short stories

~ Trapped in Time ~

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Trapped in Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

short stories

Breaking into Heaven

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Breaking into Heaven: Another Glastonbury Break-In Story

I sat staring out the window of the train, watching the sun go down over the fields of Somerset. It was late June and it had been another beautiful summer day. The picturesque sight was also enjoyed by the other people in the carriage, all drinking cans of cider and excitedly discussing the prospect of the next few days. We were all on our way to Glastonbury music festival – the greatest festival in the world – and the atmosphere was something similar to being on Hogwart’s Express. I watched wide-eyed groups of friends talk about all the magical things they were going to do once they set up camp. Shangri-La. Arcadia. Getting high at Stone Circle. Sniffing ket on their mate’s forehead. As I listened to the excited revellers prepare for another tumble down the Glasto rabbit-hole, I couldn’t help but feel slightly sick in my stomach. Those people were making their way to the festival guaranteed of a great time, whereas I wasn’t. Not because I didn’t trust myself to have another epic Glastonbury experience, but for the slightly inconvenient fact that I didn’t have a ticket.

I didn’t have a ticket and I was heading to the festival anyway – on my own too (at least for now anyway). I was due to liaise with my partner in crime at Castle Cary train station, who was currently making his way there from the separate direction of London. Already we had taken a risk spending £70 on train tickets to get us to a place where we officially had no reason to be, but my friend had filled me with confidence over the previous week telling me how amazing it would be and that we could definitely pull it off – the great Glastonbury break-in.

Normally, of course, we would have tickets for the big event, but it was not to be this year and we couldn’t face the idea of not being there, especially when fifteen or so of our friends would be. We had been on the phone every evening discussing our break-in strategy and whether or not it was even possible at all. As seasoned Glasto-goers who had worked as stewards before, we naturally knew the task at hand was a substantial one. Since the introduction of the super fence, breaking into Glastonbury was a mission that was not out of place in a Metal Gear Solid game. There was a 14ft fence to scale, perimeter patrols, lookout towers, guard dogs, the most security out of any music festival in the world, and – as we were soon to find out – hostile farm animals. But we were men of faith and believed it could be done; the festival had found a special place in our hearts over the last years, and we knew the Glastonbury gods would shine their light on us and guide us safely into our spiritual home.

Our research over the last week had provided us with two leads. The first was a campsite supervisor – our man on the inside. He had been at the festival since the start of the week and had proven himself to be a reliable source of intel (he had even just sent us a video highlighting a specific weak spot in the fence where it was possible to break in). The second was a friend who was working on a festival stall and believed he had a way of sneaking us with the old pass-out/wristband trick, although this would be somewhat difficult now since they had added personalised codes to the pass-out cards. Aside from that we had received word of a drain tunnel that led into the south-east corner of the festival, and we also knew it could be possible to pay someone to sneak you into the festival in the back of a van. Failing all else, being two young guys in decent shape, we would simply make a run for it at the gates, although this was the mark of true desperation and I hoped it didn’t come to that (not that I fancied our odds against an army of radio-equipped security guards anyway). 

8.30pm

Finally arriving at Castle Cary station, I got off the train to go meet my comrade who was waiting in the car park. We greeted each other, made sure both of us were mentally ready for the task ahead, and then headed to the bus stop. The festival was providing a free shuttle-bus to transport punters to the festival site and we – admittedly rather audaciously – were going to take advantage of it. We nervously got in line with everyone else carrying their tents, crates of beer and large backpacks, while we stood suspiciously empty-handed (our friends inside had some stuff for us, but for the sake of speed and agility, we had resigned ourselves to the fact that we weren’t going to take much – in my small daypack were a few changes of underwear, two t-shirts, a pair of shorts, toiletries, a bottle of vodka, and a multi-pack of Twix chocolate bars – inspired from a previous Glastonbury break-in story which had served as a good source of inspiration). 

We got on the bus and went and sat down at the back. At this point the first rushes of adrenaline started to surge through my body. We were now undercover and I looked around at everyone excitedly chatting about what they were going to do when they were inside the festival. The thought hit me how absolutely painful it would be to go through all of this and then not get in. For now, I brushed that thought aside as me and my comrade spoke in hushed tones about our strategy for when we arrived at the site, while also downing some vodka (Dutch courage was going to be a necessary aid throughout the night). At one point a steward got on the bus to brief everyone on what to do when they arrived, and we sat there praying to the Glastonbury gods that she would not come and ask to see our totally non-existent tickets. 

The gods did their first work of the night and twenty minutes later we pulled into the bus and coach station outside Pedestrian Gate A. Exiting the bus, our eyes beheld the holy sight of Glastonbury festival. We saw the spotlights shoot up into the sky, the Glasto sign all lit up on the hill, the blasts of fire from Arcadia. We felt the bass reverberate through the ground and heard the roar of 175,000 people having the time of their lives. Yes, there it was in all its glory once again: the greatest party on the planet. Heaven on earth separated from us by a big fence and a bunch of burly security guards.

We had decided to get dropped at this part of the festival perimeter due to the strategy we’d devised. Our first point of attack was going to be the weak spot in the fence we had been tipped off about. This was on the outside of Bushy Ground and Rivermead camping. There was a small river that ran through the festival, and this provided a slight gap in the steel fence which was replaced by a scalable wooden fence. Our man on the inside had informed us that some people had successfully infiltrated the site this way the night before. Another reason was that there was a campervan campsite on this side and we had hypothesised that there would be less security on the gates around that end, although that was much just a hunch than anything. Well, we were men of faith after all.

We got away from the crowd queuing to enter and walked off down a path that would lead us to the nearby car park. This would be a good place to assess our strategy, and it was also next to the stream which led to the weak point in the super fence. Walking down the path, we could already see the regular patrols of security jeeps driving along the tracked road that ran alongside the fence perimetre. Aside from the patrol cars, there were also lone security guards walking around the outside of the car park. This was inconvenient for us as they were regularly walking along the spot where we would attempt our first attack on the fence. For now, we found a quiet spot in between some cars, ate some snacks, drank some more vodka, and prepared to switch into ninja mode. We also put on some wristbands that my friend had purchased off of eBay. Of course, they had nothing to do with Glastonbury 2019 (they were in fact from some random guy’s 40th birthday party entitled ‘FORTY-FEST’), but just having a wristband with similar colours to the current year’s one could potentially divert suspicious eyes away from us. On top of this, I also put on my old lanyard from when I had last worked at the festival, just to look a bit more official and, admittedly, give myself a false sense of security. 

After we had scoped out the area and mentally switched into ninja mode, we got down on our knees and started creeping closer to the stream. By now the cover of darkness was upon us, allowing us to stay hidden in the shadows. Fortunately for us the weather had been great the week before the festival, so the ground was dry which was definitely going to be in our favour, especially if we had to run from the security guards (something that was almost certain to happen). We crawled on that hard ground, stealthily edging our way closer to the corner of the car park where we could slip into the treeline beside the stream. After fifteen or so minutes, we were in prime position. The super fence was in sight and we were near the exact point our man on the inside had marked on the map, although there was no sign of the scalable fence he had spoken of. We realised at this point that extra security had been assigned to the area following the break-ins the previous night, and we nervously watched security guards walk along the bridge over the stream with their torches. Already it was looking like mission impossible. There was no way to edge closer to the gap in the fence in plain sight, so our only option was to get down into the stream itself and hope the guards on the bridge didn’t look down and see us creeping through the water. 

My friend went first, carefully climbing down the bank of the stream while holding onto some tree branches. It was at this point the foliage started working against us. Although it provided us with a degree of shelter, it also made us make more noise than any true ninja would hope to make. The sound of snapping twigs and rustling leaves could be heard, and it wasn’t long until one of the guards on the bridge above the stream was alerted by our movements. 

“Did you hear that mate?” The sound of that sentence made us freeze. “I think there’s someone down there you know.” Right then me and my comrade threw ourselves to the ground, hiding in the bushes. Soon the torches were shining down on the stream of water, systematically scanning the area to search for the origin of the noise. We waited tentatively for a few minutes until the lights had gone. It was a close call and we realised we would have to actually get in the stream if we wanted to continue. My friend went to get into it, but slipped and splashed his foot in the water. This time the guards knew for certain something was up. Calls to go and check it out could be heard as a torchlight darted across the area like the eye of Sauron. Somehow they still hadn’t seen us, although it was clear they knew we were definitely there. It was at this point I looked behind me at the path through the treeline. I could envisage an angry security guard coming from behind me at any second. We would be cornered, captured, potentially beaten up, and then evicted twenty miles off site. Our mission would be in tatters after barely getting started. The tension began to build. The adrenaline shot through my body. It was fight or flight and I made the sudden decision to retreat. I told my comrade to abandon the mission as we scrambled up the bank and ran back to the car park to take shelter in between the cars. We sat there in the shadows once again, sheltering in the merciful darkness, safe from the security hunting us with their torchlights.

After catching our breath, we decided that our first point of attack on the fence was not going to work; there was simply too much security in the area to even get close to the infiltration point. We then got out the map and reassessed our strategy, along with drinking more vodka to calm the nerves. In the meanwhile we text our friends inside the festival who were out enjoying the Thursday night in Shangri-La. I looked up at those spotlights in the sky and dreamed what it would be like to be inside with them. I imagined chatting shit with total strangers around a fire in Stone Circle. I imagined wandering through the crowds of Block 9. I imagined the joy, the delight, the ecstasy, the magic. For now, we were two rats locked outside in the darkness, but we had hope in our hearts that we would soon scurry our way into heaven.

11.30pm

As mentioned, we had studied the map and decided that it might be easier to break in via the entrance of Campervans West. If we could get into the vehicle campsite itself, it was sure to have less security than any of the main pedestrian gates. The area we were heading towards was on the South West side of the festival, and although it didn’t look far from our current point on the map, it would prove to be a tempestuous journey navigating the succession of hedgerows, farm fields, country lanes, security patrols, and even a random glamping campsite that wasn’t on the map. We headed southward along the path before making our way into another car park. Back in ninja mode, we started weaving our way through the fields whilst on high alert for any security. By now the effect of the vodka could be felt and this – along with the high levels of adrenaline and the surrealness of the situation – made it feel like we really were in some sort of espionage movie. We would have to be careful with how much we consumed though, as we needed our senses to still be in good working order for the mission ahead. It was a delicate balance of Dutch courage and being concentrated/focused enough to make rational decisions. 

After fumbling around some more through fields and hedges, we reached the outside of Pedestrian Gate D. We stopped to check the map, assess our progress, and check out all the scratches that were gradually accumulating on our legs. I thought we were relatively safe among the groups of people making their way into the festival, but it was at this point that our entire mission was suddenly thrown back into jeopardy. As my friend looked down at his phone to study the map, I saw a security guard approaching us with a dog. Immediately the adrenaline surged through my body once again. The enemy was present. My heart was beating fast as he arrived at our feet, shining his torch on our faces while his huge German Alsation sniffed us. 

“Alright lads. Is it okay if I see your tickets or wristbands please?” It was in this moment that everything really was in the hands of the Glastonbury gods. There was nothing we could do. No place to run or darkness to retreat to. A suspicious security guard and his sniffer dog stood between us and Glastonbury 2019. Me and my friend looked at each other with a look of horror. “Sure mate,” we said, before slowly holding out our completely irrelevant wristbands. We stood still as he leaned over and shone the torch onto them. He looked at them for what felt like an eternity and at one point I had mentally resigned myself to being caught and captured. Our cover was blown; our mission had failed. But no. Wait a moment. He pulled back his torch and took a step back. “Cheers lads. You can never be too careful you know, when you see a couple of young lads just loitering about near the entrance.” We nervously laughed. “No worries mate, it’s fine. Have a good night!” We then walked off in a state of shock. Somehow the decoy wristband had worked. Some random stranger’s birthday party had saved us from capture. It was the closest of all calls, and I couldn’t help but wonder whether he actually realised they weren’t fake wristbands. Maybe he just couldn’t be bothered with the aggro of evicting us. It was hard to say what had happened exactly, but by this point we were sure the Glastonbury gods were well and truly on our side. We regained our composure, had some more vodka, then kept marching southward to Campervans West. The sounds of Glastonbury continued to roar out into the valley and there was still some hope yet.

12.30am

After making our way past Pedestrian Gate D, we found ourselves besides a glamping campsite. It was closed off by a mesh steel fence, but we quickly managed to scale it and make our way inside. It was a nice relief from creeping through the darkness, and we spent some time there to use the luxury toilet facilities and regain energy with a few snacks, including a Twix – the essential fuel for any great Glasto break-in. We then followed the campsite around to the furthest southward point where we hopped another fence to get back out into the farmland. We were now creeping across a field, watching those spotlights and lasers of Glastonbury shoot up into the night sky. We could hear the DJ sets from Arcadia, the fireworks of stone circle, and the continual roar of those 175,000 people having the time of their lives. It was a beautiful and painful sound that made so many great Glasto memories come flooding back. My wistful daydreaming was interrupted when a few horses – who obviously weren’t used to strange men creeping across their field in the middle of the night – came and challenged us. They walked intimidatingly towards us, warning us away with aggressive neighing noises. There was a house nearby and we feared the horses would alert the owners, so me and my comrade quickly made our way over the field to get back onto the road that led to Campervans West.

Out on that road we were now walking in a place that no punter had any reason to be. We were far from any pedestrian gates and the only way to deal with this situation was to walk with confidence and purpose like we were working there. I made sure my outdated lanyard was visible as we headed closer to the campervan field. Soon we reached the fence of the campsite which, thankfully, was a lot more scalable than the super fence. We got off the road to slip behind a treeline that ran beside the fence, edging our way along the perimeter to see if we could find somewhere to climb over. We eventually found a spot where a support beam could help us get up. It was silent around us and we figured no one was around, but just to be sure my comrade quietly hopped onto the beam to survey the area. He poked his head over and then quietly climbed back down with a concerned look. He whispered to me that there was a security guard right on the other side of the fence. This point was a no-go and we would have to move on carefully to find another spot. I agreed. My comrade then hopped a steel gate back out onto the road and it was at that moment all hell broke loose. There was a parked car on the other side of the road which appeared to have no-one in it. How wrong we were. Just as my friend stumbled out onto the road, the doors swung open and an angry voice shouted out. “Oi you! What the hell do you think you’re doing?!” Shit. We had been spotted. Two security guards jumped out the car as my friend fled into a nearby field. I watched him run off into the darkness as the angry guards followed in hot pursuit. I wasn’t sure if they had seen me so I ran quickly back along the treeline to find another spot to get back out onto the road. At this point there was nothing I could do to help my friend and I stood there on the road, catching my breath, unsure of what to do next. Suddenly I heard footsteps rapidly approaching from the road ahead. I was about to run when my friend came bolting out of darkness. He had managed to somehow circle the guards. “Run!” he told me. And off we sprinted down the road like a couple of madmen. A few seconds later I heard bangs on the road behind me. Foolishly, I had forgotten to fully zip-up my bag after my last drink, and my few items for the festival had fallen out.  My vodka: gone. My t-shirts: gone. My Twixes: gone. My inventory was now severely depleted and I considered going back to collect them, but no. It was too risky. They were casualties of war beyond saving and we carried on running until we felt safe. It was then that another threat came our way. Two stewards were heading our way on the road ahead. It was time to go back undercover and I held my head up high, made sure my outdated lanyard was visible, and then gave them a friendly hello as we passed by undetected. It was another close call and at this point the adrenaline was surging rapidly through the veins. Thankfully we found a dark field we could get onto to relax and regain our composure. The field led up to the fence of the Campervans West and also along the mighty super fence itself. It was sheltered too, far from the road and any security checkpoints. It was probably the most advantageous spot we had reached yet, although how we were going to get in was still a mystery only the Glastonbury gods could help us with. But still, they had looked after us so far and we had faith that a divine intervention was soon to come…

2.30am

We moved across the field, encroaching closer to the festival site. We stayed to the side partly to avoid the herd of cows in the centre of the field, and also to avoid any torchlights from the security on the nearby road who would now be searching for us. Those security patrols could soon be seen in the distance, searching the treeline beside the road. They were looking in the wrong place and I felt a sense of relief that we were now somewhere they were unlikely to find us. The super fence and the Campervans West fence were in sight with very seemingly little between us.

After crossing the first field and avoiding any more encounters with aggressive farm animals, we emerged onto a second field of wheat. This field ran all the way up to the super fence itself. The downside was that a distant floodlight was illuminating the whole field, and there was also a manned guard tower beside it. We would have to keep low so that our shadows couldn’t be seen by the watchman. We got back down on our knees and started crawling up the field, hiding ourselves among the wheat. The ground was rock hard and jagged bits of mud made our journey a painful one. By this point my legs were covered with cuts and tiredness was creeping in; I had also lost all my alcohol and I soon faced the daunting prospect of facing the grueling mission sober. Still, we were in too deep now and there was no turning back. At this point we could practically feel the heat of the fire from Arcadia and taste that first Brother’s cider.

We reached the top of the field where another hedgerow separated us from the fence of Campervans West. It was still our plan to climb into there, but first we thought we would sneak up to the super fence itself to see if there was a more direct way into the festival site. We followed the hedge-line up the field, which gave us shelter from the floodlight and the guard tower. The tracked road that ran all along the super fence was still there though, and every five minutes a security jeep drove past casting their torchlights into the bushes. Extreme caution was needed. We carried on and reached the bushes just before the super fence. It was probably the closest to the actual festival we had been in of the night; right on the other side of that fence was Bailey’s campground. Just twenty or so metres separated us from all the fucked-up revellers making their way back to their tents after a hard night of partying. Every now and then, we could even make out the drunken voices and the faint sound of laughing gas canisters. Still, the super fence stood in the way of such heavenly delights and we looked up to it as if it was Mount Everest. We had considered purchasing and bringing a telescopic ladder with us, but decided against it. Almost certainly we wouldn’t have made it far carting such a conspicuous piece of equipment around (no doubt it would have been slightly difficult to explain that one to the suspicious guard and his sniffer dog).

Seeing no way to scale the super fence, we decided to head back along the hedgerow to find a gap where we could get through and climb into Campervans West instead. We reached a treeline at the end of the hedge that ran down in a ditch and crawled down into it. The area was shrouded in darkness but we managed to get through the bushes, accumulating a few more scratches along the way. We could see a gap out of the foliage where we would be able to make another attempt at climbing into the vehicle campsite. But then we saw something that stopped us in our tracks. It was a dark, ominous figure beside the fence. It was hard to tell completely – and we weren’t sure if our tired minds were playing tricks on us – but it looked almost like the silhouette of a guard sat in a chair. We kept staring at it, looking for some movement, trying to ascertain whether or not it was a person. But the visibility was too bad. We had joked about bringing night vision goggles and at this point they were exactly what we needed. It was then that we could hear the sound of voices. Multiple voices could be heard coming towards us from the fence. We feared the worst. Then, to our horror, we started to hear noises from behind us too! Shit. We had been compromised. And we were cornered. Two parties approached us from both directions as we lay trapped in the ditch. The end of our mission was once again on the horizon, and a part of ourselves had resigned ourselves to our fate of finally being captured. The Glasto gods had been good to us through the night, but there was no way out of this one. The gig was finally up.

It was then that something strange happened. We heard a bang on the fence in the front of us. Then we watched in disbelief as a few figures scrambled over it and started creeping towards the bushes where we were hiding. The sound of scouse accents could be heard whispering and we watched as they started climbing down into the ditch beside us. By now it was apparent that they weren’t guards, but fellow ninjas. We breathed a huge sigh of relief and greeted our new comrades. We warned them that we also heard noises behind us, and we made our way back cautiously to the field to find a random guy standing there. “Alright lads,” he said, again in a scouse accent. It was another ninja trying to break in. Somehow, after seeing no one else trying to break in all night, we had ended up in the middle of two groups of scousers attempting the same mission. We stopped to share intel and information. The guys who had climbed over the Campervan West fence informed us that it was too difficult to break in that way – hence why they had climbed back out – but the other guy gave us some much more promising news…

“Me and my mates found a piece of scaffolding beside the super fence. It’s too heavy for us to lift it, but if you boys fancy giving us a hand, I reckon we can do it.” Suddenly our prayers had been answered. In the space of a few minutes we had gone from being down in a dark ditch with our mission on the brink of complete failure, to now having a band of brothers and a direct way to storm the super fence together. Hope had been rekindled; our mission now stood a chance of success. Glastonbury 2019 was back on. We headed back down the field towards the super fence where suddenly three or four more scousers popped up out of the wheat, ready for action. Me and my friend had to laugh. Before the night, he had made a Microsoft Word document detailing possible ways to break in. Right at the bottom of that list of bullet-points was the word: ‘scousers….?’. My friend had foreseen this happening, and with our new Liverpudlian friends, there were now ten of us in total. We had strength in numbers and it was time to make an assault on the super fence. It was time to break into heaven.

3.30am

It had been a long night and by now the first light of dawn was upon us. With daylight extinguishing the darkness, our presence was much more obvious to any patrolling security guards. Fortunately, the guard patrols had slowed down, and it had been a good ten minutes before the last jeep had driven past on the tracked road beside the super fence. The guy who had told us about the scaffolding led us over to it while telling stories of how he had broken into the festival multiple times. It filled us with hope to know we were with a seasoned veteran who had successfully completed this daring operation before. We then reached the spot where the steel scaffolding was lying on the grass, just a few metres from the super fence. I wasn’t sure what it was exactly, but it appeared to be the underside of a stage, or a piece of farming equipment. Whatever it was, there was no way that five, six, even seven strong guys could lift it. But now, by some miracle, there were ten of us; with just enough strength and manpower to prop it up against the fence. How three separate groups of people had met in this exact spot with this exact piece of equipment just lying there was clearly the divine intervention we had asked the Glastonbury gods for. Our faith had been rewarded and at this point it seemed there was no way we could fail.

Of course, lifting such a bulky piece of equipment and placing it against the steel fence was going to cause a lot of noise, and we estimated we only had a minute or so to get over before the guards were all over us. There were stewards about seventy metres down the fence that would radio it in straight away. This would mean that security would be pursuing us from both inside and outside the super fence. There was no room for hesitation and we would have to act as swiftly as possible. We mentally prepared ourselves then each went to grab a part of the steel frame. We took a deep breath and then lifted it. Even with ten of us it was a struggle, and we scraped it noisily across the tracked road outside the fence. There was no time to look if anyone had responded to the noise; we just kept dragging and heaving it with all our might. “Go, go, go!” someone shouted. “Come on lads!” shouted another. “Okay now lift it up from this end and lean it against the fence!” We turned it around, grabbed the short side of the frame and pushed it up vertically against the 14ft super fence. A huge bang of steel on steel rang out. Thirty seconds had passed and by now security would have surely been alerted. The adrenaline was now at cardiac arrest levels as everyone started scrambling frantically up the steel frame. I was one of the last ones to get onto it and I watched as my comrades at the top jumped over. I couldn’t quite believe what was actually happening. I then reached the top myself and took my first look over the mighty fence. It was one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen. There it was: a sea of multi-coloured tents running to the horizon. The pyramid stage in the distance. Glastonbury festival sprawled out before me. It was really there, heaven on earth, right within my reach.

I threw my body over the fence, found a support beam to slide down onto, then jumped down onto the grass. I was then faced with a smaller mesh steel fence to scale. I quickly scrambled over it and I was in! The site had been infiltrated. I stood beside a bunch of tents with some shocked campers staring at us in utter disbelief at the chaotic scene they were witnessing  (one even looked like he thought he was having a bad trip). By now the guards in the towers on the inside would have seen ten guys climbing the fence, and there would be security hot on pursuit. Fortunately for us, there was a sea of tents to disperse into and we all shot off into the campsite in separate directions. I ran like there was no tomorrow, jumping over the tent poles with enough adrenaline to run across the whole site. Half-way into the field, I bumped into my friend and another one of the scousers. We carried on running until we were on the pathway of Bailey’s campsite where we started walking at a relaxed pace to blend in with the crowd. We kept walking further into the festival while looking nervously over our shoulders. But no. No one was chasing us. No one at all. And then it hit us. We had done it. We had only gone and actually done it. After a whole night of pain and stress and feeling like hunted rats, we had broken into Glastonbury festival.

My comrade phoned our friends to inform them of our success, and the other scouse guy did the same. He was a young guy, around eighteen at his first Glastonbury. We wished him a good festival as he wandered off wide-eyed into the magical wonderland of Glasto. Me and my friend then gave each other a hug and congratulated each other on the successful completion of our mission. We were completely wired at this point, on top of the world, in absolute heaven. Unfortunately it had now gone 4am and all our friends had just gone to sleep. We would have to wait a few more hours until the real partying could begin. So we headed over to our friend’s campsite, got down into the porch of a tent, completely unable to sleep with adrenaline overload, but happy to be back once again in our spiritual home for another magical Glastonbury weekend. And after everything we had just been through, what a weekend it was going to be…

The End

 

short stories

~ Power Out ~

man window

~ Power Out ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

short stories

~ The Hidden Treasure ~

~ The Hidden Treasure ~

“The day had come and gone, and there we sat at the end of the jetty, facing out into the sunset lake. We had only met just a few hours ago and now she was telling me things she had probably never told anyone. She told me deepest secrets, her fears, her hopes, her pains, her joys, her struggles. All of this to me: a random stranger from the bar. Back home people had their defences up; we were all standing upon society’s stage and playing whatever role it was we were supposed to play to be accepted. But there was a certain magic when you crossed paths with a stranger out on the road. Having just met and safe in the knowledge that you were probably never going to see each other again, there was no pretence or image to keep up. The masks were off and everything could be laid bare.

As the sun set below the horizon and the secrets spilled out upon the water, it made me think about how different the world would be if we all just shared what was really going on beneath the surface. So many people have undoubtedly carried the contents of their souls into the abyss without letting them ever see the light of life. One could despair for all the things that were never done and said because we were too afraid to deviate from the social script and say what we really felt. All the adventures that were never pursued, all the works of art that were never realised, all the friendships and loves that never blossomed – all because of the fear of exposing our true selves to the world. Even for the people closest to you, it would often take years and decades to unlock the vault of the soul; but get a random stranger alone for a few isolated moments in a foreign country and suddenly the secret combination is found.

As we both carried on talking about life into the night, I realised that there was something incredibly valuable about these brief and bittersweet encounters on the road. Most of us have treasure inside our chests that we want to show the world, it’s only when we feel free that the locks slip loose and the gold inside shimmers bright and brilliant under the stars.”

(Taken from my book The Thoughts from The Wild – available worldwide via Amazon)

short stories

~ Undefined ~


~ Undefined ~

It had been a day of chaotic adventure and now we were back in the hostel, drinking beers and wine around a table in the courtyard. The drinks and good times were flowing along as the air was filled with the sound of Latin music and hearty laughing. We spoke of the day’s exploits; we spoke of travelling and adventure; we spoke of Wim Hof and Zen Buddhism. Suddenly came the question I despised so much. “So what is it that you Do?” one girl asked another across the table. The other girl looked up at her. “You know for work and that back home? What do you do?” I sat back in my chair and swallowed a sip of my beer. Immediately I felt the atmosphere change. The ‘do’ question was out there and I knew it was time to categorise ourselves – to justify ourselves as functioning members of human society.

The girl answered how she was a marketing executive back in Sydney. She explained a little about her role then sat back and smiled. Her box had been ticked off: she was an accepted member of the human race. The girl carried on asking the others on the table. One guy was an accountant, another was a nurse, another a public relations manager. Tick, tick, tick. As the question crept around a table, I breathed an internal sigh of frustration. I knew I was about to be judged. I didn’t have a box to place myself in or label to slap onto myself. I was twenty-four years old and had never held a job for more than a year. I had spent the last few years post education going from job to job; from adventurer to adventure. I was officially unlabeled – a wanderer or vagabond in their civilised eyes.

The question went around the table until finally the spotlight shone down on me. They asked me and I began explaining about my life. I explained how I had worked about twenty different jobs for short periods to fund my adventures – of how I took part in medical research trials to afford those plane tickets. They all stared at me strangely. “But what is it you DO?” the girl said again. “Or what is it you want to DO?…” Their steely eyes fixated on me as they internally dissected me with a calculating look. It was a look I had experienced many times back home, but one I thought I was safe from when out on the road amongst apparent free spirits.

I took a deep breath and tried to explain how I didn’t want a career. I explained that my only aims and ambitions were to see the world, to climb the mountains, to try and create art through my writing. I tried to explain that I wanted to delve down into the depths of the human psyche and explore what it is to exist as conscious creature in the universe. But as I rambled on I realised it was of no use. The looks of dismissal shown my cover was blown; I wasn’t a functioning member of the human race like the rest of them. I didn’t have a box of economic employment to place myself in and for that I was the weird one. My label of seclusion had been slapped on me. I was an outcast, an outsider, an alien.

“Oh well that’s cool” one person said half-heartedly after a few seconds of silence. I sat back and sipped my beer as the question awkwardly skipped onto the next person. The conversation carried on flowing; I tried to join back in but I felt that something had changed in the dynamic of it. As everyone bickered away, I suddenly noticed that I was segregated from the group. I couldn’t get a foothold in the conversation, so I just sat there listening in, dwelling in my own exclusion. Eventually I got tired of it and walked off to go drink my beer alone down by the beach (at least solitude was a reliable old friend who understood me).

I sat there on the shoreline and reflected on what had just happened. The more I continued through life, the more it became clear what was required to be an accepted member of the human race. One had to fulfil some sort of title; to fit themselves into an easy-to-distinguish role. It seemed that the fate of a person was to ‘grow up’ and become an ‘accountant’, a ‘teacher’, a ‘project manager’, a ‘marketing executive’. Integrated into society, it was hard to avoid becoming defined in a box of some sort. Whenever people met each other for the first time, one of the first questions asked was always that merciless ‘what do you DO?’ It was a question that saddened me greatly. The context of it being the go-to question when you first met somebody implied that a human-being’s identity was primarily a job role. What made it worse was that when you answered the other person categorised and judged you on what sort of person you were, how much money you likely had, what sort of car you drove, and even what politics you followed.

Unlike the others, there wasn’t a singular job role out there that interested me. All I ever wanted to do was go on adventures and write here and there. People said: “oh you like writing: why don’t you be a journalist?” I did follow my passion of writing into the profession of journalism, but my introduction to that world only left me disinterested and disenfranchised. I wanted to WRITE, not be sat behind a desk in an office typing up some press release or news story I had no interest in.

As I sat there drinking my beer and staring out into the sunset sky, I decided that I just had to accept that I was an undefined being. I was a man without a label; a citizen without a box. I was a person who belonged to tribe or had no particular trade. As I rode down the highway of life, I was destined to continue being undefined – a wanderer with no role other than to rescue my own truth and bliss from the wilderness. I wasn’t compatible with society, so instead I roamed the earth, I stared up into the skies – I drank beers alone and waited for words of wisdom to pour down onto the page. In all the madness of human existence, I was a solitary gypsy spirit doomed to forever wander with the wind. That – it turns out – is what I did. That is what I do. And that – I guessed as I sat alone scribbling on a piece of paper for the rest of the evening – is what I would always do.”

(Taken from my book The Thoughts From The Wild – available worldwide via Amazon)

 

short stories

~ Hibernation ~

alone man room smoking

~ Hibernation ~

For once, it was a cosy room; an attic conversion in an old Victorian house with a couple of desks, a fireplace, a comfortable bed with paisley sheets, and soft carpeting. I moved into that room at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. I didn’t bother to look for a job when I arrived; the medical trials were still supporting my lifestyle (the most recent one paying a very healthy five grand). The clinic I did them at was just down the road which made it convenient, especially because they had my old address and gave me excessive travel expenses every time I cycled my bike there. So when I wasn’t locked up inside some clinic testing a new drug to treat some disease, I was in that room sleeping, writing, reading, meditating, and talking to people over the internet. In the house there were four other people living there: three guys and the landlady. Oh and a couple of cats. One of the cats was very friendly and came and kept me company in my room, sitting on my bed, staring at me with a look of understanding that I never saw in the eyes of humans. We soon became good friends. Anyway, at this point the country was in a state of lockdown. No pubs or restaurants open, no gyms open, only essential shops allowed to do business. Couple this with the winter weather and short days, then it was fair to say there wasn’t a whole lot to do. I thought about my plan of action and decided the best thing a man like me could do was to move into a state of hibernation while waiting out the pandemic. This I did while spending the days shamelessly carefree, waking up late, avoiding the world, and just generally taking it as easy as possible (aside from a fitness routine I had devised which had me regularly running along the nearby river).

As time went on, I found myself entering a state of total peace and happiness, almost a nirvana-like state of being. This struck me as something quite interesting. All year I had heard about the mental health dangers of closing yourself off and not seeing anyone. Apparently these things were essential to people’s happiness, but seemingly not for mine. The more I avoided society, the happier I became. This was something I first discovered a few years back living in a small room in Brighton – a town I had moved to not knowing anyone. I had felt that peace and happiness then, but this time it was even greater, and I almost felt guilty for feeling this way. It seemed that most people were struggling during this ‘difficult time’. People were fearful, angry, frustrated, lonely, yet there I was – sitting alone on my bed with the cat, meditating my way to a mental paradise. I didn’t need anything else. Well, a bit of human interaction was still nice from time to time, and I got that from my trips to the kitchen where the landlady would be ready to chat away. Other than that I had a new friend in America, Cristina. She had popped up on my blog at the start of the year and we had become pen-pals, and now we were speaking regularly on the phone, sharing our day to day stories, which – from my end – were clearly not too interesting. But it was nice to hear about her life, and even though we had never even met, I considered her a closer friend to the majority of people I knew. 

The guy in the room next to me was also a recluse. He was around sixty and had been living in a treehouse in Mexico for the last ten years until he had to come back to the U.K (for reasons I couldn’t seem to make out). In that room he also lingered in solitude, playing his guitar, talking on the phone to some girl in Mexico who he had promised to go back and see when he could. It was funny; his situation was a lot like mine, even though he was over thirty years older. I considered if that would be me somewhere in the future. At times I did think about going and speaking to him, but ultimately the desire to be left alone was too great, and I felt that was what he wanted as well. Another man in hibernation, avoiding the world the best he could. I left him to it.

Other than him was a guy who lived in a hut at the bottom of the garden. He was also older and unemployed, although he managed to get by with his cheap rent and the occasional day of tree surgery. I only saw him in the kitchen making some healthy meal or smoothie, and the rest of the time he went and got high alone in his hut. He seemed like a nice guy, although his constant need to vent his frustration about the pandemic caused me to be cautious when speaking to him. Anything longer than a one minute conversation would inevitably end in him going on a massive lecture about the conspiracies behind the coronavirus crisis. His rantings disturbed my nirvana, so most of the time I said a quick hello before retreating to the shelter of my room.

The only employed one of the household was a twenty-six-year-old guy who worked in something related to environmental science. We shared a beer sometimes in the kitchen, and out of everyone there, he was the one I had most in common with. Unlike me though, he had a girlfriend and this kept him busy during the pandemic, along with his work which he did from his room, so naturally I didn’t see much of him. 

And then finally was the landlady herself: a retired nurse in her sixties, who loved to bake cakes and host music lessons, although naturally they had ceased due to the pandemic. She was a ‘high risk’ person for the coronavirus due to several health conditions, and this also caused her to become a recluse, although she seemed to be quite at peace with this as she baked her cakes and watched her seemingly endless list of TV series.

So there I was: in a state of hibernation with all these other people in similar states of hibernation. Four people living under one roof who rarely interacted, yet we all seemed fairly happy. Maybe this was just the new way of things. Maybe now society had simply gotten so insane that the way to human happiness was not by interacting with the world and having an active social life, but instead by claiming whatever small space you could find. Of course, this wasn’t how it was for most, but at least from what I saw in that household, it definitely was that for some, and especially for me. The weeks went on and my happiness just increased until the point where I felt the best I had ever felt. I just wanted to stay forever in this cosy space, sitting on my bed, writing random things like this story, and meditating with my cat. That cat had been living this way all its life, and I guess all cats lived that way. They were beings that knew the secret apparently. And I couldn’t help but smile as I watched him sleep in a little ball at the bottom of my bed. No stress, no problems, no drama. A world of apparent crisis and insanity lay out beyond those walls, and it seemed the best way to peace was just to avoid it. That was what I planned to do for that entire winter, and what I planned to do in some way for the rest of my life – finding my peace and happiness by claiming whatever cosy space I could.

Anyway, time to go and meditate for the third time this day.

short stories

~ The Hills Above The Cities ~

~ The Hills Above The Cities ~

A brain overcharged by absurdity; a soul starving for something real. Another day of menial work and superficial interaction had left me craving a space of solitude. Like I had so many times before, I took myself up to that hill that overlooked my hometown. Standing above that urban expanse with its rows and rows of streets sprawled out before me, I cast my gaze outward and watched the city lights shimmering in the night. There they were: the flames of humanity flickering in the abyss of the universe; the human race floating through space, going about its transient existence. I stood there for a while and absorbed the sight. From the outside looking in, I thought of all those people living in those houses, walking those sidewalks, staring into those televisions and bathroom windows. I thought of the families at dinner tables, the lovers entwined on sofas, the friends laughing together in the bars and clubs and restaurants.

In that moment a great feeling of isolation crashed over me. In vivid detail, I began to realise just how much I was cut adrift, floating uncontrollably further and further away from those shores of human belonging. And no matter how I looked at it, there seemed to be no way to pull or anchor myself back in. It had always been this way from a young age it seemed. The times I tried to fit myself into the herd had torn and twisted me up beyond repair. I simply didn’t understand my fellow species, or any of their customs. I didn’t understand the conventions. I didn’t understand the expectations and traditions. I didn’t understand why everyone wanted to be the same rather than live a life true to themselves. It was all a great mystery to me: the jobs, the media, the school-system, the paperwork, the small-talk, the religions – the monotonous routine. It seemed that I was allergic to it all. In my most desperate times, I did try to fake it, but like an undercover alien with a bad cover story, it was never long before people cast their looks of bewilderment upon me, before they realised that I was not one of them – that I was an intruder.

It’s not that the situation of isolation was completely soul-destroying, of course. There was a great joy to be found in sailing your own ship, in walking your own path and getting lost among your own mountains of madness. Often I felt great pleasure in not being labelled and closed in to some sort of box of limitation. There was a sort of freedom that many people never got to taste, let alone fully explore. But still despite that, I was burdened with the situation of being a human-being, and like all human-beings I needed to stare into the eyes of someone who understood – of someone who recognised me for who I really was. I guess for a while on my travels I looked out for those people, expecting to find them on sunset beaches and sitting wistful-eyed in smoky bars in foreign lands. Sometimes I was even lucky to find one or two, but the interactions were usually short-lived, lasting only a few hours or days at the most. Like captains of two ships briefly passing by in a wide ocean, we stared into each other’s eyes and exchanged knowing glances before disappearing silently into the mist.

Yes, the more I stood there on that hill and thought about it, the more it seemed this was the destiny of someone like myself. The cards had been dealt and I knew deep down in my flesh and bones that it was my fate to sail alone, to get lost in the mazes of my own mind, to dwell in solitude among those mountains of madness. This was how it was; for some reason I would never fully understand, this is how it was. I guess by now it was just a matter of acceptance: a matter of accepting that I was a lone wanderer – a matter of accepting that I didn’t belong. I guess by now it was a matter of accepting the fact that no matter where I went in this world, I would always return to those hills above the cities, standing alone, staring up into the skies, looking for something – anything – to come and take me home.

short stories

~ Voicing Your Truth ~

the fighter

I sat alone in my bedroom, staring blankly at the wall, listening to music playing from my laptop on the desk beside me. The usually reliable combination of solitude and ambient music could not bring me any peace. It had been another day of absurdity and my mind was plagued with thoughts. As I stared into space I wondered why couldn’t I just tell them all how I felt? Why couldn’t I speak up about this hollow life I was stuck in? Why couldn’t I get the truth inside of me out into plain sight?

Such thoughts weighed heavy on my mind. I considered reaching for my phone and ringing some people. I thought of confessing my madness, of writing my notice of resignation – of messaging her and telling her how I really felt. What a joy it would have been to see the wings of truth taking flight. But as usual there was a strange force that constricted me. Once again, I was back in that private prison of expression which I knew too well. All the words and sentences that should have been spoken were still trapped inside my head, and they were angry and resentful about remaining imprisoned. Those expressions of truth began to riot and kick at the walls of my skull. They scraped and they brawled; they set fires and screamed. It was a war of words in there, and the chaos and anarchy ensued until the point where I had to take myself out for a walk in the city to try and steady the storm.

I exited the apartment block and began walking westward toward the city centre. As I started walking I stared into the eyes of everyone passing me. Along those sidewalks I saw fathers and mothers, sons and daughters. I saw husbands and wives; the poor and the rich; the young and the old. It was true that likely many of those people were happy, even content with their lives, but I couldn’t help but think of the other ones out there. I couldn’t help but think of the ones who were silently fighting battles behind tired eyes and forced smiles; behind cluttered desks and tightly-gripped steering wheels. I couldn’t help but try to spot the people drifting down those sidewalks in quiet desperation – all the lonely eyes of secretly starving souls trapped in private prisons from which they could not escape. Each street I turned down, each person I passed, my mind considered all the many truths which have remained unspoken, all the love letters that were never sent, all the notices of resignation not handed in to jobs that slowly murdered the people employed in them. Was it just me who stayed silent about the things most important? How many people like me were out there? And is this what was normal: for people to silence their truth just out of the convenience of not disturbing everyone else with the rugged face of their true self?

The more I stared into those eyes and faces and thought about it, the more certain I was that in this world one could fill entire libraries with all the words of truth that have never been shared, but rather kept locked inside hearts and minds that eventually decayed into dust, leaving those words and the consequences of them forever lost in some great eternal unknown. I was sure there were cemeteries all around me where the grounds were haunted by the ghosts of the lives that were not really lived because people were too afraid to simply stand and speak up for themselves. No doubt across this forsaken planet there were millions and millions of people who had brought their truth to the grave out of fear of judgement from friends and relatives and lovers and neighbours and work colleagues.

It was a sad thought, but who the hell was I to pass judgement? I was no doubt worse them than all. I kept quiet in crowds of fools. I bit my tongue in moments of injustice. I couldn’t tell the girl I loved how I felt. I had words of comfort to offer to desperate people but failed to voice them. I was afraid – I was afraid like them too. The only time I felt like I could truly express myself was when I was sat alone in a dark room pouring the contents of my mind onto a blank page which would never be read by anyone. I was just as screwed up as the rest of them. The society had silenced me too, and all that was left to do was stab at keyboard keys in the hope that just writing all this stuff down would somehow keep me from completely falling into the pits of madness.

Meanwhile as people like me sat in silent darkness, the idiots of the world shouted out. Meanwhile the sociopaths and liars barked their way to top of society and soulless politicians confidently spat out meaningless sound bites at an entire nation. “Strong and stable; strong and stable; strong and stable!!” As I looked out at that jungle of barking idiots, I realised that there was no room out there for me to share my truth – to spill the contents of my soul. The words I had inside of me did not belong to that crazy and confusing world out there. Instead they sit typed on documents on a computer hard-drive never to be read by anyone. They stalk and haunt the hallways of my mind. They riot against the walls of my skull.

But sometimes you know out on those streets I hear voices and get brave. I hear the ghosts of the dead whisper in my ear. They tell me go on: speak your heart now while you’re alive. Be yourself. Tell your story. Share your words. Life is not a rehearsal so live your life like you goddamn mean it. Where we have failed, you will succeed.

Listening in to those haunting voices, I imagined myself working up some bravery, in handing in that resignation – in confessing my madness and ringing her to tell her how I felt. It was a nice thought but in the end I didn’t do it. The thought passed and I retreated back to my apartment. I retreated back to my cave of darkness to sit alone at my computer – to dwell in solitude, to dwell in silence – to hit the keys of a grubby keyboard and hope that someone out there, somewhere, understood me.

short stories · thoughts

~ It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding ~

back-view-black-and-white-boy-827993
~ It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding ~

I pulled the photos from the family album. I held them up in the light and studied each of them closely. There in the pictures I was: a young boy, curly-haired, bright eyes, and a beaming smile of joy and delight. It was a time from a family holiday when I was around eight years old, a time and place that seemed almost a lifetime ago now. In my eyes, I could see the childhood purity and innocence. I could see the hope and optimism for the life ahead of me. I could see the simple joy of playing on a beach in the sand. It was a striking sight and I couldn’t help but feel sadness when studying those images. I knew over the next couple of decades that young boy in the photo would undergo a path that would lead him through crooked and haunted lands. First would come the bullying and social isolation. Then would come the anxiety and self-hatred. Finally would come the emptiness and total disillusionment with the world around him. Specifically the sight of my smile brought about a pain in my heart; these days that smile was never to be seen, at least not with the same purity it had in the photos. The claws of life had ravaged it away. It was gone, disfigured – taken from me somewhere along a turbulent path of pain and heartache.

I guess it was a reality that was not just true to me, but to most people out there. As children we dream that life will be as magical as those fairy tales. Chase your dreams, they say. Go after the world with your arms wide open. Build those rockets and fly to the moon. Become presidents and footballers and movie stars. Fall in love and live happily ever after. In reality, most people after childhood quickly lose those expectations for life. First came the adolescent angst and depression. Then came the realisation that no one really gives a fuck about your dreams, or even you in general, and that you aren’t as special as they said you were. All that matters is you get a job, make money, and fit into some sort of acceptable place. You then realise that the world isn’t full of good people with good intentions, but instead full of users and liars; of people who want to use and abuse you and throw you to the wolves. The optimism continues to fade as you begin to accept that life isn’t going to be some fairy tale, and the world isn’t full of the happy people living happy lives, but of secretly scared and lost adults doing their best to get by and survive.

It’s a reality which envelops us all and I can’t help but look at children and feel sadness in their sight. There they run and play around with their minds full of delight and imagination – their wide eyes awake and alive to the world around them. Yet walk down the street of a busy city centre and stare at the faces of the adults. The contrast is stark. For many their eyes look not to the skies but to the floor, and the delight for the world around them had all but faded. It had been eroded away by the relentless barrage of everyday life. The mindless work. The morning commutes. The hateful faces. The failed romances. The suppression of dreams and desires while drifting through unfulfilling lives. For many came the alcoholism, the drugs, and constant attempts to alleviate the existential emptiness. To grow up was a trap, as they said, and to see the adult with that magic gleam in their eye was a rare sight – the sight of the child that had survived the storm of growing up and retained that all-too precious magic.

Looking at my childhood photos and the defeated faces of strangers in the street made me sad, but it was always worse when thinking about the people I cared about. There was a girl close to me, she showed me her childhood photos and I couldn’t help but feel a great pain in my heart again. There she was: in her little t-shirt with the animals on the front, her blonde hair flowing down her shoulders, her eyes so full of light and love and life. Nowadays those eyes had a greyness to them. She was surviving on therapy and antidepressant medication. She had labelled herself ‘a fuck-up’ and had admittedly abandoned her dreams. “Maybe in another lifetime,” she would say. Then there was the time I looked at the photos of my uncle as a child at his funeral. That bright-eyed child had ended up living alone in a small apartment while drinking himself to death. Not even fifty years old and his story had ended in a dark room of isolation. I felt angry that the world did this to so many of us, and a part of me wanted to do something that would save the child in people; to make them enriched and enchanted with their existence like they once were. Of course, to do this I needed to let go of my anger and find it again within myself.

Although the sight of my old family photos showed me that my inner child had gone, there were times when I rediscovered it again. I noticed that these times were usually when I was out in nature. Trekking through the mountains; swimming in lakes; running through the woods. I recalled moments from my travels: in particular, one time hiking alone in the Himalayas, standing on a ridge and watching a flock of birds dance in the sky above me. High in those mountains, I breathed in the air and looked out at that majestic sight. The world shone with a mystery and magic like it did to a new-born baby, and a feeling of ecstasy flowed through my veins. I was not a religious man, but I do think I know what Jesus meant when he said, ‘to enter the kingdom of heaven you have to become again as a child’. In reality, the kingdom of heaven was all around us. We just had to see the world again through a child’s eyes. To stay curious and wide-eyed to our surroundings. To not slump our shoulders and look down to the floor, but to allow ourselves to be in a constant state of learning and exploring and becoming. ‘He not busy being born, is busy dying’ as Bob Dylan had sung.

Thinking about that memory and a few others, I realised that the child inside of me hadn’t been totally killed. Yes, my soul bore scars that could not be erased. My innocence was long gone. My smile would perhaps never be as pure as it was in those childhood photos. But I did believe that the child was still there inside in some way, waiting to reawaken whenever in the right time and place. And the more I lived with this idea, the more I was able to let it come out and play. From day to day, I began to let go of my pains and feel the joy of being alive. I walked out the front door and saw the world glisten with magic. Things that had been clouded over during periods of depression, now looked wondrous and marvelous. I looked at the rivers flowing, and the birds singing, and the leaves fluttering in the wind, and the sunlight shimmering upon the water’s surface. I could feel it in my bones that I was a part of something magical and beautiful, and that childlike delight in my heart began to return. And then, when the bad times came (as they inevitably did), I took a step back and protected my inner child. I protected it from the hateful souls and hurtful words. I protected it from the feelings of emptiness and self-hatred. I protected it from the toils and troubles of everyday life which took the light from a person’s eye. Those things would still come at me, I knew, but I was learning to see it for what it was and not lose myself in it once the world had started to drag me down again.

These days I would be lying to say that everything is sunshine and rainbows. I regularly have breakdowns and get consumed by despair, but no matter how dark the rain clouds gather and how much shit is thrown my way, there is something deep inside of me that knows life is but a game that is here to be explored and enjoyed. This, I believe, is the wisdom of the child that we lose as the trials of adulthood come our way. Ultimately too many of us have gone to the grave with our true deaths having already happened years before. By the end, so many are people who have forgotten what life is all about – bitter and broken individuals whose imagination, curiosity and lust for life had all but faded; people who have gotten so consumed by the misery and monotony that they could not see the beauty of the world around them. It is my hope to see all those people be able to keep that same wisdom alive and reconnect with their inner child too. To see those streets full of people once again enchanted by their existence. To see that girl’s eyes rid of the greyness and return with the light and the love and life that should have been there. And for everyone’s eyes to light up again, this whole world of broken children coming back home to their true selves. Back from the pains and the heartaches and the emptiness. Back from the feelings of defeat and depression. Back from being those secretly scared and lost adults, but to return to those wide-eyed children that long to play on the beaches and run through the fields and sail to the stars.

 

 

 

short stories

~ Companions in the Darkness ~

~ Companions in the Darkness ~

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

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

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

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

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

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