Two envelopes were lying on Sam’s floor.
Sam stared at them for a long time then he turned and looked out of his window. It was pissing down again and his next door neighbour’s washing was blowing about in a mad dance, a pink pair of lace knickers had flown into the backyard of the flat two floors down. He turned back to envelopes. One contained a selection of his poems, the other some short stories, including “The Gentle Bludgeoning of Johnny Jones”. Both contained his reveries, paranoia, blood, silence, noise. They were good, wonderful, perfect pieces of writing. They were the best short stories and poetry written in England in years, better than Will Self or Salman Rushdie. The pathetic state of English writing made him sick. Neo-Conservatism or cynical intellectualism, but always with an “-ism” lurking in the background. No fucking guts, just a spoilt public school think-tank lie.
Or maybe they were right. Maybe they were important. Maybe the realm of the written word was only for the privileged. Were they the only ones who were allowed a voice? Did his world view become null and void based on whose hole he came screaming into the world through? If so, that made his writing useless. It was bad writing and anti-social to boot. Just putting pen to paper was a hopeless and vacuous act. It was the worst kind of writing. Bridget Jones’ Diary had more realism than his egg and bacon frying pan efforts. He should go out and get a job, preferable in a factory, meet a nice girl, or one pretending to be one, and work on increasing the population during the cold winter nights. Then if worse came to the worse, he could have an affair with someone from work, get drunk every Friday night and start a fight with someone smaller than himself. Violence was the working classes poetry and a riot their concerto. He could end up dying alone, with his offspring hating him for inflicting his failures upon them. He should know his place.
Sam paced around the envelopes, one minute willing them to success, the next damning them to failure. In the big scheme of things it didn’t really matter to anyone else but him. He was beginning to feel thirsty, his saliva drying up. He knew deep inside that he loved his writing and that he would send them off to a publisher who had always shown an interest in his work, a small independent press that made just enough money to keep going. He hoped he would at least get paid for these pieces. It had been a while since he’d gotten paid for any of his work. He remembered getting ripped off when he first started sending his stuff off. At least he trusted this printing press. He had even met them before at a poetry reading from the mighty Todd Moore in Covent Garden. Moore had been throwing his steely and sharp Noir Beat bullets into the crowd, who lapped them up. He had sat there with the publishers and Moore and gotten drunk. They were in the game for the love of it. The problem being that love didn’t pay the bills.
Finally he made up his mind, sat down on his bed, picked the envelopes up and licking and sticking second class stamps on them began to hum “The Girl from Ipanema” (the Martin Denny version).
The song changed.
He heard the echoing twang of a battered old guitar.
A voice started singing gently like a cool summer breeze.
“And the days keep on worryin’ me, there’s a hellhound on my trail…”
Sam saw a boat appear before him sailing on dark waters, on the boat was an old sad bluesman in a suit.
The bluesman had the head of a hound and teeth as sharp as a wild boar’s tusks.
The dog faced man smiled with the despair of a hundred victims of car crashes.
“Am I dead?” thought Sam.
“T’ain’t your time to go yet, mistah” the cynocephalus (dog faced man) and Sam thought that he grinned as he plucked away on the guitar.
“I’ve somethin’ t’show you” the creature began singing again, the noise came from the inside of his head.
Howling the tune.
Out of the tune flowing from his lips colours began to appear that swirled and formed themselves into a flower; a beautiful lotus which opened its seductive purple petals.
There was the soft tinkling of a thousand tiny bells.
Fire began to billow from out of the core of the flower and appearing in the middle of the flames, a Wheel of the Law began to turn.
He knew it had been set in motion the moment a singularity had made a big bang and was reliving itself again and again, forever.
A million dogs howled and crickets screeched.
The dog-being leant down into the lotus and took the wheel letting it spin gracefully on his hand, gently blowing the flames out and turning towards Sam to show him its wonder.
Nonchalantly he realised that it was the third time this month that he had seen dog face. The last two just involved the being showing himself in a flash that hit like a coloured blink. Like an image spliced into a single frame.
Once in his room, the second time in a pub toilet as he was taking a piss.
Now, that could have been potentially embarrassing.
He knew who this character was.
He was Saint Christopher.
The patron Saint of Travellers.
This time was different, something had started.
Sam hoped the noise didn’t annoy the neighbours, but remembered that they only listened to awful Europop and that he shouldn’t particularly complain at being visited by a benign pyschopomp like this one.
Sometimes he forgot that what he saw and heard and felt couldn’t be sensed by everyone.
Sam began to feel everything around him, the table, the chair, the girl in the house opposite, her heart beating fast, flushing.
He felt the sand of the Serengeti, a dying tree in the Amazon pulsating as it changed form into dirt.
Then back in his room.
Saint Christopher began to shimmer, its peacefully sharp smile disintegrating in the most delicate way and slowly he disappeared, absorbed back into reality.
Emptiness is form and form is emptiness.
Sam stopped shaking and gasping for air, he lay on his bed. Then inhaled and wiping the sweat from his brow, decided to have a cup of tea with honey, it seemed appropriate somehow.
“At least this vision was a pleasant one. It must a good omen”, he thought to himself cheerily, hoping it boded well for his writing.
Looking at the clock on the wall he realised that he could make last post, if he left now. The tea and honey could wait. It was one of those typically British winter’s morning, skies the colour of god’s leaking ink pen, the trees brutally negative. Wandering down Fentiman Road towards the post box, Sam began to wonder about things. He did this a lot.
What was set in motion?
It reminded him of his earliest madness and that feeling of wonder. His parents always thought he was sleepwalking. Even his mother, who was a nurse, didn’t realise that he was fully awake and aware of what he was seeing. That he had no control over himself, yet did not feel scared in any way. He remembers walking into the living room, shivering with fever, muttering to himself and taking all the paintings off the wall. Then laying them on top of each other like some tower of Babel he began to walk around them in circles. He remembers his mother telling his father not to touch him, that it could damage him. He remembers putting the nondescript car boot sale pictures back on the walls after pissing all over them, hearing his father curse as his waters flowed, seeing the moths coming out of the paintings, brought to life by his piss and crawling over his parents, into their mouths, their eyes. Feeling them move over himself, smothering. Feeling them in his stomach where they stayed. Helping him to understand the big wide wicked world, speaking in low voices, he digested them very slowly.
It was at about that time that he had started writing childish poems. He had never told anyone, it was his personal pleasure. He listened to the voices in his guts and he wrote down what they told him to. He understood. Even more so when one harvest festival in a small and dingy Welsh chapel, became a medieval bloodbath. The preacher, a scrawny and hateful Celtic wild haired fanatic began to shout and scream about hellfire and brimstone and the sins of the flesh, pointing directly at Sam as if it was because of him that God would punish everybody. The young Sam exploded. Shrieking down the aisles, shaking, limbs flailing. He saw Hell. He felt the pain of the damned being torn limb from limb in such a scene as would be found in a Bosch painting. He knew it was his fault. His family left, embarrassed and as his father drove them home in a shamed sulk, Sam knew he was lost to them. Looking back, Sam liked to think that that preacher had in fact saved his soul in some small way.
His visions had become more frequent and intense during his adolescence as was to be expected and even he couldn’t keep them from his parents. Especially when he collapsed one Sunday morning at the age of thirteen after arguing with his father who was demanding that he shaved and came to church with him, his mother and older brother. Suddenly Sam saw the Black Dog in front of him gnashing its teeth and he walked into the bathroom, had sliced his face with the razorblade then shaking, he walked into the kitchen and keeled over in front of his horrified parents.
His blood fell on the flowered patterned kitchen tiles.
He hadn’t entered into a church again since.
Instead he would wait until his parents had left then raid his mother’s liquor cabinet kept for when his uncle came or other special occasions, creating the most obscene cocktails out of German wine, orange liqueur and whisky. He would then retreat to his room when his family returned, to stare at the walls, read or write.
His family took him to hospital, but the tests showed no evidence of mental illness, possibly a mild case of epilepsy but probably just an over active imagination and hormones, they were told. He had more tests and pills were given. Pills he never took.
A couple of months later his father lost his job at the post office due to a bad heart and proceeded to make the young Sam’s life a misery. Sam retreated into his untidy room, into his cluttered head. A working class man with no job and no hope of ever getting another one, thrown into being a house husband, while his wife went out to work was never going to be a happy man. His tempers became more violent and always directed themselves towards his youngest son.
Sam hated being a child and not being able to fight back. He was surrounded by countryside, but there was no where to run. He was trapped.
His father’s growing despair latched onto his religion and he became a fervent follower of Christ. Denouncing his previous ways and becoming born again. A renaissance of faith, a regression. Everything was done according to the Good Book. It was the Law of God and he was going to instill it upon all that he could. Woe betide anyone that stood in his way.
The man kicks the dog, the dog bites the cat, the cat attacks the bird, the bird swoops on the spider, the spider kills the moth.
The food chain.
The wheel of the Law.
Reaching the post box, Sam gave the envelopes a quick kiss for luck then popped them into the slot. Then he looked at the sky straight up as the raindrops came down and wetted his face. He really wanted that tea with honey now because the bitter winter chill wind had smothered his hands.
The kettle had just boiled when the doorbell rang, it was Freddie. He had just returned from visiting his mother and brother who had moved out of the city a decade before. He had spent a couple of days in High Wycombe in the bosom of his ever expanding family. He was now an uncle of six children. They were all chips off the old block. When they weren’t stealing, they were trying to usurp their teacher’s authority. Freddie loved his family. He suggested to Sam that one day they should go and see The Hellfire Club, Sir Francis Dashwood’s old haunt, a place of Bacchanalian ritual and magic. He was sure Sam would love it.
Who knew what he’d see there?
The inscription above the building was Rabelais’ “Do What Thou Wilt”. It was a motto that Freddie had tried to maintain throughout his life.
Sam passed a mug of milky tea to his friend, and then stared at his own black tea. It seemed to him that his tea was solid and the cup, liquid and he told his companion so as they both sat and sipped at the mugs, like babes at their mother’s tits. Freddie listened quietly. Freddie knew about Sam’s visions. He’d seen him go through one in Morocco, the night his grandfather died. Freddie had received the call off his mum and they’d proceeded to send the old gentleman off with a séance and a transcontinental wake. He had seen him shake thinking it was the booze, seen him talking to air; telling secrets that only his granddad would know and remember. He was still a sceptic but knew that there was something interesting about his friend. One of his four brothers was schizophrenic, so being around people with different and unusual perceptions was normal for him. It was the so-called normal people he found hard to stomach.
He was staying with Sam for the last couple of days of his once a year fleeting visit. Christmas would be spent in Portugal with Maria, his long suffering Portuguese partner and Gypsy, his true companion, a daft and likely dog who responded to Russian only. Sam loved them all dearly, even the dog whose species he generally had an aversion to, having spent many glorious nights with them all. The conversation turned to B and his troubles. It turned out that Freddie had phoned him and asked how things were going, B had said that he and Susan hadn’t mentioned the night of the lesbian kidnapping at all. He was quite happy to leave it at that. She was with him and that was all that counted.
Not their business.
The sun was beginning to finally set over Waterloo and the two companions were beginning to get hungry. Not really wanting to cook, they flipped a coin on whether to phone for a pizza or get some chips in. Heads. Chips it was and whisky was indeed on the cards as well. They ate in relative silence, the two friends comfortable with each other’s company. They were two friends who had bonded through the hatred and indifference of others, two friends who at one point in their lives had only had each other to talk to, in a prison of pride and their own making. They knew they could rely on each other if things got tough; it was one of those rarities. It was a real friendship.
They both finished their food and Sam decided to put some music on. It was Boyd Rice and Friends, “Music, Martinis and Misanthropy” and it was one of Sam’s particular favourites. A frightening and smooth ride, it was usually put on after a bad day amongst humans. Yet, it had become one of those CD’s that went down quite happily with the two of them. Like a good Singapore Sling.
It was a reformation of The Sons of Dionysus, a drinking club the two of them formed during their term in Morocco. The only ritual being a toast and libation. The only prerequisite was good conversation.
“T’the gods!” they both shouted and tipped a tiny bit of their whisky into the ashtray. The ritual meant so much to them that they both had a goblet and grapevine tattooed on their arms. Now they could drink. The conversation turned to the old days. When two old friends get together it’s almost inevitable that the talk will start about the present, then turn to the past.
“I fackin’ hate this place,” spat Freddie, “this country’s gone to the dogs. Everyone’s so involved in themselves, no-one gives a shit about anyone else anymore. Not even their own families. It’s like they’ve become the government, they’re nuffink more than an extension of the fackin’ government. The same mentality. When someone actually protests about the situation, all they get is a sniff and told not to rock the boat. No wonder Muslims wish to blow themselves up.”
“If you tie a dog to a post, it’ll only start gnawing” spoke Sam.
“Y’know when it first ’it me, I mean really ’it me?” asked Freddie. Sam shook his head.
“That day we left Melilla. Remember?”
“I’ll never forget that day” chuckled Sam.
“You went to Sevilla, and I came here. ‘I’m back’ I thought, as soon as I got to immigration. I was home. It had been three years since my feet had touched British soil. Freddie was back. Fack.”
The plane journey had been thankfully short, but anything but sweet. Leaving from the holiday hotspot of Malaga with its beer boys, Essex girls and English pubs. “Thank the god that doesn’t exist that I only suffered there for one night” he thought out loud.
The plane had been full of holiday makers returning from their holidays in Spain, a mixture of Londoners and Midlanders. Their brash and dumb voices permeated the plane like fish oil. They still had the vacant peaceful look of people who had set out to enjoy themselves, and believed that they truly had. Enjoyed themselves. They were still trying to squeeze the last drops of that dream before they went back to their drudgery of the forty hour week, blazing rows and subservience. Groups of young men and women, still larging it up, still hoping. Families, brats and sweet looking blonde children with pigtails, all vying for air and attention.
“It was almost too much for me to take. I began to wish one of those so-called muslim extremists would appear out nowhere, throw open his coat and blow us all to Kingdom Come. Weren’t we at war again? Didn’t these people realize? It was no time to merely enjoy oneself, we should be living. Living gloriously, for who knew what was around the next corner?”
“Thank Christ for Yukio Mishima. I buried my face into that copy of “Kinkakuji” that you lent me and the story of that insane Buddhist monk took me to Japan, the way you’d talked about it to me.”
With all its technology and sprawl and sakura and ugly power lines ruining the skyline and girls with porcelain skin and chocolate button nipples acting like rape victims in love hotels. Mishima’s world was bleak. It was both a Japan Sam had seen, and one he never would.
“It was good. I needed bleak. It helped” sighed Freddie.
“Immigration was easy, I thought they may have stopped me. My passport photo was horrible, I ’ad a sneer. Hell, I looked like a psychopath. I’m not, of course. But people make up 90% of their opinions about people in the first ninety seconds, and that photo with my nervous manner at being “home”, fack, man, I would have stopped me”. The two friends began to laugh, one remembering, the other imagining.
“But no, just a big fucking smile with glasses. Welcome back. ’Ome. ’Eathrow. I was in ’Eathrow. I collected my bag, just the one; one big one and ’eaded for the Piccadilly Line tube and for a moment thought of those bombers in July. Just for a moment mind you, if there were any terrorists on the train that I was riding on you can be damn sure there would be absolutely fack all I could do about it. Anyway, I might not even ’ave wanted to”. Freddie stopped his monologue for a second while he rolled up yet another cigarette. He knew that Sam would just sit and patiently listen. He liked that about Sam, the fact that he would really listen. He sparked up the ciggie and continued.
“I caught the train at ’Eathrow surrounded by people either leaving or returning from England. Like me. But not like me. The strange sterile atmosphere of the airport calmed me. That’s what they’re supposed to do, calm you. Calm you, before sitting in a plane, we believe in progress and cleanliness ’ere, it’s safe ’ere, comfortable. Jesus, I needed to smoke. But even that right, the right to ’arm ourselves which ever way we choose is being taken from us by dolts in pinstripe who smoke good cigars in gentlemen’s clubs and ’ave private ’ealthcare.”
“I changed at Green Park and caught the Victoria Line straight to Oxford Circus. You could feel the train coming a good minute before it flew into view. A blast of air, blowing; blowing a lone sheet of the Metro, the blonde beautiful holiday maker’s hair, the wind on my face. That smell of London. The lives of ten million people laughing, crying, fucking, committing suicide together, all distilled into one smell. In the lit tunnel as that gust ’it, I closed my eyes and saw the open skies of Africa, myself getting beaten to pulp after my first night in Morocco, drinking mojitos and smoking Cuban cigars in ’Avana and dancing to the B-52’s in Portugal…”
“The doors opened and we all pushed ourselves inside the carriage. I looked around the space while people still kept getting on and getting on. The tube, the only place in the whole of England where people don’t mind ’aving their faces squashed into people’s armpits. Like a Third world bus. I made eye contact with a pasty faced thirty something women with blonde ’air straight out of a bottle. She scowled and I suddenly recalled that you can’t do that ’ere, eye contact with strangers was strictly forbidden by the law of society, that big bolshy bullying bastard. That bastard. My eyes darted straight to the floor. No more eye contact” Freddie shrugged.
“Why did y’go to Oxford Circus?” asked Sam.
“Might as well see what the monster’s become first ’and, I remember stepping onto Regent Street with my bag becoming pulled this way and that and people of all different shapes, sizes and creeds, the crazy preacher with the loudhailer, I fink it was your brother” he said looking up at Sam, his glasses had slipped down his nose as they always did when he was drunk. Sam nodded and shrugged, he remembered the three men in the club.
He gazed into his glass.
Freddie just carried on talking, taking Sam’s attention from his thoughts.
“Anyways, e’ was tellin’ all the shoppers about their sins and ’ow a man killed thousands of years ago was going to come back and save them, but only if they stopped, stopped shopping, drinking alcohol, watching telly, eating in Macdonalds. He was wasting ‘is fackin’ time, and anyway didn’t ’e ’ave a job to go to. I began laughing, I didn’t ’ave a place to stay or a job to go to. What was I talking about? Then seeing the shoppers and the tour-oids wide-eyed and lusting for things, to buy, to see, to photograph; I tell ya mate, I started to feel dizzy. ‘Now where do I go?’ I screamed to myself. I ended up sleeping on an old school friend’s floor, realizing that my friends were no longer the people I thought they were. Involved, hypocritical, thinking that they matter while a child dies in some Third World shit hole.
The cult of youth, never staring at life truly in it’s facking sick, smiling skull eye sockets.”
“I was thrown out after smashing their television in with an ’ammer, I thought I was ’elping; all they seemed to do was complain about what’s on and the latest fashionable lies. So I destroyed it. I did them a favour, or so I thought. It was then that I realized ’ow dead they were, killed by the bastard of society again. They enjoyed their misery, their desperately cool complaining. ’Ow awfully British.”
The whisky was depleting fast and the hash was almost gone. It was the end of another night in London.
That night Freddie slept on the sofa and dreamed.
He is staring out into the valley. His valley. A valley surrounded by mountains, with woods and a lake. The mountains become a giant will. And no humans for miles. They will come soon. He sees the odd one in the distance. They never see him. No-one sees him. If they come, he will deal with them. He has his piece of land and he is willing to defend it with his life. Tooth and nail.
He’s sat in the mouth of his cave. His home.
A cave filled with baked bean cans, rabbit skins and the furniture he fashioned for himself, using The SAS Survival Guide. What a book. Everything a man needs to survive is in that book. No advertisements, religion, perfect supermodels, supermarkets, politician’s newspeak, cars, P.C. finger pointers, nuclear weapons, terrorists, domestic violence, women…
He has lots of beans as well as packets of rolling tobacco, a knife, a flint, ciggie papers, and boxes of Scotch. Jesus, there are a lot beans here, he thinks one day the cave will explode while he lights his evening cigarette.
Death by methane.
A nobler way to go than rotting in some old people’s home, or being mowed down by some BMW driving gnome on coke, or hanging oneself in a prison after bludgeoning the wife to death with a paperweight when she complains once too much about the correct position for his slippers.
Freddie sits here in the mouth of his cave, naked, watching the spring sunset, waiting for the ice caps to melt and he hopes it doesn’t take too long.
Sleeping, he smiled.