short stories

~ Off The Rails ~

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~ Off the Rails ~

Off the rails. We all go there at some point. At least many of us do. We have seen our parents go off the rails, our politicians, our celebrities. We have seen our friends and our teachers. It’s a time when a man or woman just can’t hold on anymore to whatever it was that was giving their lives some structure and stability. The absurdity of life strikes hard and we can’t keep it together as we pretend to know what we are doing and what path we are following. Our behaviour thus becomes volatile as we drink the beer, consume the drugs and venture into the general realms of self-destructive madness. 

My mind was particularly turbulent at the best of times, so it was only naturally the rails had fallen out of reach many times in my life. I had been there broke on the other side of the world while drinking myself to sleep every night. I had been there when my heart was broken for the first time. I had been there when I quit a university course and flew one-way to Mexico. I had been there many times and now I was there on the South coast of France visiting a friend I had met in Nepal. Like me his life was total mess and madness. Another young guy in his twenties staring out at contented members of society strolling down sidewalks and wondering how the hell he would ever be one of them. He had recently broken up with his girlfriend, was working a temporary contract job, had little savings, was living at home with his parents, and just generally didn’t know where he wanted to go or what he wanted to do with his life. Naturally this had led him to self-destructive behaviour such as excessive partying and driving while under the influence.

The reason this trip was doomed was because I was also reaching the peak of my latest spell of being off-the-rails. It had been four months of heavy drinking, sleeping around, starting and quitting a job, and just generally being hurled around by the anarchy of my own restless heart. Us together was a recipe for disaster and that disaster unfolded nicely as the beers went back while we sat in his garden in the hills above Cannes.

“Fuck, I am so lost man. What am I doing with my life?” He drank his beer and stared out at the hills. “No money, no girlfriend, living at home with my parents. I don’t know where the hell to go next.” It didn’t help that all around us were the fancy homes of accepted members of society who had ‘made it’. We looked at those finely groomed houses as he kept venting about his issues. I wanted to help him but naturally I didn’t want to offer any solutions to problems I suffered from myself. Fire could not put out fire and within days we were drinking till 8am in the morning, searching for girls to meet on Tinder and driving around town heavily intoxicated while blasting 90s rap music. It was another episode of madness for me and I thought of many of my friends currently out there also doing the same in some shape or form. I knew one guy drinking five bottles of wine a day in an apartment outside of Milan. I knew one woman who had quit her career job and moved to Switzerland to be a starving artist. I knew another who had just arrived back into the U.K penniless after blowing all his money on cocaine in South America.

Over the years I had noticed that I seemed to attract a certain type of person in my life. Some might call them beatniks, bohemians or bums. It was the type of person who went from one storm to another and whose life was in a constant state of disorder. They were the ones perpetually off the rails, spiralling out of control and constantly circling the drain of defeat. I guess I was one of them myself. My life was currently as turbulent as it had ever been and the global outbreak of the coronavirus sealed the fate. My year fell apart in a matter of days as my travel plans were cancelled and I suddenly found myself jobless and facing the prospect of moving back with my parents. For now in France they had announced a curfew on the streets and for all international visitors to head home as soon as they could. Naturally I responded to this by getting drunk and arranging to meet a girl off Tinder. My life now had no hope or direction for the foreseeable future, so meeting a girl and watching the sun set as we got smashed off a bottle of rum seemed like a good option. After that we drove around town drunk until my friend found us a hotel. The three of us checked in and carried on drinking in the room. Suggestions of a three-way were made but my friend decided to leave as he was too depressed about his ex. So there it was just me and the girl who was totally off the rails too. Listening to her story, I found out she had snuck out of her parent’s house and hitch-hiked to meet me from a small village. I also found out she had had a miscarriage a couple of years back which no doubt explained why her arms were covered with a succession of self-harm scars. She was clearly still haunted by some demons and naturally it felt good to be with a fellow scratched and scarred soul who was also no stranger to the storm.

The next morning we were getting kicked out of the hotel as it had decided to close due to the outbreak. We left the room covered in beer bottles and wine stains and headed back out onto the streets. Back in the burning daylight of reality, I looked around at the eerily empty neighbourhoods and wondered what the hell I was now going to do with my life. My phone had no charge and we wandered around in a dreamlike state for an hour or two. She had to get home as soon as she could; her parents were worried about her and wanted her to come home to quarantine like the rest of the world. My parents didn’t even know I was in France. I guess it would be time to tell them soon. For now I decided to take the train to Nice where my flight was due to head off the next day. We headed to the train station where we bumped into a German man smoking weed and also not knowing what the hell he was doing. He had been travelling around Europe with no money for the last two months, carrying only a small backpack and a bible. The oncoming lockdown was sure to leave him in a sticky situation for the foreseeable future. I wished him some luck as we carried on our way. 

I almost convinced the girl to let me stay with her at her family’s house in her village but I eventually ended up alone on the streets of Nice, wandering around aimlessly, considering what the hell I could do until the next morning when my flight left. By now the curfew was in full effect and police were patrolling the streets to interrogate people on why they were outside. If they were to ask me, what the hell would I say? I didn’t know what I was doing with my life at the best of times and this wasn’t the best of times. I was just kind of stumbling around in a hungover daze while waiting to go home the next day (that was if my flight hadn’t been cancelled like the majority of flights had). My situation was bad but not as bad as my friend. After finally finding a place to buy a phone charger, I managed to contact him and find out that he had got arrested for drink-driving the night before. The police had pulled him over just a short while after he had left us at the hotel. He had tested four times the limit and had been stripped of his license for at least six months. His life was already off the rails but this was the thing that would surely cause him to sink even further into the depths of self-destructive madness.

His spell off-the-rails was taking a new nosedive and I was sure that mine was too. As the world turned to anarchy with the outbreak of the coronavirus, I just headed to a shop to get some more beers and drink at the beach somewhere out of sight of the police. I sat there alone on the shores of France, my back turned to the madness of the world as I thought about what I was now going to do with my trainwreck of a life. I had left my job to travel but now that looked unlikely for the rest of the year. It would also be difficult to find another job with the country going on lockdown for weeks or possibly months. Money was going to be an issue, especially with the horrific damage I had done to my bank account in a matter of days in France. I downed my beer and knew my life was spiralling out of control to a degree I hadn’t seen before. I had no direction, no chance, no hope. I couldn’t even be bothered to fake an answer when people would ask me what I was doing with my life. Truth is, I didn’t have a clue anymore. I had never really had a clue, and out of all the peaks of not having a clue, perhaps this was the highest. Like my French friend and the girl from Tinder, I was totally off the rails, circling the drain and waiting to be sucked permanently into that sewer of defeat. It was a state that I was to always return back to no matter how many periods of stability and sanity came my way. Deep down I knew I couldn’t be cured from this reckless behaviour and a part of me didn’t even want to. The world was falling to pieces anyway and I wanted to fall apart with it.

With that decision made, I gazed out into the Mediterrean sea, cracked open another beer and toasted my descent further into the abyss of self-destructive madness.

thoughts

~ To Live ~

~ To Live ~

“To jump the fences. To run with the wild horses. To dance beneath the stars. To walk wide-eyed through the wilderness. To stare into the sunset skies. To stoke the fire in your heart; to shine the light of your soul. To hunt the horizons of foreign lands. To awaken to new sights and new sounds and new smells. To be so immersed in life that your eyes glisten with magic. To forget everything you’ve been taught and begin anew. To take the trip. To roll the dice. To sail into the unknown. Is to live.”

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short stories

~ A Suppression of Expression ~

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~ A Suppression of Expression ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to the haunted woods of my twisted mind.

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

 

short stories

~ Rebel Flower Rising ~

~ Rebel Flower Rising ~

“Another day of bohemian madness was unfolding and there I was on the trail, wandering through the countryside somewhere in Spain, hopelessly lost in the dream of what it is to exist. I was deep in thought when I lifted my eyes toward the field beside me and was suddenly stopped in my tracks. I put my backpack down and stood there in silence staring at it. Amongst all those hunchback pieces of wheat with their slouched shoulders was a singular red poppy standing tall and proud. In its stark simplicity, it was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. It stood out courageous and beautiful; it rose without fear or regard for what everything else around it was doing. Captivated by the sight, I stood there for a few minutes in the midday heat, watching that flower sway in the summer breeze. At the time I couldn’t really say why, but the simple wonder and majesty of it moved me beyond words; it was a sight of nature that said something deep and meaningful to my soul.

Later on that day, I was sat in the hostel courtyard thinking about it when I got speaking to a fellow hiker on the table beside me. As we talked about life and the walk over some red wine, I gradually began to realise that I had just met the sort of person I had hoped existed for a while. We shared the same esoteric views on life; we both had crazy and chaotic minds; we both wanted to live a life of travel and exploration. However, unlike me, she was unashamedly different – letting her weirdness shine bright and not hiding the fact she would pick up dirty bits of string on the road to use as bracelets, or that she spent her time popping people’s blisters while working in a homeless shelter back home.

Feeling an instant affinity with one another, we walked together for the next few days, sharing the contents of our minds, walking through fields of bohemian bliss, listening to music under the shade of trees. As the midsummer sun beat down, I looked into her eyes and remembered that I wasn’t entirely alone in my madness – that there was another one of me out there wandering with the wind. Finally right in front of me was the sort of person I’d searched for in the eyes of strangers on streets, the eyes of strangers on trains – the eyes of strangers in bars and clubs and restaurants. Now that we were together every second was a fountain of joy and inspiration.

When I reflect back upon that day, it made so much sense why that flower in the field had such an impact on me. All my life I have hid the fact I was different, but hiding my true colours has slowly suffocated me from within. Like that girl had also shown me, it was always better to just embrace your differences and be totally unafraid to stand out from the rest. After all, it was that very thing that allowed me to spot her so easily from the crowd. It’s so important to let your unique madness blossom because somewhere out there is someone like you looking for someone like them; out there someone waits silently in the crowd, waiting to be inspired to let their soul sing out in all its glory. So don’t be afraid to stand up; don’t be afraid to shine bright. In a world where everyone tries to fit into the same mould, don’t be afraid to be that rebel flower rising in a field of wheat.”

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