy films and philosophy as well as having the same personality type, but meeting her showed me just exactly how much of myself I saw residing in her troubled eyes. She even told me how she had always wanted to do the things I had done, but had left it as a sort of distant dream for another lifetime. I told her something similar as we shared our first kiss before heading back to her city where we got drunk, cuddled up in bed and watched a Lord of the Rings movie.

Our story continued to develop and I soon felt like I was somewhat in a fantasy movie of my own. The world continued to get stranger by the week as the crisis turned society into a dystopian state. Entire countries continued to lockdown, people lost jobs and businesses, strange new rules were implemented. There were skies without planes and shops without food. In the meanwhile, I went to work every day before coming home and spending the evening chatting to her on my bed. I continued to get lost in that world of romantic escapism until we met up again to go camping. It was a glorious spring day and we sat in a farmer’s field at sunset where everything melted into a perfect mixture of human connection. The wine, the weather, the music, the conversation. At one point she started telling me how much she missed her grandad and started crying. I think it was probably at that moment where I fell for her. Once the sun had fallen below the horizon, we retreated to the tent to eat pot noodles, make love and listen to music under the stars. Holding her in my arms, those grand visions appeared again in my mind: taking our campervan out together in the peak district; walking her dogs in the park; drinking wine together and making love in a drunken evening haze. I even imagined telling our grandchildren how we met during the great crisis of our generation. I wasn’t quite sure what was happening to me, but by the time we did our next camping trip and sat by the stream drinking wine again, I was convinced the gods had put some sort of temptation in front of me to change my lifestyle.

Before lockdown began, I was just as committed to the life of bohemian travel as I had ever been. In fact, I was right on the verge of flying one-way to Colombia. But the life of flinging myself relentlessly into foreign lands was on hold and suddenly my mind entertained new possibilities. Could I lead an adventurous life at home with a girl? Buying a campervan, going on weekend adventures, getting drunk and writing poetry together? Maybe I had it wrong all along; maybe the happy life was within grasp right here under my nose in my own backyard? It was a thought I couldn’t slip as those apparitions continued to grow clearer in my mind. Dreams of wandering alone in foreign lands quickly changed to living a more settled existence at home. I imagined our days and years together. The summer vacations. The lazy Sunday mornings lying in bed. The flowery dresses she would wear to our anniversary meals. By the time summer had arrived, I knew something had struck me deeply. I looked into the mirror and questioned the very essence of who I was. This is what a woman can do to a man. Every person thinks they know what is going on in their lives, but at the touch of love, we crumble and lose our minds. We go crazy, deluded, insane. We wander off into the woods and lose ourselves in places we didn’t know existed.

I continued losing myself in those places until the inevitable troubles arrived. It was gradually becoming clear that our story was not going to be a straightforward one. She had made me aware that things weren’t completely finished with her ex-boyfriend, and that the door was still open for them to return to their relationship once he had sorted some things out. We had flirted with the idea of being in a relationship, but it was becoming apparent that she would have to decide between pursuing this new connection with me or sticking by her ex. Someone was clearly about to get hurt. Her ex to me represented her past eight years of her life: comfort, security and familiarity. I was a strange new thing to her: a being of a different form and territory. Emotions were getting deeper and it was reaching a tipping point where she would have to choose. The inevitable crash came one morning. She messaged me saying it was messing her head up continuing things between us because of her ex. She now wanted us to be just friends. It came at a bad time. The night before, I had laid beside her in bed and decided for the first time in my life that I wanted to be in a relationship with someone. A foreign thought, quickly proven to be a foolish one.

Following the argument, I hit the bottle and delved into a darkness I hadn’t quite known before. Those apparitions that had almost become reachable faded back to mere visions in my mind. Ideas of sharing my path were revealed to be illusions. Our summer plans of adventure disappeared into smoke. Her flowery dresses disintegrated before my eyes. There was nothing I could do and I stared into the mirror and saw myself for the deluded dreamer I was. That delusion even continued as I kept hoping she would see a light and decide to start a new adventure with me rather than return to the past. But it became clear that wasn’t going to happen and what was left to do but to keep spiralling out of control in a drunken blur of despair and pitiful self-hatred.

Over the next few weeks, I collected myself and tried to make sense of what had happened. Clearly, I had felt something that was foreign to my heart and allowed myself to get lost in it. I simply hadn’t ever experienced a connection like that with another person. All my life, I had stared at the passing faces of lovers. I watched their hands connect and their lips touch. I watched their warm embraces. I observed the happiness and contentment in their eyes. It had taken me twenty-eight years to find a girl I had a real connection with and now it was gone in an instant. Back alone in my own world again, I looked into that mirror and saw myself for I really was. I could see it in my eyes. I was a gollum, a wretch, a creature belonging to a cave. I was banished to a barren wilderness while she would return to her ex and live a peaceful existence with her dogs and her kids. Outside the comfortable homes of lovers, my feet would tread that earth of solitude and isolation. The warm fireplaces would not warm my flesh. The pillows would not support my head. The dinner tables not know my company. I knew in my heart this was the way it was destined to be. Some of us are just destined to be lone wanderers til’ the end of our days. It is written in who we are and visions of sharing our path with another soul will always remain as mere apparitions and daydreams as we stumble on alone through life’s wilderness. It was the way it was and I knew the sooner I come to terms with it, the more straightforward my life would be. 

One month later, I booked myself a ticket to a foreign country and prepared to hit the open road once again.

“Girl, I was always a bit of a solitary soul, but for a second there I saw this thing with you. To wake up on Sunday mornings with the light coming through the window. To caress the skin on your cheek as you smile with contentment. To know that I have another day by your side as my eyes open and for everything to be okay, if only for that day. I saw this thing with you. Some call it the normal life I guess. To stroll through parks hand in hand; to make love in an evening haze; to smell the scent on your neck and to not have to look anywhere else because all that I desire is there right in front of me. I saw this thing with you – this thing I now know is not gonna come. I have held you in my arms and because of that I have held happiness in my arms – that foreign thing, that strange concept. I would have given you everything of me. I would have thrown myself to your wolves, drowned myself in your sea, got lost in your forest. Yet we want different things; so it must be that we drift like ripples on the surface of water, and go separate ways. But you will always stay with me, like the other ghosts that linger inside me, those apparitions of happiness that haunt the hallways of my mind. Apparitions of something I can only see and not touch. Apparitions of another lover lost, another path not taken, another happiness not felt.”

short stories

~ A World Not Made for Lovers ~

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~ A World Not Made for Lovers ~

Her hazel eyes dimmed with a sadness. There was a heaviness in them which pulled them down to the ground. There was the light of love still in there somewhere, but it had been suppressed down to the tiniest flicker in the vast darkness that enveloped every horizon of her inner universe. Like most lovers in this tortured world, she sat alone in silence and stared emptily into space, confused at the situation of existence before her. She knew deep down a sensitive soul like hers didn’t belong in this society of cruelty and trickery. She wanted affection but got rejection; she wanted passion but got apathy; she wanted to fly but was tethered down by the concrete gravity of reality. In her heart, she felt betrayed that the gods had left her stranded in this foreign environment. Her cards had been dealt and now, like a little bird in a cage, she flapped around hopelessly within her confines, aching inside to return to the place where her spirit belonged soaring free.

We had met recently out on the road and now by circumstance, I found myself with her in the Netherlands. A Spanish girl in Amsterdam, Sara, away from home, trying to get by and make her way out in foreign lands, but stuck in a struggle I knew all too well. “The people are cold here,” she told me. “They are like robots. The men just fuck you and then stop speaking to you. I can’t make any friends. People put up barriers if they don’t know you already. Honestly, I have no idea what the hell I am doing here.” She carried on spilling her pain and frustration, talking about her ex and her past failures in relationships. “I am broken but everyone is broken after a while, you just have to keep looking and find the person who is less broken than you are.”

Her words struck a chord with me and naturally it felt good to be around a fellow scratched and scarred soul also stumbling through life. We continued sharing our thoughts as we roamed around Amsterdam, spending our time drinking in the cafes and bars, strolling down the canals and checking out the sights of the capital. At one point we walked around a museum and talked about life and travel and relationships. We looked at Van Gogh’s paintings – another lover driven to madness and isolation by the weight of the world. In his self-portraits, you could sense his simultaneous love and despair for the human condition. Speaking to Sara while viewing the paintings, I stared into her eyes and saw that same tortured look. I saw that little bird inside longing to be free, to be loved and to belong to someone or something. I had seen it before in the most beautiful souls I had come across out there on the road. It seemed that if you walked this world with an open heart, you were sure to suffer more than the average person. If you truly loved without a filter than people didn’t know what to do; often the other sex saw it as a weakness and inevitably you were left heartbroken and dejected. I thought of Van Gogh cutting off his ear giving it to a woman to show his love for her. Admittedly cutting off body parts was perhaps a little extreme but, like Van and Sara, whenever I fell for someone, I went in with all my heart and was inevitably left shunned. Ironically, I was here with her but had recently fallen for another girl who had rejected me, and now I had only added to her misery by misleading her. I was also part of the problem. But I had my own problems too. We were both drowning in our own way.

When I really thought about it, it seemed that it wasn’t just relationships where the ones who loved without a filter suffered. It was life and society in general. The more open-hearted you were, the more you were beaten and broken down by the nature of humanity. I couldn’t make sense of it. I looked out at the world around me and saw a brutal and backwards system. It was a place where the cruel and cold-hearted flourished. It was a place where sociopaths and narcissists rose to the top while the most caring and thoughtful were trampled underfoot. A strange game was being played and the winners were usually the ones with the fake smiles, the smooth lies and a cold, calculating nature. It seemed that to be sensitive and caring was considered a weakness in this society. It wasn’t good for the economy. It wasn’t good for survival. It wasn’t good for business or strategy. The best rewards were reserved for the merciless and uncompromising. Dog eat dog, as they said. Every man and woman and child for themselves.

Meanwhile, those who loved with reckless abandon didn’t make it. They lingered in the solitary shadows and sidelines. The lovers. The dreamers. The idealists. Often this world didn’t know what to do with them. So many of them were cast out, shunned, misunderstood or neglected. In the worst cases, they were gunned down by the fear and hatred of humanity. John Lennon. Martin Luther King. Gandhi. Malcolm X. JFK. Abraham Lincoln. Aside from them you also had the sensitive and artistic souls driven to suicide or early death by the crushing weight of it all. Kurt Cobain. Hemingway. Winehouse. Kerouac. Ledger. Sylvia Path. Robin Williams. For such people to survive in this world, they needed to put up walls and toughen themselves up, but so many of them were clearly unable to do that, and consequently they were left burdened by feeling too much in an uncaring and hostile world, slowly being driven to death and destruction and alcohol and madness.

Yeah, no matter how you looked at it, it was a world not made for lovers and I guess, like Sara, I knew opening my heart up to it would also leave me sitting alone and staring into space, hopelessly confused at the situation of existence before me. But I didn’t really know what else to do. I was a man ruled mercilessly by his own heart. With child-like curiosity, I explored the world around me. I tenaciously followed my passions. I lived fiercely according to my ideals. I loved without a filter. I expressed myself from my heart and soul. I thought these things would be good qualities in life, but so far it had only made my existence extremely difficult. People abused my kind nature. My authenticity didn’t give me acceptance. My ideals and passions were not compatible with society. Speaking from my heart often caused people to distance themselves from me. I guess I had the ability to stop being this way, but a part of me refused to let the essence of myself be diluted down by the hostile environment I had found myself in.

  “You need to stop being so sensitive and ruled by your emotions.”

  “Man up.”

  “Learn to play the game like everyone else.”

I’d heard it all before just like the others had, but by now I knew I wasn’t going to change. Speaking to Sara as we strolled around the streets and canals of Amsterdam, I was reminded how much better the world was when you had those sorts of people around you. Just a day or two in her company and suddenly my faith in humanity returned. Suddenly the grey streets of society didn’t all seem to be doom and gloom with people like her somewhere out there. As long as you just came across a few of those pure-hearted people every year, it restored something in you; it relinquished the dread and fear of your own species. No matter where I went in the world, I knew I would always look out for them. Normally those people were the most troubled souls, but in my eyes, they were the most courageous, the most beautiful. They were the ones who reminded you that there was still some hope left. The ones who reminded you that humanity wasn’t totally doomed. The ones who reminded you that there was still a chance to find some gentleness in the craziness of this world.

To the lovers out there fighting on in this world where so many cold-hearted creatures and demons run amok, don’t let yourself be swallowed up by the storm. Keep the flowers growing in your heart; keep the doves flying in your mind; keep the sun shining in your soul. Sara, little bird, if you are reading this, I hope you find your happiness and learn to smile a little more. Don’t let the weight of this concrete world grind you down. Don’t let yourself be broken down by those hollow-hearted and empty-eyed creatures. Keep your heart kind; keep your soul pure; keep loving fearlessly without a filter. When all is said and done, it’s the people like you that keep the soul of humanity alive.

short stories

~ Seriously, What’s the Point? ~

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~ Seriously, What’s the Point? ~

“Seriously, what’s the point?”

“The point to what?” I asked.

“Life, of course.” She rolled her eyes. “All I’m doing is working, eating and sleeping – just struggling to get by and survive. It all seems so meaningless. When am I actually going to live?” I paused for a second, trying to think of a helpful response.

“Maybe you need a change of environment,” I suggested. “Or perhaps to go on an adventure?”

“Adventures cost money,” she said. “And what little I have I need to keep a roof over my head.”

“There are ways to do it,” I told her. “I’ve never had a lot of money, or a good-paying job, but I’ve found ways to get out and see a bit of the world.”

“That’s because you do those medical trials,” she snapped. “I don’t want to do that. And besides, I’m getting too old to travel now. All my friends are starting to buy houses and start families. I’ll fall behind if I go bum around in a foreign country now. I’m almost thirty, you know?”

“So?” I snapped back. “You need to stop caring what people think. You say you want to really live so open your mind and explore something new. Who’s to say a little adventure won’t give you a new perspective on life? There is more to life than just ticking boxes and trying to fit in with the crowd.”

“Is there? You went out and travelled the world, but yet here you are back home seeming unhappy with your situation once again. Face it: the best thing one can do is just find someone you can tolerate and settle down and maybe go on a nice holiday every now and again while trying to not go insane. Those who do anything else usually end up homeless or something.” This time it was me rolling the eyes.

“You are looking at those people and thinking they have ‘arrived’ or something because they have the classic components of a ‘normal life’. In reality, many of them feel just as lost and confused as you, if not more so because they are trapped by contracts and commitments. Maybe they are looking at you and wishing they had the freedom and lack of responsibilities you have? The grass is always greener on the other side. Don’t be fooled. Create your own reality. Write your own story.” She shook her head with a look of annoyance. I could see she was reaching the end of her tether.

“You know what, you give all this advice but look at you: you’re almost thirty and you have never had a proper job, you live in a flatshare with people you don’t like, and you don’t even know how to drive. I don’t think I’ll be taking advice off you, thank you very much.” An awkward silence fell over us for a few seconds before she looked away. I opened my mouth to say something but decided against it. The conversation was beyond saving and I walked off to leave her alone with her thoughts. 

I should have just brushed her frustrated comments aside, but her words stayed with me for the rest of the day. I thought I had some wisdom about life, but maybe she was right and I really was just a no-hoper that no one should have taken advice from. I guess I was a bit of a loser by society’s standards. I was quickly approaching the age of thirty and had never had a ‘proper job’ (whatever the hell that meant), a girlfriend, a car, my own place or even an Instagram profile with a load of pictures of myself on a beach in Dubai. I was now at the stage where I was clearly ageing too. I looked in the mirror and saw the hairs on my head begin to grey, as well as the first wrinkles start to make their mark across my forehead. Apparently I was now an official adult, fully grown, but with absolutely none of the things that were expected of me at this age. I guess I had at least seen a bit of the world and climbed a few mountains, and done things many only dreamt they could do, but how much further could I really take it? Maybe my current method of living was not one that was sustainable past your twenties, and that I was just going to end up homeless like my friend suggested. The thought of it all made me also think: seriously, what’s the point?

The point to our lives? The point to our paths? The point to our struggles and trials and battles? It just seemed that it was an endless fight. No matter how far you had come or what position you were in – whether you were poor or rich, famous or obscure; whether you were in a relationship or single; whether you were young or old or good-looking or bad-looking – the one thing that stayed the same no matter what was that you were perpetually dissatisfied and always looking for more. True contentment and fulfilment was something you only read about, and the few who said they had it were usually lying, secretly trying to fulfil inner voids with whatever vice they could find. All in all, life just seemed an absurd joke in which no one really ever got lasting happiness or inner peace, and that people were constantly searching for it like my friend. Like she had alluded to, so much of it was a struggle to get by – when were the times when we actually arrived? When we actually lived?

I guess the futility of it all is what led men and women to get ‘fucked up’ – as many tended to call it. The bottles, the joints, the pills, the powders – whatever recreational substance you chose on the quest to alleviate the pain of being human. That was what I did that very night as her words continued to grow in my mind. I poured myself a large glass of red wine and prepared to sink once again into a bubble of being comfortably numb. This was it: the universal vice. No matter what culture or creed you were from – no matter what age in history – one thing that stayed the same was that people always looked to get out of their ordinary states of mind. It was the great escape; tricking your brain into thinking that something exciting was happening because the reality of your normal life was too much to bear at times. All across the world, weekend warriors could be found finishing work on a Friday evening, then heading straight to a bar to pour that poison into their blood so they could momentarily escape the dreary drudgery of human existence in a hazy blur of liquor, neon lights, and late-night takeaways. Then there were the pill-poppers who lived for the raves; working and waiting for that next time they could use up all the happiness chemicals in their brain in one swift swoop. Ultimately, then came the comedown which brought them sharply back to the gnawing aches and pains of reality which was always waiting for you.

That reality ceaselessly consumed each and every one of us. The girl I had the conversation with continued, I knew one day she would have it a bit easier, perhaps even have the house, the partner, the steady career and a few offspring running around on a rug in the living room. But I also knew she would still be standing beside the curtains and looking out at the world, dreaming again of something more – something that would finally allow her to feel like she had arrived. She resented her situation now, but she would also still find new things to resent her future situation. Even for me, I was now at a stage I always hoped I would be – having seen all the places I wanted to travel, wrote a couple of books and had a bit more confidence about who I was – yet I was getting easily derailed by a simple conversation with a friend; spiralling down into a state of unhappiness and alcoholism and feeling like I had gotten nowhere over all the years. I guess this is it: the reality that human-beings were never meant to be happy or content or satisfied. Our brains have gotten too big. We contemplate and think too much for our own good. We now look at the animal kingdom in jealousy that they live so simply in the moment without our trivial pains and worries and concerns and conundrums. What is left to do but get drunk and try to find a point to your absurd and trivial life. Even if it’s just supporting a football team, or teaching yoga, or searching for love, or writing a book. What’s the point to it all? I’m not really sure either, but if you have any original ideas, do let me know. We’re all secretly grasping at straws here.

      

short stories

~ Just Another Fool Beneath The Ether ~

 

caminoo

‘Sorry for the mess but there is a form of madness that possesses this slowly decaying heart of mine. It corrupts and consumes me; it pulls me relentlessly into the unknown lands beyond my horizons. Towards that ineffable something I have ventured my entire life. Beyond those horizons I look out for something on those rugged mountain trails, sitting in smoky bars in foreign lands, staring out wistfully at the red ocean sunsets. My brain knows I can be nowhere else other than the here and now, but this heart of mine will never fully grant me the peace that it needs. Maniacally it shall beat its way toward its inevitable death, and until that happens I am cursed and blessed to be out on these wild plains, wandering wide-eyed among these mountains of madness – relentlessly hunting the horizon for a home that doesn’t exist in this galaxy, or the next…

‘Just Another Fool Beneath The Ether‘ 

Paths colliding. People meeting. Mouths speaking their secrets. The sun setting on another perfect day of doing nothing other than moving forward through space and time. I had been walking another seven hours in the blistering heat of midsummer Spain, edging ever more closely to the final destination of Santiago. The path up until now was a hazy blur of old towns, blue skies, red wine and fields of wheat flowing magnificently toward the horizon. It wasn’t just the road to Santiago that was my path however. So far it had been a twisting and turbulent road through the first stage of adulthood as I stumbled around the world, working odd jobs, hiking mountain paths, getting drunk with strangers and trying to find out just what it was exactly that was corrupting this heart of mine. Behind me I had left a trail of footprints, crazy encounters and empty wine bottles – the blood and bones of my experience scattered in various ditches around the world. 

The art of living without a plan had seemingly led me to many interesting places, and as ever I had no plans after the walk was done. Like many of my fellow pilgrims, I was just living for the moment like some sort of new-age, drunken buddha. There was a sort of simple bliss about this walk through Spain that stirred something in my soul. Waking up everyday with no plans other than following some little flicks of yellow paint; hand washing my clothes in streams and hostel sinks; meeting random people and sharing the contents of our minds before parting ways forever – not much had made sense in my life so far, but the last weeks had made so much sense to me that I was slightly confused about it all. It was almost enough to make me feel like a holy man, but in reality I was just another fool beneath the ether, dragging my feet through the dirt, getting drunk and staring up into skies not knowing what the hell it all really meant. Whatever. It didn’t matter for that moment in time as I continued walking with my new companion Lee while discussing our favourite writers. He was a fellow countryman I had first come across as he posed butt-naked for a photo while facing out into a mountainous valley. I knew he was one of the crazy ones from the off and it was only natural we had ended up walking together. Our love of writers had led us to picking up the pen ourselves, and I shared some of my poetry with him while he told me his plans to document his past drug addiction in a book called ‘the scum diaries’ – surely a tip of the hat to another one of the crazies: Hunter Thompson.

Later on that evening, we met up with a couple of Americans Lee had befriended on the trail. They were a mother and daughter from the state of Montana. We had dinner with them and enjoyed paella and red wine and tapas snacks, tossing the words back and forth – the usual El Camino-inspired chat which was typically a philosophical exploration of life, travel, culture, jobs, and the question of why the hell it actually was you were walking eight-hundred kilometres across a country covered in sweat and blisters. The question fell my way once again and I gave the answer that had now become slightly routine over the last fortnight. 

“I feel a bit like the odd one out,” I started. “Everyone seems to have a reason to walk – something they’re looking for or hoping to find out about themselves – but, personally, I feel like I’m walking just to walk. If I had to choose an ideal life it would be waking up everyday, strapping my backpack to my shoulders, and just putting one foot in front of the other to get to the next destination. It’s a simple life and a nice one. All you have to do is eat when you’re hungry and sleep when you’re tired. Hell, I’d do it for the rest of my life if the path didn’t end, maybe just stopping off in a town every now and again to work and save up a bit more money. To me, it would make a lot more sense than the typical life back home.”

Of course, I knew at that moment I sounded like another hippy throwing out cliche statements, but the words I told them were true in my heart. It was what I had been feeling since the moment I started walking four weeks ago back in France – this feeling that life could be so wonderful and simple if only we allowed it to be. They looked at me and smiled, the American mother saying good for you and inviting me to stay on her farm back in the states. They then showed me some pictures of their lodgings and mountain surrounds and asked me whether I’d want to ever settle down and lay some roots somewhere. I told them that I wasn’t sure right now, just that at the moment I couldn’t imagine doing it. 

After we were done with our drinks and philosophical musings, me and Lee headed back to the hostel through the town that was now coated in twilight as the sun had sank below the horizon for another day. Now a little tipsy from the drinks at the bar, we stumbled back in good spirits and chatted about our love interests while on the camino. I liked Lee. He was another starry-eyed dreamer like myself – a wild and flamboyant soul, the sort you rarely bumped into back on the streets of everyday life. He was a little bit older and seemed a little bit wiser than I. Or maybe he wasn’t; maybe he too was another fool beneath the ether not really knowing what the hell what he was doing. Well, it turned out that it may have been the case as we both got hopelessly lost on the return, wandering off out of town on some downhill road into the darkness of a random farm. Lee eventually got his phone out to redirect us back to the hostel where we found a new drama awaited us. Bed bugs. It was a common concern when walking El Camino de Santiago. The lodgings you stayed in were huge dormitories frequented by thousands of people every year, and it was only natural that the little critters made their homes in those well-worn mattresses. This time it was so bad that the whole hostel had emptied out as groups of bleary-eyed backpackers sat on the steps outside discussing what to do. Among them were some other friends of mine, two Spaniards and a Brazilian girl. We chatted about the situation at hand, before I told them my story from when I had run into those dreaded bed bugs about a week previous in an old church, causing me to try and sleep in the hostel toilet cubicle for a few hours in the middle of the night, before giving up when a fellow traveller started violating the cubicle beside me with violent diarrhoea.

My tale of misfortune drew some laughs from my friends and perhaps even planted a seed about what we could do with our current situation. Well, it had already been planted by my friend Damien, but it was quickly blossoming in our minds. At first it seemed like a joke, but the more we discussed it, the more it seemed a good idea to get drunk and start walking through the night. After flirting a bit more with the prospect, the joke had now become a plan. We looked at each other and made the decision. At that moment a fellowship was formed. A mission set. We grabbed our bags and headed off back into town to buy some supplies for the task ahead – five bottles of red wine sold to us a reluctant restaurant owner closing up shop for the evening and paid for by Lee – a man now in good spirits at the prospect of the spontaneous adventure ahead.

Our mission began as we started walking under the stars and the moon, making our way out of town while passing the bottles of wine between each other. We had a speaker to play music and head-torches to look for the flicks of yellow paint that guided us in the direction of Santiago. A sense of perfect disorder was felt and at that moment we were comrades – “the wolves of the night” as Lee had christened us in Spanish. Our mission seemed to have as much cause and purpose as the armies that marched to war, and every step forward was a noble one – one that would lead us to a victory of something I couldn’t quite explain, but I knew was something worth marching for.

The marching continued through the night as we passed through farmlands and small villages full of barking dogs piercing the silence of the night. Feeling as pensive and philosophical as usual, I talked to my comrades about the camino and everything else that went through my drunken mind. The Brazlian girl was the only religious one of us walking this Christian pilgrimage. She told me she was walking it as a tradition and doing it for her mother, before going on to ask me if there was anything I was looking for while on this pilgrimage. I took a swig of the wine while thinking of my latest answer to the question. “I really have nothing I’m looking for,” I told her. “This is it. The here and now of the experience is all that matters. I feel like the more you look for something, the more you miss what’s under your very nose. There’s a quote I like in zen buddhism: “With zen buddhism, one does not find the answers, but the questions disappear, and when the questions disappear, one arrives at the insight of what is in front of you.” She looked at me and smiled, entertaining my madness. My philosophical ramblings were as edgy as ever as we continued on drinking and trekking under the stars. At one point fatigue hit and we stopped for a quick nap on a bench somewhere in a field, before we got up and carried on with our mission. 

The path carried on and soon the first embers of daylight could be seen on the horizon. We were just a few more miles from the next town where we could stop and rest, but at that moment I realised I was too drunk and tired to go on. I told the others to carry on without me and that I was going to sleep on a field beside the path. This was deemed to be a foolish decision by my comrades who informed me that there were wild pigs roaming the countryside that could potentially cause me harm. It was news to me, but I was too drunk to care and collapsed into my sleeping bag in the grass. They carried on down the trail until they eventually drifted out of sight. Would I see them again? I hoped so, but nothing was certain right now as I passed out alone in a foreign field under the stars. I looked up at that diamond sky and smiled like the drunken fool I was. Truly, I was a man lost in a dream, tumbling down a rabbit hole that had been getting stranger and stranger as the years had gone on, and had perhaps now reached its peak somewhere in the countryside of northern Spain. 

About three hours later I awoke to the sounds of birds chirping and hikers talking from the nearby path. I looked at my surroundings – the empty field, the bales of hay, the bugs on my backpack, the sun now beating ruthlessly down upon me. I had awoken in many bizarre circumstances around the world over the last years, but it seemed I had now reached the most bizarre of all. I was hungover, tired; my hair was full of leaves and twigs and bits of grass. I had accumulated a few more mosquito bites. My backpack was disheveled and it appeared I had misplaced a few more items of clothing. I stood up and thought back to the past twelve hours and just burst out laughing at the sheer absurdity of it all. To many my life was a complete joke or a mess, but as I looked up at the morning sky, my existence made perhaps more sense than it ever had or ever would. I had a contentment in my heart; a feeling of pure joy in my soul. The world around me glistened with magic and I may have been just a bum with a backpack and no plan, but at that moment I was richer and more complete than any man in the world. This was the way of the camino and the way of my life. I was a hopeless wanderer, a dreamer, a pilgrim, and perhaps most of all: a fool. But I was a happy fool, and truthfully that was all I ever really wanted to be.

short stories

~ Lost in the Virtual World ~

smartphones

~ Lost in the Virtual World ~

It was sometime when I was sixteen years old that I came to school one day and found everyone shifted to a strange new state of existence. There they all were: heads down to their hands, totally absorbed by whatever it was they were holding in them. I walked closer to see what it was that was causing them to permanently reconfigure the skeletal structure of their necks. I reached the circle and saw them all clutching their precious new possessions. It was the arrival of the smartphone – a small device, no bigger than a notepad, which sat in your hand and connected you to the entire world. Clearly a new age was upon us. We had lived in trees; we had lived in caves; we have lived in farms and towns and cities. Now we were living in hyperspace – connected and communicating with each other via satellite signals and apps. I looked at the transfixed faces of my fellow classmates and knew something had changed for good; seeing just how much this device yielded a sort of otherworldly power over the person it belonged to meant humanity was in for a wild new trip.

I resisted the urge to get a smart-phone for years and, as a result, I became an alienated member of society. At first, there were still a few of my kind left – those people using those heavy Nokias and old flip-phones – but quickly they were becoming a breed on the brink of extinction. There were many times where I sat left out in social circles as people exchanged things over their phones and sent Vines and Snapchats. Soon Instagram was taking over the world as selfie-taking spread like a contagious virus – evidenced by the fact that the word itself even made it into the Oxford English dictionary. I watched curiously as my species became possessed by the need to pose, take and post pictures of themselves whenever they could. Even their cats and dinners weren’t safe. Apparently, whatever meal was on their plate somehow needed to be shared with all the random people in hyperspace, desperate to see one more time what a mediocre plate of spaghetti bolognese looked like.

It was a confusing time altogether and I tried to get by in modern society without owning this new organ of the human body. It was something that quickly left me out of touch with many people. I recalled a girl in a bar asking me what my Instagram and Snapchat was. When I told her I didn’t have them, I was met with a look of shock and horror – as if I were a time-traveller from a prehistoric age. Another time I was laughed at for not being able to get directions somewhere on my phone. Soon the alienation of not having a smartphone continued to grow at a sharp rate. So often I sat in a circle of friends, unable to speak to any of them as it seemed social media had overtaken real social interaction. There was a certain irony to it all and I wondered what exactly this shift in human behaviour was leading to. Perhaps soon we’d just sit at home and control virtual versions of ourselves? Perhaps we’d be able to ‘like’ people on the spot and our value in society would be judged on how many followers we had?

It was a scary thought and one that kept me from joining in on the madness, but eventually it got to the point where I could no longer get by in society without having a smartphone. It seemed that everything was geared to this one device that now ran the world. I couldn’t even get a taxi with my friends without being seen as tight for not paying anything toward the fare they shared over the Uber app. I couldn’t even purchase a goddamn bus ticket in some cases. Getting by in the world had become too difficult, and reluctantly I went and got a smartphone to join the masses in this strange new era of human behaviour.

At first, I was quite good with it; never using data or the internet while out of the house, not downloading any apps, but just using it absolutely when I needed to while enjoying the camera that came with it. It wasn’t long however before I found myself getting sucked into the vacuum of hyperspace. After getting relentlessly asked for my WhatsApp, I downloaded the app and quickly found myself part of numerous groups and conversations. There I sat staring at the screen as the notifications flooded in throughout the day. After a year or so, I found myself part of a bunch of chats that made that phone constantly ping. It was easy to see how so many people got sucked into that vacuum and spent hours of their day in a hypnotic trance as they stared at whatever it was that was on the screen. It was either you ignored everyone trying to contact you, or spent hours of your day replying. Like a baby that wailed, the phone was always there commanding your attention and it was easy to cave into its incessant demands.

One day I realised I would have to join the thing I despise the most: Instagram. On the most part, this photo-sharing application was the great tragedy of our generation, creating millions of narcissistic and self-absorbed millennials whose sense of self-worth was dependent on likes and followers and emoji comments. This constant need for social gratification off random people on the internet had led to a mass of people who dressed up their lives with masks and makeup and filters. It had led to people who made out that their lives were constantly amazing, when really they were anxious and stressed and getting by on antidepressant medication. Often, I wept for the state of my generation who had now become so fake that being real was sure to leave you as an outcast. However, like everything else in the world, there was still some good out there, and Instagram gave a platform for genuine artists, singers, writers, dancers and whatever to share their work. My Facebook blog had crashed as Facebook was experiencing a mass exodus of users, and I realised I would have to post my work on Instagram if I actually wanted a decent amount of people to read it.

The problem I had found immediately was what I wrote was typically longer than twenty words. One of the byproducts of the age of the smartphone was that people now had the attention span of a newborn puppy on cocaine. Relentlessly, they finger flicked and scrolled away at the neverending content that filled their screen. If something was going to take more than thirty seconds to read, then the odds were that it would be swiftly dismissed. This meant my longer pieces of writing didn’t really have much of a chance of being read by the entranced thumb-twitchers of the world, so I focused on turning some extracts of my writing into succinct, easy-to-digest quotes and memes. It worked to an extent I guess, although it made me feel limited into what I could share, and it was definitely going to take a miracle to become popular on a platform where ‘instapoets’ had amassed millions of followers for posting things like ‘true love never quits’ in sleek and stylish memes.

Still, I got on with it and tried to find my place in the modern world where this device had completely changed the way we behaved forever, and most definitely not for the better. Sure, things were easier in many ways, but people’s mental health was suffering as it became a socially-accepted form of addiction. People’s minds were like overcharged computers, saturated and frazzled by relentlessly checking their phones and notifications throughout the day. Some days I found myself with a headache after allowing myself to get sucked into numerous Whatsapp chats. Other times I found myself getting anxious about what some stranger in America was commenting on my posts on Instagram. It was a device which had the power to completely take over your life and it appeared that no one was safe from its tyranny. Even my parents – who had always been slightly ‘technologically challenged’ – had conformed to this new state of existence. One day I walked in the front room to find my mom with her head also embracing that permanent shape of facing down at her hands. She had gotten a new tablet for herself and now spent hours of the day scrolling through tabloid news stories and looking at holiday packages on travel agent websites. It appeared that even the older generation were getting sucked into this smartphone vacuum, even going as far as overtaking the youth as the core user base of Facebook. Yes, you could now find your grandparents sharing Daily Mail articles to the social media world. And let’s not forget about the new members of human society. Now you could find kids as young as three years old with their faces glued to those tablets and phones. Many parents had discovered they could keep them transfixed by those devices and thus spare themselves the hassle of actually having to entertain them themselves. There on Instagram you’d find Timothy, just four years and three quarters, posting selfies with his latest toy or comic.

All things considered, it’s a surreal time to be alive and who knows what the state of human interaction and behaviour will look like with the technologies of the future. Right now, you’ve got people like Elon Musk trying to connect AI to the human brain. You’ve got the sex robots being developed by horny tech gurus. There also are bio cells that could lead to people becoming ‘amortal’ – meaning they will live indefinitely without being the victim of a car accident or fire. Smartphones will soon be able to control everything in your house as well as provide a database for everything you’ve ever done or said. It’s a strange and scary time to be a human-being. No doubt some of you may even be reading this right now on a smartphone or tablet or whatever other device is now out there to keep you transfixed. Well, if you’ve made it this far at least you had the patience to read more than an Instagram meme. Thanks for that. Oh, and please remember to follow my blog on social media: @thethoughtsfromthewild. A part of me would really ‘like’ that. Cheers.

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short stories

~ Social Distancing? No problem ~

solitude

~ Social Distancing? No Problem ~

The great crisis of our generation came almost out of nowhere. It was just after the turn of the new year when reports of a novel coronavirus spreading through China started appearing in the media. At first it seemed like something very far away – a drama unfolding in the far east, something similar to the outbreak of SARs virus a few years before that quickly petered out into nothing. I guess it was that sort of scenario which people expected again. After all, we were a generation who was regularly being told the world was about to end: swine flu, bird flu, ebola, the climate crisis, Donald Trump – we had read about our imminent destruction many times before as editors fervently created sensational headlines to shift newspapers. So, it was only natural there was a sense of ‘here we go again’ when Covid-19 started featuring on the front pages of The Sun and The Daily Mail.

However, fast forward a couple of months and the disease had now started spreading throughout Europe. A side effect of the virus was seemingly the sudden urge to travel the world, and consequently hundreds of people had brought the virus over with them on their holidays and business trips. The north of Italy was the first region of Europe to have a mass outbreak. Almost overnight, towns and entire regions went into ‘lockdown’ – a phrase that was quickly to become one of the most spoken words of 2020. People were confined to their residences, only allowed out for ‘essential’ things such as getting groceries or medicines, as well as travelling to work (that was if your company was still open and you were not out of work or working from home). All things considered, it was the biggest change to people’s lives in peacetime, and it wasn’t long before most countries in the world were imposing tight quarantine and social distancing measures to stop the virus from tearing through the population.

There was hardly a person on earth that wasn’t negatively affected by the crisis, but it was fair to say the outbreak of Covid-19 came at a particularly bad time for me. I had just left my job with the anticipation of taking part in a lucrative medical trial and then using the money to go travel on my latest backpacking trip. With the job quit, the trial cancelled and no international travel possible for the foreseeable future, I was left in the situation of being unemployed, stuck in my apartment and having about £5000 less in my bank account than I had anticipated. Obviously there were people far worse off than me – the ones who lost businesses and, you know, those who would actually die from the virus – but it was fair to say I wasn’t jumping for joy about the emerging situation. 

Nonetheless, I had to roll up my sleeves and get on with it like everyone else. I did exactly that, spending the first few weeks of lockdown in my apartment that I was supposed to have been moving out of. Instead, I was now stuck inside that apartment for twenty-three hours a day, only going out for my one form of permitted exercise, as well as the occasional trip to the supermarket to try and buy whatever food the panic buyers had left on the shelves. It wasn’t so bad. Having been someone who delighted in my own solitude, the whole self-isolation thing came as no big deal to me. Often I had looked at the four walls and thanked them for the great guardians they were. They were the walls that kept humanity out; the walls that gave me some peace from the insanity of society. I could have happily spent months within those walls in my own company, and I quickly realised having a hermit nature was a great strength to have in the era of Covid-19. Apparently the act of having to keep yourself socially-distanced proved to be something that was the challenge of a lifetime for many. Past generations had endured world wars, civil wars, crusades, genocides, great depressions and the black death; our great crisis was having to stay inside and keep ourselves entertained with Netflix, Disney movies, social media and group video calls. The difference was almost laughable, but apparently many people couldn’t cope with actually having to be alone with their own thoughts, while also not getting their regular dose of social gratification. A part of me almost delighted in it all. All my life I had been stuck in a society that catered almost exclusively for extroverts. Introverts had always been told to be more sociable and outgoing to fit into the system, but now the tables had turned and the extroverts would have to learn to be happy in their own company to survive the lockdown. The age of the introvert had finally come and the thought of it made me sit back on my bed with a smug sort of grin. What a time to be alive it truly was.

The great global crisis of our generation continued unfolding as I kept myself busy with a routine of meditation, writing, reading and just going on seemingly endless hikes through the Youtube wilderness. Of course, I kept my eye on the situation too by regularly checking the news reports on the development of the outbreak. The death charts and infection tallies were shooting up all the time, and it had quickly gone past 9/11 to become the biggest news event in my lifetime. I was now living through history and I sat back in my lair of solitude to soak it all in. I knew people were dying from the disease and, of course, it was a tragic and sad thing; but I also couldn’t deny that a part of me also found it refreshing that something dramatic was actually happening in our everyday lives. It really was like one of those end-of-the-world movies: the sight of people wearing masks, empty town centres, skies without planes, shops without food, police patrolling the streets – they were the sort of things you only saw on a movie screen, but now you were witnessing them through your own eyes. Finally, I didn’t need to quit a job and go travelling in some dangerous country to feel like something exciting was happening. 

Still, although I found many things about the lockdown refreshing, I was not without my problems. I was living off the savings I had and not being able to find a job, I soon faced the prospect of moving back in with my parents. At the age of twenty-eight, moving back home wasn’t ideal, but if I was ever going to do it then this would be the time. Like most people my age, my happiness to a degree was built on my own independence, but strange times had arrived and I figured this would be the next step down the rabbit-hole of Covid-19. The decision was made. I packed my bags and moved back in with mommy and daddy to set up camp for the rest of the lockdown. 

Back in another city, I started looking for jobs again. Luckily there was an Amazon warehouse close to my house and I now had the opportunity to be a modern-day sweatshop worker. At this point, Amazon was comfortably the biggest company in the world. Jeff Bezos had capitalised on the age of mass consumerism by providing an online e-commerce store in which you could buy anything you could imagine under the sun, and even have it delivered to your front door within twenty-four hours of clicking the purchase button. This meant that all the ‘thing’ addicts in society now had a place where they could order whatever caught their attention that day. This would naturally be even more extreme now that people couldn’t spend their money on getting pissed in pubs and clubs. Thankfully, good citizens like me were on hand to help them get the important products they needed to survive such as celebrity autobiographies and one-litre bottles of ‘luxury anal lube’.

Sorting those products for them to be distributed for ten hours a day was how I kept myself busy during the great crisis of our lifetime. I could imagine little children asking me what I was doing during the great Covid-19 crisis of 2020. “Well, I was helping people to keep busy with acts of experimental sex,” wasn’t quite as good as saying I was fighting on the beaches of Normandy or parachuting behind enemy lines; still – it was something I guess. And besides, I actually ended up enjoying the experience of working there. I felt like I was some sort of dystopian sci-fi movie having to distance myself from fellow workers, wearing protective equipment and having to go through a temperature check every time I entered the building. It was something I knew would feature in textbooks for school children for many years to come and I made sure to stop and enjoy every moment of history unfolding around me. 

After a while of working there and waiting out the crisis, I got speaking to a girl online. Meeting girls in real life was something of a bygone age and Tinder had connected me to this girl living in the city I had just moved out of – Nottingham. She was a teacher assistant who had been ‘furloughed’ – something which meant she got paid her normal wage for sitting at home, sunbathing and drinking bottles of fruity cider. I envied her situation as I texted her while stuck inside that dark warehouse for over ten hours a day. We were soon speaking most evenings on the phone as I began to feel an attachment to someone I hadn’t even seen with my own eyes. Maybe it was the drama of the situation, or just that I was sexually frustrated due to the lockdown, but we struck a connection that I had rarely come across with another girl. She was another misfit like me; someone a bit scratched and scarred by life who loved animals and nature and fantasy movies. Fantasy was an important thing in the world of lockdown and often we imagined going on weird and random adventures. Hell, I even convinced her to write some poetry and short stories – one of which she turned into an erotic camping trip in the peak district. It was a modern sort of love story; two people separated and unable to meet from the lockdown of Covid-19, but still living out imaginary lives over internet messaging.

We continued talking online for weeks until one weekend when we arranged to break social distancing measures by meeting up for a day in the park. She drove to my city to come and meet me where we walked around and had a picnic under the trees beside a stream. Finally together, we spoke about the world and our lives and all the things we had chatted about over the phone. We then moved to the long grass and fondled before spontaneously deciding to drive back to Nottingham where we played with her dogs, watched Lord of the Rings, got drunk, ordered pizza and put an end to our lockdown sexual frustration. In the morning, I lay  by her side and watched the curtains flap beside the window. Out there was a world in the strangest state I had ever seen it; and the situation I was in seemed to fit in with the madness of the age that had arrived. I was truly living in some sort of strange dream – a surreal reality that wouldn’t have been out of place in a George Orwell novel. I imagined the future of the modern world; perhaps this random meeting would turn into something long-lasting and we’d be telling our children the story of how we met during the great crisis of our generation. I was supposed to be going travelling but with international travel looking like a shitshow for the foreseeable future, I didn’t know where the next tumble down the rabbit hole of Covid-19 world was going to take me. Life was as bizarre and unpredictable and weird as ever, and not even Donald Trump or Boris Johnson had a clue where we were all going. 

Well, for now, I guess the only thing we can do is sit back and enjoy the dystopian movie we’re living in. Let’s let the crisis play out while we all isolate ourselves away within the walls of social solitude. Let let the earth’s atmosphere and environment recover while we are all stuck inside our homes writing these books and getting drunk and watching Lord of the Rings and having sex and ordering bottles of luxury anal lube off the internet. The future is a scary thing and we no longer need to watch the sci-fi movies and episodes of dystopian series Black Mirror to see something crazy. Just pull back the curtains, look out at the world and you will find something stranger than anything from any fictional book or movie. Welcome to the world of Covid-19.

 

short stories

~ In Another Place ~

in another place

~ In Another Place ~

 “Where are you?” she asked me. 

 “What do you mean?” I said. “I’m right here.”

“No, I don’t mean it like that. Like right now, where are you? I can see that you’re standing here in front of me, but I feel like the real you is far away in another place. A place that I can’t get to. A place I can’t see or touch or reach.”

An awkward silence followed her words. I looked at her and knew exactly what she meant. I could see a sort of sad confusion in her eyes. I knew she could sense that I was not truly there in that time or place with her. She was perceptive and had a vision for those things. There was no way I could pretend to not know what she was on about. I didn’t know what to tell her and, to be honest, I wasn’t too sure of the answer anyway.

“I’m not sure where I am,” I told her. “I guess I’ve never really been sure.” She looked at me as the silence surrounded us. A few seconds passed until she turned away and we continued on with the day to forget about the moment like it never existed.

It was a poignant moment of interaction and one which stayed on my mind for a few days after. It was true that I really had no specific answer to where my true self was, but I knew that it wasn’t here of this earth. All my years I had been there walking through the requirements of life. I opened doors. I walked into rooms. I stood in front of others and let words come out of my mouth. Physically I was there, but another part of me was off roaming a place that was not of this world or dimension. Often, I got lost in it as I sat staring into space or looking wistfully out of a classroom window. In a strange way, I was merely a bystander to all that was going on around me – a sort of spirit in a surrogate body just here out of a duty imposed on me by an unknown force.

It was a state of being which left me out of sync with my surrounding environment. I found it harder than most to be a part of the world because my heart and soul was not truly in it. The places I went; the lessons I attended; the jobs I worked – it was just something I had to do to be a part of everything, but deep down my soul was relentlessly wandering through some nameless wilderness. In the meanwhile, I looked into the eyes of the others and beheld a look I just simply couldn’t relate to. They all seemed to be really there – as if they were part of the world and fundamentally belonged to it. Sometimes I wondered how obvious it was to them that the same look wasn’t in my eyes, and what they would do exactly if they knew how much of an imposter I was. 

Though the vast majority of people looked like they belonged to this world, I knew there were a few others out there who felt what I felt inside. Sometimes I thought I spotted them while out there roaming the streets. They had a specific look in their eyes – a subtle one that was often confused for someone daydreaming. They wore that look because deep within they also felt that they just didn’t belong. In their flesh and bones, they could feel a strange yearning; an inner tugging to some ineffable place far away in space and time. Since the very start of their lives, they had experienced this homesickness for a place they’d never seen or been – a place they couldn’t even describe, but somehow knew existed out there somewhere beyond the ether. Like me, they would have to speak the sentences that kept them functioning and do the things that kept them alive, but they also needed those moments of solitude and silence in which they could try to feel a connection to the home that had eluded them since birth. 

There were times when that solitude gave me moments when it felt like I was almost there. They came out of nowhere: a moment’s hiking in nature when the sunlight shone through the trees; standing on a dusk shoreline without another soul in sight; the moments when I had been writing my thoughts down in a silent room late at night. They were moments of completeness with the surrounding environment when some things at least started to connect and make sense – when I was somewhat in the right direction to heading home. But always they were short-lived and I was soon left feeling like a foreigner stranded in alien lands once again.

I read about this theory one day that we are all spirits here in human bodies, but some of us have mistakenly arrived here from another place. I think that maybe it’s true. It’s clear to me some people have crash-landed on the wrong planet, existing in the wrong age or world. Those ‘old souls’ or ‘wayward spirits’ – destined to always wander on and never feel a true attachment to the places they reside in. I dunno, it’s getting hard pretending I belong here. I guess I will keep opening those doors, walking through those rooms, speaking those words and doing those things that keep me a part of this world, but know that a part of me has all but left it a long time ago. If you ever see me staring into space with a look of longing in my eyes, know that I am man lost in the spaces of my own being – a sort of sailor out on the ocean of existence, steering my way through the storm, setting my eyes to the horizon – searching for the sight of a shore that will one day let me know what it’s like to finally walk the lands of home.

short stories

~ Things They’d Never Understand ~

writing-1209700_1280

~ Things They’d Never Understand ~

“So, how’s the job going?”

“I quit,” I told him.

“You quit? why?”

 “I wasn’t able to write.”

“What do you mean you weren’t able to write?”

“I wasn’t able to write, like when I went home. I had used up all my mental energy at work.”

“So?” he said. “The job was a good opportunity for you. Who cares about the writing?”

“I do,” I said.

“But you don’t even make money off your writing. Your job had a lot of opportunities.”

“It doesn’t matter about the opportunities,” I told him. “If I’m not able to write then there’s no point to any of it.”

“I don’t understand you really. Your writing is just a hobby. You had room for progression at that place.”

“Look,” I said. “It doesn’t matter about the job or the money or the room for progression. None of that stuff fulfils me like my writing does. If the job stops me from doing that then I’ll happily leave it and struggle to get by another way. As long as I can write. That’s all that matters. As long as I can write.”

He stared at me with a confused look. I could see the cogs in his head turning as he tried to grasp my view, but after twenty seconds I could see that he had given up and dismissed me as a madman. I thought of a load of other ways I could try to explain it to him, but knowing that he was a career-focused guy whose reality and sense of self were determined by his employment and bank balance, I knew it was like trying to speak English to a goldfish. There was simply no way to convey how my happiness or value system worked. There was no way to explain how just putting some words down on a page kept me from going insane completely. After ten seconds of awkward silence, he shook his head in disbelief and walked off.

A part of me understood his confusion in all reality. I had been working the ‘proper job’ for over four weeks now. It was my first ever nine-to-five role that paid better than anything I had ever had before. My parents were happy I had finally got something stable; my friends thought that I was finally preparing to conform to the norms of society. In all honesty, I was quite happy to have some sort of stability after surviving on agency temp jobs and medical trials for a while, but I knew straight away that the job was going to twist and tear me up. Besides the main problem of losing my energy to write, a lot of the job involved speaking on the phone which was a pet hate of mine, and it also involved being concentrated and engaged for the majority of the day. I was a chronic daydreamer and didn’t want to be deprived of my daydreaming. Having to advise someone on the phone for forty minutes meant there was no way for me to go sailing off through the galaxies of my mind on my latest introspective adventure. Besides that, the whole sitting behind a desk all day in artificial lighting in an office was something that was spiritually suffocating to me. 

Typically I got accused of being depressed or anxious or something like that. But in reality, it simply wasn’t true. I actually felt amazing once I quit. I mean, I was back to being poor, but every day I woke up happy and went to sleep happy. In between, I meditated, napped, read, went for long walks and spent hours working on my writing. To be honest, I could imagine myself doing that until the day I died. I just wanted to work an easy stress-free job and have time to do the things I cared about. Naturally, to many I seemed to lack ambition, but my ambition was simply to be healthy and happy and live a simple life where I had time to explore my passions. To me it was just basic common sense, but apparently such notions were some of the things they would never understand. And of those, there had been quite a few…

“Why do you keep travelling all the time? What are you trying to prove?”

“You’re so smart. Why can’t you get a proper job?”

“Why would you rather be alone than join us at the party?”

There was only so much of being misunderstood a person could take before they went insane completely. I was a complicated person I suppose. A person guided completely by the heart with no logic. A feeler not a thinker. An idealist not a pragmatist. Turbulent and temperamental. Slightly schizophrenic to a degree; able to switch my personality and perspective as I had pleased. Someone who had no set place in society that I could easily slot myself into. Someone that even the therapists and shamans stared at with confused eyes.

Those looks of confusion struck me relentlessly as I went about life. Sometimes they struck me in social environments, sometimes at work, sometimes at family dinners. I think the one that stuck in my memory the most was when I was asked why I was so open about how I felt about life. I had been ridiculed and called weird for expressing myself so openly in the writings I published on my blog.

“Don’t you think it’s a bit strange all of the things you tell people? Don’t you think there are some things you should keep to yourself?”

“No, not really,” I said. “It makes sense to speak from the heart. If everyone did that, the world might not be as complicated as it is.”

“But it just makes things awkward. You’ll scare people off. Can’t you just act normal for once?”

“I don’t like to wear a mask. I think it leads to a world of people hiding who they really are.”

“Not everyone thinks like you do.”

“Sure they do. Everyone thinks deep about stuff, yet we just sit around talking about the weather and football and television. No one has the guts to speak about how they feel deep down. People are afraid, and so they should be. Speaking from the heart all the time automatically makes people put up barriers against you. They keep you at a distance. They don’t accept you. Humanity isn’t ready for a world of people not wearing their masks and speaking straight from the heart. Because I do this, I am cast out and categorised as the insane one. Don’t you realise how absolutely stupid that is? That I am the outsider because I just speak up about how I feel? In the meanwhile, the people who are fake and insincere attract the most people toward them…”

They looked at me in total silence. As usual, I could see the cogs turning in their heads. I thought maybe my luck was in and they would understand my perspective for once, but a few more seconds passed and I was dismissed as a madman once again. My view was simply the comical ranting of a lunatic to them – something that belonged to another time or place or universe. It was something that I found frustrating and damaging beyond words. When you pour out your truth and your heart and it appears as incoherent nonsense to another, then that is the moment when the loneliness strikes you greater than ever. I didn’t even think what I was saying was difficult to comprehend and understand. I just wanted a world where people were authentic and genuine; where people didn’t sell off parts of themselves to fit into the crowd. I tried to explain this to them but they just didn’t want to hear it. My values were so horrifically different from those of society that I knew I was doomed and destined to be an outcast until the end of my days. Deep down, I knew that I was never to be understood totally, but I had this vision – this dream if you will – that one day if I could write down everything correctly, and become good enough at the art of arranging words into sentences and stories, that people may be able to get a glimpse into my reality. Perhaps then there would be some level of understanding of the world I lived in; perhaps then those looks of dismissal could turn into looks of understanding. Ultimately, it was this reason why I sat alone at a keyboard for hours every day. The pain of being so misunderstood made my heart scream out, and I guess fundamentally that was the reason why writing was the most important thing in my life. The reason my fingertips fought relentlessly for freedom. The reason I stayed up late pouring my heart onto a page. The reason you’re reading these words right now.

To try and make them understand,

the things they’d never understand.