The Voice

Well things have been silent for a long, long time on this blog. I haven't posted for 18 months and in the main, that is due to a real piece of happiness in my life. I'm engaged, getting married in September and have somehow done what I never thought I would be able to do and moved away from the town of Bournemouth and into the "wilds" of Dorset. Things couldn't get much better on the personal front.

But the reason for this post is not to sicken you all with that kind of good news, it is to focus on the European Elections that have just occurred here in the UK and across Europe. Over hear, the UK Independence Party has won the majority of seats in the European Parliament at the cost of seats for the Conservatives and Lib Dem's who have seen their support crumble. The most interesting fact of this election, however, is the damning verdict on voter apathy.

Latest figures indicate 34.19% of voters turned out.

Just 34.19%!

That means that two thirds of the voting population didn't bother to vote and that, for me, is a scary statistic that, if replicated in the general election next year, will lead to no overall majority for any political party and no clear direction for this country. Why should I be worried? Well why should be ALL be worried? Because apathy, the likes of which politics has seen in recent years will simply lead to those in power having a greater degree of autonomy and have very little to answer for. If two thirds of the country aren't bothered about who represents them, then it is clearly the case that the politicians will not be representing the views of the vast majority who have the right to vote!

All this talk about "landslide victories" and "earthquakes" in politics is a nonsense, because the vast majority of the electorate has not been engaged. Controversially, my view is that it is down to the electorate themselves to educate themselves on what matters to them and make their vote count, not that it is down to the politicians to engage us and make us vote for them! Vote with your feet, get down to the polling stations and make your vote count. if you don't like any of the political parties then spoil your paper! Let them know they failed you! Staying away and not voting, or not voting by post even, is a sure-fire way to get your views ignored.

Are politicians all as bad as each other? Probably, but that's not the point here! If you don't like them, don't vote for them! But vote for something! That is the key. Abstaining entirely does nothing for anyone and doesn't tell the establishment at all what your view is. Doodling on your ballot paper, believe it or not, will in fact tell them that you think the system needs changing because you don't agree with it!

I have heard people say, "I chose not to vote because I didn't want to" then when queried in more detail, normally say "I don't know enough about them and I think they're all corrupt". That is a perfectly valid opinion and one you should jot down on your ballot form and hand in!! That counts completely as a "spoiled ballot" which they are duty bound to count up and declare! If everyone who chose note to vote provided a spoiled ballot paper instead, the country would have to realise that the system is not working and do something about it!

Who you actually vote for if you've a particular persuasion is absolutely none of my business, my only passion on this is that I would urge you all to at least take the five minutes to scribble on your paper, or put an X in a box somewhere.

In this day and age, we all have more of a voice than ever and there is no reason or excuse why you would not want to have it heard, even if it is simply to say "Balls to the lot of you, I'm not gonna vote". That is actually saying what you feel and making sure they damn well know about it! You owe it to yourself, you owe it to those who gave their lives to save this country from oppression in multiple conflicts, you owe it to those who gave their lives to fight for the right to vote but most importantly, you owe it to those who have no voice yet, our children.

You have their voice. Use it.

Quandary

Sometimes when you’re sat in the wee small hours of the morning trying to make sense of the little things life throws your way to both complicate and titillate, you end up wondering if what you’re doing is the right thing. How many of us complain about work and moan about what we don’t like about it to any and all within earshot?

I’m one of those people. I look at the paperwork stacks and the things on the “to-do” list and find that I’m not so keen after all to go wading through it. I’d rather moan about it to the unfortunate who happens to be there at the wrong time (For them). But what to do? There are people who will say “The answer is simple: quit and find a new job”. Life is never that simple. When there are bills to pay, savings to add to and things to buy, you inevitably cannot simply raise anchor and sail off to new waters.

In these austere times, fewer and fewer people are able to shift their career from one area to another, let alone be able to consider the same earning potential doing something different, having to retrain and the like. Many of us end up trapped in a cycle of getting up to amble like the walking dead into the office and flog our arses for yet another day of depressing drudgery. Not many people can say “I love my job entirely”. There will be aspects of the job that people love and more often than not, aspects they really loathe.

I think that works for any job. Stay too long and you begin to wonder if you could ever do anything else because “You’re not qualified” or “You’ll not earn as much or have the same benefits.” Aspects of these can be true, but then many jobs have transferable skills that we don’t even realise we have, and it takes a practised hand to say that actually, you CAN look at doing this and start to explore the why…

In this country we have a ridiculous propensity to want to hoard our money like little dragons sat on a pile of coinage, blowing flames in the direction of those who would like to take a little or a lot of it from us (Usually in exchange for goods or services, admittedly). We postulate about what will be best for “the children” instead of thinking about making life as happy as possible in the here and now. Why the Brits look at their retirement and think “Once I’m 67 I’ll be able to do what I want,” and consider that to be a healthy way of looking at life is beyond me.

You should enjoy your life now while you’re still young(ish) and able to do the things you won’t be as willing or able to do 30 or 40 years down the line. Hoarding your money to pay top whack for a mortgage under the guise that it “brings stability” to your burgeoning family and a nice nest egg for later life or for “the children” when you pop your clogs is a terribly post-mortem view of life that few other nations feel holds water. Sure, we can look at all the cuts we’ve had to take over the last couple of years and think how stoically we’ve been able to accept them and forge ahead, but are we happy as a result of it? Bugger off are we!

But how to make those changes? Do you drop everything and move somewhere different, starting afresh and trying something entirely new? Is it baseline stability you want or is it a new challenge that doesn’t leave you loathing either yourself or your job? Is it better to be happy with what you’re doing, living in the here and now or would it be best to be tied to one role, earning a reliable amount of money with a view to making life that tiny bit easier once you’ve lived your life over again and started exploring your “autumn years”? There are no right or wrong answers, I guess. Everyone feels differently about it but I suspect most would rather save now and spend later, once they’re older. A relative few like to throw caution to the wind and go balls out for something new and I envy them their ability to do that, I really do.

It is a fine balancing act to get it right. Mortgage or rent? Stay in current job even if you’re not enjoying it or seek employment elsewhere? Security versus Spontaneity - never an easy choice. From time to time we all wrestle with the thought that we could be doing something else, something better or something more creative, more “ME” than we are currently. I know that I feel like that an awful lot and always have done. I like change so long as change is good and it is rewarding. The trick, it seems, is in the knowing when to get off the bus at the right stop when you have a blindfold on. You just never know for sure until you try it.

Peace.

Night Town - Part Three

                Darion rose from a faded red armchair. In a rather classic Edwardian style, the uncomfortable chair stood out in stark contrast to the furniture in the rest of his minimalist lounge within his suburban mansion. His lounge featured merely a white marble coffee table, kentia palm potted plant and a gigantic, almost paper-thin television across the wall above a bespoke gas fireplace, flames flickering gently and heating the large room. Looking across at the doorway, Darion regarded Reece Walters with a wary eye. Walters was the chief Under-Baron of Darion Montrose’s under-empire in East Rhodes but he was far from an impressive specimen to look at. Prone to wearing a trenchcoat that would hang off his lanky frame which at least made him appear taller than his five feet seven inches, Walters was a man in his late fifties with the appearance of a man in his early seventies. Gaunt, almost skeletal features looked out from under a black trilby that was far too big for his head, resting instead on the tips of his ears. His pale skin was almost waxy in appearance, and a sheen of perspiration on his top lip suggested he was a heart attack waiting to happen. Beady black eyes blinked from beneath his sunken brow, looking down the end of a prominent nose that jutted from his face like an angry red beak. The smell of stale sweat and old alcohol was almost all-pervasive, but Darion hadn’t invited him there to comment on his addictions or hygiene issues.

                “I want to know where Griff was when he was found, Reece," he began, quietly. "He was torn to friggin’ shreds and I have an intelligence gap the size of East Rhodes about the whole damn situation. He was your runner, you tell me what he was doing.”

                Reece nodded almost imperceptibly. His eyes had narrowed, suggesting his hackles had risen at the quietly authoritative tone of voice that this young Montrose had dared to use with him, but he picked at his nose briefly with one long, claw-like finger for a couple of seconds before licking his thin lips with a dry tongue and replying in a voice that was pure cockney, choked with old gravedust.

                “Griff was runnin’ Thorburn Avenue. I ‘ad ‘im knockin’ on doors down there, makin’ sure we was gettin' what we was due. He ‘ad some problems at Jem’s wiv the new owner, but nothin’ out of the ordinary. Far as I know, he left there wiv the payment and was headin’ back to us. He never made it back to his car, I know that much. Fuckin’ thing got clamped and I ‘ad to bribe the cheeky bastard what done it to get it back before it landed on council property.”

                Darion pounded a fist onto the back his armchair, the sound echoing dully in the almost-empty room. Flicking his eyes across the floor as if searching for inspiration, he chewed his lip thoughtfully before nodding and starting to pace the white marble floor. “Where was his car parked? What route would he have taken back to it?”

                Walters shrugged momentarily before deciding that doing so was probably not the best thing for him to be doing at that moment. Clearing his throat with a brief hacking cough, he snorted up some phlegm, swallowing it noisily when he realised there was nowhere for him to spit it out. It gave him the time he needed to formulate his response.

                “I’d of gone back towards King Alfred’s Square and then cut down the alleyway next to St. John’s," he said, matter-of-factly. "There’s a path through the cemetery that’ll take you back out to Hawkford Road where Griff always parked his Beemer.”

                Darion stopped pacing and turned to his chief Under-Baron. Fixing the older man’s gaze with a steely one of his own, the Underlord spoke quickly and with authority. “I want that alleyway checked out. It’s already clear that we aren’t going to get help from Pedgley. The cops don’t wanna know and I guess that’s no surprise. We might be able to buy the fuckers off but we can’t expect them to actually help us. Still, see who you can use,” he said, touching his facial scar absently.

                Walters nodded again, more emphatically this time and began to turn from his Underlord boss. Suddenly he stopped himself and turned back to face Darion. “I’ll have a word wiv Jack," grunted Walters. "That old nut ‘angs round that way all the time. If anyone saw somethin’, it’d be ‘im. Not sure we’ll get any sense out of ‘im though, he’s mad as you like but it’s worth a go.”

                Darion shrugged his shoulders and waved a hand in dismissal, clearly not giving a rat’s ass how Reece got his information, only that he actually gets it. “That don’t bother me, Reece. I can’t have my people being picked off like that, especially valuable members of the crew like Griff. Just get it sorted, we can’t have this happening again.”

                Walters mumbled his assent before turning and striding out of the building, finding himself flanked by one of his heavy’s, Jonah Stamboli. Jonah was thickset and brutish, every bit as brawny as the now deceased Griff Bolton but with roughly half the intellect. Fortunately, his job was to be the muscle and the muscle only and in that he could perform the role better than almost anyone. Reece turned to him as they walked out of the front doors of Darion Montrose’s enormous home and walked down the paved driveway to the waiting Merc.

                “Get the boys together, Jonah. We got ourselves a little huntin’ to do.”

****

                Steve hopped down off the couch and buttoned up his shirt, his fingers fumbling as the ends of them were sore from his constant biting of the nails right down to the quick. His fingers resembled little more than stubby, inflamed fleshy lumps following his days of wondering what had caused his eyes to bleed. Feeling a little lightheaded, he finished doing up as many buttons as was considered reasonable to keep him decent, and then turned to the doctor sat behind his desk.

                “So what’s wrong with me, Doc? Am I going to live?”, he said, speaking this last part with a degree of defeated humour, displaying a sickly, weak smile on his tired, grizzled features. The doctor looked at him over his spectacles and frowned ever so slightly, evidently not seeing humour in the situation at all.

                “It could be a number of things, Mister Garron. I suspect you may have had some inflammation behind the eye resulting in a haemorrhage of some description, but it could also be symptomatic of a tumour or several other conditions. I will need to refer you directly to an ophthalmologist who will conduct further tests. I suggest in the meantime you continue to take aspirin daily and work on cutting down on your alcohol intake as well as watching your intake of fatty foods. You have high cholesterol and low blood pressure. You need to take better care of yourself, in short.”

                Steve had rapidly allowed his eyes to open wider during the doctor’s spiel, now more concerned than ever and wishing desperately that he had nails left to chew on. “When will I have an appointment with this specialist then? Are we talking days, weeks or months?” he said, almost desperately.

                Looking back at his notes, the doctor scrawled something illegible in black biro on his notepad and then laid his pen down. Turning back to his patient, he steepled his fingers below his chin and then spoke in a more restrained manner, the light from window glancing off his bald head.

                “Mister Garron, we’re talking days. You’ve come to me before when you had depression and you know me to be a straight-talking man. I honestly can’t say what it is that is causing your eyes to bleed. I have my suspicions as I’ve mentioned, but it wouldn’t be fair of me to get your hopes up unnecessarily," he said, sighing gently. "I am extremely concerned by what is happening to you and for that reason; I have secured you an appointment with a specialist. You have private health care, fortunately. Perhaps one of the relics of your time in the force so you don’t have to worry about waiting limits. Eleven o’clock, Friday morning. Doctor Calvert will see you then.”

                Steve nodded, swallowing nothing in his suddenly dry throat and running a hand through his sweat-dampened hair. “This Doctor Calvert, is he any good? I mean, is he going to be able to actually tell me what is going on, how I’m going to get better?” he said, quietly.

                Rubbing his eyes with the back of one hand, having removed his glasses, the doctor sighed again and responded in a resigned voice, “Yes, Mister Garron, he is good. He’s one of the best in his field. He can only work with what he’s got, however, and what he’s got is a middle aged man with a penchant for whiskey, a terrible diet and a predisposition towards depression. Have a little faith, we will do what we can for you but we need you to work with us.”

                “Fine, fine. I’ll see how I get on. Thanks for your time, Doc, I’ll be sure to make it to Doctor Calvert on Friday.” Steve turned to leave as Doctor Marshak looked back to his notes, making a few more scratchy marks on the paper before tucking them back into the buff-coloured folder. He turned his attention to the door as it closed after Steve Garron before reaching for the phone on his desk.

****

                Jack muttered to himself as he always did, wandering the streets of East Rhodes. His destination was unclear, moving as he did like a ball of waste paper in the wind, and being regarded as such by the passing members of the public as he weaved uncertainly between them and the nearby gutter. To someone studying his movements over time, however, they would realise that his erratic sense of direction was anything but random. He unerringly headed from King Alfred’s Square towards Winchester Street, then to Elderberry Lane and finally to Thorburn Avenue, always in that order and always walking in the same places as before, as if treading on marked footprints. The central pivot between these four areas could be considered to be St. John’s Church, a relic of 19th century idealism, originally built in impressive granite blocks that were long since worn by rain, damage and lack of care, the dark stained stone symbolised the grim mood of East Rhodes and characterised the inhabitants perfectly. Stood upon a raised area of ground, the church was closed at night and rarely opened during the day, holding a service only once a month that was attended by the few who believed and the desperate who wanted to.

                Jack avoided the church himself. His muttering grew louder the closer he got, and on rainy days a passerby could see him raise his fist at its high bell tower, forever silent and unused and indeed devoid of a bell at all. Jack would shout obscenities at it with all the passion of a preacher before calming himself, shaking his head sadly and walking onwards, ever onwards.

This day was no different. Jack shuffled along the edge of King Alfred’s Square, his rheumy eyes fixed upon the church in the near distance and yet it could have been miles away from the old man, for all he could see through the fog of his poor eyesight. His old woollen coat was pulled tight against his emaciated frame in a vain attempt to keep the wind out. The temperature had plummeted overnight and his shuffling steps were now hampered by small patches of ice on the ground, the first sure sign of the oncoming winter. Had Jack been in possession of all his wits, no doubt the mere thought of the punishing cold to come would have been enough to convince him to seek assistance from the council with finding somewhere warm to sleep at night.

He slowly made his way towards Winchester Street, the smell of the curry house there strong on the biting wind despite it being too early for the restaurant to serve anyone. Jack smacked his lips involuntarily, the brief image of a spicy food appearing in his confused mind before disintegrating and being replaced once again by the meaningless buzz of his thoughts. He took his final step in King Alfred’s Square, turning as he always did to face towards the church before looking to take his first step into Winchester Street.

But someone was in his footprint. “’Ello Jack,” said Reece Walters, sneering momentarily, “Need to ‘ave a word in your shell-like...”

The old man looked at him in confusion before Jack found himself lifted clear of the ground by the massive Jonah Stamboli who wrapped his thick arms around the filthy old man, wrinkling his wide nose in disgust as he dumped the old man in the back of the transit van parked at the junction between Winchester Street and St Alfred’s Square.

“Time you told us what you know, old-timer,”said Walters, “Been a long time comin’, I’m sure you’d agree...”

 Stamboli slammed the rear doors and the van’s engine started. Walters turned to look at St. John’s, his beady eyes narrowing in the morning light before he climbed into the passenger seat of the van, shutting the door behind him quickly as it sped off down the backstreets of East Rhodes.

To be continued 

(c) James Batty 2011

The Dance Of The Crow And The Frog


The crow guffawed and began to make fun
A twinkle in his eye like the rays of the Sun
He laughed in derision at the frog at his feet
“You’re nought but bones and thin stringy meat!”


The frog looked up with large bulbous eyes
“That’s as maybe but I can swim as well as you fly”
The crow cackled madly thinking this frog such a fool
The frog sniffed once and challenged the crow to a duel

The crow cocked his head and narrowed his eyes
“You can’t hope to swim as fast as this crow can fly!”
The frog stood his ground and gave the crow a quick glance
“I don’t mean to have a race; I mean to beat you at dance!”


The crow rolled around all laughter and guffaws
As the frog cleared the ground to make a dancefloor
“What a silly little contest I shall beat you so simply!”
The frog just smiled, looking at his feet all green and pimply


“A-one, and a-two...” and off danced the frog
Skipping gaily through leaves and over a log
The crow watched astonished at the pivots and turns
As the graceful little frog pirouetted through the ferns


“I can do that,” said the crow, “Now you just watch”
As he fluffed out his feathers and skipped a hopscotch
The frog came to a halt and looked at the crow
“You’re really not very good, I think you should know”


The crow got angry and danced all the faster
Leaving the ground as he got all in a lather
“See how high I can jump, I’m better than you!”
As his wings bore him aloft with a flutter or two


Frog shook his head “No that’s not it at all!”
“You’ve got to go higher, over that garden wall!”
And crow jumped clean in the air and over the bricks
Tucking his wings in he fell in a heap on some sticks


“You tricked me!” he moaned, as he lay in a heap
“The wall was too high and the fall was too steep!”
Frog hopped down beside him, the distance no bother
“Well you should think twice before you’re rude to another”

"You're right," said the crow as he looked up at sky
"I'll be good now I promise and bake you a pie"
And so the new friends sat down near some heather
The two of them happy to now work together

Now we must learn from the frog and the crow
Be kind to each other and be sure that you know
To tease and deride is no laughing matter
Don't hurt someone's feelings with such idle chatter


A fall from grace will be all that you find
All of your friends could leave you behind
But those who stand by you will be there forever
Treasure your differences and stand up together

 
(c) Copyright James Batty 2011

Night Town - Part Two

Steve Garron looked through the steamed-up window of his family saloon out into the rain-soaked streets, blinking his eyes blearily. The car sat idling, the familiar chug-chug of the old engine working underneath the dented hood, still covered with a layer of faded blue metallic paint like the remnant of the 1980’s that it was. One headlight stretched some thirty feet in front of the car, the lashing rain drops falling through its beam to impact the puddles and tarmac of the old back-alley street. He disconnected his seat belt, easing himself back in the over-comfortable, incredibly well-worn driving seat and rested his eyes. Just for a moment, he told himself. Just one little moment, God please.

He thought back to his life before... before all this; before the sodden darkness, before the grey walls and the grimy floors... And before that fucking shop. Inhaling, he could almost smell the smoke of the cigarettes he used to smoke but instead, he found his senses assailed by the stench of cheap perfume, mould, old fast food and spilled, stale coffee. Exhaling, he fought the desire to scream in abject frustration, the feeling building within him but then suddenly dissipating with nothing more than a whimper that seemed to come from deep within his soul. Shame overwhelmed him.

“Shit, Stevey, this is really not going anywhere.”

The whore removed her head from Steve’s lap, wiping her mouth with the back of a dirty hand. Her ruby lipstick was smeared slightly onto her chin and cheek and her mascara had run from having to be stood out in the rain before she had got into Steve’s car. She clawed at her frizzy black hair with her false nails before adjusting her sagging breasts underneath her off-white crop top.

“Your little man just won’t sit up tonight, huh? That’s the third time this week, Stevey. I can’t give you no more freebies. Jason will beat me black and blue if I don’t get somethin’ from this. It’s been twenty minutes....”

Steve opened his eyes slowly, taking his time to focus on the haggard, drug-addled face of Mo Baggs, the busiest hooker this side of East Rhodes. He felt sad, ashamed and resentful, all at once.

“Get the fuck out of my car, Mo.”

Annoyance flickered across Mo’s eyes and her mouth turned up into a little sneer as she realised that Steve wasn’t about to pay her a damn thing for having her mouth around his flaccid member for twenty minutes. Twenty freakin’ minutes, what the hell is wrong with me?

“Oh I get you now, Stevey. You think I do this for fucking fun? You think I want your tiny prick in this beautiful mouth? Damn you to hell, you fucking freak! Don’t come calling round here no more! None of the bitches in this street would treat you half as good as I have!”

Steve sighed and rubbed a hand over his face, gripping it tightly until one of his knuckles cracked under the pressure. When he removed his hand, the white finger marks on his face turned back to a shade of pink slowly as circulation was restored. His green eyes bored into the prostitute and Mo visibly quailed under the glare.

“I said...

get...

the fuck...

OUT!”

Screaming the last word at her, Steve gripped the steering wheel, shaking involuntarily as his face contorted in rage. Mo had never got out of a car so damn fast in all her born days, leaving the door wide open as she fled shrieking down a side street. The rain began to lash into the car through the open door as Steve stared after the fleeing whore. Reaching over, he slammed the door shut before punching the steering wheel, hard. The horn sounded loudly in the back street, seemingly bouncing off the walls and adding to Steve’s dark mood. He gritted his teeth and looked over his shoulder, belting himself in before reversing out of the alley and heading for home.

Cruising slowly through the adverse weather conditions, it took Steve some twenty minutes to get home, parking his old car outside the front of the tenement block before stepping out into the rain and walking up the concrete steps to the front door. Some dumb fuck left it open again, Steve thought to himself. Is it any wonder the crime rate round here is through the friggin’ ceiling?

Steve would know. He used to be a Police officer himself, a detective no less. Fifteen years on the force, fifteen years where he gave his all, body and soul to the job that gave him next to diddly squat in return. Reams of paperwork, endless hours working in half light, fluorescent light or no fucking light at all, typing away, scribbling in a notebook or listening to the general public telling him how THEY were the victim and how THEY paid HIS wages.

Well not anymore. Steve jacked it in before the job jacked him in. Up on some trumped up disciplinary charges for allegedly helping himself to a few ounces of coke at a crime scene, he was looking at an end to his detective career and a return to uniform if not the loss of his job completely. Better to leave before all that, to keep his pension intact. Of course, his wife didn’t see it that way. She saw him as a deadbeat: Deadbeat husband, deadbeat dad. Shirley fled with the kids to her mothers, and then promptly took him to cleaners when she decided to divorce him on the grounds of facing “irreconcilable differences”. Yeah, Steve thought, irreconcilable if you mean fucking your gym instructor every day whilst your husband is at work, then complaining when he ain’t able to fund your gym membership when he loses his job.

Steve turned to drink after that. He made a new friend in Mister Jack and the two had been inseparable ever since. Losing his home, Steve had moved to East Rhodes and managed to land a flat in one of the 1960’s tenement blocks with all the other deadbeats. Steve, though, didn’t see it that way. After all, Steve had the shop. That fucking shop.

 Jem Boon had been one of the massive varieties of old folk living in the same block as Steve. He ran a junk shop that he had named “Old Curiosity” and he’d been running that shop for forty years. He had never made a bean from it but Steve had found an odd comfort in helping the old timer run it. Jem had been ninety-five when Steve met him and a damned heavy smoker. He had a habit of coughing up black tar but swore blind that smoking was the reason he had lived so long. Of course, it was also the reason he spent his days in a wheelchair after he had both legs removed when suffering from DVT. That alone was enough to get Steve to give up smoking. Steve had known Jem for only three months when the old man popped his clogs and was found dead in his chair in the only working lift in the block. Some local kids found him like that but it was several hours before the police were made aware because the kids thought it would be great to wheel his body out to the skate park and use him to jump over on their bikes and skateboards. Fucking animals.

Jem left “Old Curiosity” to Steve in his will, a fact that shocked Steve and shocked him even more when he saw the state of the books. Jem evidently had never filed a tax return and had never declared an income, registering the premises as a hobby rather than a business. He was technically in breach of commercial regulations governing the usage of the property but if the council didn’t care, then neither did Jem. But the books weren’t Steve’s only problem with the place. He was confident he could scratch a living selling the odds and sods that were stored in the expansive warehouse out back to passing trade, but it was the protection racket in East Rhodes that would drive him out of business.

Griff Bolton took a mere three days after Steve re-opened the store following Jem’s death to come knocking, demanding payment and making his threats on behalf of some Under-baron or other. Steve had never taken much interest in the dealings of the Underworld, even during his time as a detective, working instead in vice and using it to meet his own ends, to his eternal shame. He’d never taken those drugs; he knew that much, but Jonny Del Soro, that sack of shit that was Steve’s sergeant on the vice squad had clearly set him up. He wouldn’t have put it past Jonny to stitch up any other detective on the team if it meant getting ahead himself. He was more cut-throat than half the scumbags they nicked week in and week out.

But Griff was something else. He was a huge, muscular man with a shaven head and a tendency to foam at the mouth when speaking, if you could call it that. Fists the size of hams, tattoo’s covering his brawny arms and a barrel chest that simply served to reaffirm his physical dominance, Griff was not a man for Steve to mess with. He saw that, but resented handing over any of his takings to this thug. If it meant his shop was safe from looters, burglars and shoplifters then so much the better, but that clearly wasn’t happening. His calls to the local Police fell on deaf ears. “Another shoplifting, Mister Garron? We’ll record it for you. Here’s your crime number.” Fat lot of fucking good that was when he had no insurance to claim off and no known value to anything that was stolen.

Steve climbed the stairs of the tenement block, refusing to use the lift ever since Jem had died in it. When he reached his flat door, he unlocked it and stepped inside into the gloom. Shutting the door behind him, he bolted it top and bottom before leaning a timber post against it and bracing it against a concrete pillar that rose unceremoniously out of the floor to disappear into the cracked ceiling above like a tower of depression all of its own. Dumping his car keys on the moth-eaten sofa he strode through to the kitchen, wearily, kicking off his shoes and shrugging out of his faded brown trench coat, a remnant from his policing past. It fell wetly to the floor. Reaching for a bottle of Jack on the kitchen side, Steve thought about getting a glass but then eyed the stack of dirty dishes, cups and glasses by the sink and decided against it, choosing instead to take a deep draught straight from the bottle. Walking into his bedroom, he lay on the bed and looked up at the ceiling, cris-crossed with stress fractures and old artex, he found the lines blurring the more he drank until finally he slipped into drunken oblivion.

 Steve woke from his sleep, gasping for breath. The tiny, damp bedroom he slept in was cold and dark, illuminated only by the flickering streetlamp outside his window. Despite the cold he had been sweating in his sleep and he could feel it beading on his upper lip. He felt like he was having a heart attack and lurched to his feet unsteadily, fighting for breath and wrenching open the rotting wooden window in his room, looking out into the street below and sucking in a great lungful of cold, semi-fresh night air. His vision swam as he fought to slow his breathing before finally mastering his physical self once more. Looking back at the bed, he noticed a patch of blood where his head had been. Reaching a hand up to his face, he found more of it clinging dryly to the bristles on his chin. Frowning and suddenly worried, he turned to the small, dirty mirror on the wall beside his chest of drawers and as the streetlamp outside flickered on for a few brief seconds Steve saw that he had been bleeding from the eyes, the twin reddish-brown lines running from both corners of his eyes and down over the sides of his cheeks onto his chin.

In the street below Steve’s window, something awoke.

To be continued

(c) James Batty 2011

Night Town - Part One

People thought Jack was crazy. He always wore the same clothes, always walked the same four streets and always said the same few words: “So it ends.” Jack wasn’t even his real name. No one knew who he really was. No one took the time to really give a shit. All they saw was a broken old man, thin and wrinkled, smelling strongly of two parts body odour to one part urine with a hint of cast-off cigarette ends and a light sprinkling of general refuse. His heavy green trench coat had more holes in it than a Labour party manifesto but he always pulled it tight over his bony, stooping frame with one hand wearing a woollen glove that was fingerless from overuse, not by design.

“So it ends”, he would say with utter conviction if anyone managed to catch his rheumy eye. He normally followed this with a good-humoured cackle, as if expecting the recipient of his sage words to sufficiently understand his meaning. Sullen hoppers during the day and black-eyed clubbers at night would see him between Elderberry Lane, Winchester Street, Thorburn Avenue and King Alfred Place where he would be constantly circuiting or pausing for rest in a shop doorway. Locals had named him Jack, but those in the know referred to him as the Invisible Man, his constant walking going so unnoticed by the general population who passed by him, going about their daily routines and continuing on to their dingy, but warm homes or air-conditioned office buildings without even so much as acknowledging the old-timers existence.

By contrast, Darion Montrose was king of the streets. His word was law in a city filled with broken promises, dispirited manic-depressives and violent outbursts. Streetlights rarely worked at night, causing an almost everlasting dark gloom over the streets that were lit with nothing more than the light from city centre apartment windows and the odd commercial premises that deigned to leave their lights on overnight. Piles of discarded rubbish, faeces of dog and human origin alike and dirty rainwater run-off and automobile carbon covered the brick roads of the city centre like a mire of filth.

But here was where Darion had risen to power. From his early days as a drug runner for Two-Fingers and a “heavy” for Marchbank Adams, he had finally seized control for himself in 2004 after dispatching the self-styled Marquis Bane with nothing more than a switchblade knife and a cool smile during a drinking session as they watched a football match. Darion could still remember the Underlord’s warm, thick blood running over his hands like a viscous wine. Victory was a sweet moment and Darion had made best use of his good fortune to run the downtrodden area of East Rhodes, organizing Gangers to extract payment from shop owners and bank managers, running a lucrative protection racket that enabled him to pursue his own interests in debauchery and lust. Darion had become a name that was synonymous with fear for the inhabitants of East Rhodes, their rent payments falling as Darion took control of the rental market, running so-called safehouses for the unemployed, the drug addicts and the prostitutes, then flogging them cheap drugs to keep them hooked and beholden to him, making sure they could never afford to move elsewhere. Darion had eyes on every street corner and in every level of society, his so-called black rats but even he was dumbfounded by the sudden disappearances occurring on his patch. Gang members, prostitutes, cutpurses, pickpockets and thugs had been going missing for weeks.

The Police had done nothing to try and solve the problem. The local Inspector had reacted with some glee when the problem was mentioned to him by Darion during their last meet, even though the Inspector was pocketing a nice fat bonus for him to keep Police attention elsewhere and away from the activities of one Darion Montrose. Inspector Pidgley may have been a greedy son of a bitch, but he still took unrequited pleasure in the suffering of criminals. It was clear that Montrose would need to deal with this issue by himself. Normally missing people wasn’t an issue for him, they always turned up somewhere in some failed attempt to leave the life of grime they had been drawn into and requiring little persuasion to return to it when given their options – work for Montrose or find themselves in an unmarked grave outside the city.

However, now Darion was starting to lose money. Profits were down, unrest was rising and persuading people to carry out his work for him was becoming more difficult. Some of the Under-barons were becoming restless, questioning his authority and even gathering for secret meetings in the mistaken belief that he did not know about it. Darion knew about it alright. His black rats would consistently return to him with information in the hopes of receiving a small wrap of heroin or a minor cash incentive. Sometimes the information he was brought was of particularly poor quality but such are the potential pitfalls when giving rewards for information. Darion would listen with a practiced ear and judge its authenticity before handing out an appropriate reward. Many had been the occasions where he had dispensed a beating upon a scummer who provided what he took to be bogus information in the hope of getting something for nothing. No one got something for nothing, even Darion knew that.

And so here he sat in Warehouse 19c, the seat of his power in the district and his main base of operations. Before him on an old gurney lay the remains of Griff Bolton, one-time heavy and normally reliable drugs runner for Darion’s chief Under-baron, Reece Walters. Beside the gurney, Doctor Marshak stood nervously as he had been for the last few minutes as Darion regarded the corpse of Bolton coolly and with evident disdain upon his angular features. Darion broke the silence with his trademark gravelly voice.

“Christ, Doc, he’s a fucking mess. What the hell happened?”

Startled out of his nervousness, Doctor Marshak stammered in response, casting an anxious eye over the torn corpse beside him as if seeking a medical explanation where previously he had not found one after spending hours looking at it.

“I... I think it’s safe to say that death was a violent and bloody affair, Mister Montrose. I’ve not been able to determine cause of death, but...”

                “Safe to say cause of death is pretty bloody obvious, Marshak. He’s been torn apart! Jeez, he friggin’ stinks as well...”

                “Yes, he has soiled himself post-mortem. This is quite common and... Well, what I mean to say is that the multiple lacerations and the amount of force that was required to cause this kind of injury is fairly substantial.”

                “Yeah, no shit. Whoever did this just knocked fifty-freakin’-grand off my monthly takings.”

Marshak swallowed noisily, his throat dry and his forehead beaded with sweat. He ran a suddenly rubbery hand over his bald pate and adjusted his black-rimmed spectacles upon his nose before he licked his lips with a rough, dry tongue and continued.

                “I think we’re talk about ‘what’, rather than ‘who’, Mister Montrose...”

Darion frowned, his forehead creasing around an ugly scar that ran from his left temple to the front of his hairline like a jagged white smile. Taking his mahogany-coloured eyes off the corpse for the first time, he looked at the doctor stood before him and lifted a hand off the arm of his favourite padded, green-leather armchair and rested his chin upon it.

                “What are you getting at, Doc? Are you saying this wasn’t done by a man?”

                “I’m saying this... this bears the hallmarks of a wild animal attack, Mister Montrose. I’m no veterinarian but you see here... and here...” Marshak pointed with a small steel pen to a number of lacerations on the chest and what remained of the face of the shredded cadaver on the gurney. “Those injuries are representative of claw marks and bite marks. I would need to speak with an expert to try and determine a species, but I’m confident this is not a human kill. Large areas of flesh, such as the buttocks and thighs have been torn away and I would suggest it is reasonable to assume that these areas have been consumed.”

                “Shitting hell. You better make sure you’re right, Marshak. How the fuck could a wild animal have gotten into East Rhodes? We’re freaking miles away from the edge of the city! Are we talking a wild dog here or what?”

                “I think not. I don’t know for sure but whatever animal caused this, I am ninety-nine per cent certain it would have to be significantly larger than any breed of dog I know to cause this kind of injury.”

Darion ran a rough hand over his stubbly face, scratching absently as he closed his eyes for a moment. He responded to Doctor Marshak in a resigned tone. “Fine, source yourself an expert. But we keep this strictly between us, Doc. You hear me? I don’t need this shit getting out to the streets and stirring the pot further. Fuck this up and your ass is on the line. We need to find out what the hell is doing this and put a stop to it before my workforce gets freaked out any further. If they stop being able to move about my streets freely, my profits will take the hit. And if they take a hit, you can bet your ass that you will take a hit too, Marshak.”

Doctor Marshak nodded nervously. Darion waved him away absently with one hand and then turned to look out of the window behind him and out into the streets of the industrial park set out before him. A niggling fear in the back of his mind kept telling him that he should cut his losses and get the hell out of East Rhodes. Balling a fist, he slammed it into the window sill before him and shook his head. I’ll be damned before I give up now. Not when I’m so fuckin’ close.

To be continued...

(c) James Batty 2011

Little Lamb Lost

You come to me as you’re lost, little lamb

You ask things of me that are not mine to give

I say that I won’t but you know that I can

This is no way for any man to live


If your fleece were as lies then a blanket I’d of spun

Soft and white like the skin upon your face

But to look upon it is to burn like the sun

You have made me want to leave this place


Your bleating is like pain unto mine ears

Breaking down my soul and tearing down walls

Your demands grow like the greatest of fears

Trying to make me stumble, hoping that I fall


But I see beneath your coat so white and pure

I must resolve now to face the future alone

You are no lamb but a wolf, of that I’m sure

You want to chase me down, to gnaw upon my bones


For though you are lost indeed, little lamb

As are we all and to ourselves we must look

Your smiles and your laughs are nothing but a sham

Time to pay for all those lives that you took

Is That It?

There comes a time in your life, I think, when you begin to wonder what it's all for. Some call this a "crisis", others say it hasn't happened to them and they don't think too deeply about such things and in many respects, I wish I was like that. One of my main problems/quirks/whatever is that I think very deeply. I don't like the traditional view of the world where a man or woman must work to provide for others, must forsake themselves and often their dreams simply to survive in a society that is not designed to cater to individuals but to the "greater good" of all.

I recently read that the singer Adele was angry that she had to pay 50% of her earnings in income tax now that she was being paid over the threshold required (£150,000). There are two schools of thought over this, the first being that she's a greedy gobshite who, despite earning something like £8million and having to forefeit 50% of that in tax feels that she deserves not to have to pay such a high rate of tax because "Its not fair". There are others who sympathize with her and say that she deserves not to be taxed such a large amount because "She's earned it". Far be it from me to criticize someone on their choice of career but many people not in that line of work would suggest that being a singer can be considered to be relatively easy "job", albeit in my view that is highly dependant on how hard you strive for recognition of your work. Surely the harder you strive, the better the results? (Unless the music you produce really is quite poor or aimed at a niche industry) In any event, Adele is still rich beyond most people's imaginations.

Perhaps she can now afford some elocution lessons? Yes, I'm a snob like that. Deal with it.

The point I'm trying to make here is that you feel like you put your heart and soul into what you do but you get very little out of it by way of a reward. The very idea of money as a reward is somewhat perplexing because I think money is an awful thing that drives people to ruin themselves or others in pursuit of it, but no matter how much we loathe our dependence on it, depend on it we must and therefore it makes personal sense to go out and obtain as much of it as you can in order to try and live the kind of life you want to lead. The fact that some people have more than others is because either they've worked hard and pursued such levels of monetary gain or they have been in the fortunate position of being born into it or gifted with it. It is easy for those of us who don't have it to resent those who do. Too easy.

Perhaps I live in something of a dream world where I would love to be able to simply walk away from all this and set up home somewhere quiet and not be bothered by things great and small so that I can explore the things I would like to do. In my mind I view that as acheivable, yet in reality I see it as something I would have to work very, very hard to pull off and that can be a galling prospect. We have a finite amount of time on this planet and I often wonder whether it would really be worth pushing myself like that for however long I need to to acheive that end. Do I really want to work so hard for something I may only be able to enjoy for a short period of time? Can I really predict that it would ever happen the way I want it to? The future is no less uncertain no matter how much you look at it and try and guess the likely outcome of things.

So in retrospect, I think there is some sense in saying we should "live for the moment", "enjoy the now" or whatever other cliches you can think of because the fact is you never know what could happen. You never know who will be with you on your journey or whether their journey will end before or after your own one does. I don't like that situation and it doesn't sit right with me. It seems incredibly unfair. But then life is. Many things have taught me that. I can be quite a pragmatic individual, not prone to displays of emotion or even particularly affection, perhaps because I struggle to accept such things outside of family and close friends. It takes me a long while to accept people and consider them friends, but when I do, then they're someone I care about.

So what is it all about? I guess we may never know. Even when you think you do, ultimately something happens that makes you question it. And I guess we wouldn't be human unless we questioned everything now would we? If it rains, it rains.

Hulk

And so I shall tell you the truth of it. All you know now, all you have ever known is nought but lies. The lies have been spun from the mouths of those who would seek to hide the shameful past of humanity. For in its darkest hour, they were the ones who made the ultimate sacrifice. There are few of us left from those years in the void, our silence bought by the promise of the life we want without fear of persecution or scrutiny and yet we know they watch us. They watch us, they listen to us and they make sure we tow the line. Those who do not? I would not burden you with that knowledge. Now listen, this will take some time…


It was the year 3129 when humankind was reduced to a population of no more than fourteen million, cast adrift into the void of space upon three gigantic space frigates named The Shining Beacon, The Day’s Beginning and The Dream Seeker. No one knows what cataclysm caused the sundering of Urth and the fleeing of our race from our home planet, though speculation was rife with some claiming Urth had been poisoned by years of war and manufacturing whilst others claim the world was being reclaimed at a ferocious rate by the Nay-chure whom originally held sway over the planet before humans existed. The massive hulk ships were constructed in orbit over the course of some seventy Urth years and through some long forgotten technology, the remaining population was transported to the huge frigates and, save a few brave souls who stayed behind to see that the giant ships were launched successfully with the correct launch protocols from Urth, we were then cast into the expanse of the galaxy to seek a new world, or worlds, to settle. We have forgotten more than we can now ever know again.


In the year 5297, according to the ship computer, our fuel was long since expended, the vast hulks drifting through space propelled only by their onward momentum along charted routes provided by the Astronome, an ancient organisation originally based on Urth that provided the safest route through the known galaxies aiming the blunt-faced frigates at planets believed to contain atmosphere’s similar to what our own once was, countless light years away from Urth. The launch of the frigates was timed to the second, designed to direct us through space without colliding with any planets or moons on the way. Though these wise men and women were undoubtedly the best in their field, from time to time the ships would encounter meteors swarms and we would confine ourselves to our meagre quarters as the ancient ships shuddered and vibrated with each jarring impact of space rocks against the hulls. Breaches of the hull had happened before; usually resulting in loss of life and with little in the way of raw materials for repairs, sometimes whole sections of the ships would be forever sealed off, never to be used again.


Electricity was in short supply, our power generated only by the light of a dying Sun upon the solar panels at the rear and sides of the vessels; the solar energy harvested growing weaker by the inexorable passage of time as we drifted soundlessly through the vacuum of space. Such power that we had was rationed to each family, providing enough for one bathful of warm recycled water and twenty daily minutes of re-heat for the distributed rationed food that was grown in the dermoglas houses on the exterior of the ships’ hulls. The onboard lighting was provided by the Gaje, strange worm-like creatures that remained frozen in blocks of preserved Arktik ice, radiating a light-blue glow said to be the result of having previously lived their lives thousands of feet below the surface of the Arktik Sea back on Urth, then becoming trapped in the ice each year when they returned to their spawning grounds before the melts happened and they returned to the sea bed once more. Oddly, they appeared to require no known sustenance and were often a source of keen scientific debate on board the The Dream Seeker amongst the Learned caste. Micro-organisms in the ice were apparently required to assist in sanitising the atmosphere of any planet we finally reached. I didn’t know much about the science involved as being just a lowly member of the Worker caste, educayshun was not something necessarily afforded to us, certainly not beyond that which we would need to carry out our assigned tasks.


We were all vegetarians then, living off a carefully cultivated and selected diet of plants chosen by the Growers before we originally left Urth. The plants we ate had been meticulously evolved throughout the long centuries of space travel to provide us with every nutrient we could need and incredibly could “breathe” from the void, expelling waste in the form of water and oxygen for all onboard to consume and inhale, only to be recycled and reused again and again. Massive tanks of their pure water were held in stasis within the giant hold of The Dream Seeker, to be used only when a crop of the plants had failed or was infected with some strange space-born virus. The air on board was recycled and always stale, making us prone to catching infections. Medician’s with their curious face masks and long, flowing coats of grey were a common sight on board.


I knew no other life, born as I was on board The Dream Seeker to aging parents. Back then, couples were not allowed to have children until they were in their forties due to the pressure of limited space upon the hulks, and then only one child per couple was allowed. Forced abortions were not uncommon and amongst the Worker caste this was resented, as with little else in the way of entertainment it was a hell of a price to pay for engaging in the act of physical lovemaking. Old age was frowned upon with the Humane Doctrine that we were all forced to live by stating that the elderly must jettison themselves into the void upon reaching the age of sixty years to prevent overpopulation or becoming a burden to the “Hive”, as the ship was commonly referred to. And, I guess a hive is exactly what it was. Everyone worked like bee-drones, serving the needs of the community and then sacrificing themselves when their usefulness began to drop off. Survival of the fittest, you could say. I thought it was evil then, and as I look back now my opinion hasn’t changed. Those due to be jettisoned would be paraded as heroes, a party would be thrown in their honour and then at the press of a button once they had entered the “Enlightenment Chamber” as it was so sanctimoniously called, they were cast into the vacuum of space like common trash.


And so each person was born into a caste. The Workers did the donkey work. The lifting, the carrying, the cleaning and the myriad of minor jobs that the other castes felt were beneath them. The Warriors maintained order on board the ship and investigated the crimes among the community. Their justice was dispensed quickly, efficiently and without mercy. An eye for an eye was the only law, dispensed by the huge men and women of that caste. There were never grounds for appeal against the judgements of a Warrior but in the main, the Warrior’s were stout-hearted, honest and true to their ideals of fairness and accountability. Of course, there were always rumours that some of them were being paid off, dispensing their own version of “justice” following a back-hand payment from a member of the Learned caste or by the Princelings, the ruling caste onboard each vessel.


And the Princelings “governed” us, for lack of a better term. There were no elections open to the masses, no major decisions to be made by any except those who were born into their caste with each family of Princelings taking their turn to rule for ten Urth years at a time, before cycling to the next family in line. I make it sound so simple, yet there was much political wrangling and dealing between families so that those who by rights were next in line could be passed over in favour of another should the head of each other household agree it.


With no way to travel between the vessels, communication was rare for there was never any news that required such and no way of sending aid to each ship even if it was desperately needed. Such communication as was used between ships was conducted by Astropaths, those few among us who had defied their birth caste and developed the ability to cast their thoughts across the void to make contact with similar individuals on board the other ships, passing news and other communications without the need to use any precious electrical energy. These Astropaths were awed and feared in equal measure by the non-path’s onboard or “Non’s” as they called us. They were free to move about the ship as they pleased; defying the caste area restrictions because what they had and could offer to the Princelings was worth more than a year’s supply of electricity: The ability to read thoughts and project them to others. Such perks as could be offered on board were theirs to enjoy. Women, men, water, and electricity, almost anything they could want. They were the only ones among us who were allowed to have more than one child, in the hopes that one of their offspring would display similar abilities. If the child reached five years of age without the powers being manifest, they were cast into the void with the next batch of Elders, like they were nothing but refuse. How their mothers would weep.


Aboard our ship, one of the Astropath’s had surpassed the mental powers of any of his kin and was the only known Kinepath, one capable of both telepathic as well as telekinetic abilities, able to move objects with merely a thought. Basius. His name was like a shadow on all our hearts, for he had no master, no mistress and no morals. He was both the greatest and the least amongst us. His mind was as sharp as, and his heart as hard as a diamond. He alone among us seemed destined to decide the fate of mankind aboard those ancient vessels.


And such is the way of man. Existence for the sake of existence is not our way. We strive to achieve fulfilment and Basius, cruel Basius was the very embodiment of ambition, ever seeking self actualisation. What follows here now is my tale. I am Andar and I have no surname for I was not born with one. I will tell you of the fate of mankind, for I was there. Brothers of Urth, what I say to you now will take hold of your very soul. I urge you to walk away from my fire-pit now, should you not wish to take on this burden: The burden of Truth.


(C) James Batty 2011

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