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This Face

3 Sep

When she was born, she arrived in an unblemished envelope. Her skin, unpuckered and unmarked by life, was smooth and comfortable. It covered all of her that needed to be covered with enough give for growth and movement. It was, as far as anything ever is, perfect.

With each day, each passing week, each time she moved and grew, she acquired a new trophy for her pains. While some faded, their memories remained. Other blemishes barely faded at all and left a permanent pattern on her body. A postcard from the past.  

She looks in the mirror and reads the postcards, examining each mark and remembering what it tells her about her life.

The vertical line set equidistant between her eyebrows is new.  A recent injury, invisible to the onlooker but drawn on her forehead, underlines the discomfort of restricted movement and a soreness that extended far beyond the specific spot where her skin has chosen to wear the memory. 

In her right eyebrow, a sparse area of hair reveals a scar she gained in childhood like a clearing in a forest shows the remains of a camp fire. The memory of the injury is one that has been planted in her mind but feels as real as anything else she can remember. When she was no more than 18 months old, a boy in her playgroup threw a wooden building block across the room. Its sharp corner connected with the thin skin covering her orbit and left a gash that bled and bled and bled. Faces do that when damaged. They bleed. The family mythology tells of a doctor for whom English was not a first language, whose panicked response upon hearing of the missile that caused the wound led to a battery of unnecessary tests to check for bleeding behind the eyes as well as the bleeding above it. Without context, a child hit with a building block is a much more serious prospect than one dented with a stray toy. Oh how they laughed.

She pulls her lips taut over her teeth to see a white line of scar tissue protrude from the lower one like an exclamation mark. She remembers this one, first hand rather than by proxy. Summer holidays. Caravan park. Jumping from the top of a set of steps used to access tourist pleasure cruise boats from the shore and landing in the sand. Laughter, freefall through the air, landing on her bottom. Her friend, calling her clumsy, said she should land on her feet and bend her knees. On her first attempt she forcefully introduced her canine tooth to her knee via her lip. Blood. Thick red drops of blood that fell from her mouth and landed in the sand, congealing into red-brown counters dotted up the beach as she ran back to her parents for comfort and first aid. By the following day, the blood counters were gone, washed away by the unrelenting tide. More than twenty years later, her lip still exclaimed her injury. 

Below her face, her neck supports  her head as it has from the day she was able to control its muscles and not rely on another’s hand to steady its weight. Creases encircle its pillar at intervals between her chin and her chest. There is no story to those individually, more the tale that a tree tells with its own rings. The tale of time passing, of lives lived and experiences earned.

A triangle of freckles extend from her clavicles, its point towards her sternum, painting a picture in pixels of summers upon summers that kissed the skin and coaxed the pigment to the surface. One day, that patch of flesh will crease and wrinkle more than any other part of her torso for its exposure to the elements. One day. Today, it it simply splotched with random dots like uncharted constellations.

She knows that when people look at her, they see something different. They see a woman, maybe pronounce her to be attractive or not, consider all her features and make a judgement about the person that resides behind the face. If they notice the crease between her brows, they won’t give a thought to the pain that put it there. They don’t see the building block or hear the laughter from a dozen re-tellings of a story she seems somehow to remember with all her senses but cannot not actually recall. Her freefall onto sand and the part of herself she left to be washed out to sea don’t make an impression. A stranger won’t count the rings on her neck or the freckles on her chest and imagine the summer suns that have blessed and burnt and blistered thin, pale skin into something tougher and more resilient. 

This face, like every other,  is a record of a life lived.


Angel Chaos

10 Jan Painting: Synaxis of the Holy Archangels

So I’ve been waving my D20 around at Chuck Wendig’s behest. Here’s the 1,000 words that resulted:

“Not there, not there. Oh for The Boss’ sake what kind of training do you guys get in purgatory anyway?”

The columns of names on Gabriel’s clipboard swam before his eyes.  There was no way they’d make quota this month. He conjured himself another coffee from the raw firmament. A ridiculous use of Angelic Might but, by The Boss’ Son, he needed it.

The problem, as he saw it, was mass literacy. If he could consign anyone to the fiery furnace it would be Gutenberg. Followed by the entire publishing industry. But there would be a special circle of hell for the people who wrote books about Angels.

Time, he thought, to make an example.


Steve Anderson was pressing F5 repeatedly. That in itself isn’t a sin. It’s certainly forgivable for an author on Amazon on the day that one of his books comes out. He’d often worried that too much ranking would make him go blind, but even Steve didn’t deserve what happened next.

At first he thought the deafening celestial fanfare was coming from a pop up advert. As he frantically hit ctrl-tab he noticed the seven-foot being of pure light standing at his elbow.

“Gurgle.” thought Steve, then realised that the seven-foot being of pure light was probably waiting for him to speak.

“Gurgle?” he said.

The being of pure light consulted a clipboard, Not a clipboard of pure light, Steve couldn’t help but notice. A normal, stationery-cupboard-at-work clipboard of the kind he’d stolen so many times when he still worked at the bank. Was it time to say “Gurgle” again?

The fanfare ceased.

“Steve Anderson,” said the being of pure light. If the heavenly fanfare had been an effulgent chord that seemed to harness the very music of the spheres, the voice sounded…

Well it sounded pissed off. In fact it sounded like the voice of his manager, Mr Galbraith, when firing him from the bank for writing books on company time. Well, that and the stationery thing.

“Are you Steven James Anderson?” said the voice – and this time there was no mistaking the frustration.

Steve nodded and added another gurgle for emphasis.

“Author of ‘How to Tame Your Angel – a Guide to Celestial Ordering’?  Top of the Times bestseller list for seven consecutive weeks? Featured on Richard and Judy’s book club?”

Steve felt a swell of pride: recognition at last! It might not be clear exactly who was doing the recognising but word had clearly got about that he was a hot property in the speculative non-fiction world. His words came out in a rush.

“This, oh my God,” the Being flinched, “this is the most incredible… I mean what can I… Are you here to impart wisdom because I’m going to need to get my voice recorder. I’m rubbish at shorthand. Oh, can you give me the gift of shorthand? Or maybe perfect recall? No shorthand is better, it looks so impressive. Teeline, not Pitman – I don’t want to look like a…”

“Silence! Good Boss can you hear yourself? Have you any idea of the damage you’ve done?”

Steve’s head swam as he tried to frame a suitable reply. He felt he’d pushed “gurgle” as far as it could go. “I’m a professional writer for God’s sake,” he thought. “I can come up with something insightful.” He drew a breath.


“The Cherubim and Seraphim are pulling double shifts. We’re having to take on some fairly tarnished souls to bulk up the numbers – you do not want to know the lax entry standards we have for guardian angels these days. Surely you’ve noticed the sheer amount of senseless carnage in the world? That’s because we can’t keep up.”

The Being’s voice took on a singsong tone;  no-being can do sarcastic like an overworked and pissed off member of the heavenly host. “‘Oh blessed angels, please let me get my promotion.’ ‘Oh blessed angels, please let the hot guy in accounts fancy me.’ ‘Oh blessed angels, I really want a new Mercedes.’”

“But that, but it’s… I was only trying to help people.”

“No you weren’t; you were doing what every member of your benighted species does. You were helping yourself. You saw that books about angels were big business and you decided to leap on the bandwagon. You don’t even believe in Us. Can you honestly say, hand on heart, that you’re not sitting here thinking ‘this isn’t really happening’?”

“Well it does seem pretty unlikely, on the face of it.”

The Being breathed a very unangelic word indeed.

“I’ve had it. This is strictly against protocol but for you I’m making an exception.” The Being moved his hands in an intricate design. Steve had the feeling he’d just witnessed something pretty obscene happening to the nature of causality.

“Your book is gone,” said the Being. “So gone that, in fact, it now never was. Everything else remains the same but you have never written your stupid, irresponsible, ridiculous…” the Being composed itself. “Dont. Do it. Again.”

And with another fanfare it was gone.

“I was an author,” thought Steve, “I threw away my job at the bank. I spent months, years even, sending out proposals. I wore out so much shoe leather meeting agents and publishers and I never got anywhere until ‘How to Tame Your Angel.’ Without it I’d never have got the deal for book two which I suppose means…”

With a shaking finger he pressed F5 one more time. Relief coursed through his veins like the heat of a single malt on a cold evening. He was still an author. Book Two was still selling.

And rather well, actually. Perhaps the Being had been his guardian angel after all.

Over 8,000 orders in the first four hours.  Steve laughed and punched the air. It looked like “How to Train Your Yeti: A Guide to Cryptozoological Ordering.” was going to be an even bigger hit than “Angels.”

What could possibly go wrong?


29 Jun

A very short story for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge over at This week’s challenge was to come up with a story in three sentences. Given it was so short, I decided to turn it into an image instead of just putting the words on the page.


Forever young

8 Jun

This idea’s been kicking around in my head for several years and this is the first time I’ve ever given it space outside my mind. I sometimes worry about the dastardly way my own mind works.

Warnings for sinister content, trickery and violence against women.


She was the only one who noticed him. His pale, moon-like face seemed to deflect the gaze of others but his large, dark eyes saw everything.

She was the only one who showed him kindness. He knew he had to make it up to her somehow. When he overheard her talking to that girl from Accounts over lunch, his purpose was fixed.

“If I could just be young forever, all my problems would be solved!”

It wasn’t hard to get her to agree to a lift home that Friday night in the pouring rain. When she’d said yes, he’d known he was doing the right thing.

There was only one way to guarantee her perpetual youth. He’d known that from the minute he heard those words.

She’d looked a little confused when he pulled up outside his house but quickly acquiesced. Politely, she accepted the orange-juice-and-phenobarbital cocktail and drank it quickly.

In minutes, her legs went from under her; seconds later he was standing over her with a feather cushion in his hands as her eyelids fluttered.

“Why..?” was her last word, more breath than speech.

“Because it’s what you wanted,” he answered, and pressed the cushion over her face.


20 May

I think I said before that Hit and Run is an opening and this is certainly in the same story, but i’m not sure whether it goes before or after. Oh well, enjoy!


Steam rose from the makeshift kettle.

A special blend of tea that had been stolen from the back of a particularly flash looking Volvo estate a few weeks before had been measured out. As the water was poured, Gerald deeply inhaled the exotic Darjeeling vapours. This was not the kind of smell that he was accustomed to. This was much more like what Gerald thought he deserved. He closed his eyes and imagined an old leather wing-back chair, an open fire and the dusty smell of old books in walnut cabinets.

When he opened his eyes he saw an old wooden bucket, an open toilet and smelt the dusty smell of scrap metal in plastic crates. He sighed wearily, and absent-mindedly stirred his tea leaves. Now if only he could get his paws on some fresh milk.

Paws. Yes, sorry, I may not have mentioned that Gerald was a monkey. Anyway.

He peeled the top of a UHT milk pot back and glared at the contents. The glare was a very well practised one. It was a glare that he gave most of the objects in his possession. None of them were what they should have been. The orange beaker with a smiley sun on the side was not a bone china cup and saucer. The dented aluminium bucket was not a kettle. The PG tips he usually drank was  not proper tea, at least as far as Gerald was concerned. The new tea, however… Ah yes this tea was only used sparingly, one small cup, or orange beaker with a smiley sun on the side, per day.

When Gerald was first let out with the rest of the troop, the cars had fascinated him. He carefully watched his older brothers, sisters and cousins pull aerials, window wipers and bits of trim off the cars, pull them to pieces and then discard them, only to do it all again the next time. Gerald had always known he was different. The wanton destruction that he saw on a daily basis disturbed him, and he seldom joined and even then only to keep up appearances.

He first became fascinated by a telescopic aerial from an Austin Allegro. Whilst the rest of the troop joyfully leapt on the car, Gerald took his new prize off to a quiet corner. The simple sliding mechanism captivated his imagination. He saw instantly how it was done, and other ways that it could be used. When he proudly showed this to his family later that day, they had pulled it away from him and bent it, then thrown it away. Gerald was heartbroken.

From then on, he had made plans. Slowly, slowly it had all come together and the other members of the family had fallen into line once they’d seen the material benefits of following his orders. Of course, not all of them had been willing to do as they’re told, it’s not really in the monkey mentality, but we’ll come to that later.

With a telescope, cobbled together from a couple of magnifying glasses and an old exhaust pipe, he had started analysing the cars driving into his section of the safari park. He had made copious notes on what types of cars came through, the occupants and their likely cargo. He had found week-enders in shiny new estates were the best targets. Anyone on holiday longer would have left their best loot in the hotel or camp-site. It really was amazing how much there was to be had whilst his tightly drilled units distracted the googly-eyed visitors.

He took a first sip of the piping hot tea, and had a brilliant idea.

Mutual Friend

27 Apr

I’ve met someone.

She’s great, we got on straight away, though I don’t suppose that was such a surprise.

It turns out we had a mutual friend who introduced us. I hesitated. I was so unprepared to meet her. Then she smiled and looked into my eyes. We shook hands, and I let my hand linger a fraction too long. She didn’t withdraw, and flashed me that smile again. I was almost tongue-tied, and didn’t know what to say. I supposed she wouldn’t recognise my voice , and said “Hello”.

We talked for hours. She told me all about where she worked, her favourite places and her friends. She wasn’t particularly curious about me at first, and didn’t mind me asking questions. Of course, I’d already known most of the answers, but I still listened. We seemed to share so many interests, it was almost uncanny. Almost.

We swapped phone numbers when we had to go, and she said she’d text me at the weekend. I had to stop myself finishing her number off as she rolled off the numbers. I couldn’t wait to call her again, though of course I wouldn’t be using the number that I had given her.

I arranged to meet her in town, after she declined meeting at my place. She said she had already planned to meet some friends out, and that I should come along and say “Hi”.

Sensible girl.

It’s been a few weeks now. We’ve run into each other a few times, she always laughs at the coincidence. I just smile.

She’s invited me to her place for a meal tonight. She’s an excellent cook. I think I’ll take a bottle of wine, a sweet white that she’ll enjoy. She gave me directions to her flat, but I’ve known the way for a few months now.

Should be an interesting evening.

Infinitely more difficult

19 Apr

An early Flashfic Friday post, screeching in to make the deadline for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: “Death Is On The Table”.

Trigger warnings for talk of death, suicide and depression. Read at your own risk. If you’ve been affected by any of the issues in this story, pop on over to The Befrienders and find some support in your area.


Making the choice to die was one of the easiest decisions John had ever made. So easy, in fact, that he didn’t even remember making it. It was as though his whole life had been building up to this moment. In reality, of course, it had. What could be more inevitable in life than one’s eventual death? For John, he had decided that he didn’t want to wait for an eventuality. He wanted to take things into his own hands. He was going to make it happen.

John had thought about dying for as long as he could remember. To be honest, he barely thought about anything else. Over the months and years, he’d contemplated just about every way to do it and finally decided what he was going to do. He didn’t want there to be a funeral. Even if there were one, no-one would come. Why would they? It would be better for all concerned, he decided, if he just ceased to exist.

His family was long ago and far away. He hadn’t been in touch with his parents since he was in his early twenties, some 15 or so years ago. They didn’t even know where he lived. His job was shitty and pointless. They’d get someone else in to do it in a heartbeat. No-one would probably even notice he was gone. There wasn’t really anyone else to miss him. John didn’t make friends. The people he’d been close to when he was younger had all drifted away over time and there wasn’t anyone new. Knowing that you weren’t going to be around long enough to get to know someone is a pretty strong disincentive to socialising.

John didn’t expect his death to cause as much as a ripple. He had it all planned out. The rent on his flat, and the combined bill for gas and electric, had been paid until the end of the month. It was a furnished flat, so there was nothing to dispose of. He didn’t have much in the way of personal effects, and certainly nothing that anyone would find valuable. He’d bagged his belongings in black sacks with a note to the landlord to have them collected by the charity shop on the high street that did house clearances. His bank account had a zero balance. He’d never taken out any credit cards because he’d never needed to buy anything that required them. He had no creditors and no debtors.

It was almost as if he if he didn’t exist already.

He wasn’t sure what changed or when. It seemed to be around about the time the woman at the check-out in the mini-supermarket around the corner had smiled at him. He’d gone to get stamps to mail out the letters taking care of the remainder of his personal effects and when he said she could keep the change, she beamed a genuine smile and wished him a lovely day.

Maybe it was the fact that the planning was almost over. John had never really thought of it as ending. He’d been planning for so long that now he was looking his death in the face, it didn’t look as appealing close-up as it had from a distance.

But there was momentum now; a whole lot of things that once done could not be undone. He’d given his notice on his flat. He had no money left in his account and had given what he had away to charities and rough sleepers. There was no-one to miss him, but no-one to be thankful he was still there either.

Making the choice to die was one of the easiest decisions John had ever made. Making the choice to live was infinitely more difficult.