The Lion

Today is National Short Story day. I read on the national short story day website that today is the shortest day of the year but that seems incorrect. Surely it is the longest day of the year? The sun barely sets in the Northern Hemisphere today.

Never the less, I have crafted a short story to mark the occasion. Enjoy. Once again, WordPress is unable to retain MS Word formatting, so I apologise for the weird layout.

The Lion

As he waited on the bus he began to contemplate how boring Wednesdays are, reasoning that on a Wednesday the weekend was tantalisingly close but also painfully far off, thus making it the most boring day of the week. With his need to rationalise and obsess over things it occurred to him that he must rationalise why this day of the week was the most boring. This in turn reminded him of how someone had once told him that the best guitars are “Wednesday guitars”.

The justification of this was as follows: on Monday everyone is annoyed that they are back at work, and because it takes at least two days to get back into the “flow” of the working week Monday guitars were usually only half decent. Tuesday guitars are slightly better because the employees are no longer lamenting the weekend and have, in theory, had a decent night’s sleep, yet are only just starting to really get into the ‘flow’ of their work. Wednesday is, therefore, the best day for making guitars because everyone is working efficiently and to the ethos that every guitar should be a lovingly hand crafted instrument engineered with precision and care. Thursday brought upon a feeling of winding down, whereas Friday was always half hearted because the weekend was almost here and anything pressing can be done on Monday, resulting in more mistakes and imperfect instruments.

The person that told him this argued that it was the same in every job and that Wednesday was the most efficient and therefore useful day in the narrative of the working week.

However the more he thought about it, the greater he felt that this was inaccurate. Most guitar manufacturers were automated, and all most employees in factories have to do is push buttons and ensure that everything runs smoothly. Indeed, machines don’t care about what day of the week it is or how important or repetitive the task is. He therefore reasoned that Wednesday would also be the dullest day of the week for guitar manufacturers because it was the day when the oppressive tedium of button pressing seemed it’s most futile – the weekend was so close, but so far away and at least on Thursday you’re nearly there.

It was the same for most jobs. By Wednesday evening everyone is begging for the weekend to arrive.

These thoughts offered a distraction for the inevitable ride to work that he had to take every week day morning. The problem was not that he dreaded going to work; it was that he dreaded getting to work. Traveling was the worst part of any day for him. Every day he would get up, shower, shave, eat breakfast and leave his house to enter a crowded piece of public transport. Bus, train, subway, it didn’t matter; he was always apprehensive about travel. In a car he would feel a lot less anxious because he knew that the driver had more control over the actions of the car than someone who pilots public transport. Part of his fear was being trapped on the bus, or train, or subway and being helpless to escape should he need to do so. The type of transport he used didn’t matter, what did matter was the oppressive feeling of dread he experienced on such journeys: the longer the journey, the deeper the dread. Travelling to work was something he had to do, and he had been doing so for seven years now, each year his nervousness increased despite nothing untoward ever happening when he was on board public transport.

Why the fear? Well, whatever public transportation method he chooses it was always crowded; usually it was standing room only and today was no different. He stood at the bus stop and mentally prepared himself for a bus slammed to the windows with the bodies of commuters, screaming children and belligerent fools at the back of the bus who felt it appropriate to share their music with the rest of the herd by blaring it from a tinny mobile phone speaker for a good twenty to thirty minutes.

It was grim. And it, like every morning, happened today. The bus arrived; he embarked, took a seat and attempted to distract himself from the distress of travel. He tried reading the newspaper, reading his book, checking his email or sending a text on his phone; all of it was futile. He stared emptily at the page, sent pointless texts and emails to people who didn’t really need to be contacted in an attempt to quell the butterflies in his stomach which is, with age and a sedentary lifestyle, steadily becoming more rotund, he thought.

With each stop crying children and cringing parents get off and hop on, under the needless fluorescent lights which wage war against tired eyes and artificially enhance the blazing daylight, people brush past him and mumble apologies under their hot breath into his ear. He tries again to focus on the words in front of him, whatever format they may take, but he cannot because there is something restless at the back of his mind, something disquieting, something dreadful which makes him stay alert, stay active and tensed up, priming his muscles so he was ready to pounce, adrenaline preparing him to react at a moment’s notice in case something bad happens. Something bad like:

• The driver careers off the bridge on his way into the city centre and the bus falls, slowly, like a scene from Inception, into the River Clyde below.

• One of the older people on the bus has a heart attack and he, in a crazed attempt to push his way through a crowd who merely stand there and stare, endeavours to administer some kind of CPR.

• A truck, a van, or a car crashes into the side of the bus. Not the side he’s sitting on, but the other side, and he must help people out of the inevitable wreckage.

• Or they crash into the side he is on, and he’s trapped, knocked unconscious or, at the very worst, killed.

• Someone starts a fight with him (he can’t defend himself).

• Someone starts a fight with someone else (he can’t break it up).

• A terrorist decides to recreate the actions of the 7/7 attacks.

All of these things could happen, and they are what causes him to sit tensed up in his seat like a coiled spring. He feels as though he is trying to make himself as big as possible, so that no one tries to start a fight with him, and also as small as possible so that no one notices him and tries to start a fight with him.

He is like a deer caught in the headlights as the bus moves on to the motorway.

An antelope staring into the stillness of an African plain, thinking he’s heard a noise and is wary of predators.

Did you know that many evolutionary psychologists believe that the reason we get goosebumps comes from our ancestors who used to have more hair? And that the reason goosebumps make our hairs stand on end is because humans used to be much hairier, so by making our hair stand on end it used to make us look bigger and thus appearing larger and more threatening to predators? This occurred to him as he tried to look inconspicuous, all the hair on his body standing on end.

It’s an in built function which still resides in the oldest part of our brain, he thinks to himself.

The bus pulls into some rush hour traffic and creeps along the motorway, one in a pack of crawling vehicles. From above they look like ants crawling towards food.

It’s part of the fight, flight or freeze mechanism, he ponders as the assembled throng of commuters stare into their phones, books or newspapers; staring at everything but each other, as if making eye contact would cause someone to react.

Eventually he arrives at work, the bus driver choosing not to drive off of the Kingston Bridge after all, and he breathes a slight sigh of relief. It is only a slight sigh however, because not even the inanity of his work is enough to take his mind off of the mental preparation he must undergo to make the journey back home when work is over.

*

Seven hours later it is time to go home, but he doesn’t feel ready to face the commute again so he decides to wander the streets of Glasgow city centre. It is an act which will allow him to psyche himself up for the eventual travel home; it never works. He stalks the city streets with his guard up, constantly ridged, on the lookout for any potential trouble, flash points or conflicts which cross his path. He reckons that if he were a dog, his ears would be constantly pricked up, listening closely and then he decides that this is a stupid thing to think and abandons the thought.

Remaining uneasy, forever watchful and on edge.

He walks down Buchanan Street, along Argyle Street, avoiding the Trongate because of its proximity to undesirable pubs and the east end of the city, crossing Glassford Street and back across Ingram Street, past the Gallery of Modern Art, through George Square and into St Vincent Street, back up Buchanan Street, proceeding down Sauchiehall Street and into the bus station where he sits for thirty minutes before feeling the troubled need to go home, to eat and sit on the couch.

But he’s walked too far down Sauchiehall Street and has ended up in the West end of the city. It occurs to him that he really needs to get home because there’s some football on tonight that he’d like to watch and so he focuses on this as a reason to brave the bus home, to shun the anxiety, giving him something to look forward too. He takes a trip up to the University of Glasgow and proceeds back into the city centre via Woodlands Road. You are being told this because the narrator knows this route, but he is unfamiliar with this end of the city and he begins to panic. He wonders if anyone else has anxiety attacks and steadies himself against the wall. His heart pounding hard, like it’s trying to get out of his chest, sweat lashing off of him, his chest constricting as if his lungs have been shut in a vice followed by an intense feeling of paranoia and crushing hopelessness which combine all at once to create a sensation that makes him think he is mere second away from death.

He braces himself against the wall of The Halt Bar once again. The sounds of rowdiness escape from its open windows, and the heat of the warm day begins to suffocate him. He opens his jacket, his shirt and takes off his tie. He clutches his chest and takes some deep breaths. I’m not lost, he thinks to himself, I’m just further away from home than I usually am at this time of the day. I can get home if I calm down.

Anxiety, that perfect evolutionary beast, has gone awry. Once he catches his breath he slowly makes his way back to the bus stop, but something feels different. The streets feel like the plains of the Serengeti, he thinks to himself, and his fretfulness causes him to feel like a gazelle being stalked by a lion. He panics again, this time at the thought of a lion stalking him and his sense of disquiet and apprehension is confirmed when, out the corner of his eye, he sees a lion.

Or is it a lion? Surely it can’t be a lion? He says to himself but it is a no comfort, because padding across the patch of grass between Woodlands Gate and Park Drive, in the small expanse of greenery across the road from The Halt Bar is a golden lion. Its dark brown mane standing out as a stark dash of colour against the green it lies upon.

He is alone.

He turns to face it and it looks up, staring directly at him. The lion rises from its haunches and, sensing the human’s gaze upon him, freezes and stares back. Instantly he gets goosebumps, his heart which is still racing beats faster, adrenaline floods into his bloodstream and screams at his muscles to be prepared to follow an evolutionary imperative. His vision narrows and blocks out all other distractions; the dog barking behind him, the sounds of revellers entering and leaving pubs, the cars flashing by in a blur in front of him, all of it fades into the background. People become shadows as they move down the street, oblivious to the lion across the road, staring him down. Is it fight, is it flight or does he freeze?

Perhaps fighting a lion would be the most pointless option, its sharp claws, powerful legs and jaw would make the fight horrifically one sided to the feline. Freezing would mean he would have to play dead, but what if the lion investigated and decided that since he was dead that he might just eat him anyway? Then he would be utterly defenceless, screaming in pain as he is mauled by a curious lion.

Finally he assumes he has at least a good head start of about 50 feet on the lion and he runs down Woodlands Road dodging bins, people, rubbish bags, bus stops and lampposts. In the end he cannot out run a lion, no one can. He tumbles to the ground when the lion pounces, driving its claws into his back. The huge weight on his back simply adds pain and misery to the existing anxiety, only this time it is anxiety which has, in a world where humans are not hunted, finally serves its biological purpose, only it serves it in vain. Despite his attempts to fight it he must relent; in the end we always relent. A thousand white hot knifes pierce his back.

And everything goes black.

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Captain Redbeard

Hullo.

I’ve been quiet of late on this blog thing and for that I apologise. I’ve been finishing up uni (walking out with an A and two B’s, giving me guarenteed entry into joint honours Scottish Literature/Film and TV) and working on a novel.

The novel has no title yet. Here’s a chapter though. It’s basically influenced by a similar event which happened in Garth Ennis’ comic The Boys.

Not quite the blood the drummer hoped for…

EDIT – 03/05/2013: alright, so I’ve had this one accepted for publication so I’ve had to remove it from my blog. Sorry aboot that folks!

A Triptych In Under 500 Words

(Those 500 words do not include this disclaimer: these three stories were written one after the other in a creative writing class on Wednesday night while I sat shaking in a chair due to excessive caffeine consumption. Enjoy. Any feedback is appreciated. Oh and once again, WordPress refuses to format things correctly.)

Work, play and education. Are these stories related?

Scottish Fiction

Did you know that old nitrate film stock is so flammable that the gasses they release would sometimes explode in the can?
If I were Tyler Durden I’d splice frames of porn into the latest releases.
I am Jock’s numb brain.
But I’m not, so my raison d’etre is abject boredom.

Sometimes I wish I were a projectionist in the 1940s, switching reels and changing the projectors in smoke filled theatres as people sit and watch the latest Orson Wells film.
So many old films are gone because they were too explosive to keep around. Now they are stored in warehouses in industrial estates kept far away from built up areas. Just in case.
If I were the antagonist in a Raymond Chandler film adaptation I’d take the old films out of their cans and set them on fire, turning this place into an inferno as I escaped out the back door.

But it’s not the 1940s and films are digital now, so I sit in the projectionists booth in this smoke free multiplex, press play and wait for this hell to end.
Taking solace in my own Scottish fiction.

Swift by Name, Swift by Nature: A Cautionary Tale of Passion Gone Awry

Like many boys of a certain age Riley Swift disliked his name. Things didn’t always used to be this way though. Riley Swift was once fond of his name.
At school sports day Riley was always the fastest in his year. He used to run around so much that his Mum bought him a quality pair of track shoes and his PE teacher thought he might even be an Olympian one day, such was his passion and energy for running.

During an outdoor competition on a gravel pitch (inexplicably), he’d made it to the final heat of an inter-school 100m race. He started the final race of the day in the outside lane and blitzed the competition.
He had gained an impressive lead, and was ahead in the race by a good metre or so and as he reached the finish line the ground gave way beneath him.
Sink holes.
He fell through it, falling so fast and sharp than when he hit the ground he had no time to flex his legs to absorb the impact, shattering his right knee.

He never felt the same about his name ever again.

Ninth Floor Men’s Room

The wall said:

“All we are is dust from the stars.” in red pen
“Speak for yourself. I’m a real live boy.” said someone in blue.
“Ah, but that’ll change.” stated the red.
“Maybe, but right now I’m Pinocchio, only it’s not the nose that grows, if you know what I mean.” replied the blue, a winking face drawn next to it.
“I like it. Can I have your number?!” asked the red.
“Maybe” responded the blue.
Someone in black said “Ah, young love” before the janitor erased the evidence.


Maintenance

Here’s some new fiction for everyone. It’s a bit sci-fi I guess. Any feedback welcome.

Maintenance

From: Gary McCann <thelifeandsoul@theparty.com>
Date: Tue, 05 Feb 2020 at 10:43am
Subject: Maintenance
To: propertyman@speirsandalexander.com

Dear Sirs,

I am writing to you on behalf of the residents of the 110 Copeland Road Tenants Association, of which I am a member, regarding a number of issues with the property which have been on-going for an extended period of time. The bulk of these issues are recent, however there are a couple which have been outstanding for at least a year if not two. As you are no doubt aware, as the factor and also the landlord for, as far as I’m aware, two of the twelve properties in the building there are certain elements of safety which you must, by law, attend to. Please note the following:

  1. Front door

In the first instance I bring to your attention the front door. It has now been over two months since our property was raided and there is still no sign of it being fixed. What’s the point in secure entry if it is not secure? As the factor you have been notified about this numerous times by myself and, as far as I’m aware, three or four other tenants. It has now gotten to the stage where drunkards are urinating in the close on a semi-regular basis. Mr and Mrs Joyce in property 1/2 have even told me that once or twice they have caught two men having “relations” in the close under one of the broken lights (yet another problem, I hasten to add, which you have not fixed yet). Although I have only seen the wrappers, I am told that there have been at least two condoms found in the close. The other neighbour who noticed this did not specify if they had been used or not and I was in no hurry to enquire. Similarly, I have had to clean vomit from the floor several times. Despite our best efforts to clean the entire close once a week it is becoming increasingly difficult to remove the smell of urine. Please have this seen to immediately.

  1. Graffiti

In the second instance I bring to your attention the graffiti on the walls of the ground floor. I can only assume that this is related to the first issue in as far as youths and general miscreants are coming into the close and scrawling their names on the walls. Not only that, but an ideological debate about graffiti as art and its political force has broken out on the wall next to the back door. Further, there is extremely offensive language and slurs against our masters in the government all along the front door. I have made an attempt to remove some of the more lurid writing but the majority of it remains and I see no reason as to why we should have to do this when it is a property that you take care of.

Please do not assume that I have an aversion to this kind of thing. I surely dabbled in it in my youth and was a great admirer of Banksy and other kinds of non-conformist, slightly anarchist leaning graffiti artists, just as long as it was done in a designated area out of sight of the general public (please note: I am not an anarchist or even remotely left wing, but I can and do appreciate art and talent) but this is just nonsense. I would campaign to keep this kind of thing in the close if it served some kind of aesthetic purpose, or indeed held an oppositional beauty all of its own, however I feel that last month’s raid may have been influenced by the “ALL HAIL KAUATO” graffiti which currently adorns the front door. Kauato is a fascist and would sooner see this country in ruins than in the hands of our current benevolent masters. Nevertheless if the police force thinks that we are affiliated in some way with this revolutionary terrorist cell then surely the beatings will continue?

I urge you to see to the front door and graffiti as a matter or great urgency.

  1. Tenants in the properties you own

For the third matter I would like to draw your attention to flat 3/2 which, I am lead to believe, you are the landlord for. For the past year or so the people who occupy the flat have been throwing raucous parties on a Friday and Saturday night and I have to turn down many invitations to such festivities on a bi-weekly basis. Partially because if I can hear the music through the floor, then being in such close proximity to a speaker that loud might make my tinnitus worse, and partially because I can no longer tolerate alcohol or stimulants. Quite why those who dwell in this property have not been carted off to a gulag yet is mystifying for they, in my mind, are not particularly sympathetic to our current ruling classes. I have, on numerous occasions, heard anti-government propaganda from the flat. The police did turn up on a Saturday evening a few weeks ago at around 1am, however they did not leave until the following afternoon. Such upstanding citizens of our beloved republic are incorruptible, and one can only assume that these “party animals” detained them and hurled abuse at them for being the respectable peace keepers of our society; the very antitheses of the rebellious occupants of flat 3/2. Please advise your tenants that this is not acceptable and that we in this block refuse to tolerate their noise any longer.

Perhaps in an attempt to be funny, members from that flat, or perhaps individuals from the parties they have thrown, have left the following items outside my door on no less than five occasions:

  • A broken bongo drum.
  • The right arm and left hand of a mannequin.
  • A selection of baby’s dummies and toy cars.
  • Some anti-government propaganda.
  • A garden hose without a nozzle.
  • A toy ray gun.
  • A top hat and a pair of sun glasses.
  • And the complete works of Karl Marx including ‘Das Kapital’ (which I already own, I hasten to add, but only for purely research purposes).

I do have a sense humour, sirs, but this has become tiresome. Surely they can be evicted for this?

  1. “Shady” neighbours

And onto the fourth matter. It is quite similar to the third in as much as there seems to be a kind of revolving door policy in operation in flat 4/1. Myself and a couple of the other neighbours have noticed that a number of shady looking characters seem to come and go at all hours from property 4/1. Having brushed past a few of them on the hallway I can tell you that they are not the most clean smelling of men and indeed appear to always be carrying some kind of bag or large holdall. Their shifty looks are of great concern to Mrs Dean in 4/2 who thinks that they may be plotting to kill her. While I find this to be unlikely, they are slightly suspect and I am surprised that they have not been visited by the police, particularly because most of the neighbourhood watch in this area have been visited by the police for offences such as trampling begonias, having their grass too long or not keeping their hedges within the government regulation height. I’ve heard rumblings that Father Haver down the street was taken down to the station and interrogated by government officials for the simple infraction of not changing his light bulb in the hallway.

  1. Smelly neighbours.

Although this is related to point number four, it is of such great importance that it is worth discussing on its own; there is a strange smell coming from apartment 4/1. Having brushed past the occupier in the hall I can tell you that he is not a great fan of personal hygiene, nevertheless the smell that is coming from the apartment is not due to poor hygiene. As you are probably not aware I have a friend who is a Professor of Biology at the educational institute – I’ve known him since my service in the air force during the civil war, where he served as a mechanic and I a pilot – and he has now brought to my attention, on no less than three occasions, that the foul odour from the apartment is that of ammonium nitrate. A key component of the IUDs he says were once used by insurgents during the Second Gulf War. In this instance I have not notified the police for fear of another search. I do believe, however, that if you were to actually perform one of the flat inspections that you never carry out, you might be able to go to the police about this yourself.

  1. Handrails

For point six I wish to draw your attention to the handrails on the stairs which connects the second and third floor has been broken now for around two years. This is now the seventh time I have notified you about this in writing.

  1. Close window

Similar to point six point seven concerns the window on the ground floor, which is entirely missing. I have no idea when this happened but the window frame is also completely absent. None of those who live in the building can recall hearing any glass shattering recently. One can only presume that it has been stolen but to what end is anyone’s guess.

  1. Third floor stair

The very last stair before you set foot on the fourth floor is loose. You have even tripped over it yourself when you were showing the men in 4/1 around the property before they moved in. That was over two years ago. It is disgraceful.

  1. Inspections

Our overlords have now broken down my door to inspect my flat three times in the past month. Oddly they have not done this with Mr Ammonium Nitrate across the hallway. Why? I know you have no control over this but you could perhaps put in a good word with your owner? Mr Kensure in 4/3 says he is quite close to Mr Alexander’s son who I am lead to believe is in tight with the Commissioner of our sector. Since the alien invasion a year ago I have found that the older members of society are dwindling. As I’ve said, I know you have very little control over this but I do fear for my safety now that I fall into the older gent bracket.

I suspect that the gestapo think that the smell of Ammonium Nitrate is coming from my property, hence the raids, beatings and removal of my wife. I urge you to inspect both properties 3/2 and 4/1 not only because you own them but because I’m sure your report on both of these properties will filter down to the Ministry of Housing who will, in turn, see that the occupants are dealt with in the proper way. I have had many items deemed “un-patriotic” removed from my flat by police officers who seem to think that my interest in the literature of 19th, 20th and 21st century left wing revolutionaries is for more than mere interest. Our new overlords from Alpha Centuri seem keen to eradicate any form of media and literature which is deemed counter to their own policies and evidence of this can surely be found elsewhere in the building. I implore you to you do the right thing in this instance. I am unsure if my body or book collection could suffer another raid. My wife called your office about this before her disappearance yet nothing came of that particular phone call, why?

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely and with regards,

Gary McCann