short stories

Stray Dogs of Mexico

Stray Dogs of Mexico

I sat on that street corner, sipping my beer, staring emptily into space. A strange feeling overcame me. I had felt it for some time but it was then that I knew for sure that a war was being waged on my soul. I knew the light wasn’t shining as it once had, my mouth didn’t dispense my truth like before, my feet didn’t touch the ground like they once did. Something was wrong inside of me. I had wandered into some murky realm where I could feel myself disappearing in a darkness. My candle was fading and I stared into the eyes of people passing me in the street and wondered if my struggle was unique or ubiquitous. How many were watching the flames of their being slowly fade out?  How many out there were losing themselves day by day? And ultimately what was a man or woman to do about it? 

At one point in my life it seemed so easy. When the fire burns bright, it feels like there is no force in this universe strong enough to quell your inner flame. Your eyes burst with light and your heart thunders. Your spirit ignites the world around you. Your pen pours out poetry with ease. But life can sometimes take you down some bewildering paths. You unknowingly start to lose yourself and suddenly you’re left facing a stranger in the mirror, speaking words that are not your own, sitting nowhere, being nowhere. Reflecting back on the past, I knew I had saved my soul before, but could I do it again? I didn’t even know where to begin this time. For once there were no direction signs – no intuition, no guiding stars, and even my deepest passions were now uninteresting to me. I was now thirty years old and didn’t have any other desire other than to get drunk and drift around a foreign country. The idea of being an author had slipped from my mind after my books had sold so few copies. The notion of starting a career or family was just as alien as ever. And even the act of travelling itself had lost much of its magic. My world was a grey place so I just sat on that street corner, sedating myself with alcohol, watching people walk by and wondering where there would ever be peace on earth for those who dreamed a little too much.

Finally I pay my bill using my bad Spanish and then get up to carry on wandering the city streets. They were the streets of Mexico City – one of the biggest cities in the world – and I drift across a busy square and into a church where I see an old lady kneel before the altar. Her hands are tightly grasped in prayer as she stares up with pleading eyes. I can’t help but wonder what she is asking, but in the end I stopped, knowing her pain was private like it was for all. I walk out back into the square and see a queue of men waiting to be cleansed with some smoking plant as it’s rubbed over them. They close their eyes and look deep in thought as the smoke shrouds them in the midday sun. I then see a ranting alcoholic staggering through an intimidated crowd. Elsewhere I see other weary souls like myself sitting on street corners and staring into space. No matter where you looked, the burden of the human condition was evident. Truly it was a hard fight for us all, and at times it became clear just how sprawled out on the canvas we all were. 

I continue walking along and see posters of missing women on walls. I see a scruffy stray dog come around a corner and stop in front of me. Its eyes stare into my eyes and there seems to be an unspoken recognition between us – a momentary feeling of union before he carries on along the way. I do the same and then see a man with a missing arm and leg sitting on the sidewalk. He holds a cup out for change and I throw some coins in. I guess it can always be worse, I say to myself. Although can it? A man can lose his mind – he can lose his arms and his legs – but once his soul is gone then what is left for him on this earth but a barren existence of emptiness.

Suddenly I felt a tiredness that was beyond anything I had experienced before. At that moment a part of me wanted to rest – and to rest in the permanent way. The toil of this soul-searching fight had worn me down over the years, and it was clear that for every victory you made, life was always there waiting to break you down once again. But another part of me was ready to respond to the war being waged on my soul. I would grab whatever I had left, stab my flag into the ground, and be ready to turn those dwindling flames into a great fire once more. As always, I was a walking contradiction. Some kind of mistake.

For now I decide a temporary rest at the hotel will suffice. I get some food and head back. Being a little older now, I tried to avoid hostels; I needed a good night’s sleep and was past having sex in a dormitory room. Of course, this meant it was harder to meet other travellers. On this occasion, it was surprisingly easy. I enter my room and open the door onto the balcony. It was a shared balcony with the other two rooms beside me. I walk out, put my arms on the bannister, and hear a voice to the right of me.

“What up bro!?” I turn my head and see a topless guy sitting there drinking a large bottle of beer. He was skinny with long blonde hair, shades, and a big grin plastered across his face. Before even asking, I could see he was drunk in the middle of the afternoon. His energy was good, however, so I walked over and engaged him in conversation. 

“It’s not going amazing, to be honest,” I tell him. “How about you?”

“Dude, tell me about it,” he says. “I had a wild night last night; it’s a miracle I even made it home. I left my phone here so I was wandering the streets until six in the morning trying to find the hotel. At one point I honestly thought about sleeping on the street. Then things got worse as the police shook me down for drugs. After that I fell down a ditch somewhere.” He then proceeded to show me the cuts on his elbows and legs. In turn, I showed him the grazes on my face from a recent drunken accident. At least he knew how his wounds were caused; mine were still unknown to me after a week. “Anyway,” he continues. “All that shit happened but here I am drunk once again at three in the afternoon. Ahaha, viva la vida bro!” He then took another large swig of his beer before his face returned to that big grin.

I could tell straight away he was another classic wandering madman, scratched and scarred on both the inside and out. He was the sort of person I had met many times throughout my travels – the sort that I always seemed destined to stumble across no matter where I went in the world. At that moment I was happy to meet him, and we continued to talk about our trips and whatever the hell it was we were doing here. It turned out he was a forty-three-year-old Canadian who was recently out of work. He decided to deal with this by flying to Mexico and drifting around the country while drunk. Although there were thirteen years between us, I recognised the stage he was at in his life. An affinity was felt and it wasn’t long before I was joining him on the large bottles of beer as we discussed life on that balcony until the sun began to sink beneath the surrounding buildings. 

“This is my midlife crisis trip,” he tells me. “Out of work, no woman, I got nothing really going on back home. And with the pandemic, it’s been a rough ride living alone the last two years. The only thing that seems right is to come to Mexico and live like a rockstar for a while off of my savings. I guess it’s not a bad way to spend a midlife crisis.”

“I hear you man,” I said. “But to me, it’s all a crisis.”

“What is?” he asks.

“Life. I mean, here you are: trapped in a slowly-decaying body of flesh and bone, stuck on a rock floating around a big ball of fire for no apparent reason. On top of this, you have around eighty or so years here, and during that time you have to deal with things like money and love and sex and purpose and politics. Yeah, there’s no beginning, middle or end to me. It’s all a crisis. To be human in this world is to be in a crisis.” He looked at me with a smile, nodding his head in agreement and toasting his beer. Our beers clinked and our connection was strengthened on the realisation we were both stray souls wandering the tempestuous wilderness of human existence.

“You know, I’ve had a good life,” he then tells me in a pensive moment of realisation. “I’ve experienced enough of this merry-go-round. You say we have eighty years here, but screw living that long. I think if I checked out in the next ten years that would be enough for me.”

“You really feel that way, or it’s the beer talking?”

“Straight up bro. At this stage in life, I feel like I’ve done it all. I’ve travelled around, slept with a lot of women, had a lot of great parties and adventures. I’ve been in love and worked in what I’m passionate about. I’m happy with what I’ve done and don’t want to get much older than what I am now. Life has been a wild ride, but I’m not sure if I can handle another thirty or forty years of it.” 

I could hear in his voice that he was being genuine. It might have sounded an extreme statement to some – even a suicidal one –  but I understood completely where he was coming from. It was something that was recently on my mind after turning thirty – that I didn’t want to experience the second half of life in old age. Besides a spiritual crisis, I guess I was also having a bit of an age crisis after departing my twenties. Of course, I was still relatively young, but not as young as I would have liked to have been. Inside there was a part of me that resented getting older, and looking at him I could see my future too – still wandering the outside spaces, drinking ever more heavily and going further over the edge of destitution and insanity. To keep on living this way past forty, well I figured that’s when a person really was a stray for life. Most had packed away their backpacks and began to settle down in some suburb of safety and sanity. For me that life was a death sentence already. And the idea of losing my youth – losing my strength and looks and curiosity – horrified me. I already saw the lines forming on my face, the grey hairs sprinkled into my beard, the bitterness in my personality that wasn’t there before. In my head this trip was one last celebration of youth before the downhill truly started.

We carried on drinking and then went out to hit the bars of Mexico City. We spoke bad Spanish to Mexican women, drank with other travellers, danced like idiots, and got lost in a hazy blur of intoxication. The bender had started and we spent the next week or so travelling together until we made it down to the pacific coast, specifically to a little town called Puerto Escondido. The nights of revelry continued there until he eventually headed off on a night bus to another part of Mexico. I bid him farewell and watched him drift out of my life to continue his midlife crisis somewhere else. “Catch you on the flip side,” he said, stumbling onto the bus with a small backpack full of beers.

I was back to my natural state of being alone, and I spent days at the beach soaking in the sunlight and watching the sunset on the ocean. It was a town I felt at home with, and it seemed I wasn’t the only one. Puerto was famous for being a ‘digital nomad’ hotspot. The place was filled with westerners escaping their homelands while they worked on their laptops and sat at the beach and tattooed their skin and prided themselves on escaping the rat race. I knew of these people already, but since the pandemic had made many jobs able to be done remotely from a laptop, it seemed they were now everywhere. Web designers. Graphic designers. Code writers. Even therapists. There they sat on their laptops working four or five hours a day before hitting the beach and sipping beers in the sun.

I thought about what I could do to join them in their little world of escapism from the system. After thirty years, I still truly saw no job or career I had an interest in. The only time I had felt purpose was when I was writing creatively, and by creatively I meant stories or poems – not news articles or anything people actually paid for. And even that passion was now fading. Like everything though, the grass was always greener on the other side, and while the idea of being a digital nomad was a romantic one, the reality of it was a little different. It came with its own struggles and own sadness. An American guy told me about this in a cafe by the beach one day. 

“I know it sounds great being a digital nomad – and it is for a while – but in the long term I’m not sure how much someone can do it. It’s a lonely existence. At least for me I’ve never really found anywhere that feels like home. I guess it’s because it’s hard to form a community when everyone eventually moves on. And on top of this, you’re constantly surrounded by travellers who are going out and doing cool things, while you have to stay at home and work.” It was something I had thought about before while reflecting on that lifestyle, and it seemed those who had escaped the rat race had their own problems to deal with. There was no magical way to ‘live the good life’ forever, despite what the travel bloggers would have you believe. No matter what you did or where you went, you were destined to struggle in some form or some way. It was the only way – the human way.

Still, I kept thinking about it; about my options in life now my main passions were beginning to lose their spark. Where was there really to go in this life for someone like me? Would I ever return to the time when I felt truly alive? What chance was there? The war on my soul continued to rage as I struggled to see the clearing ahead to somewhere that made sense to me. I was so sure all I wanted to do was to travel the world and write, but now those things had lost their thrill, I saw no glory in anything else. Nothing appealed to me at that moment in time – only the next beer, the next woman, the next night of revelry and intoxication. I thought I was bad, but I continued to meet people that were wandering further out in the soul-searching wilderness than I was.

In a town in the mountains, I met a fellow English guy who was ‘escaping his problems back home’. I eventually discerned this was trouble with gangs and the law. Never had I seen someone so wounded, on both the inside and outside. He was only twenty-two but already had scars all over his body from various stab wounds. He couldn’t even use his left hand after he had been slashed on the wrist during a drug deal. His wounds weren’t just from home; even here he had managed to sprain his ankle here during an escape from a fight. He had also been banned from various hostels and bars after just two weeks in the town. I eventually realised this was down to his addiction to Xanax – an addiction that saw him taking five tablets at once and turning himself into a zombie. The last I saw of him, he was being taken into the back of a police van after having a bust-up with restaurant staff for not paying his bill. It was his first time travelling and I knew he wasn’t going to last long in this way of life, or any way of life for that matter.

Elsewhere I stumbled into an American guy I had met four years previously in Spain. While he was there in Spain, he was constantly chasing women. He stressed and depressed himself over finding a long-term partner, and it seemed four years on that nothing had changed. His desperation to find a woman screamed out of him, and naturally this led them to reject his advances. I even found out he had come to Mexico to meet a girl he had met the previous summer in the states. That relation had broken down after just two days of being here, and so on he went, another stray soul in search of some shelter from the storm.

Although I knew most men found a spiritual home for themselves in the company of a spouse, to me that had rarely seemed the case. There was something inside of me that needed more than a partner, and that was more clear to me than ever having just left my girlfriend just before this trip. We had been dating for a year, even living together, and it was the first time in my life I had been seeing someone regularly for a long period of time. But again, whereas many men only sought to find a nice woman and settle down, I was ready to abandon mine at the sudden booking of a flight to some faraway country. Like careers and everything else, a wife and children were other things beyond me. I needed my soul to be set on fire by something. And while they could give me joy, they just couldn’t give me that spark that was so essential for my spiritual survival.

Still, I had my romances when travelling. Most were one-night stands, but when I got to a place called Oaxaca City, I started seeing a woman continuously. She was a Mexican woman from another part of the country. We hit it off straight away and she invited me to stay with her in her apartment. She lived alone with her dog – a stray dog she had taken in and given a home to. I had to look at the dog and once again see a connection in its eyes, a feeling of union of being taken in by a woman while wandering the streets. It was nice there and I stayed with her for a week or so. We went to bars and restaurants; we went to watch Mexican wrestling; we spent lazy mornings in bed making love. For a moment I almost began to feel like I belonged there. I thought about getting a job teaching English or really having a go at trying to be an online content writer. There we’d live together – my new life in Mexico – but again there was something missing, and one day I decided to book my bus out of there. The horizon called me again and on I went to board that bus to somewhere else. To a place that helped return the fire to my soul. To a place that would fill my heart with thunder again.

The wandering went on and two weeks later I was on a Caribbean island, back to sitting on a beach and staring out at the sunset. My heart was heavy and I thought of all the people I had met along the road. I thought of the path that had led me to here and the path that awaited me ahead. The strange sadness was still there inside, and my eyes were still searching the skies for some kind of salvation. It was then that the stray dogs of the island came out onto the beach, playing around in the sand. I watched them leap about before they suddenly stopped and sat beside me. I stroked one and looked at the sunset and let a smile make its way on my face. Suddenly I felt at peace with where I was; I felt the fire inside begin to flame, and for some truth to make its way into my heart again. Yes to wander, to not belong, to constantly be in a phase of soul-searching – it wasn’t such a bad way to be. And if you kept your eyes open, so many of us were this way. Perhaps secretly we all were. In a way, what else was it to exist than to be another stray on a soul-searching quest, wandering the wilderness in search of some fire. Another stray dog in search of survival. Another stray dog in search of home.

lab rat

New Book: Lab Rat

Hello, if you have followed my blog over the last year you will know I have regularly been posting extracts of a project called Lab Rat. I am now pleased to announce that I have finalised and published these in a completed book.

Mockups Design

“I looked around at my fellow guinea-pigs realising this was where I belonged – locked up with other people pushed out to the edge and testing drugs for a living because there was no room for them in the centre of things. There was no room for me out there either. But that was okay; I had found a new way. Test drugs, travel, and write. I saw my path slowly unfolding before me. I was happy with it.” 

‘Lab Rat tells the story of a young man surviving by taking part in medical research trials. Known only as ‘Subject 55355’, the anonymous narrator of this semi-autobiographical novel is an aspiring writer who has just returned home after a period of travelling. His natural contempt for the world of work causes him to quickly quit his first job back. It is then, on a night out, that a stranger in a bar informs him about ‘drug trials’ – medical studies where a person can be paid large amounts of money for testing new medicines. The protagonist immediately embraces the guinea-pig lifestyle, meeting fellow drifters along the way, all the while still chasing his dream of becoming a successful writer. An existential piece of social commentary filled with black humour, Lab Rat is a classic outsider story that will resonate with anyone who has dreamed of breaking free from the rat race.’

The book is my first full-length story I’ve published and is now available here on Amazon, either as an ebook or paperbook. The following is an extract from the book.

13

‘I looked at the current list of medical studies on the website. It was like looking at a diverse and delicious restaurant menu. The studies paid anything from £800 to £5000. There were some trials for medicines treating Asthma, some for Crohn’s disease, and some for that notorious old bad guy – Cancer. There were even some trials that involved you being exposed to radiation. I was hungry for more money but I considered where I would actually draw the line when it came to doing studies. Most studies involved you testing drugs which had already gone through one phase of testing before. Would I take part in a study where I would be the first person taking the drug? I thought not, but I also knew if I was offered a ‘first-in-human’ study with a hefty payment, I’d quickly change my tune. Ultimately I was just another man blinded by my money, putting some digits on a screen before my health. And relatively speaking, I didn’t think the trials were too dangerous, but it was true that very rarely one might go wrong. I’d only told a few people I was doing medical trials but those I told were quick to mention one infamous study that happened in 2006 in London. Some guinea-pigs were testing an antibiotic that would be used to treat Leukaemia and Arthritis. A short while after being dosed, the volunteers were left writhing in agony and projectile vomiting. Soon their immune systems crashed and they suffered multiple organ failure. It got continually worse as they were left fighting for their lives and one guy had some of his fingers amputated. Some of them even had inflated heads – helping give the incident the notorious name: ‘The Elephant Man Study’. All things considered, it was a colossal fuck-up, but it had been over ten years since that incident, and lessons had apparently been learned. The doctors assured us that there were new procedures and regulations in place to stop such a calamity happening again. It was reassuring, I guess, although it did make me wonder how much compensation each volunteer got. Would I lose a few fingers for half a million pounds? Maybe a kidney or a lung for a million? If you started down that road, then where would it end? You’d be slowly slicing yourself down to nothingness in an attempt to fill that bank account with as much money as you could. I guess it was nothing out of the ordinary for many people out there.

     I had the usual screening and chat with the doctor before being admitted onto the study. I passed with flying colours again, although he did stop to question the cuts on my body from when I got attacked in Sheffield. “Bike-riding accident,” I told him. “I was lucky to get off so easily; next time I’ll wear a helmet.” The doctor gave me an incredulous look. It was clear he knew I was full of shit, but he didn’t care – to him I was just another lab rat living off medical trials rather than getting a job like a normal person. No doubt, he pitied me in a way. That would explain the slight delight in his voice when he informed me of the next bit of information.

     “For this trial you will need to provide faecal samples.” I stopped and paused. 

     “Faecal samples?” I asked.

     “Yes,” he said. “Because this drug is a treatment for Crohn’s disease, it will be necessary to monitor your bowel behaviour. So, stool samples will be necessary.” (They used words like ‘stool’ and ‘faecal’ to make it sound a little more scientific – really they were just telling you that they were going to be analysing your shit.) It wasn’t the most pleasant thought, but at least it wasn’t me having to inspect it. And it could have been worse. A few weeks back I had checked the drug trial menu to see a study taking place in which ‘the drug would be administered rectally’. Having to provide a sample of your shit was one thing, but having some poor nurse shove drugs up your ass first thing in the morning was something else. Perhaps it was there, then, where I would have drawn the line for what study I would take part in.

14

Back in the clinic, I got settled into my second home. I was back to being Subject 55355 and this time I was on the biggest ward, along with thirteen other volunteers. It hardly seemed like three months had passed and in a way it felt good to be back on the inside. Perhaps I was getting institutionalised already, but the idea that for the next eighteen days I wouldn’t have to worry about a single thing was comforting. I could resume my feline ways, laying around, being fed, sleeping, and even – in this case – having my shit taken away by my owners. Hell, it even felt a bit like going into rehab after the heavy drinking I had done during the previous two weeks. Yes, I thought. Get me locked up before I end up as disastrous and self-destructive as Owen.

    This time the collection of fellow guinea-pigs looked a little more fitting to the situation. There were some strange looking characters including a washed-up hippy in his fifties who liked to walk around half naked – much to the disgust of the female volunteers. There was also a girl who immediately asked for screens to be put around her bed and proceeded to ignore everyone while playing her ukulele. There was one guy who sat on his bed playing Pokémon with the sound on full blast, and another who kept talking to himself while regularly hitting his laptop in frustration (I presumed he was also a gamer). It wasn’t the most peaceful environment and things got noisier on the first night when one of the volunteers started snoring loudly – so loudly you wondered if he was being strangled to death. It was an annoyance, but not as annoying as the man who cursed loudly everything he started snoring. “Fucking snoring cunt!” he would shout. “You stupid fucking pig! Shut the fuck up!” It turned out it was the washed-up hippy. I had quickly deduced he was going to be the problem man on the trial. He was an angry soul and would even snap at the nurses walking past his bed if they were too loud, suggesting they wore some stealthier footwear. “Do you think you can wear some quieter shoes? I’m trying to sleep here.” The audacity was astounding. Here was a man getting paid £200 a day to lie around and shit into a pot, and he felt it was okay to snap at the nurses working twelve-hour shifts for little more than the minimum wage. They must have hated him, especially when I later found out he had been reported on previous studies. It did make me wonder what a person had to do to get kicked off a study. They had a list of rules you had to follow, and if you broke one then you could be issued with a £50 fine. There were even some rules which would result in you being dismissed from the study and taken off the panel altogether. I wondered how far the washed-up hippy was going to push his luck. No doubt he was another bum living off these trials and maybe soon he would be joining the homeless people in the gutter. I wouldn’t have had sympathy for him. Us lab rats had to count ourselves lucky we had been given this chance to make money so easily and, for me, I followed the rules attentively and obediently, knowing full well that it was this facility which was saving me from the horrors of full-time employment in the outside world.

     Anyway, after the first night I awoke to see the nurses standing there in their red ‘DO NOT DISTURB – DOSING’ tabards. I knew the drill – it was time to get to work. I swallowed down those experimental pills and wondered what side effects I was going to have this time. After that came the usual procedures: ECG, blood samples, blood pressure, temperature checks. A few hours later the moment arrived where I needed to go to the toilet. I had seen some other volunteers sheepishly come out of the bathroom with their pots and place them on the tray in the ward. None of them appeared too comfortable doing it (I guess it was quite hard to not look awkward walking through a room full of people while carrying your own shit). Well, at least I wasn’t the first person to do it. I grabbed my pot and headed over to the bathroom. I also grabbed a chart from beside my bed; there was a picture chart of all the different types of ‘faecal discharge’ and you had to write down on the pot which one your sample resembled. Was it runny or was it sturdy? Was it long or was it lumpy? Apparently, this was of utmost importance to the people conducting the study. 

     Inside the bathroom I sat there and prepared to do my business. I crouched on the toilet and held the pot under myself. It was then, squeezing out last night’s dinner, that I had a bit of a moment. I looked in the mirror at what I was doing and realised my life path had led me to this. A few years back I was a young man with a promising future in the communications industry. Wide-eyed and optimistic, I left university with my degree, ready to get a proper job and begin a steady career. Like every good graduate, I was preparing for a middle-class life of stability, security, and suburban sanity. My CV was updated with all my skills and my parents were eager to see me make it as a high-earner with a respected profession. Well, the years had fallen by and here I was – squeezing out a turd into a pot in order to get money to survive. It was a strange situation and I had to think of all my coursemates from university. No doubt at this moment they were in good jobs or further education. They would all be handing in important assignments or projects they’d been working on. Me? I was quite literally handing in a piece of shit.

15

One week into the study and things were going a bit rocky. The washed-up hippy had continued arguing with everyone he could and there was an uncomfortable atmosphere in the air. It became quite clear to me that he was another man encumbered with a lot of pain, and, typically, when he was crammed into a small space with a bunch of other humans, he tried to offload it to them. This was how pain and anger worked when inside the heart of a human-being; the more torment and bitterness a person was stuffed with, the more they barged about trying to fill other people with it. I watched him in his volatile ways and considered what his life had been like; was he abused as a child, screwed over by a woman, made angry by years and years of stressful work? Was he made this way by all the drugs he had tested on medical trials? It could have been all of these things for all I knew, but I wasn’t going to find out. I avoided such a person like the plague. Conflict was draining and I had no room for confrontation in my life – especially when I was locked up in a closed environment with that person for weeks on end. 

     It wasn’t just him causing the drama on the trial though. At one point a woman was on the phone to her partner when he and her son turned up by the lounge window. Whilst in the clinic you weren’t allowed any visitors, and typically this meant you also weren’t allowed to have people come up to the windows. We were on lockdown and they couldn’t risk any contraband getting in to interfere with the results of the study. Things like chocolate and caffeine could affect the blood results and so, upon entry to the clinic, they searched our bags for such illegal gear. The windows were covered with a steel mesh on the outside, but there was still the chance you could sneak a chocolate bar or something through. Perhaps some McDonalds fries? Alcohol through a straw? Or even some of the more fun types of drugs? Anyway, the CCTV cameras had caught this woman’s family coming up to the window, and ten minutes later a dozen nurses marched onto our ward telling us there had been ‘a security breach’. They then got us all to empty out all our belongings onto our beds. Suddenly it was beginning to feel like an actual prison or concentration camp. Even a loony bin. Well, the shoe fitted, I guess.

     Another drama involved the Pokémon guy. We had quickly worked out he was a bit of a creep. No doubt he was another guy starved of sexual contact, made crazy by his rejection by the female kind, and for once he was in an environment where he could talk to whatever poor woman was in close proximity. He had expressed creepy comments to all the women on the trial and one night he had been caught standing at the end of one woman’s bed at 3am. “What are you doing?” she asked, rather shocked.

     “Just going to the toilet,” he lied, rather poorly.

      The arguments and the awkwardness – it did make me think what a social experiment these trials were. Here were a bunch of people who would never meet in ordinary life all confined in a small space for a short time. It was only natural that every now and again it was going to bring out the worst in people. Ultimately human-beings were tribal, primitive beings at their core, and for most it was a good thing they didn’t get together. For me, I quickly decided that my tactic when starting a trial was to sit back, observe, and keep myself to myself for the first couple of days. While in that state of observation, I tried to work out which person was left-wing and right-wing, which person was religious or atheist, and which person was actually a reasonable human-being. After that had been deduced, then I was able to know how to interact with each one accordingly; or which people I was just going to avoid all together for the sake of my own peace and harmony. I figured this was a tactic I used anyway in the outside world when interacting with humanity, but one which is even more necessary in this intense sort of environment.

     After a couple of days of such observation, I realised there was one person on the trial who was ‘one of my kind’. His name was Steven and he was a guy in his thirties who lived in a van. He had long hair and looked like the sort of guy you would meet after midnight at a campfire in a rock festival, perhaps offering you some mind-altering substances. He had been living in his van for the last four years which you could see from the window. There it was parked in the car-park – a big, meaty, army-green van which resembled something between a furniture removal vehicle and a horse box. Inside he had turned it into a mobile home complete with a bed, kitchen, sofa, solar panels, and a toilet. Like me, he had spent his twenties wandering around the world and was now trying to figure out how to navigate life as he approached the middle-age section of it. He had recently just slip with his girlfriend of ten years and as a result a lot of his talk was about women and sex. Speaking to him, it became clear he was another wanderer of life probably wondering where he fit into the system. The brutal fact was that these wanderers didn’t; they were square pegs in a society of round holes, hence why they wandered. Their isolation is part of who they are and you can usually see it in their eyes – a specific look which is often confused with someone daydreaming. Often I myself wandered the streets looking for others with that look. I searched for it in the faces of people waiting at bus stops, or supermarket queues, or the crowds that temporarily formed at the traffic lights. Sometimes I think I even spotted it, but I never did anything about it. I continued about my day and accepted my isolation from the rest of my species. Well here I was with one in front of me: another person who probably felt he had crash-landed on the wrong planet and was wondering when somebody was going to come take him home. For now his home was that van, and this clinic, and wherever the hell he was going to drive it to after we got out.

     He was a free soul to many, but I could tell he had anxieties about the life he was living. It was clear with certain things he said:

“I’m thirty-three now and I’ve got nothing to show for it except for some wrinkles. I’ve got no savings or prospects.”

“You want to be careful, one day you’re a young man full of promise, the next you’re a middle-aged man living in a van on your own.”

     He was relentlessly witty and would love to crack self-deprecating jokes, but under that comical persona, I could see there were some actual concerns about the life he was living. His words reminded me that in the end not many people were truly free – hell, maybe no one was. There were only those who were good actors. Hippies, travellers, people living alternatively – they were always called ‘free-spirits’, but they were usually full of anxieties and inner conflicts. Ultimately human-beings were social creatures and it took a lot to live differently from the herd. To watch your friends buying houses and settling down while you shitted into a bucket in the back of a van and lived off medical trials was always going to cause some insecurity. Human-beings all had that innate need for social gratification, so it was only natural that when you wandered away from the herd, you felt some sort of anxiety. I knew this because I had felt it myself during the last few years of my own life. Doing your own thing was often tiring and I knew there was comfort in the herd – but I also knew that the best things in my life had come from venturing away from it. That was something I sought to share with him.

     “Not many people have the guts to live in a van,” I told him. “So many people say they want to do it, but so very few ever will. People like to talk to talk, but when it comes to actually living this type of life, most people will choose comfort and convenience every time. An easy shower, a steady job, having things in common with people… It’s all a trade-off. But life is obviously more exciting when you choose a different path. Living in a van takes guts and you will no doubt inspire a lot of people. Like Hunter S Thompson said: ‘Weird heroes and mould-breaking champions exist as living proof to those who need it that the tyranny of the rat race is not yet final’”.

     “You love a quote don’t you,” he said, noticing I had quoted about four people in the space of half an hour. “But that’s true. It takes guts to live like this. Everyone accepts the rat race so easily, but I couldn’t live that way if my life depended on it. For me, I’d just end up suicidal or something. I don’t want to be another victim of the system living a mediocre existence. Most people aren’t very interesting or even happy by the time they reach middle-age.”

     “I hope I’m still living an adventurous life in ten years’ time,” I then said. “I’m at that age now where a lot of people who have been living adventurous lives begin to pack it all away. The backpack goes and sits in the garage gathering dust, the long travel trips become weekends away to the Cotswolds, and people generally filter themselves down in order to fit in some way into the system. Of course, you have those that momentarily wake up from their slumber and have the classic mid-life crisis. They get to their forties, realise their halfway through their lives and that they haven’t done anything they ever wanted to do. Then, to compensate for this, they have a few years of hedonism and pick up some new eccentric hobbies, but by that point they are too burdened by responsibilities and stuck in their ways to truly change to the version of themselves they wish to be.” I could feel myself getting into a big old speech, and I had noticed one of the nurses listening in – no doubt they regularly overheard these types of existential debates amongst us lab rats.

     “You seem pretty switched on for a young guy,” he said. 

     “I’m just another kid who read too much philosophy. No doubt I’m just full of shit like everyone else.” I was joining Steven with his self-deprecating humour, but I really believed what I was saying. Ultimately there isn’t a man or woman out there who hasn’t felt suffocated by their cultural reality. We all know it. We all stare at each other’s faces and let sentences of sanity exit our mouths, trying to appear normal and fit in and be accepted members of society. It was a sham but we went along with it for our own survival in the herd. Being accepted among the crowd paved the way to an easy life, but god, how I sometimes wanted everyone to just toss the mask aside, tear up the script, walk off the stage, and just start acting like who the hell they really were. The frustrating thing is that I think deep down this is what the vast majority of people want: to actually just be themselves and enjoy their fleeting time here on this earth. But for the sake of convenience, most of us go along with the big charade. It’s the human desire for social validation. The comfortable place among the crowd. The small talk down the pub. The camaraderie at family dinner tables. The pats on the back. The likes on social media. It was simple how it worked: the bigger the crowd you tried to be a part of, the more of your own individuality you had to kill. The dynamic of a group meant there had to be a shared connection for it to work, but the thing was every human being was a uniquely beautiful and complicated mess. This mess had to be ironed out so everyone could unite in the ‘middle ground’ – typically the dominant cultural values of the herd. As a result, the true individual was usually alienated, isolated, and often teetering on the precipice of madness (or living in a van while surviving off medical trials).

     It was a few minutes later that I found out me and Steven shared another similarity. Like me, he was another person infected with the writing madness. He told me about his fantasy novel he had been working on for years. Progress was ‘slow’, as he put it. It sounded really slow, in fact, and I had to wonder whether he was ever going to get it done. “I’m such a lazy piece of shit,” he told me. “I sit down to write and then end up procrastinating or finding some way to kill a few hours without writing a word. It pisses me off.” Although my idleness wasn’t as bad as Steven’s, I did resonate with what he said. Sometimes I sat down to write and would find myself going on a YouTube binge or exploring some strange rabbit-hole of the internet. I also aspired to write a novel. I had even given it a go in the past, but all my attempts had crashed and burned by the time I got to the ten-thousand-word mark. One day I decided that I simply just wasn’t ready to write it. Ultimately I hadn’t lived enough and was better off getting beaten up some more by life before I attempted the mountain of writing a novel. At least, that was how I rationalised my idleness. Maybe we were both those cliché pretentious guys who went through their lives saying they were writing a novel, but never actually got around to doing it. In reality, we were just good for nothing bums. Well, not completely nothing. At least we were ‘helping advance the world of medicinal research’. If that would be all we contributed to society, then I guess it was still better than nothing. And even if we didn’t make it by the time of our death, we could always use a bit of delusion and tell ourselves we were like Kafka or Van Gogh – unappreciated in our lifetimes but hailed as geniuses by future generations. Sadly, I could see us both going insane and cutting off our ears (or losing them on a trial), but perhaps our artistic success ever arriving was a fantastical daydream at best. Well, maybe that was all people like us really needed to make it through.’

thoughts

What Will Become Of Me?

“What will become of me? I ask myself this now in the summer of 2021, aged twenty-nine, with the world in a state of chaos and my life in a state of transition. I sit on the shore of a Scottish beach, staring out at the sea and the setting sun. The future looks unclear and often I don’t even know what I believe anymore. My mind feels frazzled and things I once knew for certain now seem murky. The morning mirror doesn’t show the person I once knew with such certainty. My path now seems more unclear than ever. There is an ache in my heart as I stare into those waters and ask myself: what will become of me? As time ages my mind and body. What will become of me? As close friends become distant strangers. What will become of me? As society changes in crazy ways. What will become of me? As my body accumulates more scars, as my heart is filled with more pain, as my soul struggles to shine its light. No, I don’t know what will become of me. Maybe I’ll be reduced to madness, that ranting maniac on city streets lost in his own mind. Maybe I’ll settle into a peaceful and simple life somewhere in the country. Maybe I’ll end up on a path that takes me to something I never knew even existed. As always, it’s hard to know what awaits in the unknown, and sometimes finding the faith to march on into that mist can be hard. But, as I sat there on that beach, I realised the only way forward was to just do what I’d always done before. I believed that the only way forward was to get up and keep following the heart, no matter which direction it led me. Inside I felt that was my only shot of making it through, of ending up in the right place – of becoming exactly who I was supposed to be.”

thoughts

~ Towards the Adventure ~

~ Towards the Adventure ~

“Sorry, but I guess I’ll always be a bit of a runaway, a dreamer, a vagabond. This blood that runs inside me will not allow me to do anything else. I have stared into the eyes of those people on the street and decided I am not one of them. Their words have been heard and their perspectives considered, but ultimately the life they live is a strange foreign one to me. There is a priceless pleasure in following the heart fearlessly through life, and I guess I would rather do that all my years than allow myself to dwell in an existence that doesn’t bring me any real fulfilment. I am out on the quest, and yes, I know my road may end in wreck or ruin, but in my heart I only desire to be able to say that my life was one lived to total completion; that my soul at least knew what it was to run free through a great wilderness, rather than to stay stuck in a way of life which did not allow me to truly live.”

thoughts

~ What I Have ~

~ What I Have ~

“No, I haven’t got that stable mind, that polished resume, those practical and pragmatic skills. I haven’t got many things that most people in this world have. But such is life and I have learnt how to survive my own way and by my own rules. Because I got those feet that march through the swamp, those eyes that lift to the horizon, that spirit that never quits. I got those values that never corrupt and a heart that can’t be tamed. And when the others lose their way, I have just enough madness left inside to pull myself up and continue on through the storm. These are the things I have, and although they may not be the things most people desire, I would not trade them for all the riches in the world.”

short stories

~ Trapped in Time ~

pexels-photo-5207797
Trapped in Time

It was a random weekend and I had come back to visit the parents in my hometown of Coventry. I was unemployed and waiting to do a medical trial in a couple of weeks’ time, so I thought I’d pop home to be bored there instead of where I was currently living (Nottingham). It was still national lockdown from the coronavirus and there wasn’t much to do, so I arranged to meet a friend and walk around the local park while venting our frustration at the situation. We were both approaching our 30th birthday as the closing years of our twenties were wasted by a hysterical overreaction of a virus outbreak. Both of us should have been out travelling the world, having romances, living life, but instead we were wandering around the drab suburbs of our childhood town, unable to even go to a bar or do anything of any real excitement. After a while he told me his younger brother had just bought a house and was having a house-warming gathering. Well, what the hell; it was something else to do other than wander around aimlessly, so we bought some drinks from a cornershop then headed over.

We made our way inside the house where his brother and a friend were setting up a TV on the wall. We helped them assemble some chairs and then got started with the drinking. His brother and his friend were 21-years old; they had crates of beer, wide eyes, high spirits and were ready for another Saturday on the booze. Soon enough another couple of his brother’s friends arrived to join the party. We were a good age distance apart from everyone there and it wasn’t long until the obvious subject of our age came up. “How old are you?” one of them asked. “29″ I said. “29?” he said. “That’s old man. I thought I’d be having kids and stuff at 29. Don’t you want to have kids?” I shrugged my shoulders and told him no. I then cracked open another beer before moving on to the drinking games. At first it was drink whenever someone with your name scored in a football game, then it was beer pong, then a load of other games as shots and drinks were consumed every few minutes. Vodka, Rum, Bucksfast – it all went down as my memory began to black out as it had so many times over the years.

The next day I awoke in my bedroom covered in cuts and scratches. There were bloodstains on the sheets and unhappy parents downstairs. It took me a while to figure out the ins and outs of the situation, but apparently I had been kicked out of the house-gathering by my friend’s younger brother. Having skipped dinner and downed copious amounts of alcohol, I had become intoxicated to the point I was spilling my drinks everywhere and falling over into thorn bushes. I had also lost my jacket and smashed a bottle of liquor I had bought my mum for mother’s day. Oh – and just to round things off – I had left the key in the front door along with blood on the handle (something my parents found slightly disconcerting). The thought hit me that I was about to leave my youth behind and I was still doing the same stupid shit I had always done. In fact, I was even worse than those 21-year-olds. It was a sobering realisation and I tried to avoid the judgment of my parents by hiding in my room all day. In that lair I dwelled in my hungover state until boredom and horniness caused me to get out my phone to go on Tinder. It was after a few minutes of mindless swiping that I came across the profile of a girl I used to see when I was twenty-two. Seven years had passed but I thought I’d start speaking to her again anyway. Suddenly I was feeling super nostalgic; probably I just wanted to feel like I was younger again, but I asked her to go for a walk over the local farmland near where we lived. She agreed.

We met on a street corner and started catching up. It had been a strange year since the pandemic began, but this was perhaps the strangest moment of all. We hadn’t spoken in five years yet somehow it felt like no time had passed at all. Tales of the past and present were discussed as we wandered around the farm fields under a grey and gloomy sky.

“So what are you doing with your life now?” she asked. “It must be weird now the pandemic caused you to be a stable UK citizen.”

“It has been weird,” I said. “I was about to jet off to South America when the pandemic hit but  instead I found myself moving back in with my parents and getting a job at Amazon. Then I quit and enjoyed the summer before moving back to Nottingham. But yeah, to be honest, I don’t really know what I’m doing right now. I always wanted to just travel throughout my twenties, but now that has been taken away from me by this pandemic. Right now I’m just living month to month, working here and there, doing medical trials and trying to get by. You know how it is…”

“I can imagine it’s been strange for you not being able to take some trips…” There was a pause. “So do you think you can finally see yourself settling down or are you planning to get away again after the crisis is over?“ I knew why she was asking this of course – it was to see if I was finally someone worth imagining a future with. That was what she wanted in the past and what I had disappointed her with once already. When I came back from an eighteen-month trip five years ago, she had hopes that I was finished with the life of being a wandering nomad. We saw each other a couple of times again but I quickly realised it was the wrong thing to do. She only ever wanted a normal life and back then even after that trip I knew there was no way I could give her what she wanted. Well, here I was five years on still feeling the exact same way. Time had changed nothing; I was still just a drifting bum with no direction or desire to join her in a settled existence. Well, if I wanted to get laid I’d have to give her hope, so I continued talking about how I was open to whatever life brought my way now travel wasn’t possible.

It must have worked as the next day she invited me around to her place for the evening. I walked over to hers from my parents, a fifty-minute walk through the streets of a sleepy suburb, filled with big houses and nice cars on the drives outside. I got to her house, knocked on the front door and entered. Inside I was jumped upon by her puppy – an eight-month-old cocker-spaniel. She had bought him during lockdown, presumably to have some company while living alone. I then made my way into the living room and sat down with her on the sofa. As we chatted about life, I looked around at the interior of the house. It was clean and well-decorated, but something about it saddened me. It was a new-build house and you could see it was a formulaic design –  a computer-generated building on a computer-generated street where everything looked the same (almost like it was taken from The Sims). I looked at all the Ikea furniture tidily laid out; I looked out at the garden which was a blank square of grass with a small shed at the bottom. Everything was neat, clean, featureless. Of course, I couldn’t knock her for buying her own home at the tender age of twenty-five, but to me it seemed that there was just no soul there at all. In that soulless house we sat discussing old times as I imagined the possibility of finally forming a relationship with this girl. I could live here with her in suburbia, come home to this sofa, walk the dog in the local park, make love with her at night. I could get my old job back at the Amazon warehouse that was right off her street. It was all there within my reach: a civilized and normal life. A chance to come in from the wilderness. A chance to ‘grow up’, as my parents kept pressuring me to do. No more getting drunk and hurting myself. No more floating idly with the breeze. Just a steady, sensible, neat, ordinary existence.

Eventually we started making out and I ended up staying the night. The next morning we made love again before I headed to leave her so she could get started with her job. Of course, I didn’t have such responsibility and I walked out into the rain to begin the long walk back to my parents place. “Do you want a lift?” she asked as I headed out the door. I remembered how she always gave me a lift home in the past from her old place. I still hadn’t got my driving license after all these years, but this time I couldn’t allow her to drop me home. “No, don’t worry about it, “ I said. I then left her with a kiss before walking off into the rain (without my rain jacket, of course, which had been lost at the house-warming party).

When I got back to my parents, I packed my bags and began the journey back to Nottingham. It had been a strange old weekend and I just wanted to be back far away from my hometown. The train journey would be two hours and I spent that time staring out the window, my old pastime, wondering what was next for me in this purgatory state of living I had been experiencing. It had now been one year of living in this existential blur. No direction, no desire, no possibility to do what I wanted to do anymore. All the years were coming and going. I saw the younger kids buying houses and settling down. I saw past love flames still living a stable existence. Elsewhere friends were getting married or engaged, climbing career ladders, having babies. All those things which I still had no desire to do. My way of life was dead for the time being and I saw myself as just plodding along, acting as stupid and reckless as I had always done. Getting drunk and hurting myself; losing my belongings and breaking things; leading girls on I had no intention of forming a relationship with. Not much had changed over the last decade. I was a man trapped in time, repeating the same reckless behaviours I had always done. A couple of lines across the forehead showed the passage of time aging me, but other than that just the same old fool I had always been. Where to go from here? Who the hell knew. The lockdown of the world had left my brain in a frozen state and all I could do was stare into space and wait for something to appear to me in the greyness.

thoughts

~ The Same Old Feeling ~

lifee

Now I’m turning 30

I’m about to be an age where the average person is supposed to have it figured out. The career, the partner, the place of residence. In all honesty, things haven’t changed much since my 20th birthday. I look at the world I am supposed to be a part of and still feel nothing but total indifference with it. It’s all just so beyond me. The expectations, the traditions, the system of living. I still read the job descriptions and feel hopelessness in my soul. Is that what a man is supposed to become? A business analyst? A communications officer? A marketing manager? I could never bring myself to even engage in that world just cause the very sight of it filled me with despair. Even just writing a CV made me sad. The robotic nature of it; the notion that my intrinsic worth as a human-being came down to some bullet points on a piece of paper. The depressing thought of sitting in front of an employer with a fake smile and speaking insincere words just to get a job I didn’t even want. Then there was the idea of marriage; standing all-dressed up at a pompous ceremony, wasting money on that event while having to engage in small-talk with people you didn’t even like. Kids, well, I looked at how crazy the world was becoming and felt only the selfish wanted to bring more inmates into the asylum. Owning a property also had no appeal; I looked at houses and was disinterested with the idea of looking after them and paying council tax and being tied to one residence. No, all these things still confused and depressed the hell out of me. My mind disregarded it all and instead toyed with far-fetched ideas. Riding a bicycle to Asia. Hiking through the Himalayas. Working on a vineyard in France. Writing poetry under the stars. I imagined myself meeting a beautiful woman and residing in a quiet little village somewhere in Spain, sipping wine as the sun set across the fields every evening. I imagined hitch-hiking around Europe, working season to season while meeting strange and interesting people. My mind was a gateway to a better place and I imagined myself living a life of purity and beauty, far away from the suffocating reality of a society which had taken all the life out of living.

thoughts

~ A Beacon ~

woman

~ A Beacon ~

“You’re not alone. Forget about it. There are many out there who feel like you out there. There are out there dwelling in the crowds, in the cities, in their chambers of solitude. They are returning home to a dark room everyday to stare at the walls. Like you do, they will enjoy their solitude and release from society. They will enjoy their peace and their quiet and their cats and dogs. But a part of them needs to know there are others out there somewhere. So write your words. Spill your soul onto a blank page. Graffiti the walls with your deepest secret. Send out a beacon of your own soul for others looking for some guidance through the wilderness. You never know who is out there needing to know they’re not the last of their kind in this world.”

thoughts

~ What Am I Going To Do Now? ~

What Am I Going To Do Now?

Well, it seems I haven’t got much to say these days. I remember when I sat before this laptop, the words of passion loaded in my fingertips, waiting to explode onto the blank pages of the world. Now the ammunition is low, the gun is jarred, and the desire to pull the trigger not even there. I have my excuse: the collective madness of society losing its mind and collapsing over a virus with a 99.5% survival rate, leaving me locked up alone and unable to live life during my prime years. The coronavirus had inspired a new peak of human insanity: shutting down the world, locking children up, fining hikers for walking alone, not allowing anyone to live their lives to potentially prolong the lives of some elderly people who had already lived theirs. Ahh yes, it sounds harsh right? But just think about it for a second – many countries had crashed their entire society at the thought we could once again control a natural force (spoiler: we can’t). The countries who hadn’t locked down had shown had utterly stupid this whole thing was by having a death rate that was not too dissimilar from everyone else’s (and, in some cases, actually better – see Sweden, Nepal, and the state of Florida). Hysteria reigned supreme and I now lived in a country where McDonalds was open but gyms were closed; where smoking and drinking were legal but sitting on a bench in a park was deemed too dangerous for public health.

I knew the next ten years would slowly reveal how utterly insane and foolish these lockdowns were, and that people would lie about their support of them (just like people still lie about their support of the war in Iraq when figures show 80% of the public supported it at the time). The second-hand deaths from lockdown would far outweigh any potential elderly lives we managed to prolong (and these deaths would include younger people who still had their lives to live). Besides that, many people would have their life quality forever lessened by the poverty and mental health pandemic that was sure to follow. The youth were especially fucked and I essentially saw the whole situation as something similar to forcing young people to have kidney transplants to prolong the lives of some elderly people. This very notion sounds utterly insane and evil, but in reality that wasn’t far from what was happening. So many young people were having their insides tore out against their own will. Due to lockdown, I knew many who were depressed, stressed, anxious, lonely, jobless. Suicide rates were up and with a bleak looking future ahead of them, so many had nothing much to live for anymore. They had already lost an entire year of the best period of their lives due to the tyranny of a government and the docile nature of a public who swallowed whatever the media told them. And I was amongst those betrayed young people, hence my anger, and now the one thing in this stupid life that kept me going (travelling) was taken from me. At first, I had thought lockdown was the right thing to do, but now I had time to clear my head and actually think about it, I deplored it with every ounce of my being. I wanted to see heads roll over what had been taken from us. I wanted the people to awaken and go out and live their lives again with the knowledge of the fact that – shock, horror – they are mortal beings who will die and decay into cosmic dust. And that it’s okay – it’s okay to die; what is not okay is to not live in the first place when locked up living in irrational fear.

Okay, I can feel the virtue-signalling do-gooders sharpening their knives and shouting ‘granny-killer!’ The same people who never said a thing about the millions who die from starvation a year, the 500,000 who die from flu, the millions who die from smoking, from suicide, from obesity, from heart disease, from malaria, from road accidents, and not to mention who happily consume thousands of animals a year while turning a blind eye to the fact that all major disease/virus outbreaks of the last thirty years originated from the meat industry. The same people who go around supermarkets filling their trolleys with junk food that will cause them heart failure but feel outraged at the sight of someone not wearing a useless face covering. To be honest I was done with humanity to a degree, but this last year has cemented that. I always knew people were irrational and illogical, but I never knew it would be to this extent. I always knew people were willing to throw away freedom for illusions of security, but I never knew it would be to this extent. I always knew people were brainwashed by the media and public opinion, but I never knew it would be to this extent.

So yes, I have detached myself from the situation, but still, now in the prime of my life when I should be living life to the full – when I should be out meeting new people and experiencing things and dating women – I now have to reformulate and adjust to the tyranny imposed upon me. For a while I have been doing that: living the healthy life, getting my fitness up to new levels and meditating in my lair of solitude. I published a new book and even started learning how to drive before that was also made illegal. Now comes a time where no matter how much I meditate or masturbate or write, I can still feel the dissatisfaction brewing within me. Naturally it’s nice to believe that this will all be over soon, but it appears that society is only going more and more insane. Human rights are slowly being eroded and soon I will be forced to take a vaccine for a virus which poses no threat to me while also having to show a vaccine passport to go out to a bar or a concert or a cinema (despite the fact the people actually vulnerable to the virus had been vaccinated). We are on a slippery slope into the dystopian, totalitarian abyss and soon life will be something like Blade Runner or a Black Mirror episode. I always felt it would be that way, but I genuinely didn’t expect things to disintegrate into the realms of madness so quick. Well, silly me.

Anyway, I am twenty-nine and probably have another fifty or sixty years until I happily die of the coronavirus. That’s a lot of time, and with the world now changed forever, I have to sit back and stare at the ceiling and think: what the hell am I going to do now? Seriously. All that time ahead of me with a world that is taking away everything good about life. For the last decade I have based my life around travelling – around flying to new countries, meeting new people, exploring new cultures, dancing on beaches, kissing strangers, living wild and free and soaking in the sun and the sights. Now that world looks decimated at least for the foreseeable future, and probably even longer if this madness keeps unfolding. I mean, yes, writing is also my life passion; but my words came from that wilderness of travel and freedom, and I am not sure what exactly I will have to write about while living this new dystopian lifestyle which is insidiously being imposed upon me. I still have my running and cycling of course (they hadn’t taken that away from me yet), but I needed more of an adventure than riding my bike to the next town or jogging beside the river. I guess I could do what so many men do when they don’t know what to do with their lives: find a good woman, settle down, reproduce, and force myself into a steady and tracked existence for the next few decades. God, even just writing that sentence out makes me want to hang around unmasked on a covid ward. Maybe I could try and start a career finally? Ahh too bad – the economy is fucked, young people have no opportunities, and we are now about to enter an era of mass unemployment as small businesses crumble and psychopathic billionaire elites finally take full control of the world. 

Well yeah, things aren’t looking so good I guess. And yet I still need to go on – to keep breathing and feeding myself, to keep waking up in the morning and finding the strength to pull myself out of bed, to face the world, to talk to other human-beings and be a member of a society I can’t stand the sight of. Maybe there’s just no way around it anymore: I’ll have to become an alcoholic or drug user to make it through. A comfortably numb existence which so many have chosen to live just because the pain of being human in an unhuman system is all too much. God, now my sentences are crumbling apart. I used to write with such flow and fluidity, but look at these words now – plodding along, going nowhere, dissipating out. I can’t even be bothered to edit this shit anymore. This is what the lockdown has done to me. My one talent is now dying due to the suffocation of this tyranny as politicians and billionaires sit laughing, counting their profits, amusing themselves over the pitiful plight of the common man.

I won’t bore you with my jaded words and frustration any longer. I would normally finish a piece like this by trying to make some grand point, but there isn’t one; this is simply nothing more than a scream against the absurdity and insanity of the world. A howl in the wilderness from a wolf who has locked in a cage. A thrash of a shark who has been imprisoned in a tank. A tear of a soldier who has been deprived of his battle. I don’t know how it came to this, but one thing is for sure: no matter what society throws at me, I remain determined that this world will never take this fire from me without a fight. It may cage me and totally prevent me from living the life my soul cries out for, but I will not bend over and die like the rest. What am I going to do now? I don’t know exactly, but I will find a way to keep my soul alive, even when this world seems to want it dead and buried. Even when I can no longer distinguish society from a mental asylum, I will fight my fight and do whatever I can to keep something real and true inside of me.

short stories

~ Power Out ~

man window

~ Power Out ~

I sat alone in the darkness drinking rum. A power cut was a good enough excuse to finish off the emergency bottle I had stashed away. The remaining battery on my laptop was offering a little light for my room, and I stared at the shadow of my desk against the wall, listening to the winter wind howl against the window. A storm had been battering the country for a couple of days now, and this – alongside the national lockdown of the coronavirus – had left me feeling like I was living in some post-apocalyptic nightmare. Right now was perhaps the moment when the absurdity of the situation had peaked. I should have been somewhere else, living my one life, making the most of the last year of my twenties; instead I was imprisoned in a room of darkness, watching my youth disappear with absolutely nothing else to do but get drunk and stare into space. I couldn’t go around a friend’s house. I couldn’t go to the local pub. I couldn’t even go for a walk along the nearby river as it had recently flooded from the non-stop rain. It was a moment in time when life had just gotten so ridiculous I didn’t even know what to think or do anymore, so I just carried on sitting there in silence, drinking rum straight from the bottle, completely paralysed by the reality of the situation.

Like many people, I was frustrated and suspicious about what was actually going on with the pandemic, but at this point trying to have an informed viewpoint on the whole thing was a tiring affair. It had been almost a year since the initial outbreak, and it was hard to know what to think anymore when there was so much conflicting information out there, the media constantly creating hysteria, and everyone shouting their own viewpoint as if you were in some sort of football match. On one side you had the ‘sheep’ – the people who devoutly followed what the government said, lived in fear of the virus, and saw nothing suspicious about the whole thing. On the other side you had the ‘conspiracy theorists’ – those who questioned the rationale of the lockdown, pointed out that the statistics were being manipulated, and that there were hidden agendas at play. I researched and contemplated what I could, but it eventually got to the point where I started to question my own sanity and morality, so I had decided to just mentally detach myself from the whole thing. Maybe that was what they wanted.

Not having a job during the lockdown left me with nothing but free time, and I spent my days in a zombie-like state, daydreaming and mindlessly browsing the internet. Normally I would have used the situation at hand to get some writing done, but very little writing had been done over the last couple of months. Like the house, the power was just not there within me. That creative force that had once surged through me was dwindling, and I listened to the raindrops outside as if they were the sound of my soul being slowly bled dry. Perhaps a part of me was actually dying, I considered. This lockdown had me in some sort of spiritual prison, and looking into the mirror my eyes seemed a little dimmer than usual. Something was definitely missing inside of me, reflected by my writer’s block, and I knew I needed to do something soon to stop it from disappearing for good. But what could I do? Where could I go? How could I keep my inner flame burning in a world of rain and darkness and nothingness?

Of course, it wasn’t just me struggling in some way with the situation. I had one friend, a bar manager, who hadn’t been into work for months and was surviving off what would be half of his usual paycheck. He stayed at home all day smoking weed, playing computer games, putting on all the weight he had worked hard to shift in the time before the pandemic. Down in London I had another friend who had just been made redundant, stuck in a house-share with people he no longer liked, spending his savings on simply surviving while also struggling from a variety of health issues. Back in my hometown was a guy who had saved up to go on a big world travel trip before he turned 30; with that trip not looking like it was going to happen anytime soon, he sat at home every evening drinking heavily, complaining that his hair was going grey and that his trip was never going to happen. All in all it was a total shitshow, and one couldn’t help but wonder when everyone was going to crack and start rioting, like they had started doing on the streets of France and The Netherlands. 

I didn’t expect that to be any time soon; us British were too polite for things like that. We bottled up our frustration and instead sat in rooms of darkness, drinking our pain away, complaining about the world but never actually doing anything about it. I was no different and, in a sense of helplessness, I got out my phone and downloaded the dating apps to try and force some excitement into my life. In a time where excitement was practically illegal, you had to do whatever you could to get some, and the idea that you might meet up and have sex with some stranger on the internet was about as thrilling as things got.

Scrolling and swiping through the sea of faces, it was always good to know that there were women out there looking for companionship; looking for someone perhaps like you. Of course, the majority of matches didn’t result in conversation, and even the ones which did usually died out after a few messages. Most talk was about lockdown, about how shit life currently was, and how you were only on the app out of sheer boredom. Naturally you tried to push the idea of meeting up for a bit of fun, but most girls weren’t into that. They wanted socially-distanced walks in the park and constant messaging to eventually see where things went after lockdown was over. It was a tedious affair, and I was quickly reminded why I had downloaded and deleted the app so many times already. I put it away and carried on drinking my bottle of rum, which was now down to the final quarter, reflected by me starting to feel my head spin. 

It was then that an almighty bit of luck came my way. Like a holy bolt of lightning had struck, I got a message off a girl I knew. She was a twenty-year-old Spanish nurse who had been living back in Spain, but had just arrived back in the U.K for her studies. We had hooked up the previous summer and she was now inviting me around her new place to “watch a movie and chill”. Of course, by doing that I would be breaking the rules, but as a single man who hadn’t been laid in five months, I had no choice but to answer nature’s call. I finished off the bottle before heading down to the garage and grab my bike. Finally, some action was on the horizon.

I took to the road and started pedaling like a madman through the storm. Her place was on the other side of town, so I cycled as fast as I could, weaving my way through the deserted streets and alleyways, battling the wind and rain which almost seemed to be trying to stop me from reaching my destination. My willpower prevailed and after twenty minutes I arrived at her place soaked and exhausted. Unfortunately I couldn’t just knock on the door; there were two other students living in the building unaware of me coming over, so she would have to stealthily sneak me in. I locked my bike up against a streetlamp and used the last of my phone battery to announce my arrival.

She came to the door and immediately dragged me toward her room. “You have to be quiet,” she said, leading the way. “There is a girl in the room above us. I’ve told her I’m video-calling people, but if she hears your voice she might get suspicious.” I entered her bedroom, took off my rain jacket, and used a towel to dry myself. We then sat on the bed and started catching up about our lives over the last few miserable months. We were talking in hushed tones for about ten minutes until there was a sudden knock on the door. “Hey Eliana, are you there?” It was the girl from upstairs. My friend then quickly dragged me into the walk-in wardrobe and told me to be silent. I stood there in the dark listening to her and her housemate chat away, feeling like I was taking part in an act of infidelity. It was already the most excitement I had experienced in months.

After she had gotten rid of her, I came back out quietly laughing at how ridiculous life was at that moment. My friend then got out the alcohol: a bottle of red wine and another bottle of rum. We poured ourselves some drinks, chose a movie to watch, and got cosy in bed. Lying there it felt strange to be so close to another person; to lay entwined limb to limb, almost as if things were normal again – almost as if human interaction was actually legal.

“How are you dealing with the lockdown she asked?”

“Oh you know, same as everyone else I guess. Doing whatever I can to not go completely insane. It didn’t help that my house had a power-cut today.”

“Yeah, I can imagine. Well, I was thinking we could at least do something fun tonight…” My excitement level suddenly increased. “I’ve got some pills of 2C-B that my old housemate left me, and I thought we could maybe take it together. It’s like a mix of ecstasy and acid, but the psychedelic effects aren’t too strong, and the high only lasts a couple of hours.” I sipped my drink and thought about it. Well, I had never taken any psychedelic drugs before, and it had been on my to-do list for a few years now. And distorting my consciousness with Class-A drugs would be a nice change from the current depressing reality of life.

“Sure,” I said.

Next thing I know, she has her little bag of drugs out on the desk, measuring out a couple of pills of 2C-B. There were also a couple of tabs of acid which we decided not to use.

“There you go,” she said, handing me half a pink pill with a batman logo on it. “I think this is a good enough amount to take for your first time, and if you don’t feel high enough, there’s another pill we can crush up and snort later.” I looked down at the pill then grabbed my glass of wine to gulp it down. She did the same, and then we went back to watching the movie while waiting for the effects to kick in.

It was about an hour or so later when my peripheral vision started to become wavy. The curtains of the bedroom looked like strands of wheat blowing in the wind, and a little crack in the ceiling looked like the whole reality of the space-time continuum being ripped open. “Can you feel it yet?” she asked. I told her what I was experiencing as we started laughing, pouring more drinks, talking absolute rubbish; no longer in hushed tones. I then went to the toilet where I sat down and looked at a bag full of clothes in the corner of the room. On top of the clothes was a grey fleece which had assumed the shape of a baby elephant all cuddled up in the womb of the bag. I could see its face, its eyes, its trunk, its legs. It stared at me for a while and then suddenly blinked. It was at this point I decided that I was hallucinating for the very first time. At least I hoped so, anyway.

I returned to the room to find Eliana dancing to some Latin music. It was clear by then the movie wasn’t going to be finished. She kept telling me how much energy she had that she needed to use in some way. I was going to suggest that she used it through the act of sexual intercourse, but before I could utter my thoughtful suggestion she was putting on her shoes and telling me that we needed to take a walk around the neighbourhood. I wasn’t too keen to go back outside but obliged her request. 

Out on the streets, the storm had quietened down and there were even a few stars visible in the night sky. The temperature was now well below freezing though, and the ground was covered in a thick, glittering frost. The glints of ice on the grass and bushes looked like a starry universe itself, and we walked around like children marvelling at the world around us. The streets were eerily silent and we talked about what it would be like when things went back to normal; if they would ever go back to normal. For that moment, it didn’t really matter though as I felt the high in my veins and saw the world through a magical new lens. In a way it felt weird to feel some form of fun being experienced again, almost as if my body had almost forgotten what it was.

We eventually returned to the room to finish the rest of our drinks and climb into bed. It took about ten minutes of cuddling until we started having sex. I’m not sure how long we went for, but it felt like hours, and god how I needed it after all that time locked up alone in my room. It did make me wonder how actual prisoners in jail fared on their life sentences. Suddenly the soap in the shower scenarios began to make sense. 

The next morning we had some more sex before I grabbed my stuff and quietly left. I had barely slept and was in a strange state of mind from the tiredness and the comedown. By now it was snowing instead of raining, and I brushed my bike seat clear of snow to begin my battle back home. Cycling through the white stuff beside the flooded river, I had to think how much life felt like some sort of disaster movie. Truly, it had been one of the worst winters on record with the grim weather reflecting the mood of society. Storms, floods, snow, the sun barely making an appearance through the constant dark clouds. It really felt like the end of days. But at least I had had some sort of life last night, which helped my spirit as I tried to keep my eyes open while cycling through the slippery roads.

Back alone again in my room, I sat down on my bed and tried to warm my hands up. They were shaking from the cold and I lay paralysed under the sheets, waiting for life to return to them again. I was also completely exhausted, yet somehow unable to sleep. There were some leftover Christmas chocolates on the table and I smashed them down, trying to get some energy back into my body. By now at least the power in the house had been sorted and I was able to charge my phone again. 

I turned it on and started mindlessly scrolling through social media once more. It was then that I got another message off Eliana. “So I still have those tabs of acid left….” Jesus, for such an innocent-looking person, this girl was really wild. I looked around my room and thought about how to reply. It would be another day of staring at walls, existing like some sort of house plant, waiting for the world to go back to normal while another day of my youth died and disappeared forever. Well, maybe I was a bad guy for breaking all the rules, but at this point I didn’t care. I texted back and told her I would be back over in the evening. I then tried to sleep and I couldn’t. I then tried to write and I couldn’t. There was nothing left to do: no job to work, no project to work on, no life to live. There was no choice but to go back to hers, take some more drugs and hope that whatever life in me would still be there when this winter had subsided, and the light of spring had returned.