Gypsy Rider

To the dead, well it don’t matter much ’bout who’s wrong or right
You asked me that question, I didn’t get it right
You slipped into your darkness, now all that remains
Is my love for you brother, life’s still unchanged
To him that threw you away, you ain’t nothing but gone
My gypsy biker’s coming home

Bruce Springsteen, Gypsy Biker

“E’ll take you to the edge, that one. All black leather and chrome, all bright ‘n’ breezy, wi’ that cheeky smile he got. E’ll pull you on behind, put the wind in your heart, and a fire between your legs, and off you go into the sunset. Ain’t nothin’ like that. Then he’s off on some caper and you don’t see ‘im for days. Makes your heart bleed and your body ache. Next thing you know, you get the call. And ‘es gone. For good. Mark me words, lassie.”

Molly sighed. “Mam, I told you, he ain’t like that. I know it. I just know it!”

“Lass. Take my advice. No future wi’ a lad like ‘im. Just like your old man. I should know. You should know.”

It was true that when Molly was 6, her old man had gone under a lorry at over 100mph. His beloved Black Lightning was too fast for Sergeant Jackson’s Rover 2000 patrol car, but no match for the undercarriage of the brutal Scammel Crusader. He died instantly.

It was also true that her Sam had been mixed up in some trouble as a youth, big trouble in fact, lucky not go down. But he’d come good. He was a computer programmer now, salaried, respectable, honest. Didn’t need to rob banks, like her old man did, just to pay the rent.

After her Mam rang off, Molly googled and then clicked on the travel site banner image of the classic Monument Valley. A lonely, narrow highway, like some aisle in an empty cathedral, stretched out toward enormous eroded rock buttes, striated orange monoliths thrusting high out of arid, red land. She found the image sensual and somehow comforting.

The photo had been taken with a powerful telephoto lens, 13 miles north of the Utah-Arizona state boundary on route 163. She didn’t know the image was a lie, the perspective-crushing lens making the iconic rock formations in the background loom much larger and far closer than they stood in reality. So Molly’s dream, to ride into a ruby red sunset along that famous valley road, a purring Harley Davidson Fat Boy between her legs, her arms gripping Sam’s leather-clad waist, remained intact.

Molly entered her credit card details, and clicked the button. A hefty £6,000, give or take. She wasn’t worried. Sam’s recent promotion meant he could pay her back in months, and that meant their dream 28-day Route 66 Motorcycle trip across the US-of-A was now finally booked.

As expected, her Mam wasn’t very happy. Yet, being the good sort that she was, she still drove Molly and Sam to the airport for their outbound flight to Chicago.

“Take care, lass. Don’t forget to text me. Every day, mind” she said to Molly, and to Sam “Look after her, son”

Tearfully, Molly’s mam watched her daughter and boyfriend disappear through security, and clicked her tongue. She didn’t have a good feeling, but there was nothing she could do now except worry.

On landing in Chicago, Sam was immediately taken off and grilled for some time by plain clothes US immigration officials. Eventually, Sam seemed able to allay their concerns, and was reunited with an anxious Molly, the pair now free at last to enter the United States proper and begin their epic tour.

The Harley rental was fantastic, the exact gleaming, purring beast that they wanted. After posing for a facebook update in front of their silver mount, they set off. For 9 days, Molly sent back long, glowing texts and posted gloating selfies on facebook each day, depicting a spectacular journey across the US, as they rode blissfully through states and soaked up the sights on the back of their Fat Boy. Time of her life, it was.

And then one day, the texts and photos just dried up.

“This is it Sam. This is the exact spot”

Molly and Sam stopped their Harley 13 miles north of the Utah-Arizona state boundary on route 163.

In front of them, timeless ancient monuments were pinned against a vivid sunset, every bit as graphic and intense as Molly had dreamt. Nothing fake about that. Sam turned his back on the huge buttes, held out his iPhone in front of his face, and pulled Molly in under his arm to frame the inevitable selfie.

Just as he was about to take the picture, a bearded and bedraggled figure with a small band of followers trailing behind him appeared in his iPhone screen.

“Well hey there, folks, how you doin’?” asked the figure.

Sam and Molly swung round.

“Oh hi there! Are you guys on a charity walk?” asked Molly, smilingly tentatively.

“Kinda. Er, yeah. You could say that…” replied the man. His followers, who by now were huddled around Molly and Sam, sniggered.

Sam noticed the strange man’s dusty baseball cap, long tangled hair, worn out trainers, and long rain cape around his shoulders.

“You look like the guy out of that film… er Forrest Gump wasn’t it?” asked Sam, with forced jocularity.

Gump-man grinned.

“Why, thanky-you, Mr Englishman. But no. Think of me more as the American Dream. If you will. Or nightmare. Your choice.”

Then Gump-man pulled out a shotgun from under his cape and aimed it from his waist directly at Sam.

“Hand ’em over”

Molly’s mam was fraught. It was three days since she’d heard any news from America. Her best friend, Sally, said she thought Molly was probably having the time of her life and was just forgetting to text. Her sister, Edie, thought she might have run out of charge on her phone. Ahmed in the corner shop thought they might have gone somewhere where there was no signal. And so on. Everyone had a plausible explanation for Molly’s silence.

But Molly’s mam knew better. And she was beside herself. She had to act.

Sam froze. Then frowned. And frowned some more.

Finally, he pulled Molly closer, and turning slowly towards the Harley, removed the keys and offered them dangling to Gump-man.

As soon as Gump-man reached out to grab them, he snatched them back.

“Zak, you fucking total utter wanker!!!!” screamed Sam.

Zak put down his gun and gave Sam a massive back-slapping hug. “It’s good to see yow too, man!”

“Saaaaam? What the fuck… who the fuck is this?” said Molly

“Aaawrite love, yow must be Molly. I’m Zak, pleased to meet yow” replied Zak, whose fake American accent was now replaced by an iritating brummy whine. He ripped off his cape and held out his hand to Molly with incongruous formality.

Still shaking with anger from the Gump-man-shotgun stunt, Molly turned away and folded her arms.

Far off in the distance, just below the monuments, a plume of smoke rose from the scorched highway. A shimmering image was forming, solidifying momentarily, then dissolving again in hot plumes rising from the baking tarmac. After a while, the mirage stabilised into the unmistakable silhouette of an advancing solo rider.

The newly formed group of renegades stared and shuffled, held captive by mutual trepidation. The rider neared, and they could clearly make out ray-bans, a gold star badge pinned on a white short-sleeve shirt, and a blue and white Arizona highway patrol helmet. Trouble, in other words.

Not that any crime had been committed. As yet. But the shotgun, not to mention the 2 kilo consignment, would require explanation and frankly Zak did not have one. Without it, a lengthy stay in Utah State penitentiary seemed likely. Which is why he decided to let the shotgun do all the talking.

“No!” screamed Molly “No!” and leapt to grab the gun Zak was aiming directly at the highway patrol rider.

Before they heard the gun’s echo from the sheer face of the monuments, Sam was on the ground. Molly ran to him and cradled her wounded lover in her arms.

As the highway patrol rider parked her bike and removed her replica helmet, Molly’s jaw dropped.

“Never tek my advice do yer lass?” said her Mam.

© Simon Atherley, September 2014

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Undressing, Paradoxically

There was always something exhilarating about entering an empty, perfectly still pool, Edward felt. It was almost indecent, a kind of violation. Yet the last time he’d lowered himself into the military test facility, the clear blue water was slowly staining with dark red clouds. This time, the pool was just a pure, flat blue, the sheer surface bulging and undulating ever so gently with the swell of the aeration currents, spotting slightly with random droplets and air bubbles.

As he released his grip from the poolside ladder, Edward experienced a brief sliver of sensual guilt. He paused to savour the moment, then with a powerful thrust of his legs, launched himself onto his back, arms outstretched, and let himself float toward the centre of the pool.

Even from the middle of the water, the large blue digital display on the upper gantry was clearly visible: 14.4 deg C. 22 degrees below body temperature, there or there abouts. The last digit fluctuated slightly as minute temperature variations were detected by thermo-sensors situated all around the inside of the pool.

Edward now manoeuvred himself to a vertical position, paddling to keep his head just above the water line. He switched on his belt transmitter, glanced up and watched several smaller digits light up on the gantry display. His vital signs. The biggest one, in red digits, was internal body temperature (36.7 deg C), taken from sensors in his rectum, oesophagus and bladder. Nothing if not thorough, this current team, mused Edward. Could have done with a bit more lubricant, though. Other digits, in white, showed heart rate, respiratory rate, and yet another blood pressure.

Attached to Edward’s forehead was an experimental sensor hood, so complex it commanded its own row of digits on the poolside display. The headset (or cyber-muffs, as Edward liked to call them) comprised a cluster of sensors meant to track things like vision, hearing, mental acuity, level of consciousness. That sort of thing. More controversially, all these readings were synthesised in a complex algorithm designed to monitor his mood state, represented by a graduated colour wheel.

Currently, the wheel resembled a sort of circular rainbow. Edward was clearly in a very good mood.

There was one final display parameter. Time. Currently this read 01:00:10.

Edward’s transmitter now hissed into life, and Sue’s sultry, calm voice filled his ears. “Ok Ed, 30 seconds to lift off”.

Sue was sitting behind the glass front of the gantry control room, her neat blonde bob rim-lit by an angle-poise, her geeky black glasses offset by bright red lipstick, as usual. It was a look Edward adored.

“Roger. Transmitter self-check reads OK” replied Ed. “Oh and Sue, if there’s going to be any paradoxical undressing, this bloody cyber-crap will be the first to go.”

“Har har, very funny” mocked Sue. “Well, that’s twenty grand’s worth of kit, so I should bloody well hope so. Just make sure you don’t go under with it”

Edward laughed, his vibration mic leaping maniacally up and down his Adam’s apple.

“Anyway, if we do get to that stage Ed, I’ll have your pics on facebook in no time”

“And I will kill you” retorted Edward.

“Ok, 10 seconds… final check… OK… 9… 8… 7… 6…”

He watched as the time display decremented, noting a slight increase in heart rate. Only to be expected, of course. Yet Edward’s mood also shifted marginally, and the colour wheel started to darken ever so slightly.

“Abort! Abort!” shouted Ed, splashing the surface of the water.

“What’s wrong?” asked Sue as she furrowed her brow, and halted the countdown.

“Something I forgot to ask” said Edward.

“What?”

“Will you marry me?”

“Stop messing around or I’ll bloody well have you court-marshalled!!!” hissed Sue, but she was smiling all over her face.

Despite their jocular courtship banter, Edward’s colour wheel had darkened a little more, moving towards a red-blue hue.

“3… 2… 1… 0…”

The timer read 00:59:59. “We are go, go, go!” said Sue, slightly sarcastically.

Nothing happened. Edward just bobbed and floated. After 50 seconds, the fluttering temperature display grudingly settled on a tiny 2 tenths of a degree change.

Edward continued to bob peacefully, a slight smile on his face, as he gazed over at Sue in the control room. Time drifted, 5 minutes elapsed. Sue noted a shift of 2 whole degrees. Then another 5 minutes and another 3 degrees. 20 minutes passed in this way.

“All OK, Ed.” said Sue. “The mood read-out is interesting, though” she added, rather huskily.

“How come?” came a slightly hoarse reply.

“Er, that purple-red hue shift indicates sexual arousal.”

“mmmmmmm…”

“Ok lover boy. Apart from wanting to get your leg over, how are you doing?”

“Nothing untoward, so far. But it feels much warmer. How come?”

Before Sue could answer, a small access door at the end of the pool room opened, and a tall man in an orange boiler suit stepped onto the poolside. Around his waist, a contrasting black belt, and Edward noted with some alarm a rifle tucked under his arm. Almost immediately, Sue burst through the door of the control room, stark naked except for her glasses and a pair of red high-heels. She faced the intruder head-on, legs spread. Putting her hands together at her groin, she mimicked a gun pointing down. Raising her weapon slowly, she aimed it, James-bond style, toward agent Orange. In reply, Orange aimed his rifle at Sue. He fired first.

Whoosh. The rifle turned out to be an umbrella, and opened instantly. Very politely, Orange held the umbrella over Sue’s head, and took her arm in his. The pair moved off side-by-side, Sue’s bare naked buttocks undulating provocatively as they headed toward the massive exit door.

Edward realised with a jolt he was witnessing a wedding. The research pool, with its grey steelwork, exposed pipes and wiring was really a cathedral, the poolside serving as the aisle. The bride and groom were about to be spliced in a military-style ceremony. Except of course that he should be the groom, not agent fucking Orange.

“Hey, leave her the fuck alone” screamed Edward. “She’s marrying me”

The orange-clad groom turned to look at Edward, with a cold smirk on his face. Sue’s voice crackled back to life in his headset. “Hey Ed, cool it. You’re terminal now. I can’t marry a dead man can I?”

Edward’s mood indicator turned a dark ruby red, his face contorted with pain and rage. He began to cry.

The water felt hot. Edward felt hot. He ripped off his cyber muffs, and flung them across the pool. Flailing furiously, he managed finally to undo his transmitter belt, and let it sink to the bottom of the blue swirling water. Next, he began to unzip his wet suit from his neck down, exposing first his naked chest, then his shrivelled groin.

Above his head, multiple flashing red lights appeared. He vaguely heard a klaxon sounding. It all seemed rather distant to Edward. He thought the facility might be under attack. Through blurred vision, he made out scores of men in blue, pointing and shouting furiously at him from the poolside. He had to get away.

Edward opened his eyes. He was immersed in a small stainless steel bath of warm water. Looking down upon him was a team of serious but rather relieved-looking men in blue uniform. He tried and failed to pull himself up.

A beaming Captain Jackson handed him an orange mug of hot cocoa instead.

“Well done, Edward. You managed the longest duration we’ve had at delta zero. We had to pull you out when you started to undress, of course. Common decency and all that!” he quipped. “Full debrief tomorrow at 0-800 hours”.

Jackson turned and marched away, tapping the floor with his umbrella as he went.

Then Sue’s smiling face appeared, her blonde hair contrasting nicely with her black top. “Yes, I will”

“Will what?” asked Edward, weakly.

“Marry you” came the reply. The team all clapped and cheered.

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Incident at Junction 26

The tiny, off-white login panel glowed like a new moon against a starless night sky, situated as it was dead centre of Jenny’s vast, blackened monitor. She typed in her credentials, hit return, and watched as the cursor span. A brief wait, then her face was bathed in an erie blue light and her workstation came to life.

Now Jenny tensed. The screen layout before her was totally unfamiliar. A sense of mild panic. Then she recalled the memo about the upgrade to the traffic management system, and breathed again.

“Pull yourself together, girl” Jenny muttered to herself.

The first police report of her shift popped up on her screen, which she quickly evaluated, and then typed the following summary: “M99 northbound closed between J26 and J27. Accident. Leave motorway at J26.”

Satisfied with her edit, she hunted, then found the new-look options screen, selected the electronic motorway signs in the affected area to target, and then noticed the “Message status” option was missing. She shrugged slightly, paused, clicked “Authorise” anyway, and then waited for the familiar, but greyed “Release to highway” button to become active.

Lifting her head, she glanced across a sea of glowing blue workstations in the vast highway command centre, over to where the duty controller sat, whose job it was to check and then clear all traffic warnings prior to public display.

Cartwright gently closed the solid oak door of his neat and tidy thatched cottage, straightened his thin black tie one last time, hesitated momentarily, and then strode across the gravel driveway with a decisive crunch. He got into his dark blue Ford Mondeo and placed the slim, black attaché case on the passenger seat.

15 minutes later, he came off the roundabout and started down the slip road of Junction 25 on the M99, heading north. His rendezvous with Garbo was at the Blue Forrest service station, just after Junction 26. He would be dead on time, traffic permitting.

Cartwright signalled right and eased his car into the flow of motorway traffic. A highway patrol car sped past in the outer-most lane, blue lights flashing. He stiffened, then relaxed. Nothing to do with me, he thought. Still on the inside lane, and with an orange home delivery van up ahead ambling at 60mph, he signalled right to overtake. Just as he was turning into the middle lane, out of nowhere a speeding black Audi appeared in his rear-view mirror, angry headlights flashing him out of the way. He quickly aborted his manoeuvre, tutting “Bloody idiot.”

Recovering, Cartwright finally overtook the van, and accelerated up to 70mph. To his left, he noticed a small fire in a recently harvested corn field, a thin column of grey smoke curling up into the clear blue sky.

Cars in front of him suddenly slowed, rear hazards flashing, and a queue was forming in the left lane. Glancing up to his left, Cartwright read the yellow text of the digital highway sign. “…northbound closed between J26 and J27..”

“Shit” he exclaimed. “Shit, shit, shit”.

Unbelievable. First time ever, and on this of all days. On this of all missions. Given no choice, he joined the growing tailback, and readied himself to exit at Junction 26.

Coming up the slip road, he joined the roundabout and started circling, unsure of what to do next. Momentarily, he was blinded by a intense flash of sunlight in his rear-view mirror.

Then he saw the lane marking: J25 North. Puzzled, he followed it round, then signalled left and rejoined the motorway. He glanced over at the black attaché case. Rendezvous at the Blue Forrest service station, just after Junction 26. He’d be on time, barring incident.

Just in front, a bulky orange delivery van was crawling at 55mph. He moved into the middle lane to overtake. Bang! His side mirror was ripped clean off. A black Audi sped off into the distance. Shaking and cursing, he slunk back into the inside lane. Just then, a highway patrol car sped past in the outer-most lane, blue lights flashing. In the distance, he saw a fire in a crop field, heavy grey smoke billowing. Cartwright took his hand off the wheel and loosened his tie.

Cars in front of him slowed, hazards flashing, and a queue was forming. Glancing up, he read in yellow text “…closed between J26 and J27… Leave motorway at J26.”

“Shit” he exclaimed. “Shit”.

He followed the queue and exited at Junction 26, then onto the roundabout and started circling, slowly. Suddenly, there was an intense flash of white light in his rear-view mirror. The rear windscreen cracked.

Dazed, disoriented, he checked his mirrors, then looking ahead, spotted the blue sign: M99 J25 North. Signalling left, he drove down the slip road and onto the motorway. Rendezvous at the service station, just after Junction 26. Should be on time, this time. He leaned over and pressed the black attaché case into the passenger seat with a sweaty palm.

Looking ahead now, he edged into the middle lane to overtake the heavy delivery lorry that was creeping along at 50 mph. There was a horrendous screeching and banging sound as a black Audi ripped along the side of his car. Swerving back into the inside lane, he narrowly missed a small red Fiat coming up from behind, whose driver blared her horn in shock. The Audi careered off to the right, scraped the barrier of the central reservation and was forced back into the fast lane, then seemed to regain control and sped off.

Behind him, he heard the sirens of a police patrol car, and to his left he saw a raging fire in a cornfield, a fire engine hurtling across the scrub towards it.

Highway alert “…Leave motorway at J26.” Cars slowed, hazards flashed, a tailback formed.

Cartwright gritted his teeth.

He exited at the junction, circling the roundabout. There was a loud bang. The rear windscreen shattered. Front windscreen too. Blood dripped from his left shoulder.

Unperturbed, his satnav calmly ordered: “Take the exit”.

Rendezvous at service station, after Junction 26. “Must make the drop. Lives at stake.” He rejoined the motorway. Junction 25. Northbound.

His head felt like lead, but still he pressed down on the accelerator pedal. “Hold station, Garbo” he mumbled, head lolling. 20 yards in front, an unmarked freight lorry braked hard. Cartwright jerked awake, and swerved into the middle lane to avoid a collision. A black Audi came up from behind and rammed into the back of his car, once, then again. The blood-spattered black attaché case shot forward and thudded into the footwell. He had to keep going. Then, from the outside lane, a lady in a red Fiat cut directly in front of him. In his rear-view, the Audi loomed, speeding and flashing, threatening to ram him again. He pulled left, only to find the freight lorry advancing on the inside lane. Clipping the front of the driver’s cab with his rear bumper, he started to spin, then smacked into the barrier, somersaulted over it and flew into the empty corn field.

Shortly afterwards, a plain white saloon car, capped with temporary blue flashing light, screeched to a halt on the hard shoulder, right next to the badly dented barrier. A calm man in a dark grey suit exited, and with grim satisfaction surveyed the cornfield where agent Dietrich’s battered Ford Mondeo lay upturned, engulfed in thick black smoke and flames.

As sirens started to wail in the distance, he tapped a simple message into his mobile phone: “Rendezvous complete”.

Back at the highway command centre, the duty controller’s private mobile vibrated in her pocket. After reading the text, she briefly nodded, then turned back to her workstation, selected the M99 alert, and changed its status from “Loop indefinitely” to “Expired”.

© Simon Atherley, July 2014

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What do Spiders Drink?

I don’t have much to offer in the way of surprises, but one thing I do have is my wonderful silver powder. This is no ordinary cosmetic: it’s a glimmering dust, consisting of tiny scales made from pigmented hairs which diffract light through an intricate, microscopic structure of ridges and holes. The effect, when applied to my body, is mesmerizing.

Of my ability to shine, I am certain. But I really wasn’t sure about Sarah, impressive though she was. She was definitely wasn’t normal. I even thought she might be a spider. So, when Sarah asked me out I balked. I mean, you would wouldn’t you? If you thought a spider wanted to go on a drinking date with you?

Despite my hesitation, I pondered carefully her invitation. If Sarah really was a spider, how for example might she have quenched her thirst come our date? Certain species of spider ingest nectar, while others consume morning dew. Romantic. Others eat their entire web, complete with the tiny water droplets deposited by the night. Charming, but a bit excessive, perhaps. But the Black Widow and Red Back only get fluids from the juices of their prey. Or post-coitally, by eating their mate. This was worrying.

You may ask what it was that made me consider if Sarah was indeed a member of the arachnid family? A fair question. It wasn’t so much the obvious signs – her ability to scale sheer surfaces, her enormous black eyes, her massive fangs, nor her love of flies and smaller moths. Not even her cocoon-like bed in the corner of the ceiling, connected by a single silver strand to a huge web spanning her room, would be enough of a clue. No, these details, on their own, could not justify my suspicion.

For example, a possible alternative explanation for Sarah’s bizarre appearance was that here, at the University, she was part of some kind of elaborate entomology experiment, meticulously observing and documenting the behaviour of spiders and associated insects. What better way to understand a living creature and its behaviour (not to mention feelings) than to become that creature? I for one would have been very interested to know what the bloody, spurting juices of a stunned fly, bound tightly in web-silk, tasted like to a spider.

Another possibility was that Sarah was in fact a dramatic arts student, focussing on Lee Strasbourg’s now famous method approach, where actors must inhabit the thoughts, feelings and indeed the physical attributes of their character, without relapse, for days on end in order to deliver realistic dramatic portrayals. Perhaps Sarah was just “getting in character”, as they say, ready to perform in Kafka’s Metamorphosis, and had for convenience, or laziness, decided upon a spider, rather than say, a cockroach, as her main source and inspiration? If you have ever seen Stephen Berkoff’s dramatisation of the Bohemian born writer’s classic, during which Berkoff, playing Gregor Samsa, spends almost the entire play hanging spider-like from a huge steel frame, this explanation becomes a real possibility.

A further, admittedly rather tedious, thought was that Sarah was a performance artist who, in the role of a giant spider, had teamed up with Damien Hirst to try to bring life to his rather hollow, vacuous and uninspiring works. I would have liked it if, as part of the performance, she had to eat Hirst after mating with him. Even without mating him would be ok. Leaving his remains to float, dead centre, in a vast fish-tank filled with formaldehyde, right next to his pickled sheep, cows, and sharks. The piece might have been called “I don’t know much about Art, but I know what I like.”

I have a very boring job here at the University. I volunteered for a special project they are running. There’s no pay, but everyone gets free accommodation and food. None of us know what the project is about, we just hang around mostly. Every so often, one of us is chosen by the scientist, and off we go. Only the scientist returns. Our accommodation is cramped and noisy, and at night there’s a lot of shuffling, scratching, chewing and fidgeting from the others. Fights break out from time to time. So dwindling numbers are good, frankly.

You might be wondering why I didn’t just ask Sarah, straight out, if she was in fact a spider. Call me old-fashioned, but don’t you think that would have been rather unromantic? I mean, which dating milestone is the one where you establish species? “Well hello darling, you’re looking absolutely reptilian tonight!” Or the night after, and your date is in the shower: “Gotta go babe – call you, promise. Hey! What’s with your webbed feet? Oh, amphibian! Cuuuuute!!”

Faced as I was with a choice between another restless night in rowdy accommodation and a date with one of uncertain species, I decided to wing it and finally accepted Sarah’s invitation.

The big day arrived. But what to wear? I wanted to make a big impression. After all, if Sarah had gone to the all the trouble of making herself so spider-like, stunning and stark, then I felt I needed to meet her half-way. I couldn’t afford to be under-dressed. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, as they say.

I was sure that I could woo her with my magic powder, at least, and failing to come up with anything better, I covered myself from top-to-bottom in a film of shimmering silver dust.

At the appointed time, two huge, bespectacled blue eyes peered at me through the massive glass window of our dormitory. Then, our scientist lifted up the roof, reached in and delicately scooped me up in his net. With his other giant hand, he lifted the lid on a huge adjacent glass tank, labeled “Sarah” and dropped me onto the floor, opposite a grey-white cocoon. I shivered with nerves and anticipation. The scientist closed the lid above my head with a dull thud. At first there was no movement from Sarah’s corner. Perhaps she was not interested? Or not even home? My heart sank.

Then, a slight movement, and a black, hairy leg reached out tentatively from a circular opening in the egg-shaped nest. All of a sudden, Sarah flew out, her massive eyes glowing and with fangs bared. Magnificent and terrifying! She immediately started circling me, legs flying everywhere, while secreting silver-blue strands from her rear abdomen, which she wrapped around me in ever tighter bonds. Before long, I was completely immobile, my stunning silver wings now crushed firmly against my body. I was breathless with excitement! Sarah stopped and faced me head on. Opening her huge jaws, her gaping mouth greater than my own height, she closed in on me. As her fangs penetrated my long, slender body, and my juices start to flow out of me, for the briefest moment, I experienced a dazzling array of flying sparks, myriad colours and intense heat.

And then, I was in heaven.

© Simon Atherley, July 2014

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The Seductive Charm of the International Footballer

Fabiana stretched out in her hammock in the hot, humid June afternoon, and closing her eyes, clasped the lotto ticket firmly to her youthful bosom, then took it to her mouth and briefly kissed it. Sinking back into rough fabric, she crossed herself, mumbled a short prayer and then opened her eyes. She gazed longingly at her wall, where crumbling cement and brickwork was peppered with scores of magazine cuttings of Manchester United and England international footballer, Wayne Rooney.

Fabiana sighed, then reached for a coin in order to scratch off the first of 9 metallic discs, each printed with an identical charcoal-grey silhouette of the famous Jules Rimet trophy. Before she could scrape at one of the dull moons, Bianca, her sister, burst through the multicoloured bead curtain and into their humble favela home. Even though privacy was almost impossible in such cramped accommodation, Fabiana nevertheless lifted herself up and attempted to secrete the lotto ticket she’d found between her ample bum and the rough hessian of her hammock.

Later on that evening, Jorje, Fabiana’s father, left the beach and began to make his way slowly into the chaotic, ramshackle and vibrant favela. He smiled as he greeted his many friends and neighbors, despite a fruitless day’s work. For thirty years, Jorje had raked the sand for lost treasure on Rio’s beaches. He’d raised a family on the proceeds. One time, he found a gold ring with a single diamond, the proceeds of which had kept them all fed, clothed and contented for months. But today, as the evening sun began to fade, the sea had given up none of her treasure.

Jorje truly loved trawling the beaches, strangely meditative as it was, but it had been days and days since he’d seen any hint of gold. He longed for the sand to wash through his improvised raking basket and reveal another glimmering gold ring, bracelet, or diamond broach.

Now, as Jorje turned the last corner into the last alley, and brushed the beads into home, Fabiana rushed to greet him.”Papa, papa I won! I won! I am going to the World Cup final!” In her hand she waved furiously a denuded lotto ticket, exposing a full house of nine gleaming gold cups. The winning ticket. The smile on Fabiana’s face was a beacon of joy, but even as Jorje’s face also lit up with his gentle, kind smile, there was a sadness in his heart. He knew he would have to tell her straight away.

“Fabiana, my angel, I love you so dearly, but I’m sorry, you cannot go to the World Cup final. If we do not pay our debts, you know they will come for us. But if we go to the hotels, we can get thousands for this ticket from the tourists. We must sell it.”

Slowly, Fabiana’s face faded from joy to disbelief, then crumpled as fat tears began to roll down her cheeks. She ran to her hammock, fighting off Bianca as her elder sister tried vainly to comfort her weeping sibling. So far, neither of them had been forced to go with a tourist, but Bianca knew very well the thin line between dignity and desperation.

Hodgson’s boys had done well. Damn well in fact. Roy’s combination of experience and youth, and some excellent tactical substitutions had powered the ever more confident England team right through to the semi-finals [of the Brazilian World Cup]. Gerrard’s midfield play had been the axis, forging a link between a solid defence and a lethal attack. At the front, Sturridge tallied four sensational goals while Joe Hart saved two crucial penalties at the rear. Now, all that stood between England and the final with Brazil was a simple victory over Germany.

Once qualified, Hodgson had sanctioned an early morning beach jogging session for the team, mainly a photo-opportunity to slake the British media’s thirst. The idea was to deflect the hacks away from any closer intrusion, effectively shielding the players for the remaining time while they prepared to slay the dragons of the past and reach the final for the first time in 48 long years. The England entourage arrived at the secluded Rio beach and the players exited their coach in bright England track suits and with iPods in their ears, relaxed yet brimming with an aura of expectation and confidence.

As Wayne Rooney loosened up, he gazed across the azure, sparkling sea and wondered if he too would be able to finally make his mark. His supporting role had been widely acknowledged as a key plank in England’s campaign, but as yet he’d failed to score. When the beach session ended, he wandered along the shoreline alone, bag slung across his back. It was then he noticed his watch was missing.

Jorje arrived at the beach just as the England coach drew off. It was nearly 6:30am, a little early for George, admittedly, but today he smelled opportunity in the sea air. More relaxed since Fabiana’s amazing good fortune, Jorje’s instinct for success was rekindled. Something told him that today would be a good day for lost treasure.

“Hodgson’s team are desperate to pull something out of the bag now” screamed Motson to 40 million viewers, as the clock ticked towards 90 minutes. It was 2-1 to Germany and England were heading out of the World Cup. The German team launched yet another dangerous attack, only to be deflected by Hart for a corner. Quickly taken, the ball swung in menacingly, but the recalled Terry headed it safely into Joe hart’s arms. Wasting no time, Joe cleared the ball with a massive punt right into the heart of the German defence. Rooney ran furiously past two German defenders and with a single kick launched a searing shot into the top left corner of the net. 2-all! “My, my. I think I do believe in miracles after all” shouted Motson hoarsely, having almost lost his voice by now.

Extra time was a tense affair, neither side achieving the break-through goal. Once again it was down to penalties and England faced their greatest demon head-on. Hodgson had already decided that if it came down to it, it would be Rooney to take the final penalty kick, reasoning that his hunger for glory would see him through the nerves. At three-penalties-all, it was Germany up to take the fourth. Hart saved spectacularly to give England the advantage. Next, Gerard stepped up to the penalty area, carefully positioned the ball, and drilled home. 4-3 to England. Germany scored the next, 4-4. England were now just one kick away from the final.

Behind the goal, Bianca distracted steward #4204 quite easily, simply by removing her top, as Fabiana snuck behind the bedazzled, bossom-smacked official and readied herself for a one-woman pitch invasion. Win or lose, she was determined to meet her hero and make her mark on him. Her Papa had finally struck it lucky – a gold watch had appeared in his raking basket yesterday morning. Not only that, he’d traded her winning ticket to the cup final for two tickets to the semi-finals, plus a big sum of cash, meaning together with the watch the family was now safe. And Fabiana would get to see her beloved Wayne, even if England didn’t make it to the final.

The whole of England sat on the edge of their seats as Rooney walked slowly up to the penalty area. Completely focused, he planted the ball firmly on the scuffed penalty spot. Taking his run-up, he lifted his head toward the goal, and with a mystical look in his eye, stared down the yawning chasm of glory or humiliation that lay ahead, and thundered in. Then, as if an invisible chord had tugged at it, the FIFA world cup ball bobbled slightly on its spot, a split-second before Wayne’s bright orange boot made contact.

Rooney sliced and England winced.

As Rooney’s bungled shot headed inexorably beyond the right goal post, Fabiana, who’d removed all of her clothes by now, dodged the last official behind the goal, and headed straight into the penalty area. “Wayne Rooney, I loooooooooooooooooooove you” she screamed at the top of her voice, breasts bouncing maniacally to some berserk Brazilian samba. She yelped as Rooney’s mis-cued ball smacked solidy into her right buttock, then bobbled onto the grass, rolling with excruciating slowness past the prone German goalkeeper’s outstretched glove, and finally over the line.

England fans everywhere erupted with joy. Half the German team collapsed to the ground, head in hands, while the remainder crowded the referee in desperation. Rooney lay flat on his back, arms outstretched, grinning from ear-to-ear. Fabiana jumped on him, smothering her hero, followed by an ecstatic England team who piled on top of her. Bianca grabbed beaming steward #4204 and kissed him squarely on the mouth. Roy Hodgson produced the finest happy owl impersonation of his entire career.

“You have to say, that was magnificent” croaked Motson.

© Simon Atherley, July 2014

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Swapping Filth

6:15am.
Morning sun floods through the cracks in badly drawn curtains. Groaning, Ed drags himself out of bed, dresses, kisses a snoring Emma goodbye. Downstairs, coffee, chocolate digestives, then outside, bringing his battered council van spluttering to life, driving 3 miles to the warehouse. Picking out a large, grey panel from the stores, Ed checks its dimensions for a proper fit, while tutting at the raucous, yet anatomically correct sexual graffiti rendered in black marker all over one side. He hauls the panel to his van, eye-to-eye with a huge erection, lovingly depicted, complete with testicles, pubic hair, little veins and knots up the shaft, and even the small piece of skin connecting taught, retracted foreskin, revealing a bulbous, wet head.

Quite the work of art. Must’ve been from the ladies, that one, muses Ed.

Setting off towards the Talk of the Town, Ed takes a short detour to pick up his workmate, Steve.

“Steve!” laughs Ed, nodding to the back of the van, “You’re supposed to wipe this filth off before it goes into storage. Been wanking off to it again, haven’t you, you little perv.”

“Ah, so you didn’t make the Siberian Tigers gig last night then?” diverts Steve, scratching his beard and ignoring the jibe.

“Nah, stayed in with Emma, watched a weeks’ worth of Corrie.”

“Week’s worth of porno more like. Gig was fucking stormin’, mate, you should’ve come”.

6:57 am.
DI Jack Porter enters the sparse, badly lit interrogation room, pulls back a plastic chair and thuds down opposite me. Jack’s crisp, white shirt fails to contain a bulging waistline, which hangs like a cliff over a loosely buckled belt, dull grey trousers, and mean, black shiny shoes. Staring across the small table I am assaulted by two penetrating cold blue eyes, icy pools in a craggy, pocked-marked landscape. Porter’s hard, thin mouth is rigid with determination and contempt.

This terrifying vista is a far cry from the bustling, sea of adoring fans of last night’s rowdy and exuberant Tigers gig.

“My daughter likes the Suburban Tigers. I think they’re shit. Just so we know where we stand, OK?” barks Porter.

The suit to my right, with all the backbone of a wet fish, smirks at this. I can’t help wondering whose side he’s on.

“Cheers. I’ll take that as a compliment”.

“George!” Porter calls over to his sidekick, “We have a smart-arse on our hands”

“Cocky bastard aren’t you?” Says Porter turning back to face me head on. “’Spose you’d have to be to get away with the shite you spew out on stage.”

This time I make no reply.

“So. Let’s take it one more time, from the top. Right from where you ended the gig at around 1:47 am, went backstage, plied yourself with alcohol and drugs and then murdered Katrina Savage in the green room, some time between 3:00am and 3:15 am – all because you were out of your head and she wouldn’t have the kind of filthy, disgusting sex you were demanding, right?”

“But I’ve told you twenty times already” my blood pressure rising again. “I never spoke to Katrina, never even saw her, and I don’t own a knife! You’ve got the wrong guy.”

I take Porter through the whole story again, and in excruciating detail I retell every last debauched episode of Suburban Tiger’s post-gig escapades, repeatedly protesting my innocence. Yes, there were drugs. Yes there were groupies. Yes there was a weirdly shaped sofa. And yes there was sex. Raw, orgiastic, ridiculous sex at that. But murder? No fucking way, man!

The only bit I do leave out, however, is the loo-job. A groupie’d followed me and locked herself into an adjacent cubicle. Didn’t see her face, but as she’d entered the cubicle I noted her svelt figure, high heels, and curly blonde hair. Good enough. Inside my cubicle, her disembodied voice asks me in a husky tone if I want to stick my dick through the two-inch hole in the dividing wall, so she can suck me off. Naturally I oblige, but I’m not giving Porter the lewd satisfaction of that particular encounter. Nor do I tell him that, just as I was about to explode through the hole into an unidentified, but very warm, welcoming and expert mouth, I get a text from Eddie the bassist on my iPhone (I was watching porn on it to help me along. C’mon man, it was my fifth time of the night. Or was it sixth?).

Oh, and I am certainly not going to recount the shock when, as I lay recovering, trousers round my ankles, sliding down the toilet lid, “she” popped her head round my cubicle door, wiping “her” lips while scratching a neatly trimmed beard shrouded by a halo of cute blonde curls.

Fucking Eurovison. It’s killing the music business.

—-

7:37am
“All my job is, is swapping bloody filth!” Bemoans Ed, surveying the infantile scrawl of vaginas, tits, cocks, balls, open mouths and inevitable spunk droplets, and of course the unmissable two-inch hole, pussy hair scrawled all around, captioned with “Stick your dick in here”.

Weeks back, someone’d made a complaint to the committee about being watched through the hole in a Talk of the Town loo. Steve and Ed had finally been tasked with the job of replacing the vandalised panel.

“Don’t lie! You love your job man!” says Steve. “In any case, what we are upgrading to is a better class of filth – ladies filth innit!”

—-

7:51am
“You filthy, filthy, filthy little man”, sneers Porter.

“Do my best” I weakly rejoin.

“Shut it! George, he’s got an alibi! Time of the murder, reckons he ‘ad is dick stuck in a fucking 2-inch hole in the wall!”

Guffaws from the other side of the dank, sweaty interrogation room. Finally I’d come clean, if you’ll forgive the pun. George checked my phone and confirmed Eddie’s text came in at exactly 3:08 am. This means I shot my load into that bearded chin pretty much exactly the moment Katrina was murdered. My music teacher always said I had good timing.

“We’re checking your alibi now. SOCOs are heading to the Talk of the Town to see if we can scrape some of your filthy dirty DNA off of that sordid wank-hole.”

I merely nod.

8:43 am
Ed powers the last screw home and admires the replacement loo panel, complete with expertly rendered dick.

“Hmmmm, you’re right. A definite improvement!” Steve sniggers, shouldering the old cock-holed panel and loading it into the van outside.

As Ed and Steve pull out of the rear car park, an unmarked Police van arrives, and six SOCOs enter the rear of the Talk of the Town in search of a hole in the lavatory wall.

© Simon Atherley, June 2014

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The Remains of Me

Ten to eleven and I’m on my last half of lager and lime before hitting the road. Team was late (again) with the submission, so muggins here stayed late after work to complete. I’m knackered. And if I’m not careful, I’m gonna miss the last train home, too. Heck, me and time, we just don’t see eye-to-eye.

I used to think Father Time lived somewhere in the sky, sitting with a benevolent, knowing smile in his pristine palace, a vast central stairway stretching out into infinity, each step a step in time, always moving forward and onwards into a future shrouded in mist, cloud and uncertainty. Wrong. Turns out the old bugger lives in a pokey little junk shop in East Dulwich, jam-packed full of random moments of time, stacked up like dusty old books, magazines and periodicals, higgledy-piggledy and in no particular order!

“Here, pick any moment you like!” Cackles old Time, as if he can’t wait to get offload a shopful of wasted moments and retire to his musty lodgings above. “Take ‘em all, why don’t you!?”

A tad fanciful I hear you say? Well, particle physicists, god bless ’em, reckon that at a subatomic level, an explosion can be observed *before*, not after its causal impact. Yet we’ve been led to believe each moment in time is supposed to follow the other, right?! Not one moment here, one moment there, one where good old father time effing likes!

It gets worse. In the subatomic world, there is apparently such a thing as reverse time. Oh and symmetrical time. And by implication, asymetrical time. Or something. Jeez. BaBar, an frighteningly expensive underground tunnel experiment thing in Colorada, was concocted to prove just that. According to Fernando Martínez-Vidal, a physicist at the University of Valencia in Spain. “It enabled us to observe, directly and unambiguously, the asymmetrical nature of time”. Woo. Bloody. Hoo.

Of course, there was no need to spend billions on a huge underground donut with enormous magnets wrapped around it. One look inside a certain second hand time shop in East Dulwich would have told you that time is basically, well, just messed up.

Ding ding! “Last orders please ladies and gents!” Barbara calls time for another evening. I take a final sip of lukewarm beer. I wonder if she knows the different varieties of time as well as her beers, or indeed her sozzled regulars? I doubt she’d take kindly to the idea of reverse time. Probably give me a slap and tell me to get a grip if I even dared mention it. Nope, don’t mess with Barabara and don’t ever mess with her precious closing time.

Preparing to leave, I survey the regulars, giving my usual friendly parting nod. There’s Joe, Pete, Donna, Ziggy, Eric and troubled Mal, definitely worse for wear tonight. Drowning his sorrows, sacked for being late to work, once again. Barb is calling a cab for him. That old geezer in the corner seems a bit out of place though. Looks like he uses Einstein’s hairdresser and shops for clothes at the local tip. That old pair of trainers… euw, definitely seen better days. Oh my god. He’s got a wooden leg! Attention caught, I notice his elaborate, faded brocade waistcoat, a gold chain running from his right hand pocket, over a brass button and into an opposite, symmetrical, pocket to his left. The bulging patch of cloth suggests a gold stop-watch might be stuffed inside. Hmmmmmm.

My interest now fully piqued, I approach the incongruous oldster, seeking to resolve the sartorial conundrum he presents and with which I am now grappling. Most of all, I want to know what it is he has in his pocket. Could be worth a bob or two.

The curious old man is sitting over in the far corner next to a huge marble fireplace, above which is an old railway clock, appropriate really for this pub is a converted railway station waiting room. He is warming his good leg by the dying embers of the fire, a crutch to his right resting on the arm of his battered chair.

“Might I trouble you for the time, sir?”, I enquire, with fake formality, hoping he will reach for his pocket and reveal his hidden treasure.

He does not answer, and does not reach for his pocket as I’d planned. Instead, he glances briefly above the fireplace to the antique dial. The hands of the clock point to five minutes past eight, as they always do, the departure time of the old night mail train.

I take the seat next to him, at which he shrugs sulkily as if to say, “Please yourself”.

“I couldn’t help noticing the unusual Double Albert you have there. A fine example if may say so”

He turns to me and I see now he has only one good eye. Leaning over and squinting spookily, he replies:

“Son, how would you know a Double Albert from a double-decker?”

“Roderick Smythe, good sir, antiques dealer, at your service.” I completely lie, “And I know a good T-bar when I see one! Would there be a correspondingly fine attachment to match? ”

At this point the old man sighs and reaching from his pocket he produces not the gold stop watch I’m hoping for, but an ancient astrolabe instead. My disappointment fades as I realise this might be an extraordinary relic of immense value. Cradling the device it in the palm of his wizened hand, I see it is made of silver and comprises many concentric sawtoothed dials with mysterious protruding markers, roman numerals engraved around the outside and astrological symbols on an inner wheel. A single rotating hand is fixed to the centre, behind which some kind of engraved star map can be seen.

“So you’d like to know the time, eh?”

I nod, enthusiastically.

With a gnarled finger, he turns the hand very slowly around the astrolabe dial, and suddenly there is a blinding flash of light. The flames of the fire flicker wildly, and I glance around. The place is now completely empty and hollow. Above the fireplace, the clock hands now point to six o’clock exactly.

The strange old man has vanished, just his crutch and wooden leg remain. And with a frightening certainty, I realise that those are, in fact, the remains of me.

© Simon Atherley, May 2014

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Fireball

Your cat’s eyes
Don’t save me
From danger
They just lead me
To you
Oh‐yeah, oh‐yeah

And it’s true that
They say that
I’m lighter
I’m brighter
With you
Oh‐oh, oh‐yeah

Your sunset
Comes nightly
Burns brightly
I hold tightly
To you…

But how long…
Before you burn up
Before you turn into a fireball

Jack Daniels
And bar belles
You pole dance
So no romance
For you
Oh‐no, oh‐no

You’re twisting
You’re turning
You’re burning
You’re falling
Thru’ space
Oh‐oh, oh‐yeah

Your thunder’s
A wonder
Your lightning’s
Exciting
To me…

But how long,
Before you burn me?
Before I turn into a fireball?

Well it’s true that
They say that
We’re lighter
We’re brighter
As one
Oh‐yeah, oh‐yeah

But red lights
Can’t save us
From danger
They just lead us
To hell
Oh‐no, oh‐no

The flames
Are enticing
The inferno’s
Inviting
Us in…

But how long…
Before we burn up
Before we turn into a fireball

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Silver Moon

Don’t take too long
To write your song
We’re sailing soon
Please raise your hand
That waning moon
It’s the saddest moon I know
That fading moon
Means we really
We really
We really have to go

And as I gaze
Over the silver sea, clouds
Darken over me
And yes I know
I’m both twixt and tween
But I’m evergreen
That yearning moon
Can be a bitter moon, I know
That crying moon
Means we really
We really
We really need to go

Don’t take too long
To write our song
We’re sailing soon
Under a bright new moon
That silver moon
It’s the kindest moon I know
And now we’re going home
And we really
We really
We really have to go

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Lie Low

What you done now, babe?
You better lie low now, babe
Don’t let them find out babe
Find out babe
What you did now, babe

Blame it on him, babe
Better blame it on him, babe
Don’t let them find out babe
Find out babe
It was really you, babe

Blame it on her, babe
I know you’ll blame it on her, babe
Don’t let them find you babe
Find you babe
Coz they know it wasn’t her, babe

Blame it on me, babe
I’ll take the blame straight, babe
Don’t let them take you down babe
I’ll take the blame, babe
Coz it ain’t your fault, babe

Blame it on me, babe
I’ll take the blame straight, babe
Won’t let them take you down babe
I’ll take the blame, babe
Coz it ain’t your fault, babe

What you done now, babe?
You better lie low now, babe
Don’t let them find out babe
Find out babe
What you did now, babe

Posted in Lyrics & Poems | Leave a comment