The last year has in many ways for me resembled something that could be described as a tale from within the Matrix. In August 2021 I made the decision to return back “home” to the UK, where I was born and lived until 2010, when I moved to Sweden.
Almost twelve years away hit me unexpectedly hard and I found the UK to be a very different country from the one I left in 2010. I too, had changed and found myself unable to settle and rather like a foreigner in my own country in many ways. Apparently, this is a common occurence for ex-pats who have made their nests elsewhere – After a period of time, you move on and become accustomed to your new home overseas, and your homeland leaves you behind, too. I began to miss my adopted home of Sweden.
Given I had ties to Sweden professionally still and had continued to work remotely for a Swedish employer, coupled with the fact that I am a Swedish citizen too and have dual nationality, it made sense to return back to Sweden to live, at least for the short to mid term, And in May of this year, that’s exactly what I did.
Last year, I completed writing a novella titled The Locked Room which I then submitted to my Editor who sharpened her carving knives and went to work on it. The changes and re-writes have been extensive and I decided to just take my time with this, follow the advice of a well established and brutally honest editing professional – and boy am I glad to have hired her!
This novella has been the bane of my life for the last two years and whilst I have dabbled and done a few pieces of flash fiction and also written a few short stories for another short story collection project I’m working on, I’ve never felt entirely comfortable with the finished project of the The Locked Room, and it’s why I’ve held back in releasing it. It is to be the first release of my publishing label Strange Days Press and I want to be happy with the final end product. It’s almost there and given I have a brilliant editor and very talented artist on board for the cover art duties, I know it’s my responsibility to put out the best product I can -and that is worth taking my time.
Now that I had my little moving experiment, fell flat on my face and corrected the mistake, my plan is to push ahead and finish the projects I have on my desk and get myself back into a routine of writing again regularly, as opposed to the fits and starts of the last year. Settling back in Sweden and having a new home, I hope the feeling of being settled will trickle down into my writing and enable me to be in the frame of mind to focus and be more productive than I have been.
I’ll update this blog in time with progress. I have a website built for my publishing label, and all the ingredients there to make it work. I just need to unlock that final end product of the novella itself, make it the absolute best it can be and then let the wheels turn for everything else.
Brad liked the country roads. The backwater B roads, the ones you could barely see on maps that snaked in between the main highways like wiggly worms and didn’t really take you anywhere. In fact, they took you to nowhere. Nowhere except shit-splat little towns with a few cafes, a gas station and if you were lucky a cheap motel with lumpy beds and poor air-con.
The rain had started early in the evening and was now almost torrential, so Brad turned up the wipers of his utility truck to full, watching them fight a losing battle against the onslaught of rain beating heavily against the windscreen. The wrath of Mother Nature after the humidity of a close and sticky 35c for most of the day.
Brad could barely see thirty metres ahead of the dark deserted road that twisted in and out of the mountain, the truck’s headlights only showing rods of water, illuminated briefly until they disappeared into the darkness and the vague blur of the white line markings on the road. He cursed, knowing if the storm got worse, he would have to stop. Try take shelter somewhere, perhaps find a motel to sleep until the worst was over. Fat chance of finding a motel out here.
The figure appeared out of the shadows, and even at under 30mph, Brad had to swerve to miss it, the dark petite looking silhouette of someone on the roadside, holding out a slim arm with a thumb attached to it’s end. Cursing, Brad corrected the truck and came to a stop just ahead. For a moment the shadow just stood there in the rain behind him, staring at the truck. Brad waved the figure forward and after a moment, it walked slowly towards the truck.
As the figure approached, Brad could see it was a girl, completely soaked through and wearing only a summer dress that was so saturated, it clung to her body like clingfilm. Brad reached across and opened the passenger door, and the girl jumped in without hesitation. Her long brown hair was stuck to her head like glue.
“Jeez” exclaimed Brad, “raining like hell out there, eh?” He reached over to the back seat of the truck and took hold of a blanket, handing it to the girl who took it without a word. Brad noticed she was pretty, maybe early 20‘s, petite and slim. She began to towel herself lightly with the blanket and through her saturated dress stuck to her body, Brad could see her breasts plain as day. She wasn’t wearing a bra. Strangely, she wasn’t shivering. Given how little clothing she wore and how soaked she was, Brad figured she’d be freezing cold.
He started up the truck again and joined the road again slowly in the relentless rain, fighting to see through the sheeting water hitting the windscreen.
“So, what’s your story? What you doing way out here on the roadside?” He asked. This was always his break the ice opener for the various hitchers he had picked up on his travels over the years.
The girl finished drying herself on the blanket and towelled her hair a little on it. She stared back at Brad, like she was considering her reply before offering it. Brad noticed her eyes seemed glazed, and now he could see her better in the dim light of the truck, she seemed to have bad skin. He guessed the small lines and imperfections on her face looked like acne scars.
“My car got a flat” she said. “thought I was going to be stuck out here all night. Luckily you came along”. Brad noticed the strange, almost robotic tone in her voice. It didn’t fit her appearance or frame. Not at all.
“Oh” said Brad. “I didn’t see your car there on the roadside back there. If you want, we can go back and I can see about changing that tyre for you? I have tools in the back”
“There’s no air in the spare tyre either” she replied, curtly.
“Can you just drop me off at the next town?” she asked, “whatever it’s called”. I can find a motel there for the night and get my car picked up tomorrow”
Brad knew this area. The next town was Crickside, about twenty kilometres up ahead. But it had no motel.
“Sure. I can get you there” He said.
“Thank you” she replied.
Brad watched the girl sneakily from the corner of his eye for the next few moments as they drove in silence, only the rain hitting the windshield offering any sound. He watched her like he watched the others. The other helpless girls he’d hoovered up on various backwater b roads all over the country. Strays befallen to bad luck, car trouble and whatever other chain of events had led them to being on a dark deserted road in the middle of nowhere until a white truck showed up to offer them salvation. A white truck with a predator driving it.
This girl was perfect prey. Small, defenseless and no match for Brad’s size. He’d overpower her in thirty seconds. In a moment, he’d pull out the switchblade he had hidden down by his seat. Then she’d freeze in terror, and beg. Like the others did. Then she’d be still and let him do what he wanted. She wouldn’t resist. Like the others.
The truck rounded a tight bend and opened out onto a straight section. Brad knew this area. He knew it well. There would be nobody out here. Nobody to see. He slowed the truck to a stop and pulled onto the shoulder of the road, into the darkness. Where he liked to be.
The girl looked up immediately, her face concerned.
“Why are we stopping?” she asked, flatly
In a move he’d mastered over the years, Brad quickly grabbed the switchblade, flicking it open mid-air and held it towards her throat. He waited for the reaction. The terror. The submission. She stared at the knife.
“Ok, honey” He said. “You’re gonna take off that dress now. And you’re gonna make me happy. You understand?”
But she did not react like she should. Like all the others did. She was still. Calm, even. Her chest and breathing unmoved. It was all wrong. She looked straight into Brad’s eyes, her glazed expression creepy and sinister. Brad suddenly wondered if she was strung out on some drug or something.
“Please don’t do this” she said quietly. “Please don’t..”.
That was more like it. The rush of power returning back to him. Soon she’d start begging. And he liked it when they begged. He smirked back at the girl.
“Oh honey, you should have listened to your Mamma all those years ago. Didn’t she tell you not to get into cars with strangers?”
Brad reached forward to grab at her and with insane speed and strength, the girl snatched his arm holding the knife, twisting it at the wrist until Brad heard a grinding sound and white hot pain shot up into his forearm and shoulder. Then came a sickening crunch and he screamed, the knife falling away as the girl kept twisting. Finally, after what seemed like forever to Brad, she finally let go and he held up his own mangled hand in front of his disbelieving eyes, his fingers and knuckles bent and twisted, pointing in ways they shouldn’t go. Two splinters of bone jutted up through the wrist part of his arm, his flesh like a fishes mouth on either side of the protruded skin. The white hot pain sensation was now becoming red.
The girl began quivering by him as Brad let out blood curdling screams, both in pain and terror. He saw her face moving, the skin throbbing outwards from some kind of pressure underneath. Then he heard hissing and popping sounds, like pressure valves being released. And a strange, musty, salty smell.
The girls face began to open. The lines and imperfections on her skin were not acne scars. They were folds. Folds that covered and hid something.. else. Something underneath.
The girl’s face began to detract, the outer skin just pushing outwards, eyes, nose and mouth just separating to the sound of splitting. It was attached to something. Some kind of muscle tissue, ligament that could somehow stretch and bend. Brad screamed again in horror at what lay underneath, the hidden grotesquery now on full show in the dim light of the truck.
The face of a lizard. Giant, cruel and inhuman eyes, yellow and narrow, that glowed inside the shiny green skin hiding under the premise of a young girl. The mouth moved and Brad saw rows of teeth. They looked like they were smiling.
“And didn’t your Mamma tell you not to pick up hitchhikers?” hissed the Lizard across at him, it’s breath rancid in his face.
Screaming and the pain in his destroyed arm now close to making him pass out, Brad tried desperately to make a final move for his door, but the Lizard was too fast and a scaly hand grabbed him by the throat and began to lift and twist roughly to another grinding and splitting sound.
The last thing Brad saw before his vision faded to black was a shape. A familiar shape. It wore familiar clothes. It wore his clothes. And it sat in his seat.
I have gone a little off-piste here in this blog post, given I normally waffle on about writing and books. But, that’s ok. It’s my blog and I’ll cry if I want to…There’s a song in that, somewhere.
Following my own experience with this subject and the Mental Health issues I faced afterwards a few years ago, it’s probably no surprise to anyone reading these words how strongly I feel about it. I have spent the last year advocating for Mental Health causes and awareness, particularly in dealing with Narcissistic Abuse in a relationship and my recovery journey from its effects. I’ve made a lot of good connections in Support Groups, attended a lot of Seminars and learned a great deal. I want to share this because I feel I can do some good. And if this post reaches just one person and helps them to see their way through their own experience, or offer them some hope, then it’s surely worthwhile.
“You’ve been living in a dream world, Neo.”
I’m glad to say I’ve been able to offer some help and guidance, in so far as I can, for many walking wounded who sadly are just a little bit further back down the road from me. Souls right now, who can’t tell up from down, and are living in (give or take) the same purgatory, I was. For these people, they have not yet been unplugged from the Matrix. They’ve stumbled around in desperation through the detritus of YouTube and Google for self-help information, just as I did. They’re looking for answers and guidance, just like I was. Looking for sense. For salvation.
For confirmation.. that they’re. NOT. crazy.
I want to point out at the outset that I am not a Qualified Therapist nor have any formal Academic Qualification in this field. What I am; like many people, is a survivor of a relationship with a Narcissist. Some refer to Narcissists as devils. If you have ever been in a relationship with a Narcissist you may well be nodding in agreement as you read this. To those that haven’t (and I salute you) that may sound operatic and rather grandiose, but the term is not without merit. In that case, my devil came to me with beautiful blonde hair and the bluest of blue eyes. What lay behind those eyes was not beautiful.
Why do I feel this way? Why do I miss someone who treated me like garbage, hurt and humiliated me again and again, repeatedly lied, breached my trust, abused me emotionally and financially and then blamed me for everything at the end?… And of course… the great, quintessential question. Why? Why did they do this to me?
I don’t love them anymore, but neither do I feel relief now they’re gone and out of my life. Why can’t I sleep? Why is my self-esteem, nervous system, energy and self-confidence shattered and affecting my ability to forge new relationships? Why do I suffer brain fog, rumination and flashbacks of it all, even though I don’t want them back and never want to see them again. Why have I reacted so acutely to someone so very bad for me when I have not reacted to previous breakups like this? Why can’t I just fucking move forward with my life? I should be happy they’re gone and people keep telling me I should feel so. Why do I mourn something so toxic that caused me so much pain? Am I turning into a zombie?
Sadly, these are all, all too common reactions to Narcissistic Abuse. Although the variables differ in relationship experiences with Narcissists, there is a common thread that you can pick up on, just as the devastation they leave on their victims has a design or footprint and common trends in how that manifests in survivors.
Narcissism is everywhere. One might say it’s a side effect of Social Media culture, where look at me, please like and validate me and agree with everything I say, and God help you if you don’t has a sinister undertone to it. You could make a case that Social Media gives a platform to Narcissism in some ways.
Narcissists are very much like hard-boiled candy sweets. They come in all different shapes, colours, sizes and guises. They taste differently, they’re full of sugar and calories, but we eat them anyway. They will rot and break your teeth. And that’s if you’re lucky. If you’re unlucky, then you’d better buckle up. The Captain just switched on the fasten seatbelt sign…
Hicks: “So, what exactly are we dealing with here?”
Ripley: “Well, I’ll tell you what I know”…
So when we say Narcissist, what exactly does that mean? What are the characteristics of a Narcissist and how do I spot one?
The term Narcissism originates in Greek Mythology, The youthful and handsome Greek God Narcissus rejected the advances of the Nymph Echo. This caused Narcissus to fall in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. Narcissism, or Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a Mental disorder that sits amongst a range of Personality Disorders in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance/entitlement and an almost uncontrollable urge for admiration, attention and validation. Narcissists usually have a footprint, too, they do not just wake up one day and have become Narcissistic. NPD often manifests itself in childhood or teenage years and there are various different triggers for it. They often have a history of troubled, disastrous relationships, both personal and professional in their wake, (that they often go to great lengths to hide from the next source of supply) and a severe lack of empathy for anyone but themselves. They’re highly manipulative, either overtly or covertly, charming, ambitious, driven, entitled and have tempers and prone to sudden and explosive outbursts. They can’t handle criticism in any form leading you to feel like you’re always walking on eggshells around them. They’re ALWAYS right, about everything and NEVER take responsibility for anything. EVER. And they’re totally ruthless.
So, now we’ve got some of the Freud out of the way, what do I look for if I think I might be dealing with a Narcissist and how does that translate to dealing with the aftermath if I become a victim of one?
Most people with experience in this field, notably qualified Psychologists or people with years of experience within this area often refer to the Red Flag System as an essential guide on how to determine if you’re dealing with a Narcissist.
So whilst you can apply the formula already mentioned, you can educate yourself and at least understand what you’re dealing with to a better degree and learn the difference in the types of Narcissism and how that manifests in their behaviour, what good are red flags that start waving before your eyes all over the place if you’re not going to act upon them. Right?
What I’ve found is that most victims of Narcissistic Abuse knew; at least to some degree, and were self-aware, when they were in the middle of it all, that something was just not right. With the other person. With the relationship. With everything. Something nondescript. Something they couldn’t quite put their finger on at the time. This includes my own experience. And most people had no idea they were dealing with a Narcissist at the time they were in a relationship with one. That awakening comes in the aftermath.
This is significant. It’s significant because it holds insight into why you didn’t pull the trigger and act, when Red Flag 2, 3 and 4 started waving wildly in front of your face. Some call it intuition or the inner voice and it speaks to you for a reason. Don’t just ignore it. Forgive yourself now for not listening if you did. Your Intuition will forgive you back.
Turning to recovery, the bad news is that there is no off the shelf treatment for dealing with the after effects of Narcissistic Abuse. Dependent upon the variables of your experience, you most likely will be suffering from a form of Complex PTSD when the relationship ends. This can even take the form of an abrupt discard from the Narcissist which may just be two days after they have referred to you as the “love of their life” too. Or perhaps you just flipped at the end or realized you can’t do this anymore and you’re done. This is extra grief on top of the regular and perfectly normal painful emotions both parties of a relationship ending would experience, where there is no toxicity of Narcissism is involved. You get that too, I’m afraid. Sadly, your brain isn’t yet wired to know the difference. That enlightenment, comes later too.
Okay. It’s going to be a long haul and it’s going to be hard. But it will get better, with work, bravery and patience. I promise you that if you invest in confronting the experience, you will come out of the other side a wiser, stronger person and more empowered than you ever thought you could be. But you will; in all probability, have to go through hell to get there.
The milestones for recovery from Narcissistic Abuse can typically be laid out in the following way:
Grief -Allow yourself to grieve and mourn. Despite the hell you’ve been through and the humiliation you feel when the Narcissist’s mask finally slipped and you discovered who they really are, cut yourself some slack. There will have been some good moments, without question in amongst the chaotic rollercoaster. These are the things the Narcissist relied upon to keep you addicted to them, remember and most Narcissists specialize in manipulation and are accomplished, pathological liars. Remind yourself that the relationship was real to you and you lost something you thought you had. Something you thought was real. Your feelings were genuine. And you were conned.
Coping -In the immediate aftermath, your emotions will be scrambled and you will be feeling a lot of different things, ranging from sadness and total confusion, to self-loathing, absolute rage and despair. And sometimes all at once. You have been effectively brainwashed to believe everything is and was your fault and that the Narcissist is the innocent victim. It’s absolutely crucial you reach out for help and have a support network. Even if it’s just a friend who is prepared to listen and let you cry it out, which all friends worth their salt should do for you. You may have to do the same for them one day. You may need to speak to your GP and discuss if medication in the short-term may help you cope, and get some short-term aids to help you sleep. Regular sleep is a vital component of helping you recover emotionally. You may need to take time away from work or reduce your hours. I would also really recommend that you also consider professional help from a Therapist or Counselor who has knowledge of Narcissistic Abuse symptoms and Treatment techniques. There are some very good references included at the bottom of this post and links to reputable and qualified Clinical Psychologists who offer insight on Narcissistic Abuse, complex PTSD and Recovery guidance.
Education– Learn about Narcissism. You will find it an uncomfortable, maybe even hellish experience and it may bring back a lot of painful memories, but it’s vital to helping you unscramble your emotions and help validate you that you’re not crazy. I guarantee you that thought will be one of the most prominent and most worrying anxieties you will have, right now. “Am I crazy?” There is a wealth of knowledge available from qualified Professionals, including Seminars/Webinars, TED Talks and Vlogs which can help you piece together what is happening to you in the context of your own experience.
Distraction – It’s crucial you try to mitigate rumination and bad thoughts when they first occur, so you have a better chance of stopping them taking hold. So force yourself to take on a new hobby or craft. Exercise at least once per day, even if it’s just a short walk in the open air. Walking also helps your mind heal. Learn to breathe properly again, and breathe slowly. Occupy your mind with other things and don’t spend too much time alone with your own thoughts.
Action -This one is the most important of all. GO NO CONTACT. It’s imperative you break all forms of contact with the Narcissist, even if they come trying to hoover you back in at a later time. NO CONTACT means exactly what it says on the tin. And.. it’s forever. There’s just no way around that. I was lucky in that there were no children involved in my case, so a clean break was easier, but if there are children involved in the relationship, then your contact with the Narcissist should be absolutely minimal, and solely related to the children and nothing else.
Healing – Healing is the final part of the journey and in many respects the stage I’m still currently on. Healing takes time and is a different road for everyone. With time comes perspective. With learning, comes knowledge and a deeper understanding. Not of Narcissism or the perpetrators of it (which is unfathomable) but of yourself. If you can gain insight as to why you made the decisions you did, forgive yourself for your mistakes and promise yourself you will learn from it and never repeat those same mistakes again. This will be a massive gain for you. And crucially, it’s where you find your closure.
The very definition of Stupidity can be best described as repeating the same mistakes and expecting a different result. There’s wisdom in that. You will become wiser, I promise you, if you are brave and confront it all, head on. You will make more mistakes as you go forward in your life. But if you really apply what you’ve learned, you will never expose yourself to another Narcissist in that way, ever again.
What you will also discover, in the many long hours of procrastination, crying, hurting and painful anecdotes you hear and read from others suffering on the same pilgrimage as you, is that despite all their Machiavellian Intricacies and the exotic Pseudo-Psychiatric terminology used to describe their behaviours and analyse them, Narcissists are not devils. They are just sick people. They are empty, vacuous husks with holes where their hearts should be. Holes that can never be filled. Not by you, not by anyone, least themselves. You cannot fix them and you cannot save them. They just don’t understand, care, respect nor even recognize your feelings, needs or boundaries and never will. Even if they wanted to. They will never be able to forge genuinely loving and meaningful relationships of any value with anyone that isn’t either financially beneficial to them or meets their needs of supply in some other way.
2020 for me; I suspect for many others too, has resonated like a bad acid trip. What began at the beginning of the year quickly escalated to a global pandemic and the last month has seen a resurgence, and in the wrong direction.
I had big plans for this year, I was planning to leave Sweden and move to New Zealand. Regrettably, that now is on hold until the pandemic madness clears a little and travel again becomes possible. I’m sure we’ll all be glad to see the back of 2020 and we all hope for better times.
Another thing I have had to delay, yet again, is the release of my first novel The Locked Room and this is for a variety of reasons. I am releasing the book through my own publishing label and in order to give the novel the launch and quality of product I want to, I have decided to hold back. I also feel now is not the right time economically for me to be launching a publishing label.
Although this is disappointing, I feel incredibly proud to have finished the book and be actively writing again on new material, given the health problems I have suffered over the last few years. I never thought I would write again, at one point in the not too distant past, so to have finished writing the novel and have a finished product; does on its own, feel like a massive achievement. Even if none of my work ever commercially sees the light of day, it feels incredibly good to be creative again, exploring my imagination and ideas. I also recently took up sketching again, to pass the time during the most banal times of the winter and provide a distraction from the pandemic gloom.
I began sketching superheroes and comic characters as a teenager and felt a sudden urge to start drawing again. I’m still very raw, but think my sketching skills are getting a bit better with each one that I attempt. This one below remains the best I have done to date, I think.
I have also started work on a second, ten short-story collection with the working title Dysfunctional. I have attempted something a little different with this collection, and it will offer a selection of sci-fi, weird and horror tales. I recently completed the fifth short titled Dirty Bunny. Below is a rather striking image I discovered online which helped inspire the story.
On a personal note, those that know me and connect with me via social media know that I feel incredibly passionate about mental health awareness. Although my own story/advocacy on this subject is not directly related to Covid or the pandemic, please take care of your mental wellbeing during these difficult times. It’s absolutely vital you take action if you’re feeling the effects of stress, anxiety or depression.
That’s it for now, and thanks to everyone supporting me and reading my work.
I’m a fixer. I’m that guy. I’m the “go-to,can-do” man. The man your friends say they know through a friend of a friend, and I can get you; pretty much, anything.
According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, a fixer is: “someone who is skilled in making things happen, sometimes in a way that is dishonest”. I can’t claim credit for the definition, or it being applied to me. But it was something that the people I was involved with labeled me over the years and the term just stuck. Like much in my life, it happened incidentally.
I drive taxi’s now and have for years. But I was once a different type of driver. I drove for one of the top dogs in London’s East End, once. Took him everywhere. Dropped him off, picked him up and I was never late. Sometimes he’d be with his whores, sometimes with his Business Associates. Tough looking, well-dressed men that were just like him, icy-eyed with soulless stares and bodies carved from wood. Men you don’t ever cross.
Sometimes I dropped off packages, sometimes I picked them up. Sometimes I wiped semen off the back seats of the car at the end of the night or when the sun was coming up in the early hours of the morning. Sometimes I wiped up the blood. After a while, I stopped being scared and stuff like that became my norm. But, it’s how I got started and earned my name. I wasn’t connected, I wasn’t a tough guy and I knew my place in the food chain. But, I began to get to know people. The right people. The people I could tap and squeeze on the side, for the things that other people wanted and were prepared to pay me to get for them. The drug guys doing business with my boss, the weird guys who dealt in other stuff and also the hookers he banged, who got into the car in short skirts and high heels reeking of Chanel, faces caked in makeup with their heads down to hide the fresh bruises and black eyes.
They say when you dance with the devil, the devil doesn’t change. He changes you.
I wasn’t there the night my boss got clipped. I don’t even know the full story, beyond the rumors I heard. It was a conflict with a rival firm based over in North London. Some kind of shared business venture that went wrong. A row developed and there was trouble. I didn’t drive my boss that night to the meet, which at the time seemed out of place and unusual. I always drove him. Everywhere. But not that night. You might say my boss knew and maybe he wanted to keep me out of harm’s way. He was a pitbull but always fair to me. Had I been there with him that night, I’d surely have been clipped too. That’s the way these things go. It’s business, not personal.
So I left London and disappeared up North for a few years. Laid low, kept my head down until things blew over. The London firm didn’t come after me, so fingers crossed, I’m clear. At least for now. When I returned back to London, I decided to drive taxi cabs. I can’t sleep anyway and I like to drive at night. It’s calming. And, if I’m gonna be awake all fucking night, I may as well get paid for it.
Through driving taxi’s I got to know everyone again and plug back into the dark matrix. The people creeping around looking for sex, the students looking for recreational drugs. The creeps looking for other shit that gives me the creeps. But I make no judgments. I just want my cut, and it’s always 10%.
That night was more or less like any other until he got into the car. His name was John Jones, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t who he really was. John Jones sounds far too convenient for a man wanting to buy a gun on the black market. I just called him the “Gun Guy” and like my label, his just stuck, too. At least it did with me. Not many people come to me and ask me to get them guns.
The rain had hammered down all day that day and it continued into the night. I watched the windscreen wipers of the car moving against the glass from my driver’s seat and listened to their rhythmic whine, the relentless rain battering against the screen from outside. Aside from the dashboard glow and gloom of the neon signs of the stores in the now-closed retail car park I sat parked up in, it was just me and the cloak of darkness. The way I like it.
A sudden hand that rapped on the front passenger side window startled me and I caught a glimpse of a face looking in, saturated and squinting in the hard rain to see inside. I unlocked the door and he opened it, quickly getting into the car without hesitation, to take refuge from the rain. He was soaked through.
For a moment, he just sat there, droplets of water running down his face and he made no effort to wipe them away. They collected on the tip of his nose and just gathered there in dewdrops until eventually, they dropped to the floor of the car. He was middle-aged, wore a raincoat, but he looked well-dressed underneath, his raincoat hinting of a suit and tie underneath. But there was something just wrong about him. He didn’t belong here. He didn’t fit at all. And he certainly didn’t fit the voice I had spoken to on the phone a week earlier, who had called inquiring about me getting him a gun. “Something a novice could handle, and something untraceable”, he’d said. He was shaking too. Either in fear or from the cold. Maybe both.
I offered my hand across the middle of the car to break the ice.
“So.. you’re John? I’m Alan”
He shook my hand quickly then withdrew it, his weak handshake leaving my hand damp and cold.
He refused to make eye contact and just stared ahead, his head down. Understandable, I guess. Most of the people who get in my car late at night don’t really want to be there.
“So how does this work?” he said in a low voice, wiping the rainwater from his eyes.
I exhaled slowly. “Well, first you show me the dough. I count it, then I give you a package. You check it, and we say goodbye”
He slowly reaches into his inner coat pocket and takes out a small envelope. He hands it to me gingerly. It’s wrapped in a waterproof bag. Inside is the correct amount of money we agreed on. In cash.
I reach below my seat and take out the packet. Inside it is a Glock 17 handgun. I’m told it’s a good beginner’s gun, reliable and light. Not much recoil, easy to use. But that’s as much as I know. It’s not my business to know either, nor ask questions of my supplier. I get the shit I’m asked to get. And I get paid. That’s all.
“Do you know how to use one of these?” I ask, not really knowing what to say if the answer is no.
The man takes the package from me and tears the top end, splitting the cellophane wrapping inside the outer pouch, and he peers inside. Strangely, he doesn’t take the gun out to examine it. Instead, he stuffs the packet inside his raincoat.
“It comes with bullets?”
“There’s a full clip inside the packet. Don’t you want to check the gun first?”
He doesn’t answer and goes to open the passenger door to exit the car. He turns and looks back at me. For the first time, I see his face and features full-on. Even in the dim light of the car, I see something I don’t often see in my line of work. Something I have become desensitized to, perhaps, even a now, alien emotion. There’s a striking pain leaking out of this man, this ordinary, everyday man. It seeps from his face, his eyes, his very pores. I suddenly get an unpleasant pang of dread in the pit of my stomach. I don’t know what he has planned, but this man is going to be involved in something terrible, and very soon.
And I have helped facilitate it. I’m complicit.
For a moment which seems to last forever, our eyes remain locked on each other, and I think he is going to say something. Then, as though changing his mind, he simply says a short “Thank you, Alan” in a soft, almost resigned tone and exits the car, back into the pouring rain. As he disappears into the night, he turns once and looks back towards me, his silhouette cutting a forlorn and vulnerable shape in the gloom. Like there is some moment of reticence, doubt, or conscience speaking to him and him alone before he steps over a border. A dark line from which he can never return.
Then he is gone, his image dimming and blending until all I can see is sheeting raindrops bashing against the concrete of the car park.
That was two years ago. Although I never did find out what became of the Gun Guy, I remain haunted and affected by his image and I think of him, quite often. I look for clues in the newspapers and media and wonder if whatever precipitated or pushed him to get a gun, happened, or is yet to come. Two years on, I still get the same horrible sense of dread and foreboding when I think about him and his dark silhouette disappearing into the rainy night and I wonder what he was thinking at the very moment he hesitated and turned back.
I’ve decided to repost this as I will shortly remove this story as available for free. During this ghastly pandemic lockdown, if you’re looking for a short read and would like to sample my work, you can get Crawlers either via the Wattpad App, which is totally free to download for mobile devices, tablets/e-readers from the Google Play or Apple Store or you can simply take the story as a PDF, which is included in the link below.
Crawlers was initially accepted for an Anthology which was sadly cancelled due to the publisher closing down. It will appear again in the line-up of a new short story collection I am currently working on.
I imagined Crawlers in the spirit of an episode of the The Twilight Zone, which along with The Outer Limits, was one of my favourite series, as a kid.
I actually first got the idea for the story after I came across this picture of a run-down, grubby looking social housing high-rise block of flats I saw online in UK. As I have a pre-occupation with horror in every-day urban settings, I began to think of what might be lurking in those lost, forgotten sub-basements of these buildings, the ones with rooms full of rusty old pipes that smell of damp and sulphur. The rooms nobody goes to.
So feel free to help yourself to this story. It’s free.
2019 was very much a year of transition. Wait, let me clarify that. I’m perfectly content with my sexuality, I didn’t mean…oh, never mind!
Recovering from serious health issues is no picnic and sometimes, it takes as long as it takes. Three steps forward, two steps back, good days, bad days, days you don’t know how you feel and all that jazz. But over the course of the second half of 2019, something..changed. I can’t really articulate accurately what that was/is, nor why or how. There was no singular event that precipitated it, no great spiritual awakening or cathartic moment of clarity. I guess it just happened without me thinking about it. And that is probably a good thing. If I’d stopped to think about it, I most likely would have fucked it up.
I just felt better and the knock-on effect was that I started writing properly again, as well as rising from the smelly bog of eternal stench that was the aftermath of things that gone cataclysmically wrong in my personal life and had spent two years recovering from. I had made a lot of progress, of course and I am massively grateful for that, but like the proverbial pig, I had become somewhat comfortable to lie in my own filth and enjoy being comfortable and just not be a depressed person.
We’re all sick of fucking memes, but sometimes they’re true. “Your Comfort Zone is a nice place, but nothing ever grows there” being one of them. And sticking with our Pig analogy, I slowly was hoisted out of the bog of eternal stench by whatever it was that elevated me, to a background of gurgly, farty sounds. I was dirty and covered in shit, but there I was, in full view of the random voyeurs who had assembled at our metaphorical pond, to see me in all my glory, in suspended animation ten feet above the murky slime, just grinning at them in a nonchalant, borderline threatening manner. But the important thing, was, I was out.
So I started to write. I went back to my novella The Locked Room, which I have been working on for the past 2-3 years, periodically. I finished the second draft and now currently polishing the re-writes. I also started working on a ten-tale short story collection book, my second one since Urban Chiller in 2015. With the working title “Dysfunctional“, it is a collection of sci-fi, and weird fiction which I am quietly excited about, although it is hard work.
I can see the changes in my writing and I feel I am a much improved author, although I do still have affection for my earlier works. My ideas keep coming, many of them feel they have the legs to become stories, and I’m not going to ignore this purple patch of creativity. I’m going to get this shit done.
So 2020 is going to be the year. It’s going to be the year I make big changes to my life in other ways, too I plan to leave Sweden and move away for a fresh start, step up and stop making excuses as to why I can’t in life. I can and I will. Sometimes you have to. 2020 is going to be they year I step up and get the two writing projects of The Locked Room and Dysfunctional done. And do all the other things. No if’s, no buts, and above all, no excuses.
No Retreat, No Surrender.
Do not refer to me as the Comeback Kid. That would be disingenuous. 2020 is to be the year of the Pig. The Mackem Pig.
A little piece of Flash Fiction I wrote recently which I’m releasing here. It’s called Last Round.
The din in the background is almost ear-splitting, the flashing of lights and disorientation feels worse than usual. Earlier in the fight, I could even make out individual voices in the crowd, closer to the ring, all giving their own, expert opinions to each other on everything I’m doing wrong. Now it’s just a din, a haze of shrill ringing, flashing lights and noise that screams relentlessly inside my head.
I don’t remember what round it was when I went down. I think it was the 5th. He’d feigned a left jab, then came over the top with a chopping right that caught me flush on the temple. The chopping right hand that Ray; my trainer, had been warning me about and prepared me for, all camp. They say the punches that hurt the most are the ones you don’t see coming. Fucking too right. When that right went in, I didn’t get that split half-second to tense up, bite down hard on the gum shield, harden up my jaw, let my body fill with more adrenalin, and brace for impact. My legs buckled and I went down, the canvas hard and cold. Luckily, my head cleared fast and I took an 8 count before the bell saved me ten seconds later.
Ray is talking to me up close, I can smell the putrid odor of his chewing gum as it hits my nostrils, why is my sense of smell so acute when everything else is broken up and battered? I can see his lips moving, but there’s no sound, I only catch odd words in his sentences, but I hear him say it’s the final round and only three more minutes to go. He’s telling me to stay away from him, to box at distance, dig deep, not to trade and I’ll win the fight. That must mean I’m ahead.
Last round. Just one more round.
I raise my head, squinting with the swelling around my eyes and look across at my opponent. He looks how I feel, and for a fleeting moment, I think I’m looking directly into a mirror. I’ve boxed and beaten this man, mercilessly all night and hit him with absolutely everything I’ve got. And he kept coming after me. Whatever happens in the next three minutes, I know this man will stalk me in my dreams tonight.
Everything hurts; pain beyond pain, my ribs and stomach muscles locked into tight spasm from the onslaught. Blood trickles from the stinging cuts above my eyes I see the claret on the sponge and swabs Ray throws into the plastic bucket by my stool. Then, the sensation of cool water on my head and it runs down onto my burning shoulders. I can even make out pockets of steam rising from my skin. I want my wife, who isn’t here and never comes to my fights. I just want to collapse into her arms, have her hold me close to her chest and feel her fingers cradled around my head, away from this pain.
I hear the seconds-out alarm, the ring begins to empty and I rise slowly from my stool, leaving just him and me staring at each other. Just him and me. Two warriors. Both given everything, both taken everything and now it’s down to sheer will. It’s not about the belt anymore, and not about the money. As we lock eyes, I know he’s thinking the same and, like me, he’ll just not give in. Never. At the center of the ring, the referee with blood on his shirt says something I can’t make out and we touch gloves.