short stories

~ A Brush With Normality ~

a brush with normality

~ A Brush With Normality ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

short stories

~ A World Not Made for Lovers ~

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~ A World Not Made for Lovers ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  “Man up.”

  “Learn to play the game like everyone else.”

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

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

short stories

~ Seriously, What’s the Point? ~

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~ Seriously, What’s the Point? ~

“Seriously, what’s the point?”

“The point to what?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      

short stories

~ Just Another Fool Beneath The Ether ~

 

caminoo

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

‘Just Another Fool Beneath The Ether‘ 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

short stories

~ Social Distancing? No problem ~

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~ Social Distancing? No Problem ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

short stories

~ Things They’d Never Understand ~

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~ Things They’d Never Understand ~

“So, how’s the job going?”

“I quit,” I told him.

“You quit? why?”

 “I wasn’t able to write.”

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

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

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

“I do,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not everyone thinks like you do.”

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

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

To try and make them understand,

the things they’d never understand.

 

short stories

~ Holding On ~

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~ Holding On ~

A new chapter had arrived and I was living in Nottingham – a new city for me to make my mark and perhaps finally integrate myself into human society. The quest hadn’t gotten off to a good start. I was hungover, pissing blood, unemployed – lying on my bed trying to summon the strength to get up and face the world. I reached over and grabbed my CV from the bedside desk. It was a bigger mess than ever. Twenty-seven-years-old and I had never worked a full-time job. Most of my peers had an employment history of structure and sanity and sensibility; what was on mine was scraps of part-time employment intermixed with huge gaps where I had been bumming around the world or living off medical trials. From an employer’s point of view, it was nothing but mess and madness. I put it back down on the desk and looked down at my body: skinnier than usual since my recent decision to become a vegetarian. A scar on my left knee reminded me of the time when I had drunkenly fallen into a basement in Spain. Another one reminded me of getting beat up by a group of guys after kissing someone’s girlfriend. 

The scratches and scars weren’t just on my skin, but etched into my heart and soul too. I could feel a throbbing pain within me slowly succumbing to the inevitable; the entropy of the universe slowly wearing me down little by little, piece by piece. It was true that holding it together was harder year by year. Half-way through my twenties and I had let myself drift far away from a normal, healthy life. I was now out on the fringes of sanity and society; of self-destruction and madness. I felt alone in my grim fate but I couldn’t help but walk the streets and wonder how many others were also out there trying to hold on to that ledge too. How many people had faced those morning mirrors while trying to summon the strength to face another day? How many people also felt disconnected from the world around them? How many people were also holding on to whatever it was that was momentarily saving them from drowning in the abyss?

Indeed, some days the sadness of those streets was too much. You could see it in the passing faces. The struggle of everyday life. The dreams and desires that had been suppressed. The people mindlessly drifting down the sidewalks of life, following someone else’s path and not their own. Maybe I was just an angsty young man projecting my own problems onto others, but a part of me could feel the weight of this society tearing everyone apart from the inside out. Our modern civilisation had left so many of us gutted and debauched. It seemed that very few of those humans were doing well to me. Most were ‘getting by’ or ‘making ends meet’. Some were pretending that everything was great with fake smiles and social media posts, but in reality, most were living lives of quiet desperation and spiritual emptiness. Other than them you had the madmen and maniacs who made no secret about their wretched fate. You only had to go to the town centre to see them wandering aimlessly down those streets, shouting and swearing at skies above in an attempt to vent their inner pain. Looking at those dejected creatures, I sometimes felt a sort of affinity toward them: a part of me suspected that their fate was my fate. My manic mind just couldn’t be reprogrammed to the type that could put up with the trivia of everyday life. Once you had lived a certain way and saw society from a certain angle, there was just no way to make your way back to the safe farm of social sanity. No way to accept the small-talk and watch the televisions and cast the fake smiles and bullshit the job interviews. 

I thought I had let go of that life forever but I met a man one day while coming home from the pub who made me realise I had to try and hold onto it a little more. There he was lying there beside his own vomit, sipping a two-litre bottle of cider, asking me for change. I gave him some then sat down beside him. We started speaking and he told me how he was a student just a few years ago before deciding to abandon his studies and start bumming around the world. Specifically, he told me about his travels in Asia and how he had come back home and fallen into hard times with no friends or family to support him. His tale caused a strange and uneasy feeling in my stomach. The more I listened to his story, the more I realised that his path had been the same as my path. The travelling, the isolation – the abandonment of education and indifference with society. The similarities made me wonder if that was where I was also heading. The spaces of the down and out? The vomit-stained gutters? The idea of it scared me so much that I ran back home and got to work on finding some sort of employment. 

Back in my apartment room, I opened up that laptop and loaded my CV. I stared at that page and tried to think how I could possibly stitch together the chaos of the last years of bohemian madness. I quickly came to the conclusion that the only thing to do was to fabricate this document which acted as a passport to a healthy life of employment and social acceptance amongst peers and parents. I extended some dates and started applying for as many jobs as possible. All types of jobs. Office jobs. Bar jobs. Even journalism jobs from my degree I hadn’t used in the last five years. I flung my application out into the professional wilderness hoping some human resource manager would bite. The rejections and non-replies predictably came in thick and fast. Even with all the adjustments, my work history was a total disaster and I was now a ‘red flag’ for most employers – understandably I guess. 

Eventually, I decided to head to an industrial work agency and let myself get a menial job of some kind. Specifically it was a job in a metal fabrication factory. Almost anyone could do this sort of work; you merely did a repetitive task that a machine would eventually do once the technology had developed. There was no intellect required and the minimum wage pay reflected this. That was okay. It was something at least and I didn’t need much money; just enough to get by and give myself some time alone to work on my writing when I got home. I got started on the job, working eight to five, Monday to Friday. My time there involved standing on a factory line and helping to grind down pieces that came out the machine. Little bits of metal protruded from the corners and I simply had to grind the roughness down to something smooth. I admired the irony of my role and wondered if I could perhaps turn the machine on myself. 

It was a long day of mind-numbing work and by the time I got home, I only had just a few hours to myself to try and wake myself up to do something. My plan, of course, was to write myself into stardom, but often I was too tired and just slumped on my bed and stared at the ceiling. It was my space of solitude and the silence of the room allowed many thoughts to run through my head. A part of just still couldn’t understand how so many people submitted themselves to this routine all their lives. The relentless work five days a week for a weekend that flew by. And, of course, few people did anything with their weekend other than try to cheer themselves up with highstreet shopping or drinking. In the blink of an eye, it was Monday morning again and you were back there in the workplace staring into space and facing another long week of mindless work.

That mindless work continued in the metal fabrication factory until they suddenly ran dry. I collected my last paycheck and went back to the agency to see what gruel they had on their menu. After sitting in front of a smug young recruitment agent talking about his new watch, I was given the assignment of helping out at an old pet food factory. I knew I wasn’t qualified for much in this world, but this was a new low even by my standards. Consider the fact that the factory was a one hour commute away too, and that ten per cent of my wage would be eaten up by the bus fare, it was safe to say I wasn’t feeling too great with the situation at hand.

Still, I needed to get some money to avoid joining the homeless man on the vomit-stained sidewalks, so I sucked it up and got to work. Walking into the factory for the first time, I was greeted immediately with the overpowering smell of pet food. It was a stench that quickly ingrained itself into your clothes, skin and soul. I was told that I would get used to it. Lucky me. On the way to see the manager, I walked past a ‘waste bucket’ where damaged or out-of-date packets of cat food had been chucked in. Maybe some smells you could get used to, but not that one. That was the smell of death and maggots and madness. That was the smell straight from the depths of hell.

After a quick conversation with the manager, I was put on a conveyor-belt line where I was to load up cans of dog food that would be stripped and relabelled. It was about the same level of skill involved as the last job – i.e. none at all. While I worked, I would look around at everyone in the factory. Some had worked with the machines so long they had become mechanical themselves. Their cogs in their brain moved the same robotic way, their conversations were mechanised, their behaviour automatic. You could tell who were the ones who had been there the longest due to how little light came from their eyes. This was it: the murdering machine of the mundane. People who had worked and existed in menial jobs so long that the feeling of life had all but left their veins. And it wasn’t just the dead-end jobs where this happened. It also happened in graduate jobs. In the office jobs. Even the high-paying, high-rise jobs. The people in those often became so absorbed in bureaucracy and systems that they soon lost their souls. You could see it in the faces of most CEOs and politicians; very little humanity remained in their eyes. They had been converted to some sort of thinking, calculating machines of the system.

But where else to turn to? I wondered again. The homeless laid on those sidewalks and those bills needed to be paid. I, of course, had the classic writer’s dream that one day some big hotshot editor would stumble across my work and I’d be selling millions worldwide. There in Rolling Stone magazine interviews I would sit and tell my story about how I crawled out of the drudgery and darkness to emerge clean on the other side of my dream. It was total delusion of course, but we all needed a little bit of delusion to make life bearable I guess. It’s when we gave up on our dreams altogether that the murdering machine took the fatal blow. You emptied out and rotted away like those out-of-date cans of dog food. Holding onto a dream was what kept some sort of spirit for life, and the importance of it was something I was continually reminded of while speaking to the only friend I had in the pet food factory. He was a forty-seven-year-old man who had been through a lot of jobs after being made redundant from his software developing job in London. He had gone from a high-paying job to now earning the minimum wage in that factory of doom. It was a situation he naturally wasn’t too happy with and every day he told me about how he was developing his own computer game in his spare time to try and get himself back into working in his passion. The smell of rotting pet food had spurred him on not to give up on and there he was: another man fighting to hold on and not let himself be murdered by that mundane machine that stole the light from so many eyes and the fight from so many hearts. 

That man stirred something in me and motivated me to go home and also toil away at my dream. To not let myself empty out slowly through a life of incessant and trivial routine. To write my way into some sort of glory and escape. I was trying to hold on the best I could but sometimes the horror of my situation led me back to the bottle. I’d go on weekend benders blowing all my money before staring into mirrors and seeing the sanity slowly slipping from my eyes. It soon spiralled out of control to the point where I drank myself to sleep most nights, trying to forget about the horror of my circumstance. Some nights my loneliness hit me and I’d go out to a club alone to find a girl which naturally was notably harder to do when you told them you worked in a pet food factory.

One day a new drama came my way: my laptop started refusing to charge. It would only plugin and provide power, but not actually charge the computer. Consequently, the battery started to drop down slowly and slowly by one percent a day on average. That laptop was my portal to another place and soon I would no longer even be able to write away my immortal stories – the one thing that was keeping me from losing my mind altogether. The universe had spoken and that battery was running down its course to complete destruction. I had to laugh at the symbolic nature of it all. Like me, it was becoming more and more depleted as I fought to keep my soul alive in a society which relentlessly looked to stomp it into submission. It is a reality that faces most of us out there and – as the fingers bleed in the factories, as the stressed workers tightly grip the steering wheels in the morning commute, as the fifty-year-old man works on his computer game till late at night; as the pills are swallowed and the powder snorted; as the bills arrive through the post and the prayers are not answered – so many of us are holding on in some way or another to stop ourselves from emptying out. Clutching onto beer bottles, or pills, or bags of powder. Clinging onto delusions and dreams. Clinging onto the hope in our hearts as we face the darkness of the Monday morning at work once again. 

Clinging onto the words of a short story that nobody will probably ever read. Well, I guess I’m not letting go just yet.

short stories

~ Why ~

solitude

~ Why? ~

The dream faded from sight as my eyes opened to the reality of my room. I didn’t bother to check the time, but the light penetrating the small gap in between my curtains made it clear once again: another day of existence had begun. 

I lay flat and limp on my bed, casting my eyes outward toward the window. Suddenly I felt a shudder surge through my body. I knew that out there beyond that glass the human race was preparing for another day of battle. Right now alarm clocks were bleeping, ties were being tightened, ignitions being turned and traffic jams forming. Soon the workstations would be manned, fake smiles would be cast, hands shook, lies told, deals made – economic and political doctrines successfully enforced and followed. On the streets the pedestrians would be marching along those grey sidewalks pulled along by some vague meaning and purpose for life. Their hands would be clutching and clinging onto briefcases, or shopping bags, or lottery tickets, or holy books, or beer bottles, or prescription medicines, something – anything. Throughout the course of their day advertisements would be consumed, newspapers read and lies believed. Meanwhile the politicians and businessmen would be sat in offices plotting and conspiring the latest activities of corruption and self-interest. 

Such ferocious absurdity was not just taking place in this city, or this country, or this continent, but across the entire goddamn planet. The thought of what was out there was enough to turn my face into my pillow and retreat into my own dark cave of isolation. Humanity and its strange ways were as relentless as the English rain, and burying my head in the sand often seemed like a good alternative to going out there and joining in with the madness. Unfortunately my existence on planet earth was subject to the concept of money. My temporary peace and solitude was afforded by the few remaining pounds I had in my bank account which had been continually dwindling down and down to the last three digits. A gradual realisation had been dawning on me and I knew that there was no avoiding it any longer. It was time. My name had been called; my letter of conscription typed. I knew it was time to go out there and join the war, to face the firing squad – to let myself be beaten and bludgeoned by the companies and bosses and executives.

I got out of bed, got dressed and headed into the kitchen of my flat. There my roommate was cooking breakfast. He glanced at me with a judgmental look.  “So what are you going to do today?” he said. “Have you started looking for a job yet? You know that our rent is due tomorrow right?” 

     “I started looking a few days ago” I lied. “I should have something sorted out for the end of the week.” 

     “That’s great, but you have the money for rent right?”

     “Yes.”

    “And also for the bills – the internet and electricity?”

     “Yes.” 

He nodded in satisfaction and carried on moving erratically around the cooker. I grabbed my cereal from a cupboard and began pouring a bowl, trying to avoid further conversation with him. I didn’t really have anything against him, it’s just that frankly talking to him was a strained affair for all parties involved. To be honest I often wondered how I had ended up cooped up with this creature in a small flat. He was a strange one. For one he happened to be the only gay person I knew who opposed the gay marriage (on account of his Christian faith). When I moved in he had claimed he was a people person but that started to seem dubious when he came home every day angry and sour-faced from his bus driving job telling me how much he hated everyone in this town. “Those fucking people!” he would curse as he recalled his day to me. “I want to kill those fucking people!” He once devised a grand plan to escape to Austria to live a quiet life in the mountains, but that had failed and had left him come crawling back to England with sad and bewildered eyes. I kinda felt sorry for the damn guy to be honest. Here he was: unhappily single, balding, thirty-five, and had already spent his entire youth stressing and butchering away his best years. It was obvious he was lost, but that was okay – everybody was secretly lost in some way, it’s just that some people hid it a little better than others.

I finished making my cereal and retreated to the lounge to eat alone at the table. I sat down with my laptop beside me. After a few minutes of mindlessly staring into the vacuum of space and time, a thought entered my brain. I decided that I better search the latest job adverts; I did need a job after all. I started searching and for a moment I was quite optimistic; I imagined that maybe there would be something out there that interested me. Perhaps working in the local national parks outside the city, or doing something somewhere in solitude. Precious solitude – yes, yes, that would be enough! But predictably the search returned nothing of the kind. The majority of jobs were commission-based sales jobs which were designed for charismatic extroverts who could bark their way to scamming some senile elderly person out of their retirement savings. I could imagine some goblin-eyed boss putting his hand on my shoulder and telling me “good job kiddo” after conning some eighty-year-old out of her rainy day fund. Besides the sales jobs there were also some retail vacancies, which of course meant interacting with hordes of humans throughout the day. In the end, I gave up and decided I’d just go to the employment agency to see what grool they had on their own menu. I closed my laptop, slumped back into my chair and stared out of the window. 

As I looked out into the skies above the surrounding apartment blocks and houses, I suddenly started to feel a bit down about everything. The whole thought of going out there and joining in with the human race filled me with dread and despair. Why couldn’t life just be a fun adventure, I wondered once more. It was a thought that went through my mind at least one hundred and twenty-seven times a day. Often I’d find myself getting philosophical about everything and lamenting the banality of everyday life. I mean, you couldn’t get away from it. Every day the average human-being was awakened by an alarm clock to again face the absurdity of citizen-based existence. Here you were: an intelligent being that floated through space on a twirling, organic spaceship in a universe filled with black-holes, shooting stars and infinite horizons. And yet you were subjected by gravity and government to live in a world of monotony and mediocrity. Instead of sailing through the cosmos, you’d stutter through traffic jams; instead of exploring the earth, you’d explore supermarket aisles; instead of writing poetry, you’d write up tax-returns. Why was it like this, I wondered over a bowl of sugar-free, low-fat cornflakes.

articles · short stories

~ The Comfortable Life ~

the comfortable life

~ The Comfortable Life ~

I stood at the top of the hill above the city, looking out at the sprawling concrete jungle before me. It was a world our hunter-gatherer ancestors could not have imagined in their wildest dreams. A whole society living indoors, buying processed and packaged meat from supermarkets, getting everything delivered to their front door and communicating with each other via satellite signals. Lives lived behind desks staring at screens rather than sunsets, chasing promotions rather than prey, climbing career ladders rather than mountains. Lives of sedentary comfort but existential pain; lives of technological development but spiritual emptiness. A life – ultimately – not for me.

It had been just two weeks working an office job and sitting behind a desk all day only to come home to my apartment and sit and stare at another screen. Already I was beginning to see how I was slowly being moulded and melded down into a life of systematic routine. Each morning I awoke at the same time to the alarm clock. I then walked to work and watched the same cars stutter through the traffic jams. The day, on the whole, played out exactly the same as the last one without any real surprise or novelty. This is how it was for masses of people out there: each day sitting behind a desk and staring at a screen before you came home and sank into a sofa to watch yet another screen. Gradually you sank so far into that sofa that your dreams and desires disappeared down the sides. The curtains were drawn along with your creativity and curiosity. From society’s point of view, you were an accepted member of civilisation who had found your groove in the grand scheme of things. You fitted neatly into the system and your life became some sort of well-polished pair of shoes, shiny car or well-groomed lawn outside a suburban home. Things were pretty on the face of things, yet beneath that superficial surface, the spirit began to wane. Too much comfort killed a person. Murdered them. Left them with a tamed spirit and an idle mind. Left them unable to think for themselves.

It was the way of modern society that was now accepted as ‘the real world’. Personally I felt it was a hollow existence but what was the alternative? Running off into the wilderness often seemed like a good option. Sure, I knew that the wilderness was full of things that wanted to kill you. Storms could drown you. Mountains could freeze your toes. Rocks could break your bones. Animals could poison you and tear your flesh apart. It wasn’t quite the easy everyday existence of modern life no doubt, but it seemed a sacrifice that was worth making sometimes. I thought back to my hiking trips in the Himalayas. There were times where my adventures had led me to the precipice of death and destruction; there were times where the feet blistered and my brain ached with apprehension and doubt. But, in those times, there was something that stirred my soul and made the blood flow through full-speed through my veins. That something was a something that was extremely difficult to find in the everyday life of the citizen in modern Western society – a something that just didn’t seem compatible with the life expected of you by your peers and parents.

Of course, the consumer capitalists argue that anyone who thinks differently should go back to the prehistoric ages and live in a cave and hunt boar with a spear or something. They’d argue you’d live twice as long now as you did back then when we didn’t have our comfortable lives, cubicles, smartphones and our takeaway delivery systems. It was a reasonable argument I guess, but I could see people who have made it to eighty yet not lived at all. People stuck in lives that led to obesity, heart disease and vitamin depletion from being stuck inside all day. Then came the mental health problems that this society caused. The anxiety, stress, depression and quiet desperation that haunted the hearts of so many people out there. Seemingly there is a price to pay for all our industrial development; there is something that is twisting and tearing us up because deep down we know that we were not meant to live this way. Our evolution has taken us to a weird place where we now don’t have to worry about dying of disease at thirty-five, but instead we work jobs we don’t like and use that money to pay for therapy and drown our sorrows at the weekend.

As always, I kept my eyes open and looked to find a way to liberate myself from the entrapments of the system. I was from the U.K and there wasn’t much wilderness around apart from the odd country park. So my plan was just to keep saving up some money to afford myself some far-off adventure every now and again to remind myself that it was to be truly alive. That was the trick I had been doing so far, and it seemed to work, always reinvigorating my soul with a sense of life that was sorely missed in the monotony of the work routine. That spell of chaotic adventure every year was truly valuable, and I knew it would be the thing to reach for whenever I felt my spirit slowly being sucked and swallowed up by that sofa of submission.

That sofa of submission was always waiting for you and the thought of it made me recall an elderly guy I used to serve in the supermarket I used to work at. Like me, his life and happiness were dependent on a bit of adventure. He had kept himself in great shape all his life due to regularly going mountaineering, running and on long cross-country bike rides. One day he was up in Scotland when he had a bike accident which permanently damaged his right hip and leg. Consequently, at the age of seventy, his days of venturing out into the wilderness had come to an abrupt end. He was now left to embrace the comfortable life. We spoke often about life in the store while I told him about the latest adventure I had planned and he told me about his new state of being. He wasn’t suicidal or something, but I could sense a sadness in his voice. Confined to his small bungalow, his life was now dependent on television, reading and the same old walk around the neighbourhood. Consequently, I could see that once blazing light in his eyes slowly begin to fade. He was now one of the many comfortable souls out there and the special energy he had had before the accident quickly began to fade. 

Still, at least he had tasted the thrill of an adventure for the majority of his life, which was not something said for many people out there. So many will never know the beauty of jumping the fence of security and allowing themselves to become a little scratched and scarred by the rugged wilderness. So many will never taste the joy of not knowing what is around the next corner or where you will sleep that night. Such a way of life is becoming increasingly alien and the comfortable, sedentary life will only get worse from here. Soon the sex robotos will be here and people will no longer even leave their houses. Soon the food will come through pipes in the ground like water and gas. Soon the Amazon drones will deliver your latest gadgets and gizmos through your window and we will all lie on sofas working from our computers. The wilderness will disappear from the earth’s surface as well as in the majority of people’s hearts. Our souls will be paved and tarmacked over. Our minds will be connected to the internet and there will be no unique or original thought anywhere. Life will become easy and safe and predictable and boring beyond words.

It’s a way of life increasingly hard to avoid but I guess I’ll just keep resisting the system and letting myself get lost in the wild every now and again. I know, I know. Those rocks can break your bones, storms can drown you, mountains freeze your toes and animals poison you and tear your flesh apart. If I die early on some mountain-path, please know I died content with the thought I at least knew what it was to taste the thrill of adventure. That I had explored the unknown and not let myself be spiritually murdered by the mundane. This is the way life that will keep me alive to the end; a way of life that will see me happy to bid it farewell when my time is done. Not a slow and safe march to the grave down a grey highway of routine, television and weekend drinking, but a thrilling run through the wilderness that leaves you screaming for more.

“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine – it’s lethal.” – Paulo Coehlo

short stories

~ Beaten ~

beaten

~ Beaten ~

Eyes full of sickness and sadness, I stared at the dancefloor with a feeling of resentment. There they all were: those happy people with their happy faces. They moved effortlessly across the floor like they moved effortlessly through life. No doubt they all lived sane and orderly lives of structure and stability. They didn’t know my pain, my madness. They didn’t know what it was like to linger always on the sidelines and stare in from the outside. I stood there doing exactly that, leaning on the bar while watching them as they moved and grooved. I downed a double whiskey coke while continuing my ethnographic observation. I drank another one then realised my friend had left with a girl. I looked around for any possible chance with a female before conceding defeat and heading for the door.

Exiting the bar and stumbling down the street, my eyes beheld a jungle of kebab shops and neon lights leading me through the city centre. I watched as drunken revellers shouted, scoffed food and clambered into taxis. The human race was a wild species that had been tamed by its own creation of civilisation, but there was still a certain level of anarchy we allowed to unfold. This was best witnessed at 4am on highstreets full of broken bottles and broken minds; on highstreets where couples stood screaming at each other; on highstreets bearing piles of puke that were symbolic of the inner sickness of society. The sight of it all made me sad and it was at this point I remembered that it was my first time in Sheffield and I was supposed to be staying with my mate who had disappeared with a girl. I had no battery on my phone to contact him and suddenly found myself in the situation of having nowhere to sleep. Not an ideal situation admittedly, but by that point I was too drunk to care. Lost in the blur, I carried on staggering down the sidewalk until three men started speaking to me. I must have done or said something slightly disagreeable because the next thing I know I was getting the shit kicked out of me on the floor. Kicks and punches rained down upon me. My body grinded against the pavement. Venomous words of hate filled my ears. The beating continued for a good thirty seconds until the blurry figures ran off and disappeared out of sight. I picked myself up and assessed the damage. Blood dripped from above my left eye as my ribs ached and hip throbbed with a friction burn from the concrete. I knew immediately that my body was going to have more scars – more symbols of the destruction of my life etched permanently into my skin and flesh. 

Still not knowing what to do or where to go, I wandered around the early morning streets of Sheffield city centre while looking like someone from a horror movie. I didn’t have anywhere really to go and just kept stumbling around in a drunken daze. Eventually a police woman picked me up after some bystander spotted me in my gory state. I told her what had happened as she drove me around town in her car. I guess I was expecting to get taken to a hospital, or perhaps to the police station to file a report, but in the end she just cleared up my wound and dropped me outside a closed train station. I got out of the car and stood there alone in the cold winter night wearing just a t-shirt. Cuts to the public services in Britain had resulted in this – underfunded and overstretched, they looked for any way to avoid you utilising them. Consequently I stood there shivering and staring into the empty station, waiting for the damn thing to open. My ticket wasn’t until noon, but I was just going to board any train I could. If only there was a train off this planet, I pondered. 

Finally the station opened and I went inside and sat down watching the smartly-dressed business people get ready for another day at work. I watched the mothers quickly glance at me and look away in horror. I watched the little kids snicker and gossip about the wounds on my face. Those looks followed me onto the train where I tried to sleep but was woken up by a ticket inspector who told me my ticket was invalid for the current service I was on. I got out my card and paid for a new one as the conductor kept his distance. Thirty minutes later, I arrived in Derby where I was meant to switch trains to Nottingham. Looking at the board, I could see it would be another fifty minute wait in the cold until I could catch the connecting train. Suddenly it was all too much and I left the station and paid for a £40 taxi back home.

I think it was about 3pm in the afternoon when I awoke finally sober. Being too tired to clean myself first, I had collapsed onto the bed and left bloodstains all over the sheets. I grabbed them and threw them in the laundry. I then went into the bathroom and stared at my beaten face in the mirror. Back in a normal state of mind, I could finally see the severity of the beating I took. There were deep cuts, bruising and bumps around the left eye, as well as a few scratches on the right. It was a sorry sight to behold and I suddenly remembered that I was supposed to be going on a date with a girl later that evening. Maybe it could be rearranged, I thought. I then spoke to a friend on the phone who convinced me to head to the hospital to check for a concussion. I walked there for an hour as people continued to look at me like some sort of circus freak. I reached the hospital and stood looking up at that sad building with its rows and rows of windows. Windows in which the dying lay dying – windows in which those old hearts beat their last beats, those lungs gasped their last breaths and those eyes soaked in their last bit of light. I guess that’s where we all end up, maybe with a few relatives and flowers beside us if we are lucky. I headed in where the doctor inspected me and told me that I didn’t have a concussion but that I needed to be careful. I asked if there was anything I could do to stop the scarring around my eye. No solid advice was given. 

All things considered, I sat back and knew it had truly been a night of disaster. Perhaps the most disastrous of any night out I had, and there had been a few dramas along the way. I thought the situation couldn’t get any worse, but apparently the gods had a few more tricks up their sleeves. When I returned home I checked my jean pockets and realised I had lost my passport at some point during the night. I also remembered that I was supposed to be starting a new job in a few days, and that I would have to turn up on my first day with my face looking like I had just ten rounds with Mike Tyson. That’s not to mention what the girl would think of me when I showed up to the date. It was a sorry state of affairs and all of a sudden a strange feeling fell over me. I touched the wounds on my face and felt like crying. It was the realisation of the horror and futility of it all. The world was relentless pain and agony, and no matter how good things got, you were always just a short way away from being stamped down by the boots and fists of life. I was only one week into the new year and already it was looking to be another one of misery and destruction. It was a depressing thought and I went into the bathroom to once again stare at my gory reflection in the mirror. I was beaten – scratched and scarred and stained with a dirt of which I’d never be clean. It was a sight I had beheld many times in my life – physical and mental wounds that gathered over the years – wounds that told the story of what each human faced on their path through life.

I continued wallowing in my self-pity until something strange happened. Out of nowhere, I burst out laughing. I looked in the mirror and laughed and laughed until my stomach hurt. I walked back into my bedroom and laughed some more. I even did a little dance in front of my wardrobe mirror while marvelling at the absurdity of my appearance. The misery subsided and I felt a strange determination within me. It was something that always appeared in moments where I was truly in the swamp of despair. The more this world tried to stamp me down, the more I just wanted to rise up against it and bare the blows. Maybe I was losing my mind completely, but I was going to make sure that life would be lived before death had its dirty way with me. With that thought in mind, I cleaned my cuts up some more, showered, drank a beer and got dressed for my date. 

It was going to be another magical evening.