short stories

~ A Suppression of Expression ~

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~ A Suppression of Expression ~

“But why can’t you just speak about how you feel?” she asked me. “Why can’t you just be open about it instead of keeping it all locked up inside your head? You don’t always have to be alone. Just say how you feel. Please – just share something with me.”

    The words came and hit me like freight trains of realisation. After a long day of motorbiking through the mountains, there I sat drunk in a home-stay in Northern Vietnam with a young Danish girl, once again unable to verbally communicate the thoughts that haunted the hallways of my mind – that scratched and clawed viciously at the walls of my skull. Such a task was clearly not an issue for herself. After travelling together for only just a few days, already she had stared into my eyes and spilled the dark stories of her troubled past. She had told me in detail of her eating disorders and the beatings from her father – of the eight years of therapy and depression. In the drunken haziness of smoky rooms in foreign lands, she had invited me into the unique wilderness of her mind and allowed me to see its rugged contents in all their scratched and scarred beauty. 

      It was always comforting to have such conversations out on the road; a stranger from another country pouring their heart out to you was for me one of the greatest experiences of travelling. It was a window into the human condition – something that was all too rare to experience in the everyday existence of life back home. So far on my travels I had stared into eyes and listened to the secrets of many fellow damaged souls out there wandering the world. I had heard tales of death and destruction – of pain and desperation. On sunset beaches, mountain trails and in smoky bars, I had travelled into the worlds of other souls and got lost in their rugged expanses. This time the directness of her questions made me suddenly realise it was always me listening in to words but never opening up myself and expressing my own inner secrets. Once again I sat tethered down by something, hesitating, puffing on a cigarette and sipping a beer to stop my mouth from spewing its mess and madness upon her. “It really helps to talk about” she said, spotting my stalling. “Speaking to someone about my problems really helped clear all the mess from my mind. You will feel better after I promise.”

     It was true – it was true. Like her and the others, I also had a lot of chaos in my psyche that I needed to share in some way. At times I so desperately yearned for another to come and take a walk in the wilderness of my mind and know what it was like not to be alone with all the thoughts swarming around inside of it. Often back home I stood frustrated before non-understanding eyes with every ounce of me aching for some form of genuine interaction, and now here with this girl was the perfect opportunity. But once again my tongue stuttered and flailed around in my mouth as something restrained me from sharing the things I had locked up inside of me. The thought hit me that I was a hypocrite; I always wanted my fellow species to throw away their masks and makeup and speak from the heart, yet here I was again not capable to do it myself. Staring down the barrel of the loaded eyes of another human-being, I could never find the words to express how I felt. Unlike her, there was no therapist out there for me. The conversation shifted as we went back to small talk with the other group of backpackers before we went to bed and sank into the silence of the night.

    One day of biking later and we were once again drunk after having street drinks and karaoke with the locals. Now alone in the night under the light of the full moon, we sat entwined on a bridge in the centre of town as the 3am silence enveloped the urban landscape that lay sprawled out around us. She continued to share some more things with me while asking again to share my problems with her. After a while I uttered a couple of vague things about past battles of depression and a personality disorder before retreating back to the beer and cigarette. The words came out jumbled and restrained; even here far away from home in the drunken company of this girl I trusted, I still couldn’t really let another fully into my own mind. She seemed pleased that I had opened up a little bit but we both knew I was still holding back – that I was alone with my thoughts and problems as I had always been. Together physically with another soul, I sat once again in the solitary fields of my mind, staring up into skies and wishing for another to come and join me completely in my wilderness.

    Later on that evening when the beer cans lay empty and she had gone to bed, I went to get my backpack and reached for the pen and paper; in times when the storm inside my skull got too fierce, I always reached for the pen and the paper. With them in hand I walked out onto the balcony and sat down at the table. Back alone and safe from the eyes of another, finally I could write down and clearly communicate the thoughts inside my head. Like she had needed the therapist to vent her thoughts and secrets, I needed the pen and the solitude to finally express from the depths of my soul – to cut the tether and rise up freely from the mental tyranny that was the suppression of expression. 

     As the words started raining down, I stared out at all the houses across the river and wondered how many others out there were trying to summon the strength to voice the things they had hidden away inside themselves for so long. Who else was out there? What were they hiding and holding inside of themselves? The thought of it all kept me scribbling away as the first embers of daylight crept over the horizon. It wasn’t long before I had bled my brain dry onto the page. Out it had all came in an explosive burst. The existential pain. The desperation. The loneliness. The alienation. The fact I had fallen for a girl with a boyfriend. The fear that I would be alone on those balconies of isolation until the dying of my days. Finally it all flowed out freely. Like a dam that had finally been released, waterfalls of thought poured effortlessly onto the page, surging forward from the source of the soul. I looked down at what I had written and felt my mind return to a calm state. Once again, I had found the release I needed via the pen and paper.

     It is true what you told me Signe. In this life we all need to find a way to finally express the things we have locked up deep inside of us. After a certain amount of time of being alone with our struggles, we need another soul to come and take a trip inside ourselves so that we aren’t suffocated by our own individual pain and madness. For me I could not find the way to face you so know that the words on this paper are my total therapy; know that they save me from complete annihilation and self-destruction. This is the only gateway to the depths of myself I truly know. With these words I lead you into my wild, and show the solitary places my soul resides. With these words I drag you into the woods of madness, and steal the sanity from you. With these words I attempt to say what can’t be expressed in words, but only felt in that burning feeling in the gut, that ache in the heart – that existential pain in the soul that longs to liberate itself from being totally alone in the great enveloping ocean of existence. You saved yourself with therapy but know that these are the words that save me. These are the words that stop me from falling from those balconies of isolation. These are the words that stop me from drowning in my own madness. These are the words that open me up so you can come and finally see what’s inside. 

Welcome to the haunted woods of my twisted mind.

Sorry for the mess, but it’s the only home I know.

 

short stories

~ A Christmas Abroad ~

~ A Christmas Abroad ~

“It was December 25th, Christmas Day, and I was sat alone on a sofa in the hostel reception sipping a caipirinha cocktail. I was in sunny Brazil, Rio De Janeiro, out travelling the world with a beach right out on my front doorstep – yet I couldn’t help but feel slightly depressed. For the first time on this trip I was homesick. Christmas was the time to be with family and friends back home – not getting drunk half way around the world by yourself. That was fun of course normally, but in this instance it felt a little out of place. It wasn’t my first Christmas abroad, but it was my first one not shared with a large group of people in a home of some sort. It was a strange feeling – a feeling which lead to me drinking more and more sugary, high-strength cocktails.

While wallowing in my own tipsy self-pity, my roommate came over and asked to join me for a drink. He was an eccentric, middle-aged, bald Greek guy who been travelling most of his adult life. He had stories from just about every country and continent and still maintained that child-like excitement about the world around him. He sat down and shared some drinks and travel stories. I told him of my first trip to Ghana and he told me of his life of perpetual gypsy travel. It turned out this was his eighth Christmas abroad in a strange country far from home. He told me about them all as we sipped our drinks down in an orderly manner. After chattering away like excitable children, we decided to go down to beach to catch some Christmas day sun – the world-famous Copacabana beach was right on our doorstep after all.

We reached the beach and slumped ourselves down in the sand. We ordered a few beers off a vendor walking past and carried on drinking in the midday heat. I sat there staring out into the Atlantic ocean, sipping that cold beer, chatting away with my new friend. While there in the heat of the sun, I gradually began to think about my own future, and whether I would be spending the next Christmas at home or somewhere else in the world on a beach with a stranger. Was I heading down the same path as him? Was I sailing further away into the unknown? Was I becoming a perpetual traveller? As I pondered these questions a man came over across the sand trying to sell us sunglasses. Now drunk, I bought a pair and invited him to sit and drink a beer with us. We got chatting and I soon found out that he too was a foreigner travelling in Brazil. As we drank, he spoke about his life, his journey and his aspirations for the future.

It was strange; in those moments as I sat there and listened to those two nomadic strangers, I suddenly felt the homesickness begin to subside. Listening to excited people who were travelling alone in a foreign country made me feel like I was back home, wrapped up warm around the glowing lights of a Christmas tree. It made me feel like an excited kid again. It was then that I realised these were the kind of people in life I shared the greatest affinity with. Not the settlers or static souls, but the wanderers – the aliens – the nomads and outcasts. The people who didn’t try fit into a society that didn’t fit them. And the more I travelled, the more of them I met. They were the ones with the wild eyes that – if you looked deeply enough – beheld the scorching sunsets, the jagged mountains, the wide oceans and gypsy madness. They were the ones who laughed in the face of soulless monotony and declared war on the normal – the ones who took life by the scruff of the neck without compromise and hunted the horizon until the very end.”

short stories

~ Not Letting Them Break You Down ~

~ Not Letting Them Break You Down ~

Yes, it’s true that there are many kind-hearted people in this world, many people who want the best for you, but make no mistake about it: out there there are also countless people who want to break you down little by little – piece by piece. You are not always in good company in your day to day life. At every second, the sidewalks and cities of the world are filled with people who will try to assert their dominance over you to their own gain; who want you to feel timid and fearful under their shadow; who want you to be laid out on the floor so they can stand a little higher with their head in the clouds. Integrated into a society that often rewards their behaviour, they are the sociopaths, the narcissists, the bullies, and the manipulators. Sometimes they are simply the people who have suppressed their own issues and are looking for someone to vent their own inner pain upon.

    Like most of us, I have come across a few of these creatures in my life. Sometimes they are easy to spot; sometimes they will first infiltrate your radar and appear as friends. The meetings have been many but the most notable example I can recall of this was when I was backpacking around Australia. Desperate as ever for money to keep on travelling in some basic way, I went online and responded to a casual job advert. It was from a middle-aged man who owned a few properties in the city of Adelaide and needed some help with them and his farm a little out of the city. The job description seemed like an easy fix, so I applied, spoke with him on the phone and arranged to begin work at the start of the following week.
    It was three days later I got picked up with a fellow backpacker who had also responded to the ad. We were picked up on a dusty highway on the outskirts of the city. A beaten Toyota jeep pulled up along the freeway and there he sat behind the wheel: a big, bald, burly behemoth of a man, Australian but of Greek descent, with noticeably large hands and chunky fingers – the sort you knew had seen a lifetime of hard manual labour. I climbed in tentatively and introduced myself to him. Straight away he gazed at me with a piercing stare that shot right into the depths of my soul. I felt intimidated from the start. I looked down at how ragged and scarred those chunky fingers clutching the gear stick were and suspected that tough work awaited me. A painful, bone-crushing handshake then went and confirmed this.
   Thirty minutes later we arrived at his farm and got to work. There was no time for ceremony I realised as he threw a spade at my feet and asked me start digging up a fence post in the nearby field. I grabbed it and began thudding away at the ground in the baking Australian sun. I already suspected he expected me to work at a fast pace, so with that in mind I toiled away with all my strength, breaking the earth apart and pulling out the fence as quick as I could while watching the sweat drip off my forehead onto the cracked ground beneath my feet. 
   After finishing this task he got me to clean out an old barn that was crammed full of junk that seemed to have been gathering there for at least a few decades. Giving me just fifteen minutes to complete the task, I ran around like a madman clearing everything out as fast as I could. While I whizzed around, he would repeatedly come and look shocked that I hadn’t finished the job yet. He’d stop in the doorway of the barn and scowl at me with a look of disgust.  “What’s going on boy? You should have finished this by now. This isn’t good enough. You’ve gotta be quicker than this. Hurry up boy, hurry up.”
    Already I began to see that the bald behemoth hated my blood and guts. This feeling only intensified when, after clearing out the barn, he threw a shovel at my feet and asked me to clear all the horse manure off an entire field. This job was to be followed by clearing out a hen paddock which had a stench bad enough to make the devil weep – that’s not to mention a little interruption where I had to try and herd some sheep into another field as he stood by the fence watching me with what I sensed was a feeling of jovial delight.

    This sort of degrading, back-breaking work went on for a few days. And not just for me. Me and my friend would look at each other with exhausted eyes as he rampaged around the farm like a madman getting us to grind out our sweat and blood for what was barely the minimum wage. At lunch he would invite both of us into the farm kitchen where we would eat lunch and drink a beer in a strange and uneasy atmosphere. It was a time to rest, but I never really felt totally comfortable to sit back and relax. There was an aura of contempt in the air and I felt a sort of bitter resentment or animosity towards us. Any attempts at small-talk or humour to creep under his tough exterior only resulted in that piercing stare he used so well and frequently to make you feel small and intimidated.
    It was after a week of this exhausting existence that my friend decided to quit. It was a Sunday evening and I was speaking to him over the phone. “Yeah screw working for that bastard. I’m not killing myself for peanuts. I spoke to a guy in the hostel who once worked for him too; it turns out he just likes to screw backpackers around for fun. He’s a psycho mate. He doesn’t even need the help, the farm is just a hobby of his. Just do yourself a favour and quit now. I’ll help you sort something else out.”
    I thought about it and decided his words made sense. It didn’t surprise me that other backpackers had been through this ordeal and left after a few days. It didn’t surprise me that someone like that found pleasure in tormenting young backpackers like us he no doubt suspected came from privileged backgrounds. I thought some more about it and agreed with him; that it was better to just quit and find another casual job which wouldn’t be so painful and degrading. 
    I was about to text him my message of resignation when I suddenly heard another voice speak up somewhere inside my head. It was an old and familiar voice I recognised – the voice of stubbornness and resistance that I had occasionally listened to in hard times gone by. I thought back to the week on the farm and I knew from that piercing look in his eye that he wanted to break me down. I knew he found pleasure in recruiting backpackers and getting them to quit. I knew he felt better about himself that he could do these jobs that other mere mortals could not do. Having both of us quit after a week would only strengthen his resolve of hatred and contempt further. It was right there and then that I was going to brave out his thunder and lightning; that I was going to stand tall against his storm. My mind was made up and so began the start of a silent war. It was a war of endurance. Of pain. Of persistence. Of blind defiance to prove a point that I wasn’t even quite sure was at the time.

   The week got started again and the battle continued where we left off. Picking me up on that dusty highway every morning, I was taken to the farm where I cleaned out hen pens full of shit for minimum wage, where I blistered my hands as I dug away with a blunt spade into hard earth, where I scrubbed windows at a speed fast enough to make my wrists snap while he stood beside me and barked at me to hurry up. There was one time on the way home that I had to run down a highway with a container when he had ran out of oil. Having returned as fast as I could with some more oil, he still remarked how I should have filled the container up a little more to the very top. “You’re just no damn good kid; you haven’t got any common sense and you haven’t done a day’s work in your life have you?”
    I quickly realised that there was no room for any positivity or gratitude in this bizarre relationship. Sometimes a moment of quietness meant he was satisfied in some way, but other than that it was a lifeless affair. At lunch we would always sit in that disturbing silence as we ate and drank under heavy air. One time he spoke to me about his divorce and his daughter, but that was as deep and human as the discourse ever got. Any attempt to get any further details only resulted in hitting that familiar brick wall. Like many men throughout the world, he had closed himself off with a tough exterior that few, if any, would ever truly penetrate.
    Eventually we started working in the city tending to all the homes and apartments he rented out. With him owning what seemed to be an entire neighbourhoods worth of residences, we shot around Adelaide like maniacs while rushing in and cleaning out the properties at lightning speed. I mopped floors, scrubbed dirt, cleaned windows and cut the grass while making sure I didn’t miss a patch that he would no doubt lose his beastly temper over. Sometimes I would briefly allow myself a quick moment of standing still and staring up into the sky, wondering how the hell I had ended up on the other side of the world in such a random situation. This wasn’t exactly what most people imagined when they thought of worldwide travel; scrubbing shit stains off toilet bowls while getting shouted at wasn’t exactly the mind-broadening, exotic experience I had envisaged back home.
     Still, I found a way to deal with the absurdity of it all. The work itself wasn’t such a problem; I knew that the majority of people in the world had to toil away in hard, menial work for much less than the minimum wage I was earning. It was the fact that I had to deal with a snarling boss who was standing over my shoulder and relentlessly barking at me for hours on end. I reminded myself that they were just words and escaped into my own mind where I dreamt of coming adventures out on the road. One time he snapped at me while cleaning a bathroom for missing a spot on the toilet cistern, and I just stood there thinking of my east-coast trip while his words shot out at me. Like I had realised a few times in my life, I knew that in the depths of your own mind was the last refuge of freedom that no demon or tyrant could ever penetrate no matter what weapon or words they used. Insults could be hurled and skin could be pierced, but never could the bastards find a way to break into the wonderland of your own inner joy and imagination.

     This tactic continued to work well until one day where he dropped me at his own property where he lived. We both cleaned up the inside of the house as normal and then he took me out into the back garden. He led me over to a hole in the ground with the top of a large pipe visible at the bottom through the dirt. Throwing that worn and weathered spade at my feet again, he asked me to dig around the whole pipe so that it was possible to get down beneath it and make a repair. After giving me this task he jumped in his van and said he would return in half an hour. “I want it done before I get back, you understand?” He then pulled out the drive and disappeared down the road.
     With that command in mind, I got to work again, thudding that blunt spade against the rock-hard ground. The midday sun beat down as the sweat poured from every orifice of my body. The battle continued and, after twenty minutes of struggle, I began to realise that the situation was completely futile. My body was dehydrated, my hands blistered and bloody, and every thud into the hard ground opened up only the tiniest piece of room around the pipe. In a moment of exhaustion I threw the spade aside and went and sat under the shade of a tree. I then went to the shop and bought myself three cold drinks before returning to the garden. I sat still in my own self-pity; I knew I was beaten and I didn’t care. I waited for the bald behemoth to return and shout at me with his thunderous voice. I was a broken man.
    While I sat there, I decided there and then to ring my friend to see what work he was now up to. I picked up the phone, rang him and began explaining the predicament I was currently in. Hearing my story, he was shocked that I still hadn’t quit. “Man, what are you still doing working for that psycho?” he said. “I’ve just sorted out a job at a party-hire company. It’s regular work, five days a week, and twenty bucks an hour. Quit and I’ll get you in here as soon as possible. I’ll speak to the boss tomorrow. Save yourself now brother.”
     I told him to speak to his boss let me know. I put the phone away and carried on sitting there in the shade, thinking about the absurdity of the situation before me. As my mind wandered, I thought of the bullies in school. I thought how so many human minds vented their own hatred and fear at others just to make themselves feel a little better. This bastard of a boss was no doubt the same. I knew that those bullies and haters won the second you keeled over to them. When your back was up against the wall and faced the haters, one had to stand strong and remember that – no matter what they threw at you – as long as you kept the flag of joy raised in your heart then they would always lose. ‘Bring on your thunder and darkened skies; pour down your rain and watch my flowers rise. Ignite your hate with those flames of doom, and in that warmth watch my spirit bloom’ – a piece of poetry I had written once in a diary, which I suddenly remembered.
    With that piece of poetry in mind, I decided then that I would endure his storm a little more; that I wasn’t going to quit the job unless he fired me. My mind had ventured once more into the realm of chaos and, as he came back to the house and began barking once again, I found a strange sort of sense of happiness and peace while staring into his red, erupting face. I smiled at him while he shouted at me and then realised that I had hit the wall and gone through. It had well and truly become a game of madness.

    And so the battle went on and on. Some days I’d be on the farm cleaning up horse shit or fencing in the midsummer heat, and other days I’d be whizzing around those houses, trimming those lawns, mopping those dirty floors, scrubbing those shit-stained toilet bowls. Everyday I arrived home exhausted and in need of a twenty minute long shower to cleanse the dirt and the sweat and the madness off me. I’d look into the mirror and tell myself that it was a life experience – a lesson to be learned that would help fund my next stint on the road as I travelled down the east coast of Australia. Sometimes his degrading words reverberated around my skull as I went to sleep, but I eventually laughed them off, revelling in the stupidity of the situation that I was sure to remember until old age.
    The critical moment came somewhere around the end of the third week when I had just finished cleaning up the horse paddock on the farm. With the smell of horse shit now permanently ingrained into my clothes and skin, I limped into the jeep, beaten and mentally traumatized as ever, ready to return home to that cold shower. It was a Friday evening and we drove to the spot on the highway where I was always picked up and dropped off. We reached the spot and pulled up along the highway. As we stopped he turned off the radio and let out a sigh. An uncomfortable silence filled the air. “I tried kiddo” he said eventually. “I tried kiddo, I really tried. But you just ain’t good enough. Here’s your check for the week. I won’t be needing you again”. 
    I looked over to him. I then looked down at his hand. I reached out and took the paycheck. There were no more words – just still silence and a check. I let the realisation hit me and suddenly felt a symphony play in my heart. It had finally happened; I knew at that moment I had been successfully fired. My hands were blistered, my back sore and my mind exhausted, yet through the pain and strain and the verbal abuse, I hadn’t quit. I hadn’t let him have the pleasure of breaking me down completely. With a smile on my face, I sat back soaking in the aura of sadness that filled the car. This time I noticed he wouldn’t look me in the eye with that piercing stare, but just gazed out the window waiting for me to leave. After a while he turned and told me to get out the jeep. I clambered out and looked down at my hands. The blisters on the insides of my thumbs were red and raw with pride and pain. I then looked up at the sky and let out a big stupid smile. A victory had been achieved; a lesson of life learned. I watched his Toyota jeep cruise off down the highway, never to be seen again. I watched it until it disappeared over the horizon, knowing that he would always carry his hatred with him, for I had not let him offload it onto me.

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

      That little job in Australia ended up serving as good preparation for what I was to face throughout the rest of my life. Since then I have encountered many other people like that man. For as long as you walk this earth, they will inevitably come at you from time to time. They will come at you in the workplace. They will come at you in the bars. They will come at you in the streets and the towns and the cities. When they do one must know how to stand tall against the contempt and absurdity that the human mind is too often capable of producing. One must stand with courage in their heart and madness in their mind, knowing that there is a joy inside of you that they can never take away – knowing that there is a fighter spirit that all the hate in this world can never wither down into nothingness. With that simple act of learning to dance in the rain and laugh in the face of the howling wind, one could ultimately save themselves from becoming yet another one of those hateful souls looking to offload their own inner hate and pain onto others.

    That day when I was fired, I clutched my paycheck and strolled down the road back home with my head held high. I had been beaten down, I had almost broken my back scooping up horse shit at record pace, I had blistered almost every finger of my hand – hell I had even been fired – but I hadn’t let him break me down totally, and in some way that fact was one of the most valuable things I could have been rewarded with. Even with my measly paycheck, I had been gifted something that would prove valuable to the end of my days. I had learnt that within me was a fighter spirit that the most ferocious storm or hateful person couldn’t easily extinguish. And in a world where so many resentful spirits crossed paths with you, few things were more valuable than that. As I had written that day in a teenage diary of the past:

“Bring on your thunder and darkened skies; pour down your rain and watch my flowers rise. Ignite your hate with those flames of doom, and in that warmth watch my spirit bloom.”

    With that thought in mind I moved on through Australia ready for the next adventure, ready for the next battle – ready for the next quest in the wild and wonderful and, sometimes, backbreaking game of life.

 

short stories

~ The Ones That Get Away ~

~ The Ones That Get Away ~

Out travelling the road of life, lost in the night of some foreign country, roaming the cobbled streets of the old town, kissing her under the moonlight. She was a lawyer, seven years older, with hazel eyes, brunette hair and the sort of Mediterranean look that made you think of fancy restaurants overlooking sparkling blue waters. She wore a flowery summer dress that shown off her hourglass figure; her ears adorned green jewelled earrings and she carried an expensive-looking designer purse under her left arm. I of course knew that usually these creatures of luxury were out of reach for a no-good, drifting nomad like myself, but for some reason the gods above had decided to back me this evening. Perhaps they were just having a laugh amongst themselves, but they had backed me, and I had lured her in.

We had met about one hour before in a smoky traveller’s bar where our eyes had crossed paths as we both sat on stools staring wistfully into the time and space. I smiled, went over and asked if she too was also bored with existence. She looked up at me with piercing eyes and, after a second of awkwardness, the tension was cut with a friendly smile. From there on in we got talking and shared a drink: two whisky cokes with ice.

It was a few minutes into drinking and speaking that I began to realise she was slightly more upper-class than the girls I normally went after. As we chatted, she told me of the human rights court cases she had been working on; she told me of her education and how she owned her own apartment. She was too charming to be snobby about it or anything, but I quickly concluded that she was definitely a little more sophisticated than the girls you normally met in these dingy backpacker bars. With this in mind I tried to come across as a regular, upstanding member of human society. I talked about politics and economy. I talked about theology and philosophy. I tried and tried my very best, but after five minutes my cover was blown.

“You’re a little strange, aren’t you?” she said with a wry smile.

“Well, you’re the local lawyer sitting on your own in a backpacker bar.”

“Yeah, and so what? We all have our moments of madness. Besides I’m not alone; I’m waiting for my friend behind the bar. She finishes in an hour.” I looked over where a blonde girl was mixing a cocktail behind the bar.

“One hour?” I said. “Why don’t we go for a walk somewhere else, to another bar, or perhaps you can give me a private tour of your town? You know, teach me the history and that? I am a tourist in your country after all.” She took a long sip of her drink while staring into my soul, making me wait – making me guess. The look in those hazel eyes told me that she knew I was full of shit, but finally she agreed anyway. We finished our drinks and went off out into the night.

After exiting the bar, we wandered through the winding streets of the old town with no particular destination other than the present moment. We passed busy bars and restaurants. We walked along the waterfront of the harbour. We made small talk about my travels and she told me how I was brave and how she had always wanted to travel alone. It was something I had heard from many people while out on my travels. Damn near enough everybody in society wanted to quit their job and travel the world – like always, I didn’t understand why so very few actually did it.

Eventually we stopped under a streetlight in one of the side streets. With no one around, we finally embraced and shared a kiss in the silence of the night. We then stared into each other’s eyes and I made a comment about whether she always went for guys seven years younger than her. She let out a little laugh and suddenly – for about the fifth time that year – I was hopelessly in love with a stranger. At that moment all I wanted to do was to swim into her eyes and drown myself. It was a feeling I knew all too well. Not just then, but I regularly had this feeling – an overwhelming feeling of total reckless abandonment to something or anything or everything. Often all I wanted to do was to abandon myself to the world, to the wonders, to the women. I wanted to get lost in those foreign countries, lost down those old cobbled streets – lost again and again in the eyes of those beautiful strangers. I was reckless, I knew, and possibly insane.

Even if we somehow formed some sort of relationship it wouldn’t have been long before she realised I was completely incompatible with the regular life she wanted. Women like this wanted structured and stable men. They wanted men who could be husbands, men who could be fathers – men who could stay in one place and commit and raise children and talk to their neighbours about the weather over the garden face. The problem was that I was none of those things. I was a wayward wanderer, a restless dreamer with itchy feet – a piece of trash caught in the wind being whipped around by the pull of my own gypsy heart.

Looking further into her eyes, I thought about the alternative to the mess and madness that was my own chaotic life. It was true that somewhere inside a part of me wanted to be a regular human-being sometimes, but the problem was to do that you were supposed to solidify things. Houses were supposed to be cemented down; relationships were supposed to last; job positions were meant to be held for years and not months. It’s not like I didn’t understand what was to be done in order to be a functioning member of the human race, it’s just that I couldn’t seem to do it even if I wanted to. Something had gone wrong in my DNA or upbringing. My mind was possessed by a great fire; my spirit was caught in a wild storm. This woman was beautiful, mentally stable and deemed successful in society’s eyes as a lawyer. She had a chance – she had a strong chance at a normal life. But what chance did someone like me have? I was a nomadic fool who couldn’t even stay put in one place or job position for a full year. I couldn’t maintain any relationships. I couldn’t even drive a goddamn car. The gods may have backed me tonight in the short game, but long distance I was sure they wouldn’t have touched me. The game was a fix and there was no chance – there was just absolutely no goddamn chance.

After a while we carried on strolling around through the lanes and streets. We petted a stray cat and followed it down an alleyway. We kissed again against a beaten old wall. We kissed once more around the back of the town church. Eventually we moved into a small, secluded square where I twirled her around and watched her flowery dress dance in the midnight breeze. The moment was damn near perfect, but it was sad – it was sad for some reason I couldn’t quite say.

“You know, I have to work this weekend, but I will be free on Monday. If you’d like to hang around town then maybe we could spend some more time together? We could take a boat to one of the islands. I’d like to see you again.” She smiled and stared into my eyes. I smiled back, stalling, my mind exploding with a million and one thoughts.

“Yeah, I’d like that” I said finally.

“Good… I like you. Even if you are a little younger, and a backpacker.” She gave that same wry smile that just about knocked me out on the floor. I looked at her then turned my head up towards the night sky, wondering why the gods liked to inflict such pain upon us all.

Eventually she checked the time and saw that she had to go back to the bar and meet her friend. They were going to the gig of a friend and she asked me if I’d like to join, but it didn’t feel right, so I said no. She gave me her contact details and we’d said we’d talk again, and that she hoped that I would wait around town to spend some time with her, and then I gave some phoney agreement and immediately hated my own guts. I said that we’d meet again, knowing that I already had a bus booked out of town in two days’ time. It was an empty promise I’d made with many women out there across the world. I’d said it to women in Asia. I’d said it to women in South America. I’d said it to women in Australia and New Zealand. But the reality was always the same: I never saw any of them again. They drifted out of sight forever like ghosts into the haunting mists of mind and memory. They went on to forget me and sit entwined together on sofas somewhere with other men in suburban neighbourhoods of stability and sanity.

Before going I gave her one last kiss, said goodbye and watch her skip away like some rare deer into the night. She rounded a corner and just like that she was gone forever. Drenched in the silent solitude of foreign lands, I stood alone in the night once more. I would have thought that I’d have gotten used to this scenario by now, but for some reason this night the thought of what just happened consumed me. As I walked back to my hostel under those flickering streetlights, a sad feeling filled my flesh and bones. There was just something different about this time – about this woman. It was in her eyes. Deep down in those hazel eyes I could really see the alternative life so many other men my age would go on to live. I could see myself being a settled soul with a steady job, coming home to a loving wife and kids. I could see myself going on summer vacations and walking in the park together. I could imagine the polka dot dresses she would wear to our anniversary meals. I could imagine the way she would smile at me in bed on a Sunday morning. Such thoughts weighed heavy on my mind and I gradually got lost in all of them – entertaining them, playing with them, toying with them – but I knew deep inside of me that it was a reality far out of reach.

On Sunday I was heading further down the coast, leaving her behind like all the others. I already had my ticket and hostel booked and I wasn’t going to change my plan. After all, what would actually happen in the long run when she discovered who I really was? It was nothing more than a slip of character and in a moment of clarity, I allowed myself to retreat back to the acceptance of the wretch I really was. I knew deep down in my bones I didn’t belong with a woman like that. I was still just a piece of trash caught in the breeze whose fate was to keep getting lost in those foreign countries, lost in those strange towns – lost in the eyes of those beautiful strangers. The world of stability she resided in was never meant for me. Instead I belonged wandering with the wind, hurtling over the horizon, swept by gusts of curiosity that left me staring out of bus windows knowing that I was doomed and destined never to step off and belong to one particular place or person or community.

Sure enough, it was two days later when I boarded my bus alone and watched the town drift slowly out of sight. Holding a ticket to some vague place beyond the horizon, I pressed my head against that familiar bus window and stared out at the passing countryside. As I watched the towns and farms go past, I reflected on the night with the girl and thought about what it would have been like to see her again. Many thoughts went through my head but as I sat there and stared out the window a bit longer, I gradually felt my mind begin to shift back to its familiar state of being excited for what was over the next horizon. Maybe I was a bad guy or even just mentally disturbed, but whatever it was I knew that this was a sickness that couldn’t be cured by any drug, job or pretty woman with hazel eyes. It was right there and then that I realised with a sense of horror that I may never find the cure to whatever form of madness it was that consumed me. If a beautiful woman like that couldn’t get me to change my plan, then I just had to accept I was doomed. If a beautiful woman like that couldn’t get me to change my plan, then I just had to sit back and accept that no matter where I went in this world, or how many years passed me by, I would always just be that young boy out there exploring the world, wide-eyed and curious, moving from town to town, drinking in smoky bars, wandering through old towns, falling in love with strangers, staring wistfully out of bus windows – eternally and hopelessly lost in the dream of what it is to exist.

short stories

~ The Voice Of Insanity ~

~ The Voice of Insanity ~

“Back again from the road, looking out at that grey, grey world. That concrete world. That mechanical world. At another crossroad of life, once again it seemed like I had all but two choices: to join the herd, surrender myself to the system and let the normality of everyday life slowly suffocate my soul, or to just let go further and go more and more insane. It was true that by now I was sure I was in some strange minority of the human race. Sure, I had done all the personality tests and tried to psychologically analyse myself, but it really wasn’t necessary. The fact that I was allergic to every cultural task, to every bit of small-talk – to every social expectation and tradition that surrounded me – meant there was absolutely no chance for me to ever fit into my surrounding society. The searing pain I felt at even the smallest task of convention told me that trying to be a part of that world would probably leave me as a future suicide case. I didn’t want that to happen, and I wasn’t going to let that happen. A haunting voice whispered inside my ear and told me to keep on going on my path – to keep on wandering towards some sort of personal salvation and nirvana out there in the wild. Perhaps it was the sinister voice of madness trying to lure me over to the other side of sanity, but at times it seemed that voice was the best friend I had – the only one to reliably guide me through the dark swamps and forests I so often found myself in.

It was funny when I thought more about it – those voices you followed; those voices that guided you; those paths you walked. When I also looked at my idols – the writers, philosophers, adventurers and artists – and thought about their story, it seemed like they too had followed that same voice through the wilderness. Perhaps that’s why those souls had appealed to me from such a young age. In many ways they were just like me. In a species that requires individuals to conform and lose their adventurous spirit and creativity in order to uphold the mechanical system of society, the ones who are possessed by the need to express themselves and perpetually explore their inner and outer worlds were destined to lose their minds among the static masses. When walking those concrete streets and facing out at the grey absurdity of it all, I understood why they chose instead to go insane. It made sense why they chose to sit in dark rooms and write until their fingers bled, to try every drug and meditation under the sun, to climb the mountains, to live in camper-vans, to play the blues – to create great works of art and then blow their brains out with a shotgun. This is what had to be done; for some this was the only way to save oneself from the pain of a scripted life, to escape the automatic life on the cultural conveyor-belt – to fiercely protect the wild soul inside of them from being captured and killed by the mundane requirements of everyday civilian life.

Yeah, maybe they were madmen, or masochists, or simply deluded – and maybe I was too – but for me they were the only people I truly understood in the core of my heart. No matter how many years passed me by, I still couldn’t stomach or accept the life society expected me to live. And coming back again from the road once more, it was clear that I probably never would. My basic realisation each morning was always the same: I was a conscious, living organism riding a spinning rock through a universe full of exploding stars, black holes, and infinite horizons. The possibilities to life should have been endless, but mostly you we were subjected to a life of routine and monotony and trivia. Why was it like this? Was it all some kind of cruel prank? Maybe I had I got off at the wrong stop, or the gods had made a mix-up in the planetary warehouse when sending me here?

Whatever the case, it was clear that the only thing for me to now do was to keep on following that voice through the misty wilderness. For me this is what had to be done; for me this was the answer. I was to continue on my path. I was to abandon myself to art and adventure. I was to keep on following that voice through the wild. And yes, maybe it would lead to me madness, but I simply no longer cared. For some that place of madness is the last refuge of freedom from the machine. For some that place is the only realm in which the free spirit can survive. For some – in a world where sanity meant a life of slow suffocation – going insane is the gasp of fresh air that keeps them alive.”

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(taken from my book ‘The Thoughts From The Wild’ available here)

short stories

~ Alone With Everybody ~

~ Alone With Everybody ~

Back alone in my chamber of solitude once again: the small bedroom in my apartment with only a bed, a backpack, a set of drawers and a looming sense of existential dread that now filled every crack, crevice and dark, cobwebbed corner.

    I sat in silence on my bed and looked around at my surrounding lair. On the walls sat some photos of my travels out in the world – good times with people who were now out of sight, some of them no doubt also sitting alone in a small apartment room in somewhere on planet earth. I also had my laptop beside me from where I been pouring the contents of my mind onto a blank page never to be read by anyone except a few random strangers on the internet. It was an act of release and many words had been typed the last few days. Whenever I felt most starved for human interaction, I often found my fingertips scratching and clawing at keyboard keys in a desperate attempt to reach another out there in the wilderness. I sent my words out into hyperspace like a flare of my own madness, hoping to attract another one of my kind roaming somewhere in the far reaches of human civilisation. Sometimes people responded, but still I was left stranded in front of a keyboard, staring into a screen with nothing to do except to keep on typing more words onto that all-too familiar blank page.

   In a moment of realisation, it struck me how alone I was. My head spun around and I felt like I was stranded faraway on another planet in another galaxy; I felt like I was stuck in some kind of void of nothingness where no person, animal or god could reach me. It was true that normally I sought solitude for a decent amount of time in my everyday life – my introverted mind demanded it – but like most things there was a limit to it all: a boundary where a real danger of genuine insanity lingered on the other side. Us humans were inherently social creatures who needed some kind of occasional interaction to stay sane, however despite a few electronic messages across that virtual wilderness of the internet, it had been almost a week without any significant form of human contact. Consequently I could feel the walls around me closing in; I could my own aching isolation eating me alive from within. Before I was consumed totally, I crawled out of my lair and ventured up to the roof of the apartment block to get some fresh air – that was usually one thing which I could rely on to help clear my mind when the storm inside got too fierce.

    I climbed up the stairs and reached the rooftop. I opened the door and ventured over to the edge where I stood and stared out at the surrounding city landscape. There it all was sprawled out before me: the concrete jungle in all its chaos and madness and urban sadness. From the edge of that roof I looked out at the mazy streets; I looked out at the houses with their windows all illuminated like Christmas tree lights; I looked out at the parks and the bars and the restaurants where so many couples would be dining together in love and companionship. I thought being out the room would do me good, but the sight of civilisation only made me feel worse. It just didn’t seem to make any sense. How could loneliness exist when thousands of people surrounded you? How could we be so close but so far away at the same time? And how did it all end up like this? What had gone wrong in our species for us to develop technologically but not as beings capable of true connection and community for all?

   Alone as I was, I looked out at that city and knew that there were others far worse off than I. Often in my life I spent large amounts of time travelling in foreign lands with fellow wanderers, but I knew how many souls out there were constantly dwelling in lives of inescapable loneliness and isolation year after year. The homeless people. The old people. The disabled. The alcoholics and drug addicts. The depressed and the anxious. Even on the apartment block below my feet, I wondered how many people were sat alone scrolling on their phones, desperately aching in their flesh and bones for just some basic form of human interaction. What made it worse that so many other souls close to them but separately by some shoddy walls. It was a strange situation. The thought of it made my mind wonder with possibility. Maybe there was someone like me sleeping just a few metres away in a vertical or horizontal direction? Maybe the girl of my dreams was just a few rooms away? Maybe there was a chance? A chance to connect with someone or something?

    The more I thought about it, the more absurd it all seemed – the scenario of being so united yet so separated simultaneously – of being together under one roof but segregated alone in private rooms of darkness and isolation. It seemed that our society at its core was constantly stuck in that apartment block where everyone was so close and so far away at the same time. It was just innate of our species in the modern world of hectic cities and so-called civilisation. Everyday we were separated into offices, into cubicles, into traffic lanes, supermarket queues and apartment blocks. And not just physically; the strongest and most rigid barriers of separation were usually lined up within people’s skulls. If it wasn’t religion, race or social class, then it was that people put barriers up because they were simply sick of or scared of each another – of what people would say and do and the sudden sight of their unfiltered souls was revealed to the crowd. Mostly that fear was justified; people often didn’t react well to seeing the gritty contents of someone’s genuine self. In a society where superficiality and conformity called the shots, such an uncombed sight often caused people to be rejected, hated and sometimes even murdered depending on the culture. Because of this we kept the mask on in the crowd and let our true thoughts linger in the dark apartment rooms inside our skulls where our deepest secrets and desires lay gathering cobwebs and dust in dark, forgotten corners.

    I thought back to when I myself had shared the contents of my heart with the crowd. The times I had opened up myself up to others I had been rejected and cast out from the group; I had been looked at like an utter madman and a lunatic. There were a few who delighted in what they saw, but mostly people were concerned, disinterested or even resentful towards me. Over time I came to the conclusion that generally people didn’t want the raw and rugged face of someone’s true self. Such an image was an unwelcome sight and instead so many wanted lives dressed up in pretty fonts and filters; they wanted people pretending on social media that their lives were wonderful and great; they wanted people insincerely asking people how they were before giving the generic ‘yeah okay you?’ response. At the very core of it, it just seemed the majority of people had no time for anything that wasn’t clean and polished. It was just more convenient for us all I guess. I would have liked to think that I was as open as possible to another soul, but I also knew there were times where I too had distanced myself from someone trying to connect with me at a deeper level. Like most people in these cities, I was overcome with a fear that left us afraid and unwilling to let someone slip under the walls we put up inside our own minds.

    Such a nature lead to the loneliness that afflicted so many dwelling in towns and cities and apartment blocks far and wide across the world. Right now throughout the urban landscape that lay before me I knew that people sat alone in rooms watching the clock tick slowly towards their death; I knew some already had died alone and were waiting to be found in an old house no one ever visited. Elsewhere some of those in the peak of their youth scrolled through internet forums and blogs hoping that there were others like them somewhere out there in the chaotic mess of society. Throughout our modern civilisation were so many lost souls dwelling alone, starving, dying, decaying in modern isolated lives of sedentary comfort but spiritual pain. They were the lives where people had followers but no friends; the lives where people’s greatest moment of connection was being served by the cashier at the supermarket; the lives where people screamed out through bloodshot eyes and internet blogs because their physical voices had been silenced out of fear of judgement from the crowd.

   Looking out at the convoluted mess of houses, streets and apartment blocks, the thought hit me that perhaps we had just simple gone too far? Humans who once lived in close-knit tribes on the plains of the wild were now living in gigantic, industrial cities where underground tubes transported us robotically around like electrons around a circuit-board. One could sit in a tube of fifty silent people and watch everyone look away from each other’s eyes and down to phones, floors and newspapers. It was a strange situation: the more the population continued to grow, the more separated we seemed to all become as individuals. Often the moments when the loneliness hit you greatest was when you were sat on those packed tubes, or stood in the crowds that momentarily formed at the traffic lights, or waiting in a long queue at the supermarket. There you’d stand and look around at that sea of faces, scanning and searching the eyes for another of your kind, yet you would always end up sailing on alone back to your dark apartment room. I guess I speak for myself mainly here of course, but I am sure for many other souls dwelling somewhere out there within the concrete wilderness too.

     Thinking back to my travels, it struck me that the greatest moments of connection I had with another human were usually with complete and total strangers out hiking a mountain trail in foreign lands. Whenever you were out on that trail, all the barriers and shoddy walls of society disappeared. Being in nature without the crowd surrounding and suffocating you allowed our true nature to shine as individuals. Amongst the hills and lack of civilisation was a haven for the soul – a paradise of mental freedom where the social masks could be tossed away into a ditch and we could finally just be ourselves in all our gritty messiness and madness.

      I recalled hiking in the French Alps with a young Israeli guy in the summer of the previous year. I was walking towards a mountain pass when I came across him sat on a rock in the shade eating some nuts. After asking if I wanted some, we began walking together toward the pass. While walking it quickly became apparent we were of different cultures, of a different theological belief, and of a different age – yet none of those things mattered on the trail. Instead of distancing ourselves, we spoke from the heart about what lead us to travel; we shared our hopes and aspirations for life; we cooked and shared food with each other in the shadow of the mountain. As we continued walking we met other hikers including an American girl and an old English nomad who lived in his campervan. Again, despite all our obvious differences in backgrounds and demographic, there was nothing but community and connection between us all. We sat around our campsite at sundown eating dinner, drinking wine and discussing life, adventure and philosophy. We looked into each other’s eyes and spoke freely from the heart with no shoddy walls to separate us. It felt good; it felt strangely like how it should have been.

    But those times on the trail were a long way away I realised as I stood alone on that rooftop edge in the middle of the concrete jungle, hearing a distant siren wail out into the night – the sound of another ambulance on its way to retrieve another life which had ended. The mountains of freedom were out of sight and I was back on the stage of society where masks had to be worn, scripts had to be recited and anyone who deviated from social convention or normality was seen as an outcast or a hippy or simply crazy. Thinking about the absurdity of it, I looked up to the skies above, staring out into the few visible stars shining through the light pollution, dreaming of something ineffable – some kind of home that I could never seem to find for any more than a short period of time here on planet earth.

   Eventually I decided to retreat back down to my lair to pour all my thoughts onto that blank page yet again. Enough air had been breathed in for now. I crawled back down the stairs, entered my apartment and sat in solitude before a computer screen, sending out that flare of my mind’s madness via some some words typed on a grubby keyboard. A raised voice shouted out from the room beside me and I knew I was back where I belonged: in my small space, cornered by society, alone in the dark, my mind filled with madness as my fingers scratched and clawed at those keyboards once more.

    If this is to be my continual fate and someone does happen to find me one day in this apartment room as another old person who watched that clock tick slowly towards their death, know that I truly wanted to connect with you all like I did with those people on that trail. Here in this society there are just some shoddy walls in my skull and yours that I can’t knock down. Hopefully these words at least let you know that behind my social mask was somebody who wanted to unite, but was too consumed by a society and system that lead me pour these words onto this page. I am alone with you all, lost in a concrete jungle, afflicted by the human condition, floating through space on this rock towards an unknown abyss. If these words don’t help anyone else out there, at least they helped me momentarily escape this dark room. If these words don’t help anyone else out there, at least they let my heart sing out in all its truth – if only for a brief moment – the spirit bird fluttering free in the sky before returning to its rusty cage of isolation and separation and segregation.

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short stories

~ The Fighter ~

~ The Fighter ~

“I sat alone in my room with the grenades going off inside my head. Another day of stupidity and absurdity had been endured. Stupid people with stupid comments ran rampage in my mind. They rioted against the walls of my skull. Out there beyond those windows was a society that didn’t understand me – a society that didn’t want to understand me.

So often in my life this world had me up against the ropes. It cornered and attacked me. It beat me to a bloody pulp until I found myself back in the same old spot: sat alone in a dark room with my fingertips over a keyboard. It was true that that spot was my personal nirvana. When I faced into the eyes of the humans out there, I could never quite express or get my words out to them. My mouth was simply too small to vent everything I had going on inside my chaotic mind. I was like someone trying to drain an ocean through a bath plughole. And so, unable to respond, my voice was continually drowned out by everyone else around me. But when I was at the keyboard suddenly I had the ability to speak my mind – suddenly I had the ability to respond against the madness of it all. When my fingertips touched those keys, I felt strong enough to fight off entire armies and hordes of haters. Each word I typed was like a great punch back against the idiocy and stupidity of the world. The act of writing was an epic battle and eventually I realised this was what I would do until the death. This is who I am; this is what I do.

     I am a fighter and these fingertips fight for freedom. They fight for truth. They fight for the voice of the outsider which has been drowned out by an insane society. These fingertips fight for the stray dogs, for the misfits, the eccentrics, the wanderers – for the ones who don’t try and fit into a world that doesn’t fit into them. And long shall they continue to fight. Yes, as the concrete of this world pours down, as stupidity rules the airwaves, as the politicians plot – as the idiots bark and mindless crowds conform to mindless convention – these fingertips fight for the fact that no matter how much idiocy society produces, there will always be the truth of the outsider fighting its way out from the darkness – untamed and undefeated forever.”

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(taken from my book ‘The Thoughts From The Wild’ available here)