short stories

~ In Between Places ~

~ In Between Places ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

thoughts

~ Accepting the Rough ~

~ Accepting the Rough ~

“God, I wasn’t made like they were. Their stable minds and smooth edges. The way they fitted so easily into the system. How orderly the words came out of their mouths. How neatly they wore their clothes and shoes. The way they walked and the way they talked. They were all well-made components of some machine. But me? I was crooked and bent-shaped – a jagged piece of the jigsaw. My thoughts were not those of sanity or sensibility. My heart longed for things that couldn’t be purchased in any store. My soul screamed out for something not in my surroundings. It was a strange way to be and for a long time I was sure I was destined for suicide or madness. I stared into that mirror and saw my demise unfolding before my eyes. Not knowing quite what to do, I went out into the world to try and see what I could discover about myself. I packed my bags and wandered in foreign lands. I drank with strangers, worked dead-end jobs. I climbed mountains and hitch-hiked on country roads. I stared out at sunsets and wrote poetry under the stars. Amid that tempestuous journey of self-discovery, I came to realise that there was nothing fundamentally wrong with me. Sure, I had flaws like most people, but I also had many strengths and, I believed, a good heart. And the more I wandered, the more I even came to discover that there were others out there like me. They had walked a similar path and had felt similar things in their hearts. Their eyes shared that same look – a wistful one which held a deep longing for some sort of home. I even spoke to them; became friends with them. Those people gave me a hope I had needed and told me that there is no inherent right or wrong way to be. I may not have been a smooth piece of the jigsaw, but I was myself and that is enough. And yes, I still know my life will be less straightforward than most, but I have found a sort of spirit inside of me that will keep me going on this solitary path. On that path I now stride as I wear my rough edges with pride and know the secret beauty of not fitting in.”

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thoughts

~ A Slow Depletion ~

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~ A Slow Depletion ~

“Alone in a rented room, just a desk and a single bed, and a laptop to write. But the laptop’s battery was broken and its charge slowly depleting down to zero. It was a symbolic situation I guess. For a long time now I had felt myself being drained of whatever life was inside of me. I knew the people beyond those walls didn’t understand or care. It was a sick society and people had their own problems to overcome. Depression. Anxiety. Past traumas. Redundancies. Divorces. Midlife crisis’. The horrors of everyday life were being raged upon many out there. Faces passing you on the street were masks hiding a mess of internal troubles. Life was a constant storm and it was only natural that your eyes looked up to the skies for some sort of help. Myself? I figured if there was a god, it was a trickster god. There was no way these sorts of scenes could come into place by some benevolent force. I looked out and saw a society where people emptied out over years of monotonous routine; where people went insane in small rooms alone; where people’s dreams were suppressed and their prayers remained unanswered. Meanwhile, I stared out the window and watched the birds in the trees. They didn’t have money or jobs or civilisation or dreams. But I saw more victory in their existence than I did in the one we had entered ourselves into it. I figured the reason behind it too. Life was incredibly simple at its core, yet we insisted on making it complicated. Our brains are over-saturated computers that buffer and crash and stall. Our senses have been overloaded by the noise of society. We are the computers that crash, the batteries that deplete. We are slowly running down to our destruction as we become more and more convoluted. For now, it’s trying to make sense of this crazy world while hitting the keys of this slowly-dying computer. Just another person trying to make their mark before the life leaves me completely.”

thoughts

~ Exploding with Magic ~

~ Exploding with Magic ~

“I know it’s hard sometimes to believe in your own voice. You’ve grown up in a world where it has been suppressed from a young age. You’ve felt the influences of the world – those heavy hands of authority fall on your shoulder and tell you what it is you have to do to be accepted. Those things you felt in your heart, you were made to believe they were incorrect or wrong. You were asked to abandon your dreams and passions in order to ‘get real’. You were told it was fitting in that was important rather than keeping your unique shape. It is like this in our world. The pliers of society will cause many out there to abandon their magic for the sake of social sanity and acceptance. It is insidious and happens often without us realising. Dreams die a cold death. Songs are silenced. Wings are clipped. That is why we stop and stare when we see someone who has not let their spirit tamed by society. Those free birds sing the sweetest songs because secretly we all crave to do the same; to be unashamedly ourselves and to live in line with what our hearts truly desire rather than what is blindly expected of us. A different way is possible and this is not something for you to just read about on a travel blog or in a poetry book. You too can break free and live a life of immense personal truth and authenticity. It’s all there waiting inside of you. Just spend some time alone and have a look at your life. Learn to listen to your inner voice once again. Know what it is you need to do then summon up the courage and belief to do it. I promise you, you’ll find yourself enriched with something that will make the world around you explode with magic.”

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thoughts

~ A Crazy Little Idea ~

~ A Crazy Little Idea ~

I have this idea in my head that some may call a little crazy. I believe that my time alive here is precious, and I am not ashamed to say that I do not want my life to be one with a predetermined path, a generic job and the sort of life that makes your parents’ heads nod with approval. In my heart, I know I will not find satisfaction with the things that are expected of me, and I guess I am choosing to sacrifice the comfort of normality for the thrill of living a life defined by my own rules. The truth is that I’ve always felt that I am a little at odds with this world; whether it has been in school or in jobs – in crowds or alone – I have felt that my spirit is from another realm than the one I find myself in. The life of blindly following established traditions fills me with dread, and it is with the burning passion inside of me that I must go out into the world and forge my own path. These feet of mine will not allow me to be bound to a place of silent heartache for the sake of social acceptance and security. Instead, they will know the movement of adventure, tread the ground of the unknown, and carry the weight of a man whose every step takes him further toward the shores of his own destiny. This is the way I am and the way I always will be. Another dreamer on the run, chasing my bliss and living every day of life as if it were a rebellion against death itself.

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thoughts

~ Incompatible ~

~ Incompatible ~

“At the tail end of my twenties, I stood and looked out at a society of sane and stable minds. I saw people who were settled and content. I saw people who fitted in neatly to the system. I saw people who strolled through life without any real problems. To see myself as one of them was almost impossible. Everything that came so easily to everyone: jobs, sanity, expectations and small-talk was like poison to my soul. I was one who didn’t see the world as they did. I went on adventures in my mind. I looked out for the birds overhead. Instead of thinking about laying roots, I dreamed of flying away to far-off lands. I walked those streets and felt like a foreigner in a strange land, looking out for someplace I belonged or could at least take shelter in. And those faces that passed me: I couldn’t relate to any of them. The mouths that moved but did not speak; the eyes that looked but did not see. Who were these people? Where had they come from? To roam alone your whole life craving connection with another but to somehow never find it is perhaps the greatest loneliness of all. Alone in the crowd you yearn for some sort of communion, but those streets leave you feeling like a creature from another star system. As time goes on, you gradually accept that those people aren’t feeling what you’re feeling and seeing what you’re seeing. Your place among their world is non-existent, and consequently you become a wanderer of the outside spaces. Those spaces are ones of constant reflection and for me I do not know what awaits me out there in the future. I didn’t ask to come to this place and now I am here I hope to find my way to some sort of home. I’m a long way from that but I will carry on toward a place where I understand my reason for being. Before my death, I hope to know what that is.”

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thoughts

~ Cave Dwelling ~

~ Cave Dwelling ~

“Too often I stared into that mirror and felt pitiful and pathetic. That reflection showed me the things I didn’t want to face. I was a gollum, a wretch, a creature belonging to a cave. I had some dirt in my soul I couldn’t get out, but just try to scrub out in futility. I thought I deserved love, but I was sensitive in a world where the cold-hearted were the majority. I had to hide away; to hide myself far away from their piercing eyes. I retreated to the dark spaces to try and survive on the scraps of whatever strength I have left. Within those shadows, I resided myself to a life of loneliness and isolation. I came to realise that some of us are not destined to have inner peace and happiness; we are the broken ones, the lonely, the castouts, the rejects. We are ones that just do not belong to any heart or home. Our lives are ones of tragedy and heartache; of despair and desolation. And yet through all of this, light sometimes finds its way into my cave, offering glimpses of hope for me to crawl out too. The idea that one day I’ll stand back in the daylight; no longer locked away in the darkness, but standing strong and free and accepted for who I am. Finally escaping this internal prison. Finally being free of this living hell.”

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thoughts

~ A Stagger Through the Storm ~

~ A Stagger Through the Storm ~

“Never understood, never valued, my gifts wasted and unappreciated, a part of a system which had no place for me. It is only inevitable I am the way I am. Don’t think for one second you can judge me; you have no idea what I have been through to still be standing here today. For many, society is an easy fix; for others it is a horrible nightmare, that leaves you battling your whole life to not go insane. I guess I am one of the latter. Late at night, I have stared at ceilings thinking how I would make it through one more year. The sheer amount of effort at trying to fit in and survive in this world drains me; I’d rather sit alone before a keyboard and pour out all this pain inside my heart. Isolation fills my soul, but I do believe there is a place possible that would leave me happy with connection to others, but for now, in this current system of living, that is but a distant dream. I look in that mirror and know that my life will not be one of sanity and order; of peace and happiness. It will be a stagger through the storm, a crawl through the swamp, a ceaseless fight towards something perpetually out of reach – a state of happiness that will elude me for as long as I am who I am.”

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thoughts

~ Letting Go ~

~ Letting Go ~

“Sometimes it’s not a person or thing that saves us. It’s not clinging on to a ledge in fear or running for the hills. Sometimes the thing that saves us is simply letting go – of having the courage to abandon whatever it is that we know is not meant for us. So many out there have been emptied out by allowing themselves to clutch onto things that were corrosive to their own being. Usually it is done out of fear of facing the unknown. People will continue living lives that slowly degrade and destroy them because the thought of leaving what they know was all too much. It is a decision that leaves people haunted by what could have been; sometimes it is even a decision that is a form of spiritual suicide. The price of fearfully clinging onto things can cost you dearly, and knowing when it’s okay to abandon things that do not speak to your soul is essential to the evolution of yourself.  So, if every ounce of your being knows it’s not for you, then go on and do it. Summon up some courage. Lose your grip. Embrace the new and unknown. Do not cling to a broken boat as it sinks into the abyss; let go from the wreckage and learn how to swim.”

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thoughts

~ A Scarred Beauty ~

~ A Scarred Beauty ~

“The journey of your life has been a testing one and as the years keep falling by, your heart is filled with a little more pain, that spirit doesn’t quite soar like it used to, the strength sometimes a little hard to find. You have fought hard all your life in a world that didn’t understand you; in a world that never had the guts to embrace your essence. Your path has led you through many places and now you look back you have left pieces of yourself on the way. On the shorelines where you dreamed of sailing home; on those mountain paths where you searched inside yourself; in those dark rooms where you tried to summon the strength to face another day. And you kept moving because it was the only thing you knew how to do; you kept moving because there was something that called you to a place you might have been able to call home. All these fights now weigh heavy on your soul, but may you keep your strength until the end of your road. From the greatest rains blossom the brightest flowers. And one day this world will stand in awe and marvel at the beauty of you.”

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